New Zealand's first Covid cases in 24 days came from UK

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Auckland International AirportImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
File photo of travellers arriving at Auckland International Airport

New Zealand has confirmed two new cases of coronavirus, ending a 24-day run of no new infections in the country.

The cases relate to two women from the same family, both of whom had travelled from the UK and were given special permission to visit a dying parent.

Health Minister David Clark said the necessary checks had not taken place and he was suspending compassionate exemptions to the quarantine rules.

Last week New Zealand declared that the country was coronavirus-free.

It lifted all domestic restrictions. However, strict border restrictions remained in place - with only citizens and essential workers allowed in.

All arrivals are supposed to be tested for Covid-19 and have to go through a 14-day period of isolation.

Exemptions can be granted and Dr Ashley Bloomfield, New Zealand's director-general of health, said that in this case there had been an "agreed plan in place as part of the approval process [including] the travel arrangements".

It's not known if the patients are citizens of the UK, New Zealand, or elsewhere.

The women - one in her 30s and one in her 40s - arrived in New Zealand from the UK on the 7 June, via Doha and Brisbane, and entered quarantine.

They stayed in a managed isolation hotel in Auckland and on 12 June applied for an exemption to visit their dying parent - who died later that night.

They were granted permission to travel to Wellington on 13 June.

One of the women had "mild symptoms", but put this down to a pre-existing condition.

They travelled to Wellington in a private vehicle and did not use any public facilities during this journey, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, director-general of health, said on Tuesday,

They stayed with a single family member in Wellington. That family member has now been placed in self-isolation.

The women were tested on Monday and the results were confirmed on Tuesday.

Dr Bloomfield added that going forward, he had asked for "anyone being released for compassionate exemption [to be] tested and [have] a negative result" before they are released.

Media caption,

'I did a little dance': Smiling Ardern confirming New Zealand is free of Covid-19 in early June

Mr Clark told New Zealand media that he expected all new arrivals in quarantine to be tested for the virus at three days and again at 12 days.

Announcing that he was suspending exemptions to the quarantine rules, he said: "Compassionate exemptions should be rare and rigorous and it appears that this case did not include the checks that we expected to be happening. That's not acceptable."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it was clear that checks had not been not adequate in this case.

Late last Monday, New Zealand moved into the lowest tier of its four-tier alert system - making it one of the few countries in the world to return to pre-pandemic normality.

Under this, social distancing is not required and there are no limits on public gatherings.

Ms Ardern celebrated the move but warned the country would "certainly see cases again", adding that "elimination is not a point in time, it is a sustained effort".

New Zealand has been lauded at a success story for its handling of the virus - it was quick to close its borders and implement a strict nationwide lockdown.

The newest cases bring New Zealand's total number of cases since the outbreak began to 1,506. The death toll remains unchanged at 22.