On Monday, authorities said the first locally infected person in New Zealand in more than two months had a South African type of coronavirus, and transmission likely occurred during quarantine.
On Saturday, a 56-year-old woman who had recently returned from Europe tested positive for Covid-19. She was isolated for two weeks for ten days, which means she was the first “locally infected” since mid-November. Additionally, it will be affected by the South African variant, which is 50% more lethal than the original strain.
Health Minister Chris Hepkins announced on Monday that “the strain of infection is the South African variant and the source of the infection is most likely someone else who has returned” from abroad. She was allegedly infected during quarantine by someone who was on the same floor as her and who tested positive two days before this woman ended her quarantine. Authorities are investigating whether the virus has spread through the center’s ventilation and air conditioning systems in Auckland.
After being released from quarantine, the woman returned to her home in the Northland region, in the northern tip of the country, and developed symptoms of Covid-19 for several days before testing positive. Fifteen people were contacted, identified as contact cases. Her husband and hairdresser, with whom she was in close contact, conducted the tests, which were negative.
Health Director Ashley Bloomfield was relieved that if they did not become infected, it was likely due to the type of symptoms the woman was showing. “You didn’t talk about respiratory symptoms, it was more muscle pain, so maybe you didn’t spread the virus that much,” he said.
Australia is taking action
For his part, the Australian Minister of Health, Greg Hunt, expressed his “grave concern” and his government announced a suspension of the ruling for at least three days allowing New Zealanders arriving in Australia to be exempted from quarantine, with immediate effect. “We are choosing to be very careful while we wait for more to be discovered,” he told reporters in Canberra. Air New Zealand estimates this affects five flights planned as of today. New Zealanders who cannot reschedule their flight will need to stay in a hotel for at least 72 hours and possibly up to 14 days depending on test results.
Similarly, Australian authorities have required people from New Zealand since January 14 to undergo screening and self-isolate while awaiting a negative test result.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke in the late afternoon with her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison. “I told her we trust our systems and processes, but it’s Australia’s decision how to manage its borders,” she admitted on TVNZ.
New Zealand’s record in combating Covid-19 abroad has been hailed, with the archipelago’s total number of infections below 2,000 and 25 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
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