Five new imported cases of COVID-19 have been detected in managed isolation and quarantine facilities (MIQ), the Ministry of Health confirmed on Monday.
There are no new cases of community transmission.
Two cases arrived on December 10 from the United States. Both became symptomatic at around day nine of their mandatory 14-day isolation period and have been transferred to a Christchurch quarantine facility.
Another case arrived on December 16 from South Korea. The person tested positive due to routine testing at around day three and has been transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility, the Jet Park.
The next case also arrived on December 16, although the country of origin is not yet available. This person tested positive due to routine testing at around day three and has been transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility.
One additional case arrived on December 18 from Russia via Singapore. Their result is believed to indicate a previous infection, referred to as a historical case.
This person was tested on arrival before transiting to a fishing vessel in Lyttleton that same day. The vessel left New Zealand shortly after the crew's arrival and is now in international waters. It will not be returning to New Zealand for some months.
The person's previous infection, consistent with COVID-19, had been reported in Russia and their latest test result is interpreted as reflecting that previous illness, the ministry said.
The person is not regarded as infectious. The ministry is still determining whether this case should be added to New Zealand's tally (as it has been on Monday) or whether it should be reported as a case in Russia.
One previously reported case has now recovered, bringing the country's total number of active cases to 59. The total number of confirmed cases is 1765.
The total number of tests processed by laboratories to date is 1,374,050.
On Sunday, a case was reported as a new arrival from Australia. This was incorrect, the ministry said. This person arrived from the United Kingdom via the United Arab Emirates.
The Ministry of Health said it is pleased with the level of uptake on the NZ COVID Tracer app and continues to encourage people to enable the Bluetooth function. The app now has 2,414,100 registered users, and poster scans have reached 142,042,068. Approximately 390,000 app users have turned on Bluetooth tracing.
Tightening of border requirements
A range of amendments to Border Orders will come into effect to further strengthen New Zealand's frontline defences against COVID-19, the ministry announced in Monday's statement.
Changes to the Air and Isolation & Quarantine Orders - via the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Air Border and Isolation and Quarantine) Amendment Order (No 2) 2020 - include:
- an amendment to the definition of 'aircrew' to include aircrew who are not working and are returning from an overseas leg
- exclusion from managed isolation for a small number of additional people, where the health risk is deemed very low
- amendments to the restrictions for New Zealand-based aircrew operating international flights.
These changes will come into effect immediately as of Monday.
Changes to the Maritime Border Order, via the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Maritime Border) Amendment Order 2020, include:
- improved clarity on the requirements for foreign ships seeking exemption from the Order to enter New Zealand for the purposes of repair, refit or refurbishment
- mandating personal protective equipment (PPE) be used in specific high-risk scenarios on ports and ships.
These maritime changes will come into effect on Wednesday, December 23.
"We are constantly adjusting our border settings to reflect new information, our knowledge of how the virus works and operational experience," the ministry said.
"We need to balance maintaining health requirements with minimising economic impact and operational efficiency. We also need to be cognisant of the impact on workers and travellers."
UK COVID-19 variant
The ministry acknowledged that UK health officials are in communication with international authorities, including New Zealand's, regarding the emergence of a new COVID-19 strain known as the B.1.1.7 strain.
The specific strain found in the United Kingdom has not been identified in New Zealand cases to date.
Health officials are confident that New Zealand's testing strategy, current use of PPE and mandatory 14-day managed isolation period for new arrivals are appropriate measures, the ministry said, although these tools are reviewed in light of any emerging evidence.
"The Ministry of Health maintains that our most important protection at the border is the 14 days in isolation and/or quarantine, together with daily symptom checks and testing at day three and day 12 (with additional testing if symptomatic).
"We are also confident our current PCR testing would detect this and any new strains."
New South Wales
Ministry of Health officials continue to liaise with health authorities in New South Wales regarding an increase in cases linked to an expanding cluster in Sydney's Northern Beaches.
The specific genome identified in New South Wales has not been seen in New Zealand cases to date, the ministry confirmed.