Wellington – The New Zealand government on Friday extended a lockdown of its largest city Auckland for another 12 days as it seeks to extend the first domestic outbreak of coronavirus in more than three months.
The outbreak has grown to 30 people and for the first time expanded outside of Auckland. By the time the cluster was discovered Tuesday, New Zealand had gone 102 days without infections spreading in the community. The only known cases were travelers in quarantine upon arrival from abroad.
Health authorities believe the virus needs to be reintroduced from abroad, but genome tests have found no link with any of the quarantine travelers. That prompted authorities to investigate whether shipping workers were a source after several employees were infected at a food shelter.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said extending the Auckland lockdown, which began Wednesday, would give authorities time to treat the virus cluster and isolate the infected.
“Together we are lost COVID rather, “Ardern said in a highly anticipated address.” We kept it for 102 days, longer than any other country. We have become world famous in our COVID response, with the result that many lives were saved and our economy went faster than almost anywhere else. We can do it all over again. “
All new cases in the outbreak seem to be linked through family or work connections. The only known infections outside Auckland are two people in the central city of North Island Tokoroa who were visited by infected family members from Auckland. Officials said they thought the chances were low that the virus would spread further in Tokoroa.
Several of those infected work at an Americold food storage facility in suburban Auckland of Mt. Wellington. Officials are looking into the possibility that workers on a cargo ship or at the port may have spread the infections, despite physical distance requirements on those sites and orders to prevent ship workers from landing.
Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said they conducted rigorous testing in the port of Auckland “as part of our investigation just to follow that chain of Americold goods that may have come through the port and be transported to that depot Mount Wellington. “
Officials are also investigating the possibility that the virus from abroad could have survived on boxes of cool or frozen food and subsequently infected workers in New Zealand, a scenario they consider unlikely.
Bloomfield said they completed a record of more than 15,000 tests on Thursday and they got a clearer picture of the contours of the outbreak.
“All the cases so far, at this point, are connected. They are all part of one Auckland-based cluster,” said Health Minister Chris Hipkins. “And that’s good news.”
The outbreak has cast doubt on New Zealand’s general election as the month progresses and has halted the political campaign. Ardern said she would decide by Sunday whether to postpone the election, which she could do for up to two months under New Zealand law. Opinion polls suggest Ardern’s Labor Party is a favorite to win a second term.