Covid 19 Omicron scare: Chris Hipkins says up to 100 people isolating after close contact with Omicron case

Up to 100 people could be isolating as a result of close contact with the man who tested positive for Omicron and spent time in the community, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkin says.

Last night it was revealed an Omicron-positive person – who later turned out to be British DJ Dimension, real name Robert Etheridge – had been active in the Auckland community for two days.

The DJ – who had travelled to New Zealand to perform at the Rhythm & Alps festival – spent seven days in MIQ, before then transferring to an approved beachside location for MIQ.

Etheridge ended his stint and spent two days in the community – including going to Auckland bars and restaurants and Waiheke Island – before he got the results of his day-nine Covid test; the one which would come back as positive.

Hipkins doesn’t know how many people are isolating in total “but it is a reasonably sizeable number”.

“The close contacts are all being asked to isolate.”

Hipkins reiterated a lockdown isn’t being considered at the moment.

“At this point there is no case to reinstate any boundaries” or stop Auckland from shifting to orange.

Health officials this morning had confirmed to them that the DJ did not pick up Omicron in MIQ.

When asked if NZ should be closed to non-citizens, he replied: “Look, I don’t want to overreact to this … We are moving to a different space now. We are going to have Covid-19 in the community.”

It could have been a case with just a few contacts, he said, had Etheridge followed the rules.

“He’s one of the last people to have entered MIQ on the 7+3 arrangement.

“It appears he was out and about on Waiheke.

“He didn’t wait, unfortunately, until he received his negative day nine test.

“As a result, those people (he came into contact with on Boxing Day) … find themselves having to self-isolate as well.”

“I think it’s disappointing” he didn’t follow rules, Hipkins said.

“The Omicron variant, up until this one case, has been well contained at the border.”

Was Hipkins concerned they might not have found all the people at the nightclub?

“My understanding is that it was a private event, so the list is quite defined.”

Hipkins doesn’t know if the DJ had a vax pass. He also doesn’t know how Etheridge got to Waiheke Island.

Peiople are allowed to use public transport or connecting flights, but they have to follow all the public health advice.

“We ask people to isolate until after they get the results from their day nine test,” Hipkins said.

“We ask people to stay in their bubbles while self-isolating.

“That hasn’t been the case here and that’s very disappointing.

“It is of course a reminder … that while many of us feel like were over Covid, Covid-19 is not over with us,” Hipkins said.

Mask up, turn on blue tooth and get vaccinated, Hipkins urged.

Was he worried Omicron might be here to stay? At this point, he said, the results are reasonable encouraging.

“So far the early signs are that the risk could well be contained.”

He said booster doses will be available in larger numbers “from late next week” at most walk-in vaccination clinics.

Health officials had identified four cases in the same managed isolation facility as the man, Hipkins said. There is no link between three cases and the man.

They are waiting on genome results for the fourth person.

Three of four people staying at a Waiheke house with Etheridge have tested negative, Hipkins said.

The case visited the beach and had drinks with neighbours, Hipkins said. They’re being asked to self-isolate.

At the hotel, after the person checked in, there was no close contact.

There are 14 close contacts who were at dinner with the case. Six flew via charter plane to South Island to perform at festival.

“All of them are isolating.”

“All of the others patrons and staff at the restaurant are considered to be casual contacts.

“At the Impala nightclub, 47 contacts have been identified.

“We still don’t have the full picture of this, so there’s still a bit of work to be done.”

We know Omicron is coming at some point, but want to delay it as much as possible, Hipkins says.

If there is Omicron community spread, areas won’t necessarily go immediately to red, he said.

“It depends on the circumstances of the case.”

Was Hipkins worried the man’s close contacts are also DJs who have travelled the country?

The public health team has done risk assessments on each of the performers, he replied.

“The risk is low.”

Will the man face any penalties? “That’s not my call,” Hipkins said.

“There’s already a reasonably significant penalty playing out in the public arena right now.

“Follow the rules. They’re there for a reason.”

He says a flight attendant has also tested positive for the Omicron variant and more details would follow at 1pm, he said.

The flight attendant appears to be low risk to the community, Hipkins said.

For clarification, he didn’t indicate the flight attendant was connected to the DJ case.

With Delta in community, the Government was willing to tolerate the risk of seven-day MIQ stays. That was not the case with Omicron, he said.

The border settings were adapted for Delta, not Omicron.

The DJ was staying at the Grand Mercure MIQ hotel, Hipkins said.

He got a special visa to visit, but got an MIQ room through the voucher system like everyone else, Hipkins said.

Special visitors “by and large, they follow the rules … and we do get a lot out of them coming to NZ.”

“The last thing you want is people who are really tired giving vaccinations,” so it was important to give people a break before ramping up booster doses starting next week, Hipkins said.

Was Hipkins confident people know they can’t leave self-isolation until the final test is back?

“Yes.”

Hipkins says many New Zealanders abroad have decided to wait to come home until self-isolation at home is allowed.

He says the risk for people attending Rhythm & Alps is “very low”.

MIQ made sure people are very well briefed when they leave, Hipkins said.

