New Zealand has reported three new locally transmitted cases of Covid-19, as prime minister Jacinda Ardern surprised many by announcing Aucklands three-day lockdown would end at midnight.
Ardern said she did not believe community transmission was widespread, as new cases were minimal, and wastewater testing had reported negative results in the countrys largest city. The rest of the country will drop to Level 1 restrictions.
I wanted enough time at a cautious level to give us reassurance, Ardern said. Much better to have 72 hours in [lockdown] than have 72 hours of unchecked spread.
Students at Papatoetoe High school in south Auckland would only be able to return next week after returning a negative result.
We dont have a widespread outbreak, said Ardern, but a contained traceable transmission centring around the high school, which has more than 1,500 students.
Mask-wearing on public transport nationwide would also become mandatory from midnight, Ardern said, and her cabinet would consider making QR code scanning mandatory too, though that would be difficult to enforce.
The latest cases are a pair of siblings who attend Papatoetoe and knew the student at the centre of the citys latest community cluster. A family member of the siblings has also tested positive on Wednesday.
One of the students was a classmate of the infected girl, who tested positive on Saturday, and the other is a sibling of the latest case, who also attends the high school, authorities said. All are now in managed isolation.
On Sunday Ardern placed the whole of Auckland into a three-day lockdown after three people a mother, father and daughter tested positive for the disease, with no indication of where they contracted the virus. The rest of the country was placed into level 2 restrictions.
The mother of the family at the centre of the outbreak does laundry for airlines at a facility near the airport, but there has been no confirmation that this was where the family contracted Covid.
News of the new cases come after two days of zero community spread, despite 20,000 people being tested in Auckland.
There are now a total of 31 close contacts and 1,523 casual contacts of the original virus case at Papatoetoe high school. Of those, 29 close contacts have returned negative results, one positive result, and one is outstanding.
Testing of Aucklands wastewater on 15 February found no evidence of any community cases of Covid-19 in wastewater sampled, apart from in sewage lines connected to quarantine facilities, where positive cases are held.
The North Island city of Rotorua and the South Island city of Christchurch also returned negative results.
New Zealands chief science advisor, Dame Juliet Ann Gerrard, praised the latest cases for undergoing tests promptly.
Big shout out to cases A and B for getting a test promptly, which meant we found this chain of transmission, she said on Twitter.
Some epidemiologists said the discovery of more cases in the community should mean an extension to Aucklands lockdown and level 2 country-wide, particularly as the source of the original infection remained unidentified.
However the prime minister said she and the director-general of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, were in agreement it should end.
Given this, and the persisting uncertainty, its possibly best to keep the current alert level settings for a few more days, said Otago university epidemiologist Nick Wilson, to local media.
The fresh outbreak prompted neighbouring Australia to suspend an arrangement that allowed New Zealanders to enter Australia without serving a 14-day hotel quarantine period.
There was no news yet on whether the borders would now re-open.
With Reuters