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New Zealand Figures Out Likely Source of COVID Outbreak

As cases balloon to 21
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 19, 2021 1:13 AM CDT
Updated Aug 19, 2021 6:51 AM CDT
New Zealand Figures Out Likely Source of COVID Outbreak
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, right, walks to a press conference to give a COVID-19 response update at Parliament, Wellington, New Zealand, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021.   (Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald via AP)

(Newser) – The single COVID-19 infection that caused New Zealand to lockdown has now ballooned to an outbreak of at least 21 cases so far. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the new number on Thursday, and officials warned that it will continue to rise. The director general of health says modeling indicates the outbreak is likely to reach 50 cases, the New Zealand Herald reports. On Wednesday, Ardern had noted some of those found to be infected had spent time at church, school, a hospital, and a casino, the AP reports. "So there's still the potential that we could have had a number of big super-spreading events," one COVID modeler warns, though he says that the country's lockdown should put a halt to further transmission. More details:

  • Cluster: Twelve of the infections are part of the same Auckland cluster including the first case detected; eight more are still being investigated but are expected to be part of that cluster. One case, an air crew worker, is separate and linked to the border.
  • Where are they? Nineteen of the patients are in Auckland's quarantine facility, including one entire family of five. The other two were taken to a hospital, one due to worsening symptoms and the other due to an underlying condition. Both were in stable condition Thursday.

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  • Origin: Yes, it is the delta variant that's involved here, and authorities have determined the cases are linked to a traveler who returned to New Zealand from Sydney, Australia, on Aug. 7. The person tested positive Aug. 9 and was moved from a managed isolation facility (MIQ) to a quarantine facility that day before being hospitalized Aug. 16. Authorities suspect that's how the virus leaked out into the general population. Three of the infected stayed in a room adjacent to the Sydney traveler at the managed isolation hotel, Stuff.co.nz reports. They tested positive on day 12 of their stay.
  • Hotel freeze: Because the likely transmission happened at the MIQ hotel, it has since been closed to newly arrived travelers for at least 48 hours. In addition, people currently staying there can't leave during the freeze, even if their 14-day stays are up.
  • Measures taken: The entire country's 72-hour lockdown started at midnight Tuesday; lockdowns in Auckland and Coromandel are expected to last for at least a week. In addition, masks are now mandated for anyone who is out for essential reasons. Wastewater samples taken in Auckland have tested positive for COVID, while results from Coromandel are pending; in other parts of the country, wastewater testing has been negative so far.
  • Silver lining: The good news is, if the Sydney traveler is "patient zero," that would mean the virus hasn't been transmitting in the community very long. "If it holds up under further investigation then the later arrival date means we are looking at a much shorter chain of transmission and fewer cases than the early results suggested," Ardern says. She says there are only "one or maybe two" missing links between the Sydney traveler and the current cases, Reuters reports.
  • Open doors: Last month, in delta cases among travelers that apparently did not lead to any community transmission, authorities found the virus was transmitted between two groups of people at a quarantine facility when both their doors, which were opposite one another, were open at the same time for just three to five seconds on four different occasions. Prior to this, authorities said, there had been "very few" cases of in-facility transmission among the 165,000 people who've gone through New Zealand's managed isolation and quarantine process upon returning to the country.
  • Meanwhile, in Australia: Ardern warned that without swift action, New Zealand could end up in a situation similar to Australia, where half the country is locked down thanks to delta outbreaks. Australia's two most populous states both recorded benchmark high numbers of new infections Thursday, the AP reports. In her warning, Ardern also included a slam at Australia, News.com.au reports: "We’ve seen the dire consequences of taking too long to act in other countries, not least our neighbors."
(Read more New Zealand stories.)

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