New Zealand tightens COVID-19 quarantine rules as Australia extends 'travel bubble' suspension
WELLINGTON: New Zealand will tighten quarantine rules after two new cases of the South African COVID-19 variant were confirmed in Auckland.
Australia on Thursday (Jan 28) extended its suspension of a "travel bubble" arrangement with New Zealand for another 72 hours until Sunday, mandating a 14-day hotel quarantine for all arrivals. The trans-Tasman bubble was initially suspended on Monday.
New Zealand health officials said on Thursday that the new cases, an adult and child, caught the virus in the same quarantine facility as a woman who tested positive over the weekend, ending a run of more than two months with no cases in the community.
Both cases were returned travellers in hotel quarantine who were released after returning negative tests following their 14-day isolation.
Officials added that the quarantine facility - the Pullman Hotel in Auckland - was allowing no quarantine arrivals or departures as teams examine how the infection spread.
"It does suggest that something's happened in the Pullman where these people have potentially come into contact with each other, that investigation will continue," Minister for COVID-19 Response Chris Hipkins told Newstalk ZB.
Hipkins said all close contacts linked to the three cases had so far tested negative and he was hopeful the outbreak had been contained.
"I'm fairly optimistic but you never know with these things," he said. "The first 48 hours in any of these investigations tells you a lot."
New Zealand demands all overseas arrivals undergo two weeks' quarantine and test negative before entering the community.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday she was confident of the measures in place to stop new COVID-19 infections and that she had advised health officials to provide Australia with information to help them make their decision about restrictions on New Zealand arrivals.
"But we absolutely want them to have the confidence that we have in our systems and we can do that by giving them good information," Ardern told reporters in Auckland.
However, the cases have prompted long queues at testing stations in Auckland, where a second-wave virus outbreak forced a two-week lockdown last August.
New Zealand also said it would tighten rules at quarantine facilities and people will not be able to leave their rooms following their day 12 COVID-19 test, until they depart from the facility.
The South African coronavirus variant is more contagious than previous strains, although the World Health Organization has said there is no clear evidence it leads to more severe disease or a higher death rate.
New Zealand has been widely praised for its handling of the pandemic, recording 25 coronavirus deaths and fewer than 2,000 confirmed cases in a population of around five million.