New Zealand Covid outbreak: race to trace three local cases in Auckland

New Zealand has been hit by a fresh outbreak of Covid-19, with three members of the same South Auckland family testing positive from an unknown source.

Covid-19 minister Chris Hipkins said on Sunday that health officials were moving rapidly to test and isolate close contacts, and that Jacinda Ardern had cancelled engagements in Auckland to return to Wellington for briefings.

“Having the prime minister in Wellington means we can make decisions quickly. At this stage we don’t know whether we need to,” said Hipkins. “There is a number of gaps in our knowledge around these cases.”

He said Auckland would remain at alert level one, but government officials would meet later on Sunday to discuss their next moves.

The three new cases are a mother, father and daughter, who returned positive tests on Sunday. The mother works at LSG Sky Chefs, one of the world’s largest airline catering providers, in Mangere. Covid-19 testing is being carried out at that workplace.

The woman, who worked mainly in the laundry department but also in catering, last tested negative on 18 January and was last at work on 5 February.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield, New Zealand’s director general of health, said the family had done all the right things, self isolating when they developed symptoms, and that the woman had not been infectious when at work.

The father is a tradesman.

The daughter is a student at Papatoetoe high school, which will be closed on Monday and Tuesday. Five teachers and 28 students are considered close contacts of the Year 9 student and all other students and staff at the school are “casual” contacts, who have been asked to self-isolate, said school principal Vaughan Couillault. Testing facilities will be provided at the school during the week.

Two of the confirmed cases went for a short break in New Plymouth during the Waitangi weekend on 6-7 February and visited various locations. It is unclear if they were infectious at the time. According to a Ministry of Health statement, the test results were indicative of new and active infections.

There is a fourth member of the household, who has also been tested and has been moved with rest of the family into a managed isolation facility at Jet Park.

Genomic sequencing is now under way to determine if the family has been infected with one of the more transmissible overseas variants.

Some testing centres in Auckland have now extended their hours but Bloomfield urged people to get tested only if they needed one.

Australia’s chief medical officer, Prof Paul Kelly, said at this stage there would be no change to the one-way trans-Tasman bubble allowing people from New Zealand to travel to Australia without needing to quarantine for 14 days.

“We feel at the moment the risk is very low,” he said. “But of course we will and we have looked at what those exposure sites are in New Zealand and we will be looking at that for anyone coming across the border from New Zealand.”

State health officials had sought the manifests of all New Zealand flights into Australia in the past few days to follow up as a precaution, Kelly said.

Separately on Sunday, one more case of coronavirus was reported in managed isolation facilities.

The new cases come a day after the first death in five months of someone with coronavirus in New Zealand, although the fatality is not yet being officially treated as Covid-related.

On Saturday, Bloomfield said a person with a serious health condition tested positive for the virus while in mandatory isolation and died after being moved to North Shore hospital in Auckland.

With Australian Associated Press

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