A vessel carrying people considered to be close contacts of a new community case of Covid-19 was being met by health officials in Napier on Sunday.
Dr Ashley Bloomfield fronted a surprise press conference, revealing details about a worker on a vessel who tested positive for the virus on Saturday.
Just how the worker picked up Covid-19 is still being established, with genomic testing set to be carried out next week.
The vessel will be at anchor and won’t be coming into Napier Port. However, a port spokeswoman said it would be assisting Hawke’s Bay District Health Board to get medical staff onboard.
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While his infection is being treated as community transmission, Bloomfield said it was likely the man caught the virus at the border and the risk to the public was “lowish”.
The man’s job has seen him work on ships at ports in New Zealand, including at the ports of Auckland and Taranaki over the past two weeks.
“The people from that vessel that he worked on in New Plymouth are being treated as close contacts. That ship is on route to Napier and arrives there this afternoon,” Bloomfield said.
“The public health unit in Napier and other port authorities there will work carefully and closely to get in place plans to isolate and test the crew there … no one on board is symptomatic at this time.”
The man was potentially infectious on Wednesday and Thursday. Over that time, he checked into the Devon Hotel on Tuesday night, with owner Peter Tennent confirming a deep clean of the man’s room had been carried out.
Port Taranaki chief executive Guy Roper said it was working through their entry and exit point records to determine if the man had had contact with any port staff.
“At this stage, the Ministry of Health has determined only one staff member had brief contact with the confirmed case. That staff member is being contacted and tested,” Roper said in a written statement.
Historically, concerns have been raised about the ports being a potential weak point in the country’s Covid-19 border system. However, Bloomfield said the public should have confidence in the systems in place.
“The measures around our ports now are very strict, including things like the use of PPE on board ships, the regular testing regimes – and just again to point out that this person had actually had four negative tests, the last on the second of October as part of that regular testing.
“He was assiduous in getting his fortnightly tests,” Bloomfield said.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said there was “nothing to suggest” a change in alert levels was necessary, because the man was already working in a high-risk area.
“I understand this individual was already tested, as part of routine testing, four times.
“Actually, it is an example of the system working,” Ardern said.
On Friday, the man left work after developing symptoms and was tested for Covid-19 as soon as he became symptomatic – this was when his positive result was picked up.
“We are using our rapid contact tracing and testing systems to ensure there are not more cases associated with this man,” the ministry said.
The infected worker, along with four household contacts, are in isolation at Auckland’s Jet Park quarantine facility.
After learning about the positive result, Bloomfield notified Health Minister Chris Hipkins shortly after 6pm on Saturday.