AAP: Three new community cases of Covid-19 this weekend will give the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, food for thought as she considers axing restrictions in New Zealand on Monday.
The fresh cases are not linked to the Auckland cluster which saw Ardern send New Zealand’s biggest city into lockdown last month. Instead, health authorities say they are three members of the same household as a man who recently returned to NZ but passed quarantine without a positive result.
That man travelled from India to New Zealand on 27 August and completed his mandatory isolation in Christchurch before returning to his home in Auckland.
On developing symptoms, he was tested, and on returning a positive result, his household members were isolated and tested – picking up the two further positive results.
It remains to be seen whether the outbreak will spark a fresh cluster.
Health authorities have two working theories on how the man brought the virus into the community despite his fortnight in isolation.
The first theory is he caught Covid overseas or on his international flight, and had an above-normal incubation period, developing symptoms after three weeks. Developing symptoms after more than two weeks is considered rare.
The second theory is he was infected on his flight from Canterbury to Auckland after completing his isolation. This has led contact tracers to contact all passengers on that Air New Zealand flight.
A connection to the existing Auckland cluster has been ruled out by genomic testing.
The notion of a new cluster will be the major concern for Ardern as she considers New Zealand’s alert level settings.
Auckland’s 1.6m inhabitants endured a 16-day lockdown after last month’s cases, but is now at alert level two – like the rest of New Zealand – with smaller cap sizes for gatherings.
Last week Ardern pledged to lower those cap sizes for Auckland to rid all restrictions for the rest of New Zealand should cases “track as they are, and maintain the containment we have seen”.
The Auckland case numbers seem to tick that box, given there were four community cases in the past week, compared with 18 in the previous week.
Outside Auckland, there have been no cases found in months – except for a handful in Tokoroa with established links to Auckland businesses.
The Tokoroa cases also produced two of three deaths due to Covid-19 this month, with NZ’s overall death toll at 25.
New Zealand’s cabinet will meet on Monday morning to decide before Ardern announces the decision at a 1pm NZST press conference.