After nearly a month with no reports of new cases, New Zealand is no longer coronavirus-free. Two women from the United Kingdom have tested positive after traveling to the country to see a dying relative, officials announced Tuesday.
The women, whose names have not been released, are from the same family and had traveled to New Zealand from London through Australia last week. After arriving in Auckland, they were placed in isolation in a hotel — but were allowed on compassionate grounds to leave quarantine early.
The women, one in her 30s and one in her 40s, traveled in a private vehicle on Saturday to visit a relative who has since died. Officials said the women did not come into contact with anyone or use any public facilities during the journey.
One woman experienced mild symptoms, the other was symptom-free. They both tested positive for COVID-19 after returning to quarantine.
"A new case is something that we hoped we wouldn't get but is also something we expected and we have planned for," Director-General of Health Dr. Ashley Bloomfield said in a news release. "'That's why we have geared up our contact tracing and testing capability to be able to respond rapidly."
One additional family member who met with the women in Wellington is also isolating as they await test results, the ministry said. The ministry is also implementing a contract tracing program to notify anyone who may have come in contact with the women during their travels.
The women are currently isolating in Wellington and are being monitored by officials.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has been praised for how she oversaw the eradication of the virus in New Zealand, said Tuesday that new cases are not unexpected.
"What this does prove is the importance of a rigorous system at our border, of us continuing to be very, very cautious in our management and taking the cautious approach that we have continued to take as a government," she told reporters.
She also emphasized the importance of forcing all travelers to quarantine upon arrival and said that "compassionate leave" has been suspended in all circumstances.
The women mark the first new COVID-19 cases in New Zealand in 24 days. The country lifted nearly all social and economic last week, but it maintains strict restrictions on entering the country.
The cases bring New Zealand's total confirmed positive cases to 1,506, according to Johns Hopkins University. The country has 22 reported deaths from the disease.