New Zealand’s growing Covid-19 outbreak that has sparked a national lockdown was caused by a traveller returning from Australia who had been in hotel quarantine.
The New Zealander flew from Sydney to Auckland on August 7 and self-isolated in the Government’s makeshift quarantine facility at the Crowne Plaza hotel.
An investigation found the patient picked up the virus sometime in the days before travelling and tested positive on August 9. They were then hospitalised with the virus the following week.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern claimed the breakthrough should help ‘stamp out’ the virus by tracking its spread back to the source.
She said the fact the traveller had spent most of their time in quarantine or hospital suggested the virus hadn’t been in the community as long as initially feared.
It comes as case numbers of Delta in New Zealand nearly doubled, a worrying sign the strain is spreading.
There are fears the mutant strain could undermine the 19 months of economically-crippling restrictions New Zealanders have had to endure to pursue the elimination policy.
Scientists have warned ‘zero Covid’ is near impossible with the Delta strain, which is many times more infectious than the original virus that emerged in China.
The infected traveler arrived from Sydney on a so-called ‘red zone’ flight, arranged to bring New Zealanders back from Australia following its Delta outbreak.
All returning passengers are now required to quarantine in a hotel, ending the travel bubble between the neighbouring countries.
Investigators are now looking at security footage and room key use in the hotel and hospital to identify who the patient may have passed the virus to.
In New Zealand, people in hotel quarantine can only leave their room for exercise, but they must produce a negative test to do so.
Ms Ardern said the case would not have been cleared to leave their room because they did not return a test.
Investigations are also looking into whether the virus spread inside the hotel after a family staying in a room across the corridor also tested positive.
‘The compliance generally across these sites generally has been high, but we will continue our search in a thorough way,’ she said.
Ms Ardern hailed the investigation as a breakthrough, adding: ‘We believe we have uncovered the piece of the puzzle we were looking for.’