New Zealand’s resurgent Covid-19 outbreak spreads beyond Auckland

Medical staff prepare to take a Covid-19 test from a visitor at an assessment centre in Christchurch on Thursday. (AP pic)

AUCKLAND: New Zealand’s resurgent coronavirus outbreak has spread beyond Auckland, health officials said Friday, in a major blow to efforts to contain the disease.

Health Minister Chris Hipkins said there were 12 more cases of community transmission, and one probable, following the shock re-emergence of the virus in Auckland this week.

He said two of the infections were found in the North Island town of Tokoroa, around 210km south of Auckland.

The infections outside Auckland come despite a strict lockdown in New Zealand’s largest city, including masked police blocking roads to seal its borders.

It has resulted in around 30 people from Tokoroa who were in close contact with the infected pair being taken into quarantine and tested.

Hipkins played down fears that the failure to ring-fence infections to Auckland meant the virus could now be rampant elsewhere.

“All of the cases so far are connected, they are all part of one Auckland-based cluster, that’s good news,” he said, adding that the Tokoroa cases were identified quickly.

“We’ve seen no evidence of a Covid-19 case outside of Auckland that is unrelated to the cluster we are dealing with.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is set to announce later Friday whether Auckland’s lockdown will be extended, and whether the area affected by the restrictions should be enlarged beyond the city.

The crisis erupted when four family members in Auckland returned positive tests on Tuesday, ending New Zealand’s run of 102 days with no reported community transmission.

Case numbers in the cluster have continued to rise – climbing to 30 by Friday – as health authorities desperately scramble to find the source of the infection.

“That’s a that’s still a piece in the puzzle we’re trying to fill,” national health director-general Ashley Bloomfield said.

Completely unacceptable

In just four days, New Zealand has gone from a transmission-free haven to contemplating national lockdown.

Bloomfield said feelings were running high but urged the public not to take out their frustrations on frontline health workers.

“We’ve had reports of healthcare workers, who are doing their best to provide testing for people, being verbally abused and even attacked,” he said.

“This is completely unacceptable,” he added, declining to provide further details.

New Zealand is following the same strategy that helped contain the virus after a seven-week lockdown earlier this year – isolating positive cases, tracing their contact and testing extensively.

Hipkins said swabs were taken from almost 16,000 people on Thursday alone.

The government is making testing mandatory for frontline workers at ports and isolation facilities after reports that most staff at Auckland airport had never been checked for the virus.

Hipkins denied the government had failed to secure the border – regarded as the area most vulnerable to Covid-19’s return – but conceded: “I’d have liked more tests (there) earlier, yes, it would be fair to say that.”

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