New Zealand rushing to contain new COVID-19 community case

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New Zealand health authorities are scrambling to stop a community outbreak of COVID-19, a day after a new case emerged in Auckland’s CBD.

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the new virus sample, from a female student based in Auckland, had now been directly, genomically linked to that of a Defence Force staff member who had spent time near where the woman worked.

Nurses speak to people waiting in line at a testing station on High St, Auckland, near the A-Z Collection store where a worker has tested positive for COVID-19.Credit:Getty Images

The Defence worker's case has been linked to one of the country's Managed Isolation and Quarantine centres.

Hipkins announced on Friday that there was positive news — no new cases had been detected among the woman's tested close contacts so far. He said while testing would ramp up in Auckland over the coming weeks, New Zealand's largest city would not raise its alert level up from stage one.

But the minister also sounded a warning note to New Zealanders about the ongoing risk to the community.

New Zealand COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins.Credit:Tom Lee/Stuff

"We don't yet have a confirmed theory for how the virus was transmitted between the cases," he said.

"On Monday, I will be taking to cabinet a public health order to make mask use on public transport within the Auckland region mandatory on an ongoing basis. This includes the wearing of masks on all passenger aircraft that travel domestically, within New Zealand."

He also reminded New Zealanders not to be angry at the two current community cases in Auckland and two in Wellington, which are all believed to be linked to the Defence employee who caught it from a worker at a managed quarantine facility and travelled between the two cities.

"Understandably, [they] feel the weight of the entire country on their shoulders […] as we've said repeatedly it is the virus that's the problem and not the people. They do not deserve to have blame heaped upon them."

The latest community case in Auckland highlights the country has not eradicated the virus that has infected more than 53 million people worldwide and killed more than 1.3 million.

Pedestrians in Wellington, New Zealand, where two people tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday.Credit:Bloomberg

It also calls into question Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's suggestion that Australia must record 28 days straight without a community case of coronavirus before a two-way travel bubble between the two nations can open. The country currently has 53 active cases, with 49 in managed isolation and quarantine.

Tourism operators in destinations such as Queenstown are ready and waiting to welcome Australians. New Zealanders can already fly to Australia but they have to quarantine for two weeks upon return.

Australia has recorded zero community cases of coronavirus in four of the last five days. Victoria has recorded 14 consecutive days of zero community cases.

New Zealand's Health Department has released a list of 11 Auckland locations, including the Auckland University of Technology, a doctor's surgery, a workplace and a number of restaurants and cafes the infected woman visited between November 5 and November 11. Residents of the apartment block where she lives have been advised to self-isolate.

In a statement released on Friday through her lawyer, the woman said she had had a sore throat on Monday evening, got tested on Tuesday, by Wednesday her symptoms had cleared up so she went to work while wearing a mask. On Thursday, she was informed she had tested positive.

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