Two New Zealanders with COVID-19 are self-isolating in Wellington after recording positive tests following travel from Britain.
The Kiwis tested positive to the virus after returning home in the hope of seeing an ill relative, and have sparked an international contact tracing effort that will include Brisbane.
The fresh cases bring to an end a 24-day run without new COVID-19 cases in New Zealand – and the country’s June 8 declaration that it was virus free.
The confirmed cases will also prompt major questions about New Zealand’s quarantine regime, given the two Kiwis were allowed to leave mandatory isolation at their hotel and enter the community with the virus.
One woman had mild symptoms, but it was dismissed and attributed to a pre-existing condition.
The women arrived in Auckland on June 7, applied for and received a compassionate exemption on June 12. They went to Wellington on June 13.
“I sense they thought they may have had more time but, unfortunately, the relative died that night,” director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said.
“In this case the [exemption] process was expedited.”
The pair were not tested on day three of their quarantine, in line with regulations.
Dr Bloomfield said the pair were unlikely to have spread the virus further as they drove the 650-kilometre journey in a private car without coming into contact with other people, except for one other family member in Wellington.
All three are now self-isolating as NZ health authorities scramble to contact trace, alongside Australian counterparts.
The women transited through Doha and Brisbane, meaning they could have picked up the virus in Britain, either airport en route, or on one of three flights.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she expected New Zealand to record new cases despite her country’s success at containing the virus.
“Particularly at the border. There are eight million cases worldwide,” she said.
“We still have New Zealanders returning home. What this does prove is the importance of a rigorous system at our border, of us continuing to be very very cautious in our management.”
New Zealand’s COVID-19 death toll is 22.
Tuesday’s NZ cases came as the world passed a grim coronavirus milestone – infections have topped eight million amid surges in Latin America, the US and China.
The US still leads the world with the highest number of infections, about two million, or 25 per cent of all reported cases.
However, the outbreak is growing fastest in Latin America, which accounts for 21 per cent of all cases, according to a Reuters tally.
Brazil’s COVID-19 cases and deaths have surged to make it the No.2 hot spot in the world.
The first case was reported in China in early January and it took until early May to reach four million cases. It has taken just five weeks to double to eight million, according to a Reuters tally.
Global deaths stand at over 434,000 and have doubled in seven weeks.