New Zealand investigates a common suspect in its mysterious new COVID cluster

Our mission to help you navigate the new normal is fueled by subscribers. To enjoy unlimited access to our journalism, subscribe today.

New Zealand thought it had the coronavirus under control, and then four more people got sick.

Following a 102-day run without any local transmission of COVID-19, the country was placed back under lockdown Wednesday after four members of a family in Auckland were found to have contracted the virus.

“We are working hard to put together pieces of the puzzle on how this family got infected,” New Zealand’s Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said.

Subscribe to Eastworld for weekly insight on what’s dominating business in Asia, delivered free to your inbox.

The island state had declared itself virus-free in June, with no active cases across the country. The government lifted all local lockdown restrictions, allowing people to meet and mingle at ease while maintaining strict quarantine for inbound travelers.

With no prior local cases and little chance of an infected person arriving in New Zealand, the country is now investigating whether the virus could have been imported through freight—specifically, refrigerated supply lines.

“We know the virus can survive within refrigerated environments for quite some time,” Bloomfield told a media conference. In Auckland, authorities are testing a cold storage unit where one of the infected family members worked for the virus.

The city—the largest city in New Zealand—is under a “level 3” lockdown, requiring people to stay home except for essential trips, while officials attempt to trace the virus.

Members of the infected family had traveled to a local tourist site and another member had gone to work, where other staff are now showing symptoms.

The rest of the country is under a looser lockdown protocol, which will be in place until at least Friday.

Other countries have speculated previously that refrigerated supply lines helped transport coronavirus, too. In June, Beijing deployed “wartime” lockdown measures after a COVID-19 outbreak was traced to a seafood market; the virus was suspected to have been imported along with salmon.

In July, China’s coastal city of Dalian reported a new COVID-19 cluster, which it suspected was imported via frozen fish. And this week another Chinese city, Yantai, said it had found COVID-19 on imported packages of frozen seafood.

It’s important to note the virus isn’t thought to be transmitted by frozen food itself. Rather the virus can survive on the surface of shipped packages and products and infect people when the cargo arrives. Seafood has emerged as a potential risk because, according to China’s chief epidemiologist, “seafood products are typically stored and transported in cold containers, thus it is possible for the virus to be preserved for a long time” in a dormant state.

As an additional response to the outbreak, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern delayed dissolving parliament—a political process which needs to be done before the country can hold its next general election, due in September.

“We’re seeking advice around the options of the issue of the election from the electoral commission, just so that we make sure we have all those options available to us,” Ardern said.

More must-read international coverage from Fortune:

  • Chinese factories’ COVID comeback defies the global downturn
  • The U.K. lifted border controls just as COVID took off. Lawmakers call this “a serious error”
  • China’s U.S. energy imports are 95% below what it promised in the Phase One trade deal
  • Google faces EU antitrust probe over the data implications of its Fitbit buy
  • COVID-19 is killing journalists in prisons, compounding the threat of attacks on the press

Latest articles

Why Disney’s Smart House Is a Scary Movie For Adults

It took me a long time to realize why I'm afraid of Katey Sagal. The talented actor seems like a lovely person, but...

Stellar winds hint at how planetary nebulae get their stunning shapes

In their dying throes, some stars leave behind beautiful planetary nebulae — disk, spiral or even butterfly-shaped clouds of dust and gas (SN:...

MIT Trains Neural Network to Keep Patients Anesthetized During Surgery

Scientists at MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital have developed a new AI algorithm that can actually control an anesthetized patient’s level of unconsciousness...

Windows XP Source Code Got Leaked All Over the Internet

This week, we took an exclusive look at the chaos that unfolded inside Twitter in the hours after the accounts of Elon...

Related articles

Leave a reply

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here