There are five new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand today, all in managed isolation facilities.
In a statement the Ministry of Health said with one recovery, active cases were at 59 and confirmed cases at 1765, and no new cases in the community.
One case – considered a historical case – arrived on 18 December from Russia via Singapore and was tested on arrival. The ministry said the person was infected in Russia and was not regarded as infectious.
The ministry said this case, who joined a fishing vessel in Lyttelton after arriving. The vessel left New Zealand the next day and was now in international waters, and would not be returning to the country for months.
They were still determining whether the case would be reported as a case in New Zealand or Russia, the ministry said.
Two cases arrived on 10 December from the United States, and were tested on day nine of their stay after showing symptoms.
Two cases arrived on 16 December – one from South Korea and the other from location that has not yet been determined – and tested positive around day three of their stay.
The ministry today said a previous case reported yesterday as having arrived from Australia had in fact arrived from the United Kingdom via the United Arab Emirates.
Yesterday there were six new cases of Covid-19 in the country, all in managed isolation.
The next reporting of case figures will be on Wednesday.
Changes to border requirements
The ministry said it was further strengthening and fine-tuning rules for managing Covid-19 at the border.
One of the changes was allowing exclusion from managed isolation for “a small number of additional people, where the health risk is deemed very low”.
Other changes included changes to restrictions, wording and definitions for air crews, clarifying rules for foreign ships, and requiring PPE use in “specific high-risk scenarios” on ports and ships.
New strain in UK
Meanwhile, overseas a number of European countries have banned, or are planning to ban, travel from the UK to prevent the spread of a more infectious Covid-19 variant.
A top epidemiologist in New Zealand is warning the country will see the new variant of Covid-19 from the UK here within the next few weeks.
Professor Michael Baker said the new Covid-19 variant found in the UK is potentially only a problem for New Zealand if the virus is imported and it starts an outbreak here.
The ministry this afternoon said the strain – known as the B.1.1.7 strain, had not been seen in New Zealand cases so far and it was confident the prevention measures used in New Zealand – PPE, testing strategy and managed isolation for arrivals – was appropriate.
However, it would continue to review prevention tools in light of new and emerging evidence.
Opposition parties are putting pressure on the government to bolster border protections in response to the new variant.
National Party Covid-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop said pre-departure testing for the virus should be required.
“No-one is pretending it is a foolproof method, but it is a part of a sweep of measures that you implement at the border to reduce the risk as much as possible to New Zealand. We think it is a sensible idea,” he said.
National and ACT want a traffic light system at the border for higher risk countries, as recommended by some of the country’s top epidemiologists.
ACT leader David Seymour said the border should be managed in a way that was risk proportionate.
“It makes zero sense to quarantine people who have come from countries that have never had Covid, or haven’t had it for many months, and put them in a hotel room right next door to somebody from a Covid-ridden place like India or the UK,” Seymour said.
A World Health Organization (WHO) official told the BBC overnight that one case of the mutated virus had been detected in Australia.
WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove said it had also been detected in the Netherlands and Denmark.
“We understand that this variant has been identified also in Denmark, in the Netherlands and in Australia – there was one case in Australia and it didn’t spread further there,” she said.
New strain of coronavirus has also been identified in Denmark and Netherlands, and one case in Australia which hasn’t spread further, says World Health Organisation Maria Van Kerkhove#Marr https://t.co/gxUy3acCro pic.twitter.com/tZTMxEPh53
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) December 20, 2020
– with additional reporting by ABC