Coronavirus: Quarantine breach a 'wake-up call' for complacent Kiwis - expert

An infectious diseases specialist is warning New Zealanders not to get complacent, with just a single screw-up at the border potentially costing lives.

University of Otago's David Murdoch hopes the two COVID-19 cases who were allowed out of quarantine last week will serve as a wakeup call for the country.

He says people need to remember they can be asymptomatic and infected.

"In a way the cases that have happened this week, where maybe the quarantine protocols weren't followed, are a bit of a wake-up call for us," he told Newshub.

"Hopefully those cases are contained and we don't find any cases of community transmission - therefore it may be a useful wake-up call for us that we shouldn't be complacent." 

New Zealand made international headlines for appearing to successfully wipe out the virus, with no cases for weeks and the last person known to be infected recovering from the disease.

However, cases have since been picked up at the border. At the time of writing, no new infections have been detected due to the pair who were released on compassionate grounds to attend a funeral in Wellington, and had contact with others on the journey. 

On Saturday two more cases were reported - a couple in their 20s who arrived on June 5 from India. They had no symptoms, the virus being picked up in a test on their 12th day of managed isolation. 

Dr Murdoch said this too is a wake-up call to young people who think they're immune.

"Even though younger people are more likely to get milder symptoms, they can get severe illness and that's been very well-documented - it's just not as common. The other issue is they can still transmit it to people that may be more vulnerable, more likely to get severe symptoms - such as older people. So that's really key to remember."

He and health officials have said New Zealand will continue to see new cases detected at the border, with the pandemic still raging overseas. In fact, it's accelerating - with more confirmed infections being reported in the past few days than ever before, as the virus takes hold in places like Brazil, India and the US. 

"We are going to get these cases, and that's been said right from the start. We'll get the occasional case coming through. We hope they're all picked up in the quarantine process and managed accordingly so there's no risk to other New Zealanders."

And with the small risk one does get through, Dr Murdoch is urging Kiwis not to abandon the good habits they picked up while in lockdown - hygiene and distancing remain important, particularly around vulnerable groups.

"We do need to be careful about how we interact, especially around older people." 

Around 45 percent of infections don't show symptoms, according to a recent study