Covid 19 coronavirus: Auckland CBD staff told to work from home amid fresh outbreak

Auckland city centre workers have been told to work from home today as health authorities try to identify the source and extent of the newCovid-19 community outbreak.

Workplace bosses were also asked to be kind to staff after it was revealed the woman who tested positive to Covid-19 had served customers at the A-Z Collections store in High St.

She initially called in sick on Tuesday after being told to isolate following a Covid-19 test — but after a conversation with her manager she came into work, wearing a mask.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said last night that it was “frankly unbelievable”the woman had gone into work.

“The worst thing that happened in this case is the woman having been told to isolate, then told by a store manager to come into work. That is frankly unbelievable,” he said.

“I just cannot understand that. It defies common sense. There is a lesson in that, and you think that is a lesson people didn’t need to learn.”

However the woman’s employer last night rubbished claims that he told her to come to work despite feeling sick.

The co-owner of A-Z Collections, who would not give his name, told the Herald those claims were not true. And he has called in the lawyers.

“We never knew staff [member] was sick – she never said she had a test,” he said.

“We never knew she felt unwell. We just want to tell the truth.”

The man said he and his wife – who is the store’s other co-owner – have now contacted their lawyer over the claims.

He also said they had been targeted by abusive messages to their cellphone and email account.

“We feel really unsafe,” he said.

Identifying infection source crucial

The fresh Covid outbreak now raises the potential for Auckland’s alert level to escalate.

The results of genomic sequencing, which would reveal if the latest case is linked to any others in managed isolation, are due this afternoon.

The Government is on standby to consider whether Auckland should move into a stricter alert level to help contain an outbreak where the initial source of infection was not yet known.

Professor Shaun Hendy, director of the Te Pūnaha Matatini research centre, said the best outcome was that a link could quickly be drawn between the woman’s infection and a border management facility.

If that was done then the current situation would likely remain better contained than August’s outbreak, he said.

“But if a link can’t be established then we may be looking at a larger outbreak and this might require raising the alert level in Auckland,” he said.

With Aucklanders facing a jittery wait for more news, authorities were now scrambling to genome sequence a swab sample from the woman in a bid to scientifically link her strain of Covid-19 to other known strains in New Zealand.

The result was expected this afternoon amid hopes it would yield clues as to where she contracted the virus.

Auckland, in the meantime, remained on alert level 1 with no mandated restrictions.

However, central business district workers were asked to instead work from home today if possible.

Aucklanders were also encouraged to wear masks at work and on public transport, track their movements with the Covid Tracer App, practice good hygiene and isolate and get tested if they have cold or flu symptoms.

The woman, in her 20s, reported first developing symptoms on Monday, before being tested on Tuesday. The results were confirmed this morning.

She lived alone at the Vincent St Residences apartment complex on Vincent St, did not visit the supermarket while infectious and had limited movements around the city.

Fellow residents at the apartment complex were now being asked to get tested and stay home and isolate until their results came back.

Health teams moved in yesterday afternoon to set up a pop-up testing site inside the apartment complex.

The communal, gym, pool and shower facilities have been closed.

The apartment block was located next door to the managed isolation facility at the Grand Millenium hotel where a fire alarm forced guests to spill out onto Vincent St on Monday evening.

Vincent St Residences resident Alex Holmes claimed he saw people from the Grand Millenium mingling with tenants from his complex and said that could have been the source of the woman’s infection.

However, Director of Public Health Caroline McElnay said at a press conference about the positive case that the fire alarm was unlikely to be the source of infection for the woman.

That was because she began displaying symptoms before the alarm went off, she said.

Three close contacts of the woman – two colleagues and a friend – had now also been moved to a border hotel. They were all reported to be feeling well.

The woman took a number of “very short” Uber trips to work and her drivers were being contacted and asked to isolate.

She also visited Smith & Caughey’s on Queen St from 3.50pm-6pm and the Red Pig Restaurant on Kitchener St from 6-8.30pm on Saturday, November 7.

She then got takeaways from Starbucks on Queen St and Sunnytown Restaurant on Lorne St between 11.30am and 11.45am and The Gateau House on Queen St from 6.40pm to 6.50pm on Sunday, November 8.

She again got takeaways from Starbucks and Sunnytown Restaurant on Monday between 11.31am and 11.40am.

“Anyone who was dining at the Red Pig Restaurant on Saturday night will need to be tested and to go into self-isolation until they receive a negative test result,” the Ministry of Health said.

“Anyone at Smith and Caughey’s, Starbucks, Sunnytown and The Gateau House at these times should watch for symptoms and get tested if they feel unwell, staying in self-isolation until they receive a negative test.”

Mayor Phil Goff told RNZ that Auckland could beat Covid again, but Aucklanders needed to follow the rules, and work collectively.

“The worst thing that happened in this case is the woman having been told to isolate, then told by a store manager to come into work. That is frankly unbelievable,” he said.

“I just cannot understand that. It defies common sense. There is a lesson in that, and you think that is a lesson people didn’t need to learn.”

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