An official investigation is underway to determine whether New Zealand’s first coronavirus cases in more than 100 days were caused by imported freight, as care homes across the country were put under the strictest level of lockdown.
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern reimposed severe control measures in Auckland and social distancing nationwide after the discovery of four infected family members, one of whom works for a company dealing in the international transport of goods.
Care homes were raised to the highest level of alert, meaning that residents must stay put except for essential travel and cannot be visited by family members. Lockdown measures in Auckland were provisionally set to last until midnight on Friday though Ms Ardern said the response is open to change as further information emerges.
Health officials are scrambling to find the source of the fresh outbreak after more than three months without a domestic transmission of the virus.
“We are working hard to put together pieces of the puzzle on how this family got infected,” said Dr Ashley Bloomfield, New Zealand’s director general of health.
One of the four infected family members was known to work for Americold Realty Trust, an Atlanta based cold storage and transportation company with operations in the US, Canada, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.
Richard Winnall, managing director of Americold NZ, told the New Zealand Herald the infected man had been on sick leave for nine days and that all 26 other employees at the branch in Auckland suburb Mount Wellington were being tested after the company was instructed to close for 48 hours.
Dr Bloomfield said surfaces at the Mount Wellington branch were being tested to determine whether the infection spread from freight or something else in the cold storage facility.
Americold facility in Mount Wellington is being investigated as source of new outbreak (Google)
“We do know from studies overseas that, actually, the virus can survive in refrigerated environments for quite some periods of time,” Dr Bloomfield said.
Another member of the family, “the husband, or the partner” according to Dr Bloomfield, is known to work for Finance Now, a loan company with four sites across Auckland.
All four sites were shut down and all 160 employees were being tested. Three other employees besides the family member were known by officials to be symptomatic ahead of testing.
One more Covid case has been confirmed since the family outbreak in a woman who arrived in New Zealand on 7 August from Islamabad via Dubai. She is under quarantine at a facility in Auckland, the Ministry of Health reports.
New Zealand has reported 1,225 cases of Covid-19 so far and has suffered 22 deaths, according to government figures.