New case won’t impact bubble: NZ minister

COVID-19 Minister Chris Hipkins has downplayed the chances of New Zealand’s latest community case stopping the trans-Tasman bubble, even if new cases are announced.

On Tuesday, Kiwi health authorities reported a cleaner, with responsibilities to clean planes from high-risk countries at Auckland Airport, had caught the virus.

A major contact tracing exercise has followed, with the person quarantined, their close contacts tested and isolated, and the community informed of three locations of interest from the person’s recent movements.

Encouragingly, there were no further community cases announced in NZ’s daily update on Wednesday.

Through genomic sequencing, the Health ministry was also able to link the infection to a traveller from Ethiopia who flew on one of the planes serviced by the cleaner.

Still, the new case brought fears it could scuttle the newly-established trans-Tasman bubble.

Mr Hipkins allayed those concerns, saying planes would keep flying between Australia and NZ in these circumstances.

“On both sides of the Tasman, our first expectation is that we look to contain any cases using contact tracing,” he told Radio NZ on Wednesday morning.

“I’m relatively confident based on what we know at the moment that we should be able to do that.”

Mr Hipkins said the agreed threshold for the suspension of flights was “unidentified community transmission cases”.

“Where it’s a link to a border worker, if that spreads further by one or two cases and we can contain those and contain their close contacts, that’s not the sort of thing that would need to disrupt trans-Tasman travel,” he said.

“As we’ve shown in the past we can contain those without alert level escalation.

“The sorts of things that give us an alert level escalation are the sorts of things that might disrupt trans-Tasman travel.”

Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said he had confidence in Kiwi officials to deal with the case on Tuesday.

Mr Hipkins said he was pleased with communicaton with Australian officials since the case arose.

“We will be keeping in regular contact. I don’t intend to surprise Australia at any point, and I don’t expect that they’ll be aiming to surprise us,” he said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has thanked the cleaner for doing their high-risk job, who Mr Hipkins described as diligent with testing and scanning into venues.

“By all accounts, this person appears to have done everything right,” he said.

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