An Air New Zealand crew member who has tested positive for Covid-19 may have contracted the virus in the United States.
The Health Ministry said preliminary genome testing found no link between positive cases and existing cases in New Zealand.
Comparisons with international samples show that it came from the United States, the ministry said today.
The exact source of the positive cases has not been confirmed, and a ministry investigation is ongoing.
Crew members arrived in New Zealand on December 9 on a flight from the United States.
They tested positive as part of mandatory testing within 48 hours of returning from the country.
The ministry said Air New Zealand had provided assurance that the person had met all requirements for crew flying to and from the US – and the risk to the general public was considered low.
While abroad, the flight crew is located legally required wear protective equipment when in direct contact with passengers or when outside of their aircraft or accommodation.
They must travel directly to their accommodation and cannot leave except for emergencies.
Aircrews flying the “high risk” route – which includes Los Angeles and San Francisco – must also follow legal requirements on their return to New Zealand including mandatory medical examinations and a Covid-19 test within 48 hours of arrival.
They do not have to undergo managed isolation, but must isolate themselves until they test negative.
Covid-19 Countermeasure Minister Chris Hipkins said this afternoon a positive case shows the system is working.
“We see evidence of successful protective measures with this newest Air New Zealand crew member.
“We know there is an extra risk for people coming and going who are part of the flight crew,” he said.
“We cannot accept them in two weeks of isolation, or we will never have planes coming and going. It would not be practical.
“This person has been isolated since they came back, they got the tests as expected [and] they are not showing any symptoms at this time.
“All crew members have tested negative, so there is actually no risk of spreading it in the community.”
All other crew members have returned negative test results and are in isolation.
Three new cases
The ministry also confirmed three new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand today, all in managed isolation.
There are no new community cases.
Two of the new cases arrived from the United States, and one from the UK. They have all been moved to Jet Park’s quarantine facility in Auckland.
One previously reported case has now recovered, bringing the total number of active cases in New Zealand now to 56.
There were 4245 tests yesterday.
The previous case
It was announced yesterday that crew members would arrive in New Zealand on December 9 on a flight from the US.
They tested positive as part of mandatory testing within 48 hours of returning from the United States.
The ministry said Air New Zealand had assured him the person had met all of the requirements for crew flying to and from the US – and the risk to the general public was considered low.
While genome sequencing has not yet been completed, preliminary results suggest no link between test crew members and existing New Zealand cases. Comparisons with international samples show that it came from the United States, the ministry said.
All other crew members returned negative and were isolated.
The total number of confirmed cases in New Zealand is 1,740.
There are six new cases of Covid-19 in managed isolation that were announced on Friday.
At that time, there were no community cases and the total number of cases in New Zealand stood at 57.
Of the six new cases, five were active and one history:
• One case arrived in New Zealand on 26 November, from South Africa via the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia. This person was tested for being in a travel bubble with two confirmed cases and at an Auckland quarantine facility.
• One case arrived in New Zealand on 1 December, from Sweden via Qatar and Australia. These people were tested because they were in a travel bubble with two confirmed cases, and were in an Auckland quarantine facility.
• One case arrived in New Zealand on 3 December, from Great Britain via the United Arab Emirates. These people are being tested because they are in a travel bubble with a confirmed case, and are in an Auckland quarantine facility.
• One case arrived on December 3 from the United Kingdom via the United Arab Emirates. This person tested positive on routine testing around day 3, and has been transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility.
• One case arrived on December 3 from the United Arab Emirates. These people are being tested because they are in a travel bubble with a confirmed case, and are in an Auckland quarantine facility.
• One case arrived in New Zealand on 7 December, from Great Britain via Singapore, and was tested on arrival for symptoms. Serological testing revealed that this case was historical and therefore not contagious. This person is in a Christchurch-run isolation and quarantine facility.
Starting this week, the frequency of updates has been reduced to four times a week.
New Zealand had its first confirmed case of Covid-19 on February 28, and starting March 3, daily updates have been provided by the Ministry of Health.
Last Monday, the ministry announced it was cutting the frequency of renewals to four times a week.
Updates are now scheduled on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.
No new cases have been reported in the community since November 21, when the last case linked to the Auckland Defense Force cluster was reported. The person has now tested negative and there are currently no active cases registered in the community.