The South Island of New Zealand recorded its first cases of Covid in a major city in more than a year, with two cases detected in Christchurch.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has not ruled out an instant lockdown of the city, the South Island’s largest, if necessary to contain the spread. He said one of the cases may have been contagious in the community for almost two weeks.
“It’s a good reminder to people across the country that cases can happen and it underscores the importance of getting the vaccine,” Hipkins said.
Thursday’s two new cases were members of the same household, and one had recently returned from Auckland.
According to the health ministry, 89% of eligible adults in Canterbury, of which Christchurch is the main city, had received at least one dose of the vaccine and 67% had received both doses. The region would need nearly 111,000 people to receive both doses before reaching the government target of 90%, where most restrictions can be lifted.
Epidemiologist and public health professor Michael Baker said stronger protections were needed at the northern and southern island borders. “We may be sowing the whole of the South Island with cases right now, as we have increasing transmission in Auckland, and still people flying from Auckland all over the country – and we we have limited controls on this, ”he said. . Baker called for pre-departure testing and vaccine requirements on domestic flights.
Dr Apisalome Talemaitoga, President of the Pasifika GP Network, told the Science Media Center that “I find it just amazing that we are allowing unvaccinated people from Auckland to travel – for whatever reason. People would have to be doubly vaccinated before they could do this. “
While the region is still a few weeks away from 90% vaccination, Baker said there were “huge health and economic reasons for delaying widespread transmission in the South Island for as long as possible.” Otherwise, he said, the region could find itself facing restrictions or possible blockages until Christmas.
Hipkins said the two infected people were cooperating with authorities but had not scanned using New Zealand’s locator app – a detail that could make contact tracing more difficult. Both are not vaccinated.
The minister is due to provide a further update later Thursday.