Health officials have uncovered a vital piece of the puzzle in identifying a returnee from Sydney who is the likely origin of New Zealand’s new Covid outbreak, Jacinda Ardern says

A traveller returning to New Zealand from Sydney in early August has been identified as the likely source of a community outbreak of the Covid-19 Delta variant, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

The news comes as 11 new cases of Covid-19 have been identified, taking the overall size of the Delta cluster to 21 people and counting.

Speaking to media on Thursday afternoon, Ardern said the results of genomic sequencing from the current cluster had identified a “close match” in a recent returnee from Sydney, who came into the country on a ‘red-zone’ flight on August 7.

The Government paused the trans-Tasman bubble with Australia on July 23, travel to and from New South Wales having been cut off earlier – but a series of managed return flights were run to allow people to return to New Zealand, with those from New South Wales required to enter managed isolation.

Ardern said the case had tested positive on August 9, and was transferred from the Crowne Plaza hotel managed isolation facility to the Jet Park quarantine facility that same day.

The person later became unwell and was moved to Middlemore Hospital on August 16.

Identifying the genomic link meant the Government “can be fairly certain how and when the virus entered the country”, with as few as one or two missing links between the returnee and the cases in the current outbreak, as well as a relatively short period of time where cases were infectious in the community.

Health officials were now looking into whether staff at the Crowne Plaza and Jet Park facilities, as well as other MIQ and border staff involved in the person’s transport from the airport and between MIQ facilities, could have served as a missing link.

Middlemore Hospital was not being considered as a line of investigation, as the returnee had only been moved there on August 16 – one day before lockdown, and days after others had developed symptoms.

Only one of 208 Crowne Plaza staff, and two of 200 at Jet Park, were overdue for testing, and all by less than 48 hours. All staff who had not been tested in the last 48 hours were being retested, Ardern said.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said there were 11 new community cases of Covid-19, taking the overall tally – all in Auckland – to 21.

Twelve of the cases have already been confirmed as being part of the same Auckland cluster, with a further eight still being investigated. Those eight had not yet been formally linked, but there were strong leads to suggest they were connected to the others.

One of the 21 cases, an Air New Zealand flight attendant, was unlikely to be linked to the wider cluster.

Bloomfield said the new community cases were not unexpected, and the number was likely to grow given the large number of locations of interest and the movement of the cases in the days before lockdown began.

Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom's national affairs editor, covering foreign affairs and trade, housing, and other issues of national significance.

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