The origin of the cases, involving the same family, is still being traced as Auckland begins the three-day lockdown.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday that genomic sequencing of two recent cases of COVID-19 that sparked a lockdown in Auckland, the country’s largest city, showed it to be the B117 variant , a more transmissible variant first detected in the UK last year.
This is the first time that the variant has been discovered in New Zealand.
“We were absolutely correct in making the decision to be very careful because we assumed this would be one of the more transferable variants,” Ardern said in a Facebook Live message Monday.
There were no results yet from the sequencing of a third case linked to the Auckland cluster, all of the same family, the health ministry said.
“This result reinforces the decision to take swift and robust action around the latest cases to detect and eliminate the possibility of any further transmission,” the ministry said.
Ardern ordered a three-day lockdown in Auckland after the discovery of the new cluster, closing public places and banning all gatherings outside homes except weddings and funerals where up to 10 people are allowed . Schools will remain open to children of essential workers, but others have been urged to stay at home.
The country has been widely praised 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 latest cases is still under investigation.
Health officials said a mother – who works for a company providing laundry and catering services on international flights – and her daughter tested positive on Saturday, before the father returned a positive sample on Sunday.
New Zealand’s Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the focus was initially on the mother’s workplace “because of its obvious connection to the border”.
But he added that it was “too early to rule out or rule out” any source of transmission and that the woman had not been at work for eight days before she tested positive.
Auckland, home to two million people, spent more than two weeks on lockdown last August after a COVID-19 outbreak linked to a worker handling imported frozen cargo, but restrictions have been relaxed 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 latest cases have prompted Australia to suspend non-quarantine travel with its neighbor.
Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Paul Kelly called an urgent meeting on Sunday evening and it was decided that all flights from New Zealand would be classified in the ‘red zone’ for an initial period of 72 hours from Monday.
“As a result, everyone arriving on such flights departing from this three-day period will be required to undergo 14 days of supervised hotel quarantine,” the Australian Department of Health said on its website.
The travel bubble was put in place so that New Zealanders could travel to Australia without having to spend 14 days in a hotel, although quarantine is mandatory for people traveling the other way.