New Zealand Covid update: mystery case emerges in Auckland with no known link to outbreak

 Eva Corlett in Wellington 57 mins agoLikeAfghan girls in climbing group desperate to escape TalibanMoldova tightens Covid restrictionsa person in a car talking on a cell phone: Photograph: Fiona Goodall/Reuters© Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Fiona Goodall/Reuters

New Zealand has recorded 11 new coronavirus cases in the community, as health officials race to find a link between a mysterious case that emerged in Auckland and the outbreak.

New Zealand’s outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant reached 879 on Friday. Friday marks the seventh day in a row that numbers have been below 21. The downward trend is an encouraging sign the tough lockdown measures are working, but the mystery case may be cause for concern.

The ministry of health confirmed on Thursday night that the woman presented to Middlemore hospital’s emergency department for a health issue unrelated to Covid-19. She did not have any symptoms and answered all Covid screening questions in the negative, indicating she had had no exposure to anyone with the virus, nor had been at any location of interest.a person in a car talking on a cell phone: New Zealand authorities are concerned over the Covid case of a woman who has tested positive in Auckland despite no known link to the current outbreak.© Photograph: Fiona Goodall/Reuters New Zealand authorities are concerned over the Covid case of a woman who has tested positive in Auckland despite no known link to the current outbreak.

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While the woman was at the hospital, she took a Covid test. After discharging herself two hours later, she was told her test had come back positive. The patient is now in managed isolation.

All of Fridays’s cases were in Auckland, which remains in a level 4 lockdown until next week, with six of those cases not yet epidemiologically linked to existing cases. There were 29 unlinked cases in total, included the Middlemore case.

Middlemore hospital’s staff are working alongside the Auckland Regional Public Health Service to assess the risk of this exposure.

All staff in the emergency department and adult short-stay area were wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment required for that area of the hospital, including N95 masks and goggles. The risk to these staff members is considered extremely low and no staff are being stood down.

Speaking to media on Friday, the director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the woman was being interviewed to try to establish a link.

“This is one of those small handful of cases that we’re particularly concerned about finding out what the link is to the existing outbreak,” Bloomfield said.

Speaking to RNZ on Friday morning, the hospital’s chief medical officer, Dr Peter Watson, said 36 patients and a small number of visitors had been identified as potentially exposed.

The New Zealand Herald reported that seven police officers have been stood down after coming into contact with the woman and a member of her family on Wednesday.

Middlemore hospital is in south Auckland, where many of the cases in the current outbreak live.

Watson said the woman was encouraged to take a test because there was so much concern about Covid in the south Auckland community. “We have a very low threshold for screening.”

Related: New Zealand to rethink plan to reopen borders amid Delta outbreak

It is the second Covid scare for the hospital in less than a week.

Last weekend, Middlemore staff were stood down and patients isolated and tested after a Covid-infected man showed up to the emergency department on Saturday with abdominal pain. Four wards were closed to new admissions. Initial tests on 149 people, including 29 staff, have come back negative.

The man said he had no knowledge of being in contact with the virus or being in a location of interest and did not have any other symptoms.

His abdominal pain was subsequently added to the checklist of symptoms that staff screen for.

University of Auckland microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles said any case that appeared where, at first glance, there was no link to another case was a concern, but that it was early days.

“It’s one of the reasons why we are at alert level 4. So I imagine they will be looking very, very closely at that person’s family members, workplace and to see where they got that infection.”

Of the total cases, 288 people have recovered from the virus. There were 27 people in hospital, with four people in intensive care, requiring ventilation.

More than 38,000 close contacts had been identified, with 87% of those having had at least one test. Just over 61,000 vaccine doses were administered on Tuesday, bringing the total to 4,163,418. About 64% of the population over 12 years old have now had at least one dose.

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If a link is not found, it would probably mean the government would take a much more cautious approach to moving Auckland down alert levels.

Wiles said it was interesting that the two cases at Middlemore hospital did not have typical Covid symptoms, and she wondered if there were symptoms that officials were missing.

“It’s hard when you don’t know just how many people present with these rarer symptoms, which is important for us when we’re trying to catch every case.”

Wiles did not think it would necessarily be helpful for more people with no symptoms to get tested, but added that more localised, suburb-based sewage testing could help pinpoint areas of undetected infection.

The deputy prime minister Grant Robertson said on Friday afternoon that more funding would be made available for businesses struggling with a loss of earnings, due to lockdown measures.

The government also announced one-way quarantine travel for recognised seasonal employer workers (RSE) arriving from Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu, from October.

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