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Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says he can’t imagine the strain the South Auckland family at the centre of the Covid cluster is under and reiterated that his focus remains on eliminating the outbreak.
Bloomfield has also indicated those who breached self-isolation protocols and sparked the latest Auckland lockdown won’t be prosecuted by police.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday expressed anger that the mother of the latest community cases had gone for a walk with the mother of another family identified in the cluster during a level 3 lockdown. Last week it emerged a 21-year-old breached health advice and went to work instead of self-isolating.
Bloomfield said the South Auckland family at the centre of the community outbreak were well aware of the gravity of what had happened and his priority remained eliminating the outbreak and ensuring people felt safe coming forward for testing.
“I can’t imagine the stress that these people feel at the moment,” he said. “In fact, I saw a story this morning that they ‘feel the weight of the nation on their shoulders’. I think they have a good sense of the fact they didn’t comply with what they should have been doing.
“I would be very reluctant to do anything that would actually deter people from coming forward and being tested. We need to actually all be in this together and people being tested is fundamental to us being able to respond effectively.”
He said it was widely accepted that taking a prosecutorial approach to the latest breaches would hinder people coming forward.
Bloomfield must refer matters to police for a legal prosecution to proceed, but he told Morning Report he wasn’t convinced this would be a productive move and feared it may hinder people coming forward for testing.
“I just needed to be convinced that it was actually going to be a useful thing to do rather than a counter-productive thing to do and we’ve seen other commentators making the same point.”
There was further criticism this morning about the Government’s Covid-19 messaging in the wake of breaches.
The chief executive of the Pasifika Medical Association, Debbie Sorensen, said official terms like “casual plus contact” were hard to grasp.
Bloomfield said, although such new terms needed to be explained better, this wasn’t that relevant when it came to self-isolating instructions, which he said were clear and straightforward.
“The terminology like casual or close contact, or casual plus, that’s a good point, that could be confusing. But what isn’t confusing is the instruction and the information that are given to people about what to do when you are asked to isolate, the instructions around getting a test and what to do after a test.
“We’ve been pretty consistent in that messaging and we have gone to a lot of effort to ensure that messaging is translated into a range of languages.”
He said there was clear messaging on the need to ensure children at Papatoetoe High School got tested, stayed at home and only returned to classrooms once a negative test result came back.
He said those “residual few” who did not get their children tested were called 10 to 12 times over the period of a week.
Manukau councillor Efeso Collins had also suggested popular social networks such as TikTok should be in the mix to reach the young.
Bloomfield said the ministry supplemented its regular media updates with use of various social media platforms and worked with community figures and online influencers to get its message across.
“We absolutely use a range of voices and channels, different ages, different ethnicities. In this particular instance, in addition to information going out through the school community, you can imagine students are pretty active on social media on a whole range of platforms as well.
“So, I’m confident there would have been a fair bit of information-sharing happening in the community. That’s probably the most important way the information gets out, particularly for young adults and teenagers.”
Bloomfield said it was too early to say whether level-3 lockdown in Auckland would be lifted on Sunday, but added that if everyone stuck to the Covid response rules across the country, coming out of lockdown would happen quicker.
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