Sydney, Australia, Aug 13 (efe-epa).- New Zealand’s director general of health reported 13 new local transmission cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and said it’s possible the virus could have been in the community for weeks.
At a daily press conference alongside Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said all the new cases were in Auckland and linked to the first four in one family announced two days ago.
The new cluster outbreak, which has no known source, broke the country’s 102-day streak of no local transmission, and has baffled authorities.
“We are continuing the genome sequencing investigations… there has been no exact link between the genome sequence of the positive swabs in this new cluster with the genome sequence of any recent case in a managed isolation quarantine (MIQ) facility,” Bloomfield said, adding that not all samples from MIQ centers had been genome sequenced due to lack of DNA.
“The genome sequence of the new cases broadly most closely resembles the pattern from the UK and Australia,” he added.
The new cases are a student, three employees at coolstore company Americold and seven of their family members, one employee at Finance Now and a family member, with one “probable” case also linked to the new outbreak identified. All confirmed cases are to be managed in a quarantine facility instead of home isolation.
In addition, a woman in her thirties who is in quarantine after arriving from the Philippines also tested positive, bringing confirmed cases in the country to 1,238 since the beginning of the epidemic, with 22 deaths. There are now 36 active cases – 17 from the new local outbreak.
The results of surface and environmental swabs from the Americold operations were expected later on Thursday. These swabs were done to rule out contaminated surfaces, potentially from imported frozen goods.
But Ardern said the “most likely scenario is human-to-human (transmission) but we’re wanting to rule everything out.”
Meanwhile, Bloomfield said it was possible the virus could have been in the community for weeks.
“If you think about the infectious period and we look at our cases, the earliest time that one of them displayed symptoms was on 31st of July. It does imply that it could have been several weeks ago that the very first case was in the community,” he said.
Bloomfield also said he agreed with physicist and disease modeler Shaun Hendy who told local media there could be anywhere from 25-100 people infected.
“Once you identify a cluster, it grows before it slows. We should expect that to be the case here,” Ardern said.
On Wednesday, Auckland was placed back under lockdown Level 3, while the rest of the country was taken to Level 2, and rest homes were under strict Level 4 confinement, banning visitors.
One of the current cases had visited an aged care residential facility in the Waikato region and displayed symptoms the next day. All staff and residents there were being tested as a precaution, while contact tracing was also being carried out in Rotorua and Taupo, where two cases visited.
Praised worldwide for suppressing the new coronavirus, New Zealand’s government in late April declared that it had eliminated community transmission, and on June 9, with no more active cases, lifted all restrictions except border closures. EFE-EPA