New Zealand’s COVID-19 Outbreak Is UK Variant, Jacinda Ardern Confirms
Jacinda Ardern has confirmed that three new community cases of coronavirus in New Zealand are the UK variant.
The country’s biggest city of Auckland began a three-day lockdown this morning, February 15, after three family members tested positive for the virus.
Prime Minister Ardern placed Auckland under alert level three restrictions, banning non-essential movement until midnight on Wednesday, while the rest of the country was put at alert level two, which requires social distancing, caps on gathering and an increase in the use of protective face masks.
Genomic testing confirmed that the three new cases, found in a mother, father and daughter, were the UK variant of coronavirus first discovered in Kent.
Speaking to Radio NZ, Ardern noted that the government was ‘right to take a cautious approach and focus on safety’ because the UK variant is slightly more infectious.
Health officials are working to identify the source of the infection, with two main scenarios being investigated.
Ardern commented: ‘We also know that based on that sequencing we haven’t been able to link it to any other cases that we’ve had come through our managed isolation facilities and that tells us it’s unlikely, therefore, to have been some form of issue with our managed isolation.’
One possibility is that the new variant came from a transit passenger, while another is that it came from international aircrew. According to The Guardian, the mother who tested positive worked at a business servicing airlines at Auckland airport.
Crew have had their uniforms cleaned at the establishment where one of the people who tested positive works, and while experts say there doesn’t appear to be cases where transmission has occurred from laundry, Ardern acknowledged the need to investigate thoroughly.
She said: ‘The most likely scenario is always human-to-human [transmission]… but even with those lesser likely possibilities we don’t rule them out, we try and explore every possible option.’
Seven of the mother’s nine co-workers have so far returned negative test results, and contact tracers have identified 42 people who have been in close contact with the family outside the household, including the daughter’s classmates and teachers. So far, all test results have come back negative.
Ardern also confirmed today that the first batches of the coronavirus vaccine had arrived in the country, with the rollout set to begin on Saturday, February 20. The vaccines will be tested for quality assurance before being given to border workers as the first priority.
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