WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand officials are investigating the possibility that their first COVID-19 cases in more than three months were imported by air, as the country’s largest city falls into lock on Wednesday.
FILE PHOTO: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks during a joint press conference held with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison at Admiralty Building in Sydney, Australia, February 28, 2020. REUTERS / Loren Elliott
The discovery of four infected family members in Auckland led Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to quickly put in place strict city restrictions and national social segregation measures.
The source of the outbreak has puzzled health officials, who said they believed there was no local transmission of the virus in New Zealand for 102 days.
“We are working hard to put together pieces of the puzzle about how this family got infected,” said Health Department Director General Ashley Bloomfield.
Investigations have found the possibility of the virus being imported by air. Bloomfield said the surface testing was being conducted at a cool shop in Auckland, where an infected family man was working.
“We know viruses can stay in cold environments for quite a long time,” Bloomfield said.
Atlanta’s New Zealand unit, based in the United States, Americold Realty Trust, a refrigeration specialist with operations in the US, Canada, Argentina and Australia as well as New Zealand, has identified itself as the owner of cool storage.
Americold NZ CEO Richard Winnall told the NZ Herald that the infected man had been on sick leave for a few days and that all staff had been sent home for an examination.
China has reported several cases of corona virus detected on packaging of imported frozen seafood in recent weeks.
The World Health Organization’s website states that there are currently no confirmed cases of COVID-19 transmitted by food or food packaging. However, it also notes that studies have shown that the virus can persist for up to 72 hours on plastic.
Residents of Auckland, home to around 1.7 million people, had just a few hours to prepare for a return to the level 3 limits on Wednesday, requiring everyone to stay home unless there are trips necessary.
“Working hard, going early with the lockout is still the best response,” says Ardern. “Our response to the virus has so far worked … we know how to beat this.”
The rest of the country is set back to the slightly looser level 2 restrictions. Initial restrictions will remain in place until Friday.
Police set up barriers to prevent a massive exodus from Auckland, while supermarkets split up the sale of some staple products amid rushing shelves. Long queue at the city’s COVID-19 testing centers.
Ardern said her cabinet will decide on Friday on next steps regarding the restrictions.
Two members of the infected family visited tourist sites in the town of Rotorua, about three hours south of Auckland when symptoms showed up, and one third went to work at a financial agency. key in Auckland, also while having symptoms.
Bloomfield said four people with family connections were considered probable cases. More than 200 people have been identified as family contacts and health officials are prepared to check in on tens of thousands in the coming days, he added.
Ardern also delayed a major step towards the general election on September 19, suspending the dissolution of parliament, which normally started the campaign, until Monday.
Ardern said decision on whether the actual poll will be delayed or not will be announced by Monday as the country’s major opposition party cancels the launch of its campaign weekend and calls for a pullback. election to November.
In an announcement expected to coincide with a return to lockdown, the central bank surprised the market by expanding its bond buying program and offering a prospect of negative interest rates in an effort to revive the market. Economy is attacked by virus.
The Reserve Bank of New Zealand said: “Given the ongoing health uncertainty, there are still downside risks to our base economic scenario.”
With about 1,500 confirmed cases and 22 deaths, New Zealand’s virus exposure rate is still lower than many other developed countries.
Reported by Praveen Menon; Written by Jane Wardell; Edited by Lincoln Feast and Michael Perry