(Update 1: Changes headline, lede, adds details of Australia decision, minor edits throughout)
Sydney, Australia, Jan 25 (efe-epa).- Australia on Monday suspended quarantine-free entry to arrivals from New Zealand after a community case of the South African Covid-19 variant was detected at the weekend.
New Zealand health authorities announced Monday morning that the first case of Covid-19 detected in the community in months is the South African variant, which is thought to be more infectious than the original strain.
The country’s Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said that genomic testing has determined that the 56-year-old woman, who tested negative twice in a quarantine hotel for international arrivals before being discharged into the community on Jan. 13, has the same strain as another person staying on the same hotel floor in Auckland.
Later, Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt announced a 72-hour suspension of quarantine-free travel for arrivals from New Zealand.
They will now have to enter a mandatory 14-day quarantine period, while those who arrived on or after Jan. 14 will have to be tested and isolate themselves until their result returns negative.
“This will be done out of an abundance of caution whilst more is learned about the event and the case,” Hunt said. “The changes come into effect, as I say, immediately.”
The New Zealand authorities do not know exactly how the woman contracted the virus. New Zealand’s Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said Monday that investigations were underway, including looking into whether she contracted it through the hotel’s ventilation system.
The woman had left New Zealand late last year and traveled to Spain and the Netherlands, before departing London with a stopover in Singapore. She arrived in Auckland on Dec. 30, but is believed to have contracted the virus between Jan. 9 and 13, when she was released.
She then tripped around the lower Northland region with her husband, visiting 30 places, while using the Covid Tracer app, which recorded times and details of every spot she visited.
To date two of the 15 people considered close contacts of the woman, who is now in self-isolation at home north of Auckland, have tested negative for Covid-19.
Amid fears of the spread of the highly contagious strain in the country, which operates as normal with no restrictions except at borders, Hipkins said closing borders to high-risk countries was not feasible.
“We do have to provide that opportunity for New Zealanders to come home,” he said. “People are waiting a long time to get home.”
Meanwhile, Air New Zealand has imposed the mandatory use of masks on all its flights.
New Zealand, which had not had a community infection since Nov. 18, has acted decisively since the beginning of the pandemic, which has allowed it to keep accumulated confirmed cases at about 1,930, including 25 deaths and 64 active cases, all arrivals from abroad and in quarantine hotels.
The authorities have announced that they will vaccinate their 5 million residents in the second quarter of this year after acquiring more than 18 million doses of vaccines, including 10.72 million from Novavax, 7.6 million from AstraZeneca, 5 million from Janssen and 750,000 from Pfizer-BioNTech. EFE-EPA