Coronavirus: 23 new imported cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand, two cases linked to port worker

There are 23 new imported cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand, the Ministry of Health announced on Wednesday, and two new cases connected to the port worker who tested positive over the weekend.

It follows the confirmation of 11 new imported cases on Tuesday. It was revealed that 11 fishermen had tested positive for the virus while isolating at the Sudima Christchurch Airport hotel. A large number of seamen from Russia and the Ukraine arrived on Friday and were taken to the facility to complete their 14 days of managed isolation.

Of Wednesday's 23 imported cases, 18 are seamen from the same cohort as the cases recorded yesterday. The Russian and Ukrainian fishing crews travelled on a chartered flight from Moscow via Singapore, but remained on-board during transit. All were tested pre-departure and two were prevented from flying due to infection, Dr Bloomfield said.

All staff at the Sudima Hotel have also been tested, and further testing is being offered to their household contacts.

The facility is currently dedicated solely to the group of 235 seamen, Dr Bloomfield said.

Of the 18 fishermen who tested positive as of Wednesday, some are believed to be historical infections.

The fishing crews will also undergo testing at day six - in addition to routine testing at around days three and 12 - during their isolation period to ensure there has been no further spread.

"We are fully expecting this group may need to stay for additional days beyond the 14 days due to the number of infections," he said.

"They have been captured by our procedures at the border and are well-contained. That is exactly why we have these protocols in place."

There are three other unrelated imported cases, who have been staying at a second managed isolation facility in Christchurch. They arrived on London via Singapore on October 16 and tested positive due to routine testing on day three.

In addition to those, a further two imported cases have been detected in facilities in Auckland. One arrived from Jordan on October 16, and the second arrived on October 17 from Malaysia.

Two workplace contacts of Sunday's community case test positive

As well as the 23 imported cases, two colleagues of Sunday's community case, a port worker, have tested positive for COVID-19.

The first was previously considered a casual contact, and is an employee of the same small firm as Sunday's case. They had a very short period of exposure to their colleague on Friday morning - just a "few minutes in the same room", Dr Bloomfield said.

The person was tested after becoming symptomatic on Tuesday. One household contact is currently isolating and has also been tested.

The second colleague who tested positive is a previously reported close contact of Sunday's community case. They have been at the Auckland quarantine facility since Sunday, but had returned a negative test on Friday as part of routine surveillance testing at the port. 

The person was also tested on Tuesday shortly after presenting symptoms. His household contacts were "contacts of contacts", Dr Bloomfield said, and were initially isolated and tested as a precaution. As they are now considered close contacts, they will isolate for the full 14-day period and be retested.

Further interviews are underway and the cases are "well contained", he said.

It's believed Sunday's community case - a contractor who works on-board vessels, but is not employed by the Ports of Auckland - became infected while working on the Sofrana Surville in Auckland on Monday, October 12 and Tuesday, October 13. Prior to developing symptoms on Friday, the man had worked on a ship in New Plymouth and had visited a local hotel and motel.

Dr Bloomfield reiterated the Sofrana Surville vessel remains "the most likely hypothesis" for the source of the man's infection. 

"We have a very strong line of inquiry into the source of infection, and [the Sofrana Surville] is almost certainly the most likely source of the infection," he said.

The ship and its 19 crew members are currently in Brisbane but test results were not available at the time of the briefing.

Genome sequencing revealed the man's infection is a strain of COVID-19 that has not previously been found in New Zealand.

Dr Caroline McElnay said the Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) is actively investigating the two cases connected to the worker and are taking a "proactive approach" to contact tracing. ARPHS are also following up on ships the community case had worked on prior to his diagnosis.

Two previously recorded cases have recovered as of Wednesday, Dr Bloomfield said, bringing the active case total to 56.

New Zealand's confirmed case total now stands at 1556. On Tuesday, 6308 tests were processed.