COVID-19: Four new cases in MIQ, genome sequencing finds 12 Viking Bay mariners infected with Delta variant

COVID-19: Four new cases in MIQ, genome sequencing finds 12 Viking Bay mariners infected with Delta variant
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Twelve of the mariners from the COVID-stricken Viking Bay fishing vessel are infected with the highly transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19, genome sequencing has found.

Additionally, four new arrivals have tested positive for the virus in New Zealand's managed isolation facilities. 

In its daily update on Wednesday, the Ministry of Health confirmed that whole genome sequencing has found 12 of the crew from aboard the Viking Bay are infected with the Delta variant.

Sixteen of its crew have now been transferred to an on-shore quarantine facility in Wellington.

"These 12 results demonstrate that the variants are all linked, though these cases are not genomically linked to the first case on the vessel, which also had the Delta variant," a spokesperson for the ministry said in Wednesday's statement.

"None of the current cases are linked to any other confirmed cases in New Zealand."

Source inquiries will be undertaken, however the confirmation that the mariners are carrying the Delta variant is "not unexpected", the spokesperson added.

"It reinforces the importance of the precautions taken in transferring crew to the quarantine facility in Wellington."

On Tuesday night, one of the five remaining crew members aboard the quarantined vessel became unwell. Out of an abundance of caution, the individual was transferred to an on-shore quarantine facility in Wellington, the Ministry of Health confirmed.

The transfer of the crew member was undertaken with the appropriate precautions in place and in line with the advice from the local regional public health service. The crewman had previously tested negative for COVID-19, and a further test will be taken on Wednesday with the result expected later the same afternoon.

As close contacts, the four remaining crew members aboard the Viking Bay - who have returned negative results to date - are expected to undergo further testing. The four mariners will undergo a day zero test, a day five test and a day 12 test during their 14 days of isolation.

The vessel's owner and agent has provided a dispensation to the vessel to have only four crew on-board to meet minimum safety requirements. Contingency planning is underway for any further changes in crew numbers.

Port authorities and the shipping agent have advised the ministry that ongoing maintenance of the vessel will be undertaken while it is berthed in Wellington. The required maintenance does not require anyone to go on-board.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has advised health officials that the Viking Bay mariners are completing their quarantine on separate floors within the facility, with their own  smoking areas and separate lift.

"These mariners are also in rooms by themselves and are expected to follow strict Infection Prevention and Control protocols developed by the Ministry of Health to manage the risks of spreading COVID-19."

Case update

Of the four positive tests returned in managed isolation facilities, three have been classified as historical infections.

The first, who is a contact of another case, arrived on June 26 from South Africa via Qatar and tested positive on the fifth day of their stay in managed isolation. 

The second and third travelled together from India with a stopover in Qatar and arrived on July 3. Both returned positive results on the first day of their stay.

The fourth, who is currently considered to be an active case, arrived on July 12 from the US and tested positive on arrival.

Five previously reported cases have now recovered, bringing the number of active cases to 42.

Since January 1, 2021, 93 out of 618 cases have been classified as historical infections, meaning they were not infectious at the time of their swab.

To date, New Zealand has recorded 2434 cases of COVID-19.

Update on the Playa Zahara

A Playa Zahara shipping vessel currently berthed at Port Taranaki has applied for permission for a change of crew at the New Plymouth complex, the All of Government response has confirmed.

Although there have been reports of a flu-like illness on-board the Playa Zahara, all but one of the crew members are no longer symptomatic as of 10am on Wednesday.

Testing of the crew members was conducted on Tuesday and the ship is currently based off-shore as health authorities await the results. Further public health measures will be decided based on the results, the Ministry of Health said.

The one crew member who remains symptomatic has returned an indeterminate result and will therefore remain under investigation.

If the results show there is no evidence of COVID-19 on-board, the Playa Zahara will be granted pratique for a crew change.

Health authorities have assessed this situation as having a low risk to public health.

Travel from New South Wales

Quarantine-free travel from New South Wales (NSW) remains paused, with managed return flights from Sydney currently operating. All travellers on these flights are required to complete 14 days of managed isolation when they arrive in New Zealand. Because of this, travellers from NSW are not required to have a pre-departure test before flying.

Travellers who have been in NSW on or after 10:30pm on June 26 are not permitted to travel back to New Zealand from other parts of Australia. Travel histories will be checked at the airport before departure.

Those travelling from any other areas of Australia - who have not been in NSW since June 26 - must return a negative pre-departure test to be allowed entry into New Zealand. All travellers must complete a travel declaration.