Dangers lurk as NZ edges to elimination

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The difficulties of preventing the spread of COVID-19's Delta variant are being laid bare in New Zealand as it continues a tightrope walk to elimination.

Daily case numbers in New Zealand continue to fall: 11 cases were reported on Friday, down from a peak of 83 on August 29.

Experts and Jacinda Ardern's government attribute the fall to the tough-as-nails lockdown ordered back on August 17 after the identification of just one case.

On Friday, Auckland hits day 24 of lockdown which will be reassessed next Monday. The consensus is it will be extended.

The goal is to eliminate COVID-19 in the community, bringing daily case numbers to zero.

"I hate the idea of even one preventable death," Ms Ardern said.

However, new evidence suggests this lockdown could have been avoided.

Investigative reporting from NZ outlet Newsroom has shown Ms Ardern's government removed the requirement for pre-departure testing for the flight that provided the outbreak's index case.

In July and August, New Zealand green-lit a string of flights to bring home stranded Kiwis from NSW during its Delta outbreak.

On the August 7 flight was a man who tested positive to COVID-19 the next day.

Genomic sequencing has shown him to be the index case for New Zealand's outbreak - which has infected 879 people and killed one person to date.

It's not clear the man would have tested positive in a pre-departure test, however the hurdle's removal means authorities will never know.

Since Newsroom's reporting, the government has re-established the requirement for pre-departure testing.

This week in Auckland, the centre of the outbreak, two incidents at Middlemore Hospital show how hard getting to COVID Zero again could be.

Last Sunday, a patient was admitted to the hospital and shared a room with other patients before testing positive to COVID-19.

The hospital tallied up 149 contacts who needed to isolate as a result, including patients who still required care, and staff in an already stretched health system.

Thankfully, all contacts returned a day three negative test, with Counties Manukau chief medical officer Peter Watson telling Radio NZ "tere's no suspicion of any (further COVID-19) cases as a consequence".

Those close contacts will also produce a day five and day 12 test.

On Thursday, a second exposure event occurred at the same hospital.

Dr Watson said a person presented at the emergency department for a separate issue, only to test positive for COVID-19 after receiving treatment.

That person answered all of the screening questions in the negative, didn't have any COVID-positive contacts and hadn't been to a location of interest - and was only tested "out of an abundance of caution".

The exposure has produced another 36 contacts - patients and staff - who must now isolate and get tested.

"It's a real challenge," he said.

"We are going to continue to have many patients and visitors and staff every day come into our hospital.

"We have to be incredibly vigilant in our use of PPE and screening ... while we're in level four, we need people to stay home and get swabbed."

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