New Zealand PM says Covid outbreak will ‘get worse’ as new cluster grows

Covid-19 may have been circulating in New Zealand’s biggest city for weeks, the country’s top health official has said, as 13 new community cases were confirmed –all linked to the four cases announced last week…

The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said the growing cluster in Auckland, now totalling 17, “would get worse before it gets better” in the city of more than 1.4 million people.

New Zealanders have been shocked by the return of the virus after 102 days without community transmission, having become renowned around the world for its successful Covid-19 elimination strategy.“Once again we are reminded of how tricky this virus isand how easily it can spread,” Ardern said. “Going hard and early is still the best course of action.”

The prospect of a long level 3 lockdown in the city is becoming ever more likely. A decision is expected on Friday. Auckland is nearing the end of a three-day level 3 lockdown in which people are advised to stay at home unless they need to travel for work, or they are shopping or exercising. All schools and childcare centres, and non-essential businesses have closed.

Thirty-six cases are now active in thecountry, including those in managed quarantine facilities. One of the new cases announced on Thursday was at the Mount Albert grammar school in Auckland, and was confirmed to be a relative of someone in the initial outbreak. The infected student attended class on Monday, and local health authorities said they were contacting and isolating around 100 close contacts they had while at school.

“As we all learnt from our first experience with Covid, once you identify a cluster, it grows before it slows. We should expect that to be the case here,” Ardern told a media briefing in Wellington. “We can see the seriousness of the situation we are in. It’s being dealt with in an urgent but calm and methodical way.”

Dr Ashley Bloomfield, the director-general of health, said all active cases would now be required to enter government-managed quarantine, in a departure from a previous policy which had allowed infected people to self-isolate at home, or be admitted to hospital if they were severely ill.

Bloomfield said despite people’s best intentions, many were visited by friends and family when they fell ill, and placing infected people in mandatory quarantine was the country’s best bet at containing the spread. He admitted some Covid-19 patients had resisted the new measure.

Bloomfield said isolation and testing of any close or casual contacts to positive cases was the primary response to the outbreak, as was tracing the original source, which remained elusive a day after New Zealand’s largest city entered level 3 lockdown.