The strain of coronavirus at the centre of an Auckland outbreak is likely a new arrival in New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.
Her comments came during a Friday afternoon media conference where she announced Auckland would remain at alert level 3 for 12 more days, while the rest of the country would stay at level 2.
The origin of the Auckland outbreak, which broke a 102-day streak of no community transmission, remains unclear and is the subject of ongoing investigation.
Ardern said the genomic sequence of the virus in the current outbreak is not the same as the sequences of previous outbreaks.
“This suggests this is not a case of the virus being dormant or of a burning ember in our community,” she said.
“It appears to be new to New Zealand.”
Contact tracing and genomic testing has found no link between the virus in the latest outbreak to managed isolation and quarantine facilities, Ardern said.
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said on Thursday results from initial genomic tests suggested the strain originated in the UK or Australia.
The earliest case found to date in the new Auckland cluster is a worker at an Americold cool store in Mt Wellington who fell ill on July 31.
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There are now 29 cases linked to the cluster, plus one other case likely linked to the cluster but still under investigation, Ardern said.
Thirty-eight people linked to the cluster are now in government-managed quarantine as a precaution.
“There are signs we have found this outbreak relatively early in its life,” Ardern said.
Institute of Environmental Science and Research bioinformatics lead Joep de Ligt earlier said genomic surveillance data suggested there had been multiple introductions of the virus into New Zealand.
“There’s an estimate that at the moment there’s at least 35 unique introductions,” de Ligt said in April.
“They’ve come from all over the world, so we’ve seen them from Europe, Iran, North America.
“Again this is consistent with what other countries have seen – that it is these international travellers that have brought it in in that narrow window before the borders were closed.”