New coronavirus strain emerges in New Zealand

New Zealand officials have reportedly confirmed six cases of a highly transmissible variant of the COVID-19 virus, which could lead to the Samoan Government considering denying entry to travelers from New Zealand.

The New Zealand Herald newspaper has reported that New Zealand’s Ministry of Health has advised they identified six positive COVID-19 cases, which have been found to match a recently discovered United Kingdom (U.K.) variant of the disease.

“The six cases, five of whom travelled from the United Kingdom and one who travelled from South Africa, arrived into New Zealand between 13 and 25 December and underwent routine testing in managed isolation as part of routine surveillance testing or because they developed symptoms,” said New Zealand’s Ministry of Health. 

“Once confirmed positive they were transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility. 

“Four of these cases are now recovered and after a final health check were able to leave the facility.

“The U.K. variant is more transmissible than other variants of the virus, but there is no evidence at this stage that the length of the infection period is any different to any other variant of COVID-19 nor is it more likely to produce severe illness."

New measures were enforced by Samoa’s Ministry of Health (M.O.H.) just before the new year, due to the emergence and rapid transmission of the variant detected, which had been identified in the U.K. and South Africa. 

Signed on 3 January 2021 by the M.O.H.'s Director-General, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, the special advisory for travelers entering Samoa listed 13 countries that are denied entry including Australia. 

It noted the list will be reviewed daily and all other countries within the European, African, Asian Middle Eastern and Oceania Regions will be assessed on a case by case basis as the spread of COVID-19 variant is being monitored.

Attempts are being made to get a comment from the Interim Chairman of the National Emergency Operation Centre, Agafili Shem Leo. 

Meanwhile, New Zealand’s Health Director-General, Dr. Ashley Bloomfield said those with the new variant are being treated the same as any other person with the virus.

An epidemiologist, Professor Michael Baker has warned that COVID-19 might get more intense across the world over the coming weeks. 

In an interview with Radio New Zealand, Professor Baker said the new strain was always going to make its way into New Zealand. 

“It was inevitable - because once it comes a dominant strain, like it has in the U.K., people coming here will obviously bring it with them,” he said. "This new variant will become dominant all over the world over the next couple of weeks and months because it's more infectious."

He said if there was community transmission with the new strain in New Zealand it would be harder to control:

"We've seen figures that it is up to 50 to 70 per cent more infectious that means a higher reproduction number which means it would be harder to contain an outbreak if one occurs.

"We really want to avoid going into a lockdown but that could easily happen if an outbreak happens with the new variant."

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