New Zealand has reported two new locally transmitted cases of Covid-19 on Wednesday, just hours before authorities were due to announce whether a lockdown in the country’s biggest city of Auckland would be extended.
The pair were siblings who attend south Auckland’s Papatoetoe high school and knew the student at the centre of the city’s latest community cluster.
One student was a classmate of the infected girl, who tested positive on Saturday, and the other is a sibling of the latest case, who also attends the high school, authorities said. Both are now in managed isolation.
On Sunday the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, placed the whole of Auckland into a three-day lockdown after three people – a mother, father and daughter – tested positive for the disease, with no indication of where they contracted the virus. The rest of the country has been placed into level 2 restrictions.
The mother of the family at the centre of the outbreak does laundry for airlines at a facility near the airport, but there has been no confirmation that this was where the family contracted Covid.
The Auckland lockdown was due to end at midnight on Wednesday, with Ardern expected to announce her decision at 1630 local time. She is also expected to reveal whether the remainder of the country steps down a level on the country’s Covid response scale.
News of the new cases comes after two days of zero community spread, despite 20,000 people being tested in Auckland.
There are now a total of 31 close contacts and 1,523 casual plus contacts of the original virus at Papatoetoe high school. Of those, 29 close contacts have returned negative results, one positive result, and one is outstanding.
The latest news caused despair among Aucklanders. Businesses said they were particularly hard hit as they were still recovering from the two lockdowns of 2020.
However, testing of Auckland’s wastewater on 15 February found “no evidence of any community cases of Covid-19 in wastewater sampled”, apart from in sewage lines connected to quarantine facilities, where positive cases are held.
The North Island city of Rotorua and the South Island city of Christchurch also returned negative results.
New Zealand’s chief science advisor, Dame Juliet Ann Gerrard, praised the latest cases for undergoing tests promptly.
“Big shout out to cases A and B for getting a test promptly, which meant we found this chain of transmission,” she said on Twitter.
Epidemiologists said the discovery of more cases in the community should mean an extension to Auckland’s lockdown and level 2 country-wide, particularly as the source of the original infection remained unidentified.
“Given this, and the persisting uncertainty, it’s possibly best to keep the current alert level settings for a few more days,” said Otago university epidemiologist Nick Wilson, to local media.
The fresh outbreak prompted neighbouring Australia to suspend an arrangement that allowed New Zealanders to enter Australia without serving a 14-day hotel quarantine period.