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Three arrivals from Friday’s flight placed in quarantine

Saturday 14 November 2020 | Written by Emmanuel Samoglou | Published in Health, National


Three arrivals from Friday’s flight placed in quarantine
Three arrivals on last Friday's flight were placed in supervised quarantine by health officials. (Photo: Losirene Lacanivalu)

The placing of three arrivals in supervised quarantine on Friday has prompted the Opposition to renew its calls for mandatory supervised quarantine for all incoming international visitors.

Two arrivals on Friday were placed in supervised quarantine after being classified by health officials as "casual contacts" with a recently identified Covid-19 case in Auckland. 

Cook Islands and New Zealand health officials made the connection before Friday’s Air New Zealand flight departed Auckland, but the two were already on board the aircraft, said Te Marae Ora Ministry of Health spokesperson Jaewynn McKay.

The passengers were permitted to travel as Cook Islands health authorities had yet to consult with their NZ counterparts, she added.

According to NZ's Ministry of Health, "casual contacts" differ from "close contacts" as they have been determined to be at a lower risk of transmitting the virus.

Health officials acquired details about the two individuals after an email was sent to all passengers, requesting them to disclose their recent movements in Auckland’s central business district (CBD). That was when it was discovered the two passengers had visited a venue that the recently identified Covid-19 case in Auckland had also visited.

A third individual, who was seated next to one of the identified passengers, has also been placed in supervised quarantine, according to a statement from Te Marae Ora Ministry of Health.

Citing privacy concerns, a ministry spokesperson said they would not disclose the venue in question.

Discussions between Health secretary Dr Aumea Herman and her New Zealand Ministry of Health counterparts determined the “public health risk was at the lower end”, but as a precautionary measure, the passengers should be placed in supervised quarantine for up to 14 days.

“Due to the unfolding situation in Auckland we are taking precautionary measures, to mitigate the public health risk to the people of the Cook Islands,” said Dr Herman. Despite the health ministry’s reassurance, the Opposition Democratic Party repeated its call for the Government to reinstate the requirement for 14 days of mandatory supervised quarantine for all incoming international passengers.

Opposition Health spokesperson Sel Napa said: “We may have been very, very lucky this time, but we will know for sure by the end of the quarantine period. We may not be so lucky next time.”

“Our TMO staff have to be congratulated for responding quickly and handling this matter so efficiently. But all this could have been avoided if we had stuck to our quarantine practice.

“We have been saying over and over again, our people come first, prioritise our people, it’s about our people…not dollars. But the PM doesn’t seem to be listening to this or the cry of our iti tangata to bring back quarantine because there’s just too much at risk. Does he think that money is more important than our people?”

A New Zealand Government official greets his Cook Islands counterpart at Rarotonga International Airport yesterday. NZ officials are in the country for an inspection with the goal of confirming a safe travel bubble between the two countries. (Photo: Losirene Lacanivalu 20111316).

As per current entry requirements, all passengers arriving on the flight had earlier produced negative Covid-19 tests results prior to departure.

Upon arrival in Rarotonga, the 58 passengers were briefed on the situation by a Te Marae Ora doctor, who informed them that they would have to undergo a Covid-19 swab test as a precautionary measure. They have also been asked to wear face masks in public. As of last night, the returned swab tests showed negative results.

Follow up tests will be undertaken by health officials in the coming days. As of Friday evening, there were a total of four community Covid-19 cases in New Zealand according to the Ministry of Health, including a woman in her 20s who was confirmed to have contracted the virus this week.

With the uptick in community cases in NZ, Te Marae Ora has begun contacting 70 passengers who recently arrived in Rarotonga on the previous two weekly flights to undergo testing for the virus.

Health spokesperson Jaewynn McKay last night said of the 70 returnees, 52 tests have come back negative while results for 18 was pending.

There is currently no quarantine requirement for incoming arrivals to the Cook Islands.

Te Marae Ora is urging the public to maintain physical distancing and practice personal hygiene, and any individuals feeling unwell are asked to stay home or contact health authorities if experiencing respiratory issues.

The Health ministry is also asking the public to track their movements with contact tracing app, CookSafe.

NOTE - This story includes a clarification from the version appearing in Saturday's print edition of CI News. Local officials are describing the two passengers in quarantine as "casual contacts" of the confirmed Covid-19 community case in Auckland this week. NZ's Ministry of Health describes casual contacts as those having a lower public health risk than "close contacts". More details can be found here.