New Zealand warned to brace for inevitable return of Covid-19

If an outbreak occurs and becomes established, the health ministry feels mask wearing should become compulsory early. PHOTO: AFP

AUCKLAND (BLOOMBERG) - New Zealand must prepare for another local outbreak of the coronavirus, the Director-General of Health has warned.

It's inevitable that there will be a case of community transmission of Covid-19, Ashley Bloomfield told Radio New Zealand on Wednesday (Aug 5).

"It's a matter of when, not if," he said. "We are working on the basis it could be any time, of course coupled with doing everything we can to intercept the virus at the border."

New Zealand achieved the rare feat of eliminating the virus and has so far managed to catch and isolate any infected people coming into the country as they arrive at the border.

There are currently 22 active cases in quarantine. It's been 95 days since the last case of Covid-19 was acquired locally from an unknown source, according to the Ministry of Health.

Still, with Australia struggling to contain an outbreak in the state of Victoria, New Zealand's government remains on high alert and is urging people not to be complacent.

A return of the virus could cause significant economic damage and potentially influence the outcome of the Sept 19 election.

Bloomfield encouraged the public to use the government's contact-tracing app so that any new cases can be quickly contained and the country can avoid having to go into another lockdown.

If an outbreak occurred and became established, the health ministry's view was that mask wearing should become compulsory "early rather than late, because it's going to help reduce the transmission of the virus," he said.

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