New Zealand authorities are investigating two possible coronavirus cases in Auckland linked to the same hotel where the country’s most recent community infection stayed.
The pair were staying at the Pullman Hotel in downtown Auckland CBD – the same quarantine hotel that the infected Northland woman spent two weeks.
After her case was identified at the weekend, all 353 guests who were at the Pullman at the same time were ordered to stay home, isolate and get a test.
On Tuesday, two people who had returned weak positive results were retested. One was later found to be historic and the other confirmed as negative.
However, on Wednesday afternoon, New Zealand’s Health Ministry confirmed it was investigating after two more people in Auckland also returned weak positive tests.
Follow-up tests have been ordered, and the office of the country’s COVID-19 Response Minister, Chris Hipkins, has said the pair were at home isolating.
On Wednesday afternoon, Australia’s deputy chief medical officer Michael Kidd said NZ authorities had advised of the latest infections.
“The situation is evolving rapidly,” he said.
“We will be following up the details of both of these cases with the New Zealand authorities once further details, including the results of additional testing, are known.”
Earlier, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was considering forming trans-Tasman travel bubbles directly with Australian states after Australia slammed shut its border for 72 hours when the Northland infection emerged.
Scores of people were told to immediately isolate and get tested, as Australian authorities scrambled to track down anyone who had arrived from NZ in the past fortnight.
Kiwis were told to reconsider any travel to Australia until at least Thursday. Any who do arrive face a spell in hotel quarantine.
“We apologise to those who may be inconvenienced,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said.
On Wednesday, Professor Kidd said Australian authorities had made no decisions on the future of the travel bubble.
Ms Ardern was quick to criticise the snap closure, saying she had conveyed her disappointment to Australian counterpart Scott Morrison. The situation with the lone community COVID case was “well under control”, she said.
Ms Ardern had previously outlined her hope to establish a trans-Tasman bubble – two-way quarantine-free travel between the two countries – by the end of March.
She said Australia’s action was a setback.
“If we are to enter into a trans-Tasman bubble we will need to give people confidence that we won’t see closures at the border that happen with very short notice over incidents we believe can be well-managed domestically,” she said.
“We are continuing to pursue it … but it does look increasingly difficult at a country-by-country level. We haven’t ruled out the possibility of state-by-state.”
The Anzac argy-bargy comes after months of negotiations between the two countries over the establishment of quarantine-free travel.
New Zealand has maintained a lower threshold for risk during the discussions.
Ms Ardern said while states such as Queensland and Western Australia were taking a similarly stringent approach to the pandemic, others, naming NSW, were not.
“The complexity for New Zealand is that unlike Australia dealing with just New Zealand, we are dealing with the different approach to multiple states,” she said.
“We have taken a conservative approach and I stand by that decision.”
NZ officials believe the latest community case – a 56-year-old Northland woman – caught the virulent South African strain of the virus while in quarantine.
Kiwi health authorities have been on a rigorous contact tracing effort to isolate and test anyone she might have had contact with after leaving quarantine.
To date, that has not unearthed any new positive tests.