New Zealand health officials confirmed a new societal case about Covid-19 in Auckland on Thursday, just two days after the country celebrated its largely virus-free status by approving a travel bubble with Australia.
There were no hints that New Zealand’s largest city would be re-locked or the travel bubble plan revised.
But Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern immediately announced a temporary halt to entry into the country from India, the starting point for most infected arrivals in recent weeks that closed New Zealand nationals for the first time since the pandemic erupted.
The new patient is a security guard at a coronavirus quarantine hotel for returning to kiwis.
He had not been vaccinated, but his only known contact person outside the hotel was a colleague who received two doses of the vaccine, officials said.
The case highlighted the potential fragility of the travel opening, which was due to start on April 19, and which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has warned could be disrupted in the event of new Covid-19 outbreaks.
Both New Zealand and Australia have largely contained coronavirus with few outbreaks of community infection in recent months, all of which were successfully eliminated after brief local lockdowns.
But authorities warned that future eruptions could catch tourists on the wrong side of the “ditch”, as locals call the Tasman Sea, which separates neighboring countries and potentially forces them to undergo an expensive hotel quarantine when they return home.
There are currently 95 active Covid-19 cases in New Zealand – the security guard and 94 that were discovered at the border – and all are placed in a special quarantine facility.
Most of the positive tests are from travelers from India who flew to New Zealand via Dubai.
Ardern said the suspension of entry to New Zealand for arrivals from India will run from 11 to 28 April.
“During this temporary suspension, the government will explore the possibilities of managing risk,” she said.
“We have never before suspended travel for New Zealand nationals and residents, and therefore I want to assure you that this is not a permanent arrangement.”