South African strain of COVID-19 confirmed in NZ

New Zealand’s Ministry of Health has today confirmed that a woman who recently travelled from overseas and completed her stay in managed isolation in Auckland has subsequently tested positive for COVID-19, with genome testing revealing a South African strain of the virus.

The Ministry said woman and her only close household contact are isolating at their home south of Whangarei on New Zealand’s north island.

“The Northland District Health Board Medical Officer of Health has undertaken an assessment of the case and their close household contact, and it has been determined that the pair are currently able to isolate at home. The situation will be monitored closely to ensure there is no public health risk,” the Ministry of Health said in a statement today.

“Following a further interview with the woman, contact tracing has now found the woman has 15 close contacts. All 15 close contacts have been contacted by health officials, are self-isolating and have been tested.  

“Of the 15 close contacts, so far we know that two have returned negative test results.”

The Ministry said whole genome sequencing results for the woman confirmed that she has contracted the South African variant, B.  

“We continue to monitor advice from the World Health Organization on this variant. Currently there’s limited epidemiological data available on the B. variant, making it harder to study. The preliminary concern of this variant is that the mutation affects the body’s immune response to it and its transmissibility,” it said.

“New forms, or variants, of the virus have become increasingly common around the world – and we have expected to see them here in New Zealand.”

Link to managed isolation

The Ministry said the genome sequencing had linked the case to another guest who was in the managed isolation facility.

“Their genome sequencing results are identical, leading us to suspect a managed isolation facility transmission,” it said.

“Early information suggests the transmission occurred between 9 January and 13 January.  

“Routine testing picked up COVID-19 in the other guest, and this person was transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility on 13 January. They have been classified as recovered and were due to be released but will be asked to stay on for now.  

“As expected, there have been other cases in the same MIF and we are investigating any possible links between cases to exclude transmission within the MIF.”

NSW Health said today that recent green-zone arrivals from New Zealand were being alerted to venues of concern following news of the confirmed case.

“Enhanced screening has been taking place at Sydney Airport from Sunday 24 January,” NSW Health said.

“People who arrived in NSW from New Zealand between Thursday 14 January and Sunday 24 January, have been asked to check these venues of concern and, if they have been to any, to follow the associated health advice.

“They are also asked to monitor for even the mildest of symptoms and get tested and isolate if they feel unwell, then remain in isolation until a negative result is received – in line with routine advice for everyone in NSW.”

The details of these venues of concern, and the associated health advice, are available from the New Zealand Health website.