Authorities warn that the number of cases is likely to increase, raising the possibility that a three-day lockdown in Auckland could be extended and cast doubt on the day of the country’s upcoming general election.
“As we all learned from our first experience with Covid, when you identify a cluster, it grows before it slows down,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference on Thursday. “We should expect that to be the case here.”
But on Tuesday, New Zealand reported that a family of four in Auckland had been infected with the coronavirus, even though they had no history of traveling abroad and had no connection to any known cases. That led Ardern to reintroduce coronavirus restrictions, including shutting down access to retirement homes, imposing the Auckland closure and limiting collections around the country to a maximum of 100 people.
On Thursday, New Zealand’s Director General of Health, Dr. Ashley Bloomfield, the 13 new locally transferred cases, all linked to the original four.
It is still unclear what caused the latest outbreak. For months, New Zealand has imposed strict immigration controls – with some exceptions, the border is closed to all non-New Zealanders, and anyone entering the country must spend 14 days in a state quarantine facility.
Authorities have used genome sequencing to investigate the source of the outbreak, but have found no link between Community cases and imported cases in New Zealand’s managed quarantine facilities, Bloomfield said. “What we do know is that the consequences of the new cases are very similar to those of the United Kingdom and Australia,” he said.
One of the original four worked at Americold, an American temperature-controlled warehouse company. On Thursday, authorities announced that three more Americold employees had tested positive, and seven of the cases announced Thursday are family members of Americold employees.
Authorities are testing surfaces at Americold’s Covid-19 warehouse, but Ardern stressed that the most likely cause of the outbreak was human-to-human transmission. “We want to exclude everything,” she said.
New Zealand’s new cluster is just a few weeks away from a national election scheduled for September 19. Parliament was to be dissolved on Wednesday, but Ardern has postponed this until August 17 – and she has not yet announced whether the election will continue as originally planned.
On Wednesday, Ardern emphasized that Australia’s situation – and the situation in countries around the world – showed how important it was for New Zealand to abide by the new restriction rules.
“Our response to the virus so far has worked, it opened up our economy and our communities and it gave New Zealanders the freedoms we cared for, and we all want to get back there as soon as we can. But success depends on us all working together,” she said. .
“We know how to beat this, but we also know we don’t have to look far to see what it can mean if we don’t get to the top.”
CNN’s Isaac Yee contributed the report.