“They do get written information.”

But after day 6 test they’re also talked to about what’s required of them when they self-isolate.

Etheridge says since outing himself as the Omicron case, he has since been targeted by “hate and abuse”.

A leading New Zealand Covid-19 expert has spoken of his fears the DJ might have picked up the variant during his initial stay in MIQ.

The highly contagious new Covid-19 variant had previously only been picked up in New Zealand via testing within people in MIQ; with Ministry of Health bosses confirming yesterday afternoon there had been 71 cases detected from those in managed isolation.

University of Auckland professor of epidemiology Rod Jackson said New Zealanders had every right to be worried about the Omicron case in the community.

He said given how unusual it was for a day nine test to pick up Covid-19, the “best scenario” was that the test had picked up an “historical infection” and he didn’t currently have Covid.

But he added: “The most likely and possible scenario is that he got it at MIQ which is a worry.”

Jackson said it was key New Zealand could avoid community spread of Omicron for as long as possible.

He hoped the scare created by the Etheridge case would be a “wake up call” to Kiwis who so far have refused to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

“With Delta, we were pretty much certain that everyone was going to get Delta and it could’ve taken up to a year.,” Jackson said. “With Omicron, everyone is going to get Omicron if they are not vaccinated and it is going to come fast . . . which means there is no time to delay.”

The press conference came almost 13 hours before Auckland is set to transfer to the orange setting in the Government’s Covid traffic light system.

Last week Hipkins confirmed in the event of Omicron community spread cases, areas will move into the red traffic light setting

“All of the evidence so far points to Omicron being the most transmissible Covid-19 variant yet and public health advice suggests that soon, every case that comes into MIQ will be Omicron,” Hipkins said at the time.

Hipkins had said the Government’s plan was to prepare by speeding up boosters and strengthening border defences to keep Omicron out of the community for as long as possible.

“But we need to do more. Parts of the world are going back into lockdown and experiencing major disruption, and with these extra steps we aim to keep Omicron at bay to ensure New Zealanders get the break they deserve and businesses can remain open.”

As Hipkins prepared to front the media, Etheridge again posted on social media about his regrets.

While still in self-isolation, he posted photos of himself drinking on a beach, sending Christmas greetings from New Zealand and giving thanks for an amazing year in which his album reached the top of the UK Dance Charts.

It was a post which triggered angry reactions from New Zealanders fuming he had risked spreading the highly transmissible new variant of Covid-19 through the community by his actions in leaving self-isolation before receiving his final test result.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CYEE0szqpQh/

A post shared by DIMENSION (@dimension)

Etheridge wrote: “For clarity, photos uploaded on social media on 25th December were taken at a private address which was approved by the Department of Health prior to my arrival.

“As a result of my name being revealed in the media, I received many comments of hate and abuse, therefore I felt the need to remove the post in that moment.”

Etheridge also again apologised for his actions, which he said were a genuine mistake.

“I want to reiterate my apologies to those who I have inadvertently put at risk as a result of my misunderstandings,” he wrote on Instagram.

“I realise the gravity of the situation and I am deeply regretful to those who have been impacted; including members of the public, event organisers and close contacts.”

Etheridge posted online on Wednesday night that during his time in MIQ and then home isolation he received three negative tests “and showed no symptoms”.

After completing a 10-day isolation period he “entered the community” thinking that he didn’t have to wait for the result of his final test.

“To my shock and enormous concern, I unexpectedly received a positive test on day twelve, two days after my isolation period had ended.”

A Ministry of Health spokesperson had earlier confirmed to the Herald that the infected person – who they didn’t name – did not wait for a negative test result before they left the place they were self-isolating.

Etheridge, a UK-based electronic music artist, was due to perform at Rhythm & Alps near Wānaka before he abruptly pulled out not long before he was due to take the stage.

Before heading south he spent several hours in the community on Boxing Day – visiting a number of Auckland’s hot spots including a nightclub and bar, restaurants, and a jewellery store.

The recent arrival from the United Kingdom is the first person infected with Omicron who has been active in the community in New Zealand.

Etheridge arrived in New Zealand on December 16, from the UK via Doha. The Ministry of Health said he had returned three negative tests and left MIQ to self-isolate at home for three days on December 23.

He took his day-nine Covid test on Christmas Day, December 25, but rather than wait to get his test result back before leaving self-isolation, he went out shopping and clubbing in Auckland.

Among the places he visited while infected were the Impala nightclub in central Auckland, as well as Soul bar.

Earlier on Boxing Day, he spent approximately four hours in the Commercial Bay Precinct – visiting a jewellery store and two restaurants – between 2.30pm and 4.30pm, and again between 6.30pm and 8pm.

Etheridge received his positive test result on December 27.

Etheridge is one of several people who have been granted special visas to enter New Zealand, despite current border closures.

To date, around 81 international music artists have been given a spot in MIQ to come perform in New Zealand.

To get a border exception, they have to apply for a critical purpose visitor visa.

Immigration New Zealand says the promoter has to show how the music artist will bring significant economic benefit to the country, if they were to come here.


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