A woman who returned from the Cook Islands in March was yesterday confirmed to have Covid-19.
The woman, in her 30s, lives in Nelson in New Zealand. She tested positive after New Zealand came out of Level Four lockdown this week.
New Zealand Ministry of Health said the woman, who is a supermarket worker, was confirmed to be carrying the virus on April 29 – more than a month after travelling back from Rarotonga.
The Nelson Marlborough District Health Board said the case is thought to be related to travel, though it did not specify international or domestic.
The woman left Rarotonga on March 25 – just after Cook Islands closed its borders. Since then, Cook Islands health ministry has intensively tested for Covid-19, and all 1200 tests have come back clear.
Air New Zealand refused to confirm the passenger was on board its flights, for privacy reasons, but the only flight to leave that day was Air New Zealand flight NZ45.
She is the only person who has travelled recently to and from the Cook Islands known to have contracted the virus.
However, Nelson Marlborough Health clinical director of public health Dr Stephen Bridgman said while the woman’s case may be related to travel, this does not necessarily mean that the case originated in the country of travel.
“Travel-related cases can be caused by contact with an infected passenger on a flight, in transit or by contact with infected people in another country,” he said.
Dr Bridgman wanted to emphasise that the case is still being investigated by Nelson Marlborough District Health Board and the Ministry of Health in New Zealand.
The woman is the first confirmed Covid-19 case in the Nelson Marlborough region since April 9. Her close contacts and household contacts are in isolation at home and will be monitored for symptoms.
The district health board said the woman worked at New World Stoke in a non-customer facing role. Since her return, she worked at the store on three separate occasions before going into isolation at her home.
New World Stoke had undertaken a deep clean of the store. Staff who came into close contact with the woman have been tested and are in isolation until their test results come in.
“The risk to staff members and to members of the public are considered low, given the use of face masks and the absence of a cough in this case – one of the main ways the virus is spread,” Dr Bridgman said.
Cook Islands Secretary of Health Dr Josephine Aumea Herman said a young woman had arrived in Auckland on March 26, then travelled on to Nelson.
“She had departed Rarotonga five weeks prior to being diagnosed, which is well outside the recognised 14-day incubation period for Covid-19,” Dr Herman said.
Cook Islands was declared Covid-19 free on April 16, she added.
“Te Marae Ora has conducted over 1,300 tests in Rarotonga – this represents over 10 per cent of our population – and all of them have tested negative for Covid-19.
“I will be contacting public health officials in New Zealand to investigate any evidence for a link to the Cook Islands, although based on current information I consider the link tenuous.”