We went hard and early in our health response to COVID-19 – and it worked. After a short period of lockdown, we were able to safely ease restrictions and open up our economy much quicker than many other countries. We had a plan in place to combat a resurgence, which meant that we were able to act swiftly and decisively when we had a second outbreak.
During our first term in Government, we made record investments in our health system, fixing rundown hospitals and boosting funding for health services after nine years of neglect. Undoubtedly, our investments in the health system meant we were better prepared and resourced to fight COVID-19. When the virus first reached New Zealand, we provided $500 million in targeted COVID-19 health funding.
When the second outbreak was identified, we reacted quickly; commencing contact tracing, testing, and isolation of close-contacts immediately. We also immediately announced that Auckland would go into Alert Level 3 lockdown, and the rest of the country would move to Level 2.
178 cases have now been identified in the cluster, with the earliest being from around 31 July. We have contact traced and done genome sequencing of our positive cases, tested almost all our border workers, tested our quarantine and managed isolation workers, and tested workers at our ports. We have also done genome sequencing of previous cases in MIQ, surface testing of the cool store where the outbreak is believed to have started, and serology testing of quarantine and managed isolation staff to see if they had previously had the virus.
We have moved with speed when it comes to widespread testing and contact tracing, scaling up our capacity and increasing regular testing in the community. We have one of the highest rates of tests per positive case in the world, ahead of Taiwan, Australia, Singapore, US, UK, and Canada. In the week following the latest outbreak, we carried out 136,710 tests. We have also more than doubled lab testing capacity from 10,000 tests to 25,000, and are consistently achieving the gold standard of more than 80% of contacts traced within 48 hours. Our Public Health Units are now all using the National Contact Tracing system. PHUs can trace up to 350 cases per day (up from less than 50) and the NCCS can make up to 20,000 calls a day. We are continuously looking at ways we can improve our testing, including the use of waste water test and spit testing.
We’ve also ramped up testing at the border. In the week to 17 September we tested 450 MIQ staff, 1,100 MIF staff, 1,067 Auckland airport staff and 148 Port of Auckland and Tauranga staff. In total from 14 August – 13 September we carried out 6,468 tests at Auckland Airport and 4,186 at the Ports of Auckland and Tauranga.
Our ongoing health response is eliminating the spread of COVID-19 and keeping New Zealanders safe. While these are uncertain times, New Zealanders can feel confident that we have a plan, and it’s working. We’ve proven that our team of five million can overcome this virus: we did it before, and we’re doing it again.