The country’s director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield revealed a 56-year-old woman who had recently returned from Europe and been through New Zealand’s government-run quarantine system had tested positive for covid-19 after being released.
Health officials believe that the case is a more transmissible variant of the virus and said they had no immediate evidence the virus was spreading in the community.
However they are now scrambling to trace anyone who may have been exposed to the woman at up to 30 places after she left a quarantine facility 11 days ago. Those include an underwear outlet shop, cafes, restaurants and tourist attractions north of Auckland.
Four close contacts of the woman - who had travelled to Spain and the Netherlands before returning to New Zealand on December 30 - have been tested and are isolating.
Dr Bloomfield said the woman spent 14 days in quarantine and twice tested negative before being returning home on January 13. She later developed symptoms and tested positive.
Covid-19 minister Chris Hipkins said it was too early to say what the response to the positive case would be.
Dr Bloomfield said health officials will conduct genome testing but believe the case is a more transmissible variant of the virus.
He said they are investigating to see whether its possible the woman caught the disease from another returning traveller who was staying in the same quarantine facility.
New Zealand had eliminated community transmission of the virus prior to this case.
Dr Bloomfield said officials are ramping up contact tracing and testing efforts and hope to have more information about the case in the coming days.