COVID-19: Experts divided over potential workplace transmission point

Experts are divided as to whether one of New Zealand's latest community cases of COVID-19 could have been infected with the virus from contaminated laundry.

New Zealand recorded three new cases of coronavirus on Sunday - all in south Auckland from the same family.

It has since been confirmed the family is infected with the more contagious UK variant of the virus, but a link has not been found with any other case in New Zealand so far.

"The results from these cases do not link directly to any other positive cases detected in New Zealand to date," a Ministry of Health spokesperson said in a statement.

"ESR is now conducting a scan of the international genome database to see if there is a match."

Speaking to The AM Show on Monday, physics and disease modeller Shaun Hendy said the virus may have been transmitted at the woman's workplace LSG Sky Chefs, an airline catering company.

"What we are looking for is whether we can link this case to a recent arrival," he said. "The mother, she works for LSG Sky Chefs and she handles laundry from international travellers so it's possible she's come into contact with a discarded face mask, pillow or a blanket that was used by a traveller who was infected."

Jacinda Ardern agreed she could have been infected through touching materials which carried the virus.

"It could be, for instance, a situation where a transit passenger has been the source of infection - they're required to stay airside," she explained.

"But of course, we have airside workers - and they will have used the blankets on international flights that then go through the laundry at the [case's] place of work."

The case may have also contracted the virus by handling clothes worn by an infected international airline worker, Ardern said.

"International airline crew do in some cases have their uniforms washed at the [case's] place of work."

However, epidemiologist Michael Baker told The AM Show he doesn't think it's a likely source of transmission.

"It still has not been documented anywhere in the world despite millions of cases," he said. "It's mainly transmitted, as you know from droplets and aerosols in indoor environments from other people. I think that's why there's so much concern about this outbreak at the moment."

In a previous interview, he has also said deep cleaning in COVID-19-infected patient's hotel rooms was too much.

"You see them sometimes fumigating whole areas with an agent to kill the virus while the evidence is that may be an over-exaggeration," he told Newshub.

"Some of the reviews are saying there are no documented examples of anyone getting this virus from touching contaminated surfaces."

He said the focus should shift to finding out why people are getting infected on flights and create ways to reduce infection during their journey.

"There could be a brief period of quarantine before people get on flights. There could be a routine pre-departure rapid test before they get on the plane. We could focus a lot more on mask use during the journey back to New Zealand and what happens at travel hubs."