Wellington placed under level 2 Covid restrictions after visit by infected Australian tourist
New restrictions on gatherings have been introduced in Wellington after a Covid-infected Australian travelled to the New Zealand capital and visited a range of popular tourist locations.
“This is not a lockdown,” Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said, but indicated one could come if unconnected cases emerged in the community.
Hipkins said on Wednesday the Wellington region would move to alert level two from 6pm that night, and continue until Sunday.
The measures come after the traveller spent a weekend visiting Wellington from Sydney, and visited sites around the city, including busy inner-city eateries, and popular tourism spot Te Papa, the capital’s museum.
New Zealand officials have released an initial list of more than a dozen locations of interest, and those who have visited them at the listed times are being told to get tested and self-isolate.
Under New Zealand’s alert level two conditions, gatherings are limited to fewer than 100 people, social distancing must be observed in public places, and masks are compulsory on public transport. Hipkins said he also encouraged people to wear masks in any situation where they were interacting with people they did not know and could not observe social distancing.
Hospitality venues can stay open if they are seated, with separate tables attended by a single server.
Hipkins said if New Zealanders followed the precautionary measures outlined he hoped “we can break the potential chain of transmission” and a lockdown would not be necessary. He said if further cases popped up, especially if they were people not identified by the contact tracing process, the government would look at taking further steps.
The minister said travel from Wellington was not restricted, but asked anyone leaving the Wellington region to “take level 2 with them” and observe the same rules elsewhere in the country.
Dr Ashley Bloomfield, the director general of health, said the person was likely to have contracted Covid-19 in Sydney before their travel to Wellington, and that they worked at a healthcare provider near Bondi Junction that an infected person had visited. Officials were still waiting for genomic testing to confirm that link.
No one in New Zealand has yet tested positive. If they do, it would break a more than 100-day streak of no Covid cases in the community. On Wednesday morning, the Ministry of Health released a statement saying: “This is the first time an Australian traveller has brought Covid-19 to NZ, and since gone home.”
On Tuesday evening, New Zealand announced that its quarantine-free travel bubble with New South Wales would pause, due to the outbreak of cases in the community in Sydney. A release from health officials said the pause would last an initial 72 hours, and be under “constant review”.
Four close contacts have already been identified and are isolating, Bloomfield said, two of whom have now returned a negative test result.
Speaking to Radio New Zealand on Wednesday morning, Bloomfield said the government would not rule out a lockdown: “Everything’s on the table,” he said. “It’s proven useful in the past for us to not rule anything out.”
Bloomfield said that at this stage, officials were assuming the case was the more infectious Delta variant.
Dr Siouxsie Wiles, one of the key communicators of New Zealand’s Covid response, said in a series of tweets: “Looks like we might need to brace ourselves for some Covid-19 cases after a travel bubble leak.”
“Don’t panic. But do take this seriously, and that means everyone even if you don’t live in Wellington,” she said, urging people to consider wearing masks while out and about, and to stay home if they experienced any symptoms. “The sooner we identify people with the virus, the sooner we can break any chains of transmission, the less likely we will need to move up the alert levels if the virus has got into the community here,” she said.
The passenger flew from Sydney to Wellington on 19 June, and flew back on 21 June. They tested positive on their return. Full up-to-date details of which sites they visited, and what you should do if you also visited a location of interest are available on the Ministry of Health website.
The ministry asked Wellingtonians to “Please remain vigilant and stick to the basics: stay home if unwell and get advice about having a test, wash hands regularly, cough and sneeze into the elbow, wear masks or face coverings on all public transport, and keep track of where you’ve been”.