The origin of the cases involving the same family is still being tracked as Auckland begins its three-day lockdown.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday that genomic sequencing of two recent COVID-19 cases that resulted in a lockdown in Auckland, the country’s largest city, showed it was variant B117, one more transferable variant, first discovered in the UK last year
It is the first time the variant has been found in New Zealand.
“We have rightly decided to be especially careful, as we assumed that it was one of the more transferable variants,” said Ardern on Monday in a Facebook Live post.
There have been no results from sequencing a third case related to the Auckland cluster, all members of the same family, the Ministry of Health said.
“This result confirms the decision to take swift and reliable measures in recent cases to identify and eliminate the possibility of further transmission,” said the ministry.
Ardern ordered a three-day lockdown in Auckland after discovering the new cluster to close public venues and ban all gatherings outside of homes, with the exception of weddings and funerals, which allow up to 10 people. Schools remain open to children of key workers, but others have been asked to stay home.
The country has been widely lauded for its handling of the pandemic, reporting 25 deaths out of a population of five million since the pandemic began a year ago.
The source of the recent cases is still being investigated.
Health officials said a mother who works for a company that provides laundry and catering services for international flights and her daughter tested positive on Saturday before the father returned a positive sample on Sunday.
New Zealand’s Director General for Health, Dr. Ashley Bloomfield said the initial focus is on the mother’s workplace “because of its obvious border ties”.
But he added it was “too early to rule out or exclude a source of transmission” and the woman had been absent from work for eight days before testing positive.
Auckland, home to two million people, spent more than two weeks in lockdown last August after a COVID-19 outbreak was linked to a worker handling imported frozen cargo. However, the restrictions have been eased for months.
In January, New Zealand reported its first case in the community in months, which turned out to be the variant discovered in South Africa.
The recent cases prompted Australia to suspend quarantine freedom with its neighbor.
The Australian Chief Medical Officer Dr. Paul Kelly called an urgent meeting late Sunday and it was decided that all flights originating in New Zealand would be classified as Red Zone flights for an initial 72 hour period starting Monday.
“As a result, anyone arriving on such flights within this three-day period will have to avail of a 14-day supervised hotel quarantine,” the Australian Department of Health said on its website.
The travel bubble was set up to allow New Zealanders to get to Australia without having to spend 14 days in a hotel, although quarantine was mandatory for people traveling the other direction.