A 56-year-old woman has tested positive for Covid-19 in New Zealand, after being released from government managed isolation following two negative tests.
It is the first community case in the country since 18 November.
The woman arrived in Auckland on 30 December after travelling in Spain and the Netherlands for four months. She returned two negative Covid tests while staying in government-managed isolation at the Pullman hotel.
The woman was released from the Pullman on 13 January and travelled around south Northland with her husband, visiting as many as 30 locations, including popular holiday spots, AirBnbs, and shops.
In the last week, the woman began experiencing very mild symptoms, including muscle aches. Having returned two negative tests the woman did not suspect Covid-19 until she returned a positive test late on Saturday.
Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the woman and her husband were now in self-isolation in their home south of Whangarei, and the woman did not require hospital care.
Four close contacts of the woman were being traced, and the 30 locations she had visited would be made public shortly. The woman’s “vigilance” in recording her movements on the Covid-19 tracer app was praised by health officials, and her behaviour while in managed isolation was described as excellent.
Bloomfield said the department of health was treating it as a positive case, and likely of the “transmissable variety” – meaning a highly contagious strain of the virus that has been circulating in Brazil, South Africa and the UK.
600 people were in the Pullman hotel at the same time as the woman, and they, as well as the airlines she travelled on, had been contacted.
The Covid-19 response minister, Chris Hipkins, said it was too early to establish whether transmission had begun in the community, but said genome sequencing and contact tracing were under way.
“It is too early to speculate on what our [government] response should be. We don’t have the relevant information to make those decisions yet,” Hipkins said, refusing to be drawn on whether alert levels would change.
“There is absolutely no need for any panic buying or any of that kind of behaviour.”
The progress of the woman’s illness suggested the virus was beginning to take foot just as she left managed isolation.
The last community case of Covid-19 in New Zealand was in Auckland on 18 November, and it was quickly squashed after central Auckland was effectively shutdown for a number of days.
Bloomfield said the government would follow the “hotspot approach” taken by NSW recently, asking anyone who had visited places the infected person had to stay-home, isolate and test.
New Zealand has been pursuing an elimination strategy towards the disease and reported fewer than 2,000 cases in 2020 and 26 deaths.