New Zealand declares two coronavirus cases

New Zealand's more than three-week streak without a coronavirus infection has ended, after officials confirmed two new cases in the country on Tuesday. 

The cases are two women who returned to New Zealand from the United Kingdom earlier this month were released from quarantine after a parent died, but were not tested for COVID-19 before being allowed to leave Auckland.

New Zealand has recently dropped its coronavirus restrictions to 'Level 1' after 24 days in a row of no new infection in the country. 

In a press conference on Tuesday the Director-General of Health, Dr. Ashley Bloomfield, confirmed the women, who are from the same family, began managed isolation on 7 June, and applied for a compassionate exemption to return to Wellington on 12 June.

But when their parent passed away sooner than expected, the compassionate exemption process was expedited and the two were permitted to travel the next day in a private vehicle, without stopping, to Wellington to be with another family member and plan the funeral.

One had shown symptoms while in managed isolation but told interviewing nurses they were due to a pre-existing condition, while the other had no symptoms. The two were tested in Wellington on Monday; the tests were returned positive on Tuesday morning.

They are continuing their isolation with another family member who has also been in isolation since the two arrived. They have all begun a new 14-day quarantine period together.

Dr. Bloomfield said unlike others who apply for compassionate exemption, the two women were not tested for COVID-19 nor had to wait for a negative result before departing their managed hotel isolation and heading for Wellington.

He said he is confident the two were “assiduous” in their plan for leaving managed isolation and he believes they did not put anyone at risk on their eight-hour journey across the country.

“I just want to emphasise the point that the family has asked for their privacy,” Dr. Bloomfield said. 

The two cases are the first in 24 days, after New Zealand moved down to Alert Level One and removed all restrictions on social and commercial life but those at the border.

Dr. Bloomfield said staff and health workers at the hotel, other passengers who were isolated at the hotel (especially if they were also given an exemption) anyone on the Brisbane to Auckland flight on 07 June and others who attended the testing centre in Wellington are being contacted for tracing and testing.

He said any staff found to be considered close contacts of the two will be stood down and tested for COVID-19. 

Before the women were released from managed isolation, New Zealand required all passengers to be testing on day 12 of quarantine. This week new measures have been introduced to require testing on day 3. 

“A new case is something we hoped we wouldn’t get but it is also something that we expected and we have planned for,” Dr. Bloomfield said. 

“That is why we have geared up and continue to gear up our contact tracing at a local level and at a national capacity and capability as well as having our excellent testing capability.”

Dr. Bloomfield said everyone who is granted a compassionate exemption to be with a grieving loved one is considered a risk, and all precautions are taken to manage that risk.

He said today’s new cases underscore the requirement that new arrivals are not granted exemptions to attend funerals, especially as under Level One there are no more size restrictions on those events. 

“Compassionate exemption is only granted if there is a detailed plan for self-isolation and testing and health checks in the community as part of the follow up until the full 14 day period has finished.”

“Obviously the team here that deals with the exemptions process has a great deal of sympathy for families who are coming to terms with a dying relative or friend or are bereaved, but today’s news underscores the recent decision to not grant exemptions to funerals or tangihanga where there may be large groups of people present.”

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