A puzzling new coronavirus outbreak in New Zealand’s largest city rose to 17 cases on Thursday, with officials saying the number is likely to increase further.
And an Auckland shutdown designed to quell the outbreak could last more than the first three days.
That was an explosion from Sunday, when the South Pacific nation of 5 million people marked 100 days without any cases of local transmission. For most people, life has long gone back to normal when they sit down in crowded sports stadiums and restaurants or go to school without fear of getting infected.
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The only cases for many months were that a small number of returning tourists were quarantined at the border. But then earlier this week, health workers discovered four infections in an Auckland household.
The origins of new infectious diseases continue to pose difficulties for officials. Health Department Director General Ashley Bloomfield said the genome test has yet to match the new genome to any already detected infections at the border, although tests suggest the strain may have come from Australia. or UK.
Auckland was moved to Alert Level 3 on Wednesday, meaning workers are not necessarily at home and bars, restaurants and most businesses are closed. The rest of the country has transitioned to Level 2, requiring social exclusion.
The government will make a decision on Friday on whether to extend the Auckland shutdown, which seems increasingly likely with new cases.
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The good news for health officials about the latest 13 cases is that they can all be related to work and family with the initial 4 cases, meaning there is no evidence of broad community outbursts yet. bigger. Officials said they checked in just over 6,000 people on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the outbreak was a reminder of the virus’s cunning and how easily it spreads.
“As with our first outbreak, we expect things to get worse before they get better,” Ardern said. one cluster. “
Bloomfield said he expected that sooner or later the new cases would involve someone coming to the infected country or a worker at a quarantine facility, airport or seaport.
“Right now, we haven’t established a direct connection,” Bloomfield said, “But when we find each case and do that thorough interview and investigation, that helps.”
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Some infected people work at a cold food facility in Auckland, leading to speculation that the virus may have existed from abroad on chilled or frozen food.
Bloomfield said they are testing the facility but he thinks that scenario is unlikely and the virus has spread from person to person. Ardern points out that a cold environment can support the spread of the virus once a person has it.
The outbreak caused hourly delays at virus testing locations across New Zealand and some panicked buying essentials at supermarkets such as toilet paper and flour.
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New Zealand for the first time eliminated the transmission of the virus in the community by imposing a strict regulation in late March when only about 100 people tested positive for the disease.
Ardern’s leadership was widely praised, and opinion polls showed her support for the Free Labor Party increased ahead of next month’s general elections. But the viral outbreak has halted the campaign and raised questions about whether elections are going as planned. Under New Zealand law, Ardern can delay polls for up to two months.