World

NZ scrambles to contain coronavirus with 13 new cases reported

Hunt on for patient zero of new outbreak, breach in quarantine system suspected

WELLINGTON New Zealand was scrambling to trace the source of its first coronavirus outbreak in more than three months, reporting 13 new community infections yesterday, after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had sought to eradicate the virus with a hard lockdown.

The resurgence of Covid-19 comes just weeks before a scheduled general election, increasing pressure on Ms Ardern to get the outbreak under control amid growing criticism.

Ms Ardern swiftly reimposed tight movement restrictions in Auckland and social distancing measures across the rest of the country after the discovery this week of four infected family members in the city.

"Once again we are reminded of how tricky this virus is and how easily it can spread," she said during a televised news conference yesterday.

"Going hard and early is still the best course of action."

Officials reported 13 new cases in the community yesterday, and one overseas arrival who had not left quarantine since arriving in the country, bringing the total number of active cases to 36.

Ms Ardern said it was a positive sign that all 13 cases were linked back to one infected family, either via work or broader family connections, and that all were being transferred into quarantine facilities.

She said that experience showed "things will get worse before they get better", and more cases were likely to be reported in coming days.

SUSPECT

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said he suspected the cause of the outbreak came from quarantine.

"I think there's been a breach inside our quarantine system, and I think, when that comes out very shortly, in a matter of maybe less than a day, we'll find out that was the case," Mr Peters told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said health officials were getting "closer every hour" to finding the patient zero of the outbreak.

Dr Bloomfield had raised the possibility earlier on Wednesday that the virus had arrived in New Zealand via freight, given one of the initially infected family members works in a cool store that takes imported frozen goods from overseas.

Ten of the new cases were either cool store staff or their family members.

Yesterday, Dr Bloomfield said that importing the virus via freight was considered "a low possibility".

Meanwhile, Australia's virus-hit Victoria state reported a major drop in new coronavirus cases yesterday, but officials warned against complacency amid a "worrying" spread of the disease in regional areas outside Melbourne.

Just 278 new cases and eight deaths were detected in Victoria - a low not seen in weeks - while a smaller outbreak in neighbouring New South Wales produced 12 additional cases and one death.

The surge in Melbourne had pushed daily infection rates to over 700 in recent weeks.

There are now signs that strict measures - including an overnight curfew and shutdown of non-essential businesses - are bringing the outbreak under control, but Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said the authorities were "not getting in any way ahead of ourselves".

- REUTERS, AFP

WORLD