A pocket of the Waikato was plunged into a “tailor-made level 4” lockdown after Covid-19 slipped through the strict Auckland border.
The virus traveled with a recently released prisoner who had been released on bail at an address in the Firth of Thames.
But why was he able to cross the Auckland border and how did he get infected? Political journalist Katie Scotcher retraces her steps.
The man had been held at Mount Eden Prison since April 2021 and was released on bail on Wednesday, September 8.
He received his first dose of vaccine before leaving the facility that day.
Corrections said his bail conditions required him to be picked up by a family member who would take him to his bail address without any unnecessary stops.
He was picked up by three people, including one infected with Covid-19, and taken to a house in Whakatīwai.
Health officials believe the prisoner caught the virus from the infected person who was in the car. They are trying to establish how much time exactly they spent in each other’s company.
The group made several stops along the way, but authorities know the exact locations as the detainee was carrying a GPS tracker.
They include two private addresses in Mount Albert and Māngere and a Pōkeno supermarket.
The trip, which typically took around an hour, took the group 2 hours and 19 minutes.
Health officials believe he developed symptoms on September 11, three days after arriving at the bailiff’s address.
His infection, however, was not detected until almost a week later.
On September 16, the detainee left his home and went to a police checkpoint on the Auckland border.
He could no longer stay in Whakatīwai’s house, so his bond was revoked by the court and an arrest warrant was issued for him, the correctional service said.
The man was held in a police cell overnight and appeared in Manukau District Court before being taken to Mount Eden Prison on Friday evening.
Corrections told RNZ that the man denied having symptoms when he was taken into custody, but was nonetheless tested on arrival (standard procedure under alert levels 3 and 4).
He was placed in a double diaper that night and tested positive for Covid-19 on Sunday morning.
The two prisoners have now been transferred to a dedicated quarantine area.
Positive cases and close contacts
As of Monday evening, three of the nine people who lived at the man’s bail address had tested positive for the virus.
The three positive cases and an accompanying adult caregiver were transferred to a quarantine facility.
His other six household contacts have been tested – five have given negative results. The final result is pending.
Five prisoners at Mount Eden Prison who came into contact with the infected inmate returned negative tests on day three.
Corrections said two of the prisoners initially refused to be tested, but at least one has now changed their mind.
Six of the seven prison staff who have also been identified as contacts have returned negative tests and are in home isolation.
Police and court staff, who were also identified as close contacts, returned negative tests.
Residents of Whakatīwai were also tested on Monday – 340 of them.
Crossing the Auckland border
Some expressed frustration that the prisoner was released on bail at an address outside the Auckland border.
But district court chief justice Heemi Taumaunu said it was in accordance with the law. More specifically, the Covid-19 public health intervention order.
The order allowed a judge to release a person beyond an alert level limit, Taumaunu said.
“The judge will consider a series of factors set out in the Bail Act 2000, including the seriousness of the charges and the time already spent in custody. In this case, the judge was satisfied that the granting of an electronically supervised bail and the proposed surety address were appropriate, ”he said.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the government was asking corrections, however, why several people had picked it up.
“There was a specified person who was supposed to take them back to their bail address, so we’re just looking at whether the bail terms mean this has to be an exclusive arrangement or not.”
Containment “made to measure”
Part of northern Waikato has been placed under “custom” quarantine, as authorities attempt to determine whether the virus has spread beyond the man’s bail address.
Chief Health Officer Ashley Bloomfield has issued a Section 70 notice that covers an area north of State Highway 2 around Mangatangi.
Anyone who lives, works or has visited the area since September 8 should now stay at home and watch for symptoms.
Bloomfield put the restrictions in place for five days.
“It could be shorter. It’s for five days or until a medical officer of health says people can be released. We think that will give us a lot of time and we can adjust it as well, c ‘is the right thing about a 70 review section, we can just adjust it as and when there is new information that emerges, ”Bloomfield said.
People can be fined up to $ 4,000 or six months in jail for violating the section 70 notice.