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New Zealand has kept its societal spread of coronavirus low by keeping tight border controls, but on Sunday the country reported at 5 million on its first suspected societal case since November. And officials say it may involve a more transmissible variant of the virus.
A 56-year-old woman who had traveled to Spain and the Netherlands for work at the end of last year has tested positive for COVID-19 after being in controlled isolation for the required 14 days after her return to New Zealand, it New Zealand Ministry said Health.
She had tested negative twice – on January 2 and January 10 – but began to develop symptoms on January 15.
“Further tests are needed, including a serological blood test, to confirm whether the case is new or historic,” the ministry said. But it said the original test results suggest “that it is new and we treat it as such.”
Health officials are investigating “to see if there is a match with other cases in the administered isolation facility” or if the woman has one of the more transmissible variants that have emerged around the world, the ministry said. It said that while in the Netherlands, the woman was “in contact with family members who subsequently tested positive for COVID-19.”
“We are working under the assumption that this is a positive case and that it is a more transmissible variant, either the one first identified in South Africa or the UK or potentially Brazil – or another transmissible variant,” Ashley Bloomfield, New Zealand director -general health, said at a press conference according to Reuters.
The woman had been to about 30 locations in the Northland region of New Zealand’s North Island since leaving isolation. She lives with another person who has not shown symptoms. This person has been tested and also isolates while awaiting results. A couple of the woman’s other close contacts are also tested and must be isolated for 14 days.
Health officials praised the woman’s alertness by using a COVID-19 tracking app to record her movements.
New Zealand has reported 1,927 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 25 deaths. There are 79 active cases in the country. Most of the country’s residents are not expected to be vaccinated against COVID-19 until the second half of the year.
The remote island nation’s ability to keep coronavirus at bay through severe lockdowns has lifted the mood around the world. But every few months, a few new cases pop up.
“This is a reminder to all of us that the pandemic is continuing and that this is a difficult virus,” Bloomfield said.