AUCKLAND: New Zealand's resurgent coronavirus outbreak has spread beyond Auckland, health officials said on Friday (Aug 14), in a major blow to efforts to contain the disease.
Health Minister Chris Hipkins said there were 12 more cases of community transmission, and one probable, following the shock re-emergence of the virus in Auckland this week.
He said two of the infections were found in the North Island town of Tokoroa, around 210km south of Auckland.
The infections outside Auckland come despite a strict lockdown in New Zealand's largest city, including masked police blocking roads to seal its borders.
Hipkins played down fears the failure to ringfence infections to Auckland meant the virus could now be rampant elsewhere.
"All of the cases so far are connected, they are all part of one Auckland-based cluster, that's good news," he said, adding that the Tokoroa cases were identified quickly.
"We've seen no evidence of a COVID-19 case outside of Auckland that is unrelated to the cluster we are dealing with."
Thirty eight people linked to the virus cluster have already been moved into quarantine facilities, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said in a media briefing in Wellington.
Bloomfield said it was a positive sign that all the new confirmed cases were linked to the Auckland cluster.
Authorities had also identified one other probable case in which connections still had to be traced, he added.
"We are not out of the woods yet," he said during a televised news conference, adding that contact tracing and testing would continue at high levels in coming days.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Friday announced the extension of Auckland's lockdown by another 12 days.
"Cabinet has agreed to maintain our current settings for an additional 12 days, bringing us to a full two weeks in total," Ardern said.
The crisis erupted when four family members in Auckland returned positive tests on Tuesday, ending New Zealand's run of 102 days with no reported community transmission.
Case numbers have continued to rise as health authorities desperately scramble to find the source of the infection, which has still not been identified.
In just four days, New Zealand has gone from a transmission-free haven to contemplating national lockdown.
Bloomfield acknowledged feelings were running high but urged the public not to take out their frustrations on frontline health workers.
"We've had reports of healthcare workers, who are doing their best to provide testing for people, being verbally abused and even attacked," he said.
"This is completely unacceptable," he added, declining to provide further details.
Bloomfield dismissed suggestions by health experts that it was likely the virus had been quietly spreading in Auckland for weeks, saying there was "very good evidence" that was not the case.
"The nature of this outbreak shows how once you identify the first case you find quite a lot quite quickly," he said.
"We just wouldn't have not found cases in community if it was lurking away in the community."