A fresh outbreak of coronavirus in New Zealand is due to a “quarantine breach”, the country’s deputy prime minister has suggested.
Coronavirus cases in Auckland have grown to 17, while officials said the number is likely to increase following more than 100 days without any cases of local transmission.
Speaking on ABC 24 News, Winston Peters said the quarantine theory was put to him via a “very reliable” New Zealand journalist.
“I think, when that comes out very shortly, in a matter of maybe less than a day, we’ll find out that was the case,” he said.
“I think, as an experienced politician and as a lawyer, that the moment I found out that this strain is not unique to my country, it had to go to a point of entry either by sea, by air, or in quarantine facilities.
“And the quarantine facility is the one I think is the most likely.”
Investigation into workplace of COVID infected man
While Peters suggested the outbreak was down to a quarantine breach, health officials also raised the possibility that the virus had arrived in New Zealand via freight, given one of the infected people works at Americold food cold-storage facility in Auckland.
The facility is now being swabbed to check if it was a possible source of the infections.
Director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield said tests have proved coronavirus can survive for longer on cold surfaces.
”We do know from studies overseas that actually, the virus can survive in some refrigerated environments for quite some time.”
Bloomfield said he expected that, sooner or later, the new cases would be linked to somebody who had arrived in the country with an infection or a worker at a quarantine facility, airport or maritime port.
“At the moment we haven't established a direct connection. But as we find each case and do that thorough interview and investigation, that will help,” he said.
Government considering lockdown extension
A lockdown in Auckland, designed to extinguish the outbreak, could be extended well beyond an initial three days.
Auckland was moved to alert level 3 on Wednesday, meaning that non-essential workers are required to stay home and bars, restaurants and most businesses are shut.
The rest of the country has moved to level 2, requiring social distancing.
The government is due to make a decision on Friday on whether to extend Auckland's lockdown, which seems increasingly likely given the new cases.
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