New Zealand considers freight as possible source of new Covid-19 cluster

‘Going hard, going early with lockdown is still the best response,’ Jacinda Ardern says

New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media during a press conference at parliament on Wednesday in Wellington after Covid-19 restrictions were reintroduced across the country after four new cases were diagnosed in Auckland. Photograph:  Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images.

New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media during a press conference at parliament on Wednesday in Wellington after Covid-19 restrictions were reintroduced across the country after four new cases were diagnosed in Auckland. Photograph: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images.

 

New Zealand officials are investigating the possibility that its first Covid-19 cases in more than three months were imported by freight, as the country plunged back into lockdown on Wednesday.

The discovery of four infected family members in Auckland led prime minister Jacinda Ardern to swiftly reimpose tight restrictions on movement in the country’s biggest city and travel limitations across the entire country.

The source of the outbreak has baffled health officials, who said they were confident there were no local transmissions of the virus in New Zealand for 102 days and that the family had not travelled overseas.

“We are working hard to put together pieces of the puzzle on how this family got infected,” said director general of health Ashley Bloomfield.

Investigations were examining whether the virus was imported by freight. Dr Bloomfield said surface testing was under way at a cold storage business in Auckland where a man from the infected family worked.

“We know the virus can survive within refrigerated environments for quite some time,” he said during a televised media conference.

The New Zealand unit of Atlanta, US-based Americold Realty Trust, a refrigerated storage specialist with operations in the United States, Canada, Argentina and Australia as well as New Zealand, identified itself as the owner of the business.

Americold NZ managing director Richard Winnall told the NZ Herald the infected man had been on sick leave for several days and all employees had been sent home for tests.

Packaging

China has reported instances of coronavirus being detected on the packaging of imported frozen seafood.

The World Health Organisation website states there is currently no confirmed case of Covid-19 transmitted through food or food packaging. However, it also notes that studies have shown that the virus can survive for up to 72 hours on plastic.

Residents of Auckland, home to about 1.7 million people, were given just hours to prepare for the return to level 3 restrictions on Wednesday, requiring people to stay at home unless for essential trips.

“Going hard, going early with lockdown is still the best response,” Ms Ardern said. “Our response to the virus so far has worked . . . we know how to beat this.”

The rest of the country was placed back into slightly looser level 2 restrictions. The restrictions will initially remain in place until Friday.

Police set up roadblocks around Auckland to discourage a mass exodus from the city, while supermarkets began rationing the sale of some staple products amid a rush to the shelves. Long queues formed at Covid-19 testing centres in the city.

Ms Ardern said her cabinet will decide on Friday on the next steps with regards to restrictions.

Two members of the infected family had visited tourist sites in the town of Rotorua, about three hours drive south of Auckland, while symptomatic, and a third had gone to work at a finance company in Auckland, also while symptomatic.

Dr Bloomfield said four people who had contact with the family were considered likely cases. More than 200 people have been identified as close or casual contacts of the family and health officials were prepared to test tens of thousands of people in the coming days, he added.

Possible election delay

Ms Ardern also delayed a key step toward a September 19th general election, suspending the dissolution of parliament, which usually kicks off campaigning, until Monday.

A decision on whether the poll itself would be delayed would be announced before Monday, Ms Ardern said, as the country’s major opposition party cancelled its weekend campaign launch and called for the election to be pushed back to November.

National Party leader Judith Collins also demanded more transparency around the outbreak and the decision to resume lockdown measures, citing the scale of the economic impact. – Reuters

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