New Zealand’s Northland region has edged closer to containing the latest outbreak of coronavirus after all 16 close contacts of a woman infected with the disease returned negative tests.
Around 10,000 New Zealanders took Covid-19 tests this week, 8,000 of them in Northland, where the infected woman lives, making it one of the highest testing rates in the world
No one else in the community has tested positive.
“We are still investigating but this is an encouraging response and does provide us some reassurance,” , said the Covid response minister, Chris Hipkins.
The infected woman, a 56-year-old New Zealander, remains in self-isolation, as do all her close contacts.
Despite contracting the highly infectious South African variant of the disease, the woman had few respiratory symptoms and was diligent about hygiene and recording her movements. Health authorities believe this may be why her illness has failed to spread after she left mandatory quarantine at the Pullman hotel In Auckland where she isolated on her arrival from Europe.
Shaun Hendy, who works on the government’s Covid-19 team modelling the disease, said the fact the case had not spread was not uncommon. “This is not that unusual for Covid-19 as it is frequently passed on by super-spreaders or at super-spreading events,” said Hendy. “That is, lots of people don’t pass it on, but a few pass it on to lots. This is probably still the case even for the new variants, however, we are still learning [about them].”
All of the staff working at the Pullman have also tested negative, as have most of the guests released around the same time as the infected woman. How she contracted the disease is still under investigation, but an infected surface at the Pullman is thought to be the most likely culprit.
“There are encouraging signs in Northland but we are not breathing a sigh of relief just yet,” said Dr Ashley Bloomfield, New Zealand’s director general of health.
The latest case has caused ripples of unease around the country.
In Nelson, a cafe banned anyone who was recently released from managed isolation. The owner said the risk to his clientele was too great. “Anyone that manages a business assesses risks, some quantifiable, some not … this seemed to be a no-brainer,” Allen Chambers told Stuff.
“We run a social business with customers who can be vulnerable – elderly, infirm, pregnant,” Chambers said. “I’m surprised that there’s not more of a reaction amongst business owners.”
Hipkins said since the case was confirmed there had been a sharp rise in New Zealanders using the Covid tracer app, after a decline over the summer months.