New Zealand considers lockdown extension as virus spreads

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Wellington (AFP)

New Zealand health officials said on Wednesday that a COVID-19 cluster in Auckland had grown, hinting at the prospect of a lockdown imposed on the country’s largest city after the virus returned.

National Chief Health Officer Ashley Bloomfield said a high school student in Auckland tested positive, bringing the number of confirmed infections to five, with four other probable cases.

“This is someone who was in close contact with one of our existing confirmed cases,” Bloomfield told TVNZ.

Health officials rushed to put in place a lockdown in the nation’s largest city after tests revealed four family members had contracted the virus from an unknown source.

This ended New Zealand’s much envied 102-day streak without community transmission and culminated in a three-day stay-at-home order in Auckland that ends at midnight Friday.

Bloomfield said he was “almost certain” that more cases would emerge and teams of health workers rushed to find the cluster.

“We want to know how big it is as soon as possible, which is why we tested all close contact, casual contact, workplace, family,” he said.

“This is what we want to do as quickly as possible to find out the extent of the epidemic and which could have been the first case. ”

He said any decision to extend the lockdown depended on what investigations revealed over the next 24 hours.

“It’s too early to say… we’ll have a lot more information tomorrow,” he said.

He played down a line of inquiry to find out whether the virus was imported by freight and then picked up by a male family member, who worked in a cool room for imported goods.

“It’s a possibility – it’s unlikely, but it’s something we need to rule out,” Bloomfield said, adding that another focus was whether the infection came from managed isolation facilities. .

Despite New Zealand’s previous success in containing the virus – with just 22 deaths out of a population of five million – Bloomfield said health officials had always anticipated the return of COVID-19, even though some Kiwis had been surprised.

“Yes, we were getting complacent and that’s why our message over the past few weeks has been to avoid that,” he said.

“As you remember, last week I was talking about when – not if. “

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