COVID-19: Managed isolation worker infected with UK variant, genomically linked to other Grand Millennium case

The worker at a managed isolation facility who tested positive for COVID-19 is infected with the B.1.1.7 strain, also known as the UK variant, the Ministry of Health has confirmed.

The staffer, referred to as Case A, is a cleaner at Auckland's Grand Millennium Hotel, New Zealand's largest managed isolation facility. They returned a positive result for COVID-19 on Monday due to routine surveillance testing. 

In a statement to Newshub on Wednesday morning, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said genome sequencing for Case A confirmed the worker was infected with the B.1.1.7 strain.

The results also found a genomic link between the worker and another case at the Grand Millennium Hotel, who stayed at the facility between March 13-15.

This person arrived at the facility before Case A received their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the spokesperson said, and tested positive on arrival.

On Tuesday, it was revealed that a family member and household contact of Case A had returned a weak positive result and was classified as under investigation. However, a second swab taken that day returned a negative result. They remain asymptomatic.

It's believed the weak positive result could be an indication of an earlier infection or a false negative. Further testing will be conducted on the family member as health officials continue to investigate Case A.

Three other household contacts of Case A have tested negative for the virus.

One location of interest has been identified in relation to Case A. Anyone who visited Countdown supermarket in Mt Roskill on Saturday, March 20 between 3pm and 3:15pm is asked to monitor their health until April 3. If symptoms develop, the Ministry of Health says to call Healthline on 0800 358 5453, organise a test, and remain at home until a negative result is returned. 

The B.1.1.7 mutation was first detected in the United Kingdom in September 2020. The strain is known to be more transmissible than older variants and is understood to be more deadly. One study found that B.1.1.7 is associated with a 35 percent higher mortality rate among those who contract COVID-19 in the community - however, research at the University of Bristol and University of Exeter suggests the mortality risk may increase by as much as 64 percent.