Authorities warn that the number of cases is likely to rise, raising the prospect that a three-day stalemate in Auckland could be extended and calling into question the date of the country’s next general election.
“As we have all learned from our first experience with Covid, once you have identified a group, it grows before it slows down,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference Thursday. “We have to wait for it to happen here.”;
But on Tuesday, New Zealand reported that a family of four in Auckland had been infected with the coronavirus, despite having no history of overseas travel and no connection to any known case. This prompted Ardern to reinstate the coronavirus restrictions, including closing access to retirement homes, imposing the Auckland blockade and restricting rallies across the country to no more than 100 people.
On Thursday, New Zealand Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield announced 13 new cases aired in the country, all related to four originals.
It remains unclear what caused the latest blast. For months, New Zealand has imposed strict immigration controls – with a few 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 sequences to investigate the source of the blast but have found no link between community issues and issues imported into New Zealand quarantine facilities, Bloomfield said. “What we do know is that the genomic sequence of new cases generally more closely resembles models from the UK and Australia,” he said.
One of the four originals worked at Americold, a warehouse company controlled by American temperature. On Thursday, authorities announced that three other U.S. staff members had tested positive, and seven of the cases announced Thursday are family members of U.S. employees.
Authorities are testing surfaces in the Americold depot for Covid-19, but Ardern stressed that the most likely cause of the explosion was human-to-human transmission. “We want to exclude everything,” she said.
The New Zealand group comes just weeks away from the national election scheduled for September 19th. Parliament was scheduled to dissolve on Wednesday but Ardern postponed it until August 17 – and she has yet to announce whether the election will go ahead as originally planned.
On Wednesday, Ardern stressed that the situation in Australia – and the situation in countries around the world – showed how important it was for New Zealand to adhere to the new restrictions.
“Our response to the virus has worked so far, it has opened up our economy and our communities, and it has given New Zealand the freedoms we have valued and we all want to get back there as soon as we can. But success depends on all of us who work together, “she said.
“We know how to overcome this, but we also know we do not need to look far to see what it might mean if we do not achieve it anymore.”
CNN’s Isaac Yee contributed to the report.