New Zealand records first Covid case in two months after thousands flocked to concert with no masks or social distancing

NEW Zealand has recorded its first case of Covid in two months after a 56-year-old woman caught the more infectious South African variant.

The latest infection in the community comes a week after thousands of New Zealanders flocked to a music concert with no masks or social distancing.

The case is not thought to be connected to the concert in Waitgani last week.

Health officials said the woman caught the more infectious variant of the virus from another returning traveller just before leaving quarantine.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the woman returned from Europe on December 30 and tested negative twice during her mandatory two weeks in quarantine.

But she developed symptoms at home and tested positive.

Bloomfield said 15 people had been identified as close contacts of the woman and were being contacted.

"She didn't talk about respiratory symptoms, it was more muscle aches, so she may not have been sharing or spreading the virus much," he said.

"I don't think that's peculiar to this variant, it's just how it was expressed in this woman."

Officials said the woman caught the virus on her second-to-last day in quarantine, and they are investigating how the health breach happened.

"The strain of infection is the South African variant and the source of infection is highly likely to be a fellow returnee," said Health Minister Chris Hipkins said.

The woman, who lives in Northland on New Zealand's North Island, quarantined in a managed isolation facility in Auckland where several Covid cases have been recorded in recent weeks.

Hipkins said authorities were now looking at whether the virus was spreading through the ventilation and air conditioning systems in the quarantine facilities.

New Zealand last recorded a community coronavirus transmission in November, according to the Health Ministry website.

Confirmation of the case led Australia to immediately suspend its travel bubble with New Zealand.

Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said the suspension would last for three days from Monday.

"This will be done out of an abundance of caution whilst more is learned about the event and the case," he said.

He said the case was of concern because of the transmissibility of the South African variant and because the woman had been in the community.

Hunt urged New Zealanders with a flight to Australia to "reconsider their need to travel" as they will have to go into quarantine.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had informed her of the decision on Monday afternoon.

"I advised him that we have confidence in our systems and processes, but it is Australia's decision as to how they manage their borders," Ardern told TVNZ.

The swift border closure comes as Australia recorded zero cases of Covid coronavirus in the community for one week, the Mail reports.

Despite no new local infections, four cases have been recorded in hotel quarantine facilities in Victoria and New South Wales.

Meanwhile, Australia's medical regulator has approved use of its first coronavirus vaccine, paving the way for inoculations to begin next month.

Australia has had just under 28,800 cases in the past year, the overwhelming majority in Victoria state, and 909 deaths.

The latest case in neighbouring New Zealand comes after thousands partied at a concert earlier this month.

In stark contrast to the UK which remains in lockdown, 20,000 people gathered to watch New Zealand's most famous band, Six60, perform.

The crowd were pictured coming into close contact without wearing masks, and guitarist Chris Mac even interacted with the revellers.

Lead singer Matiu Walters told the Northern Advocate: "Being here and able to get together while the rest of the world basically can’t has really given us a good appreciation of how well our country has done in managing Covid and just how lucky we are.

"I feel really proud that we have got our act together so well on Covid."

Helped by its geographic isolation, New Zealand implemented a tough lockdown which helped the country of 5 million virtually eliminate the coronavirus within its borders.

New Zealand has had only 1,927 confirmed cases.

But with the pandemic raging across the world, more people are returning with infections, including the new variants, prompting concerns the virus could spread in the community again.

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