Mutated strains of COVID-19 at New Zealand's border no reason to panic - expert

Mutated strains of COVID-19 have made their way to New Zealand with 36 cases being discovered at managed isolation facilities - but one expert says it's not necessarily a reason to panic.

The latest Ministry of Health update revealed 11 new imported cases of B.1.1.7, the variant of COVID-19 first discovered in the United Kingdom have been detected in managed isolation since January 6.  Six additional samples have been identified as B., the mutated strain first detected in South Africa.

It brings New Zealand's total cases of variant COVID-19 to 36.

Infectious diseases expert David Murdoch told Newshub he's not surprised the variant strains have been detected at New Zealand's border.

"It shows what a connected world we live in even with the border restrictions and travel restrictions - if there are circulated strains we're likely to get those."

He says although "general concern" over the new strains is normal, it's best to treat it as another reminder to remain vigilant.

"The increase in numbers of these strains is cause for general concern and that's the reason behind the increased border requirements."

From Monday, January 25 all travellers will need to have evidence of a negative test result from within a 72 hour period before their flight departed.

This is in addition to spending two weeks in managed isolation upon arrival in the country. 

Minister for the COVID-19 response Chris Hipkins said the new restrictions are an extra measure to keep New Zealand safe.

"Given the high rates of infection in many countries, most global air routes are of critical concern for the foreseeable future

"New Zealand is currently in a good position with no community cases, but we continue to take action with very specific steps to further strengthen our borders in response to what we're seeing overseas."

Murdoch agrees, saying New Zealand needs to do "everything practically possible" to keep the virus under control.

"We need to keep vigilant in order to keep the relatively fortunate situation we're in at the moment."

He told Newshub even if the mutant strain of COVID-19 makes it past the border, it's not necessarily a reason to panic.

"We just need to act as quickly as we have done - New Zealand has responded fairly rigorously to any community transmission in the past and we just need to do that again.

“But of course the best is just to keep it out."