Health officials said on Friday that the resurgence of the coronavirus outbreak in New Zealand has spread beyond Auckland, which has dealt a major blow to efforts to contain the disease.
Health Minister Chris Hipkins said that after another outbreak of the virus in Auckland this week, there were 12 more community-transmitted cases, one of which is very likely.
He said two of the infections were found in Tokoroa, a small town on the North Island, about 210 kilometers (130 miles) south of Auckland.
Despite strict restrictions on the blockade of New Zealand’s largest city, areas outside of Auckland are still infected, including masked police blocking roads to seal the border.
Hipkins played down concerns about the inability to carry out fence infections in Auckland, which means the virus may now be rampant elsewhere.
“All of the cases so far are connected, they are all part of one Auckland-based cluster, that’s good news,” he said, adding that the Tokoroa cases were identified quickly.
“We’ve seen no evidence of a COVID-19 case outside of Auckland that is unrelated to the cluster we are dealing with.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will announce later on Friday whether the confinement period in Auckland will be extended and whether the areas affected by the restrictions should be expanded beyond Auckland.
When four family members in Auckland returned to active testing on Tuesday, the crisis broke out and ended the 102-day operation in New Zealand. No community transmission was reported.
As health authorities desperately search for the source of infection, the number of cases continues to increase, but it has not yet been determined.
In just four days, New Zealand has changed from a paradise without transmission to a country considering a national blockade.
Ashley Bloomfield, director of the National Health Service, admitted that the mood was high, but urged the public not to feel frustrated with frontline health workers.
“We’ve had reports of healthcare workers, who are doing their best to provide testing for people, being verbally abused and even attacked,” he said.
“This is completely unacceptable,” he added, declining to provide further details.”