Covid 19 coronavirus: 19 new cases in managed isolation, UK virus strain detected

There are 19 new Covid-19 cases in managed isolation – including six cases of the rapidly-spreading UK virus strain.

Ministry of Health today confirmed that six positive cases of Covid-19 have been found to match the recently identified UK variant.

“The six cases, five of whom travelled from the United Kingdom and one who travelled from South Africa, arrived into New Zealand between 13 and 25 December and underwent routine testing in managed isolation as part of routine surveillance testing or because they developed symptoms,” the ministry said.

“Once confirmed positive they were transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility. Four of these cases are now recovered and, after a final health check, were able to leave the facility,” the ministry said.

“The UK variant is more transmissible than other variants of the virus but there is no evidence at this stage that the length of the infection period is any different to any other variant of Covid-19, nor is it more likely to produce severe illness,” it said.

What is the UK strain and how dangerous is it?

The variant – called ‘VUI – 202012/01’ -carries a set of mutations including an N501Y mutation to part of the genetic sequence which forms the spike protein – little grippy rods which attach to human cells. Any change in shape of the spike protein could make it more difficult for the immune system to spot. The virus uses the spike protein to bind to the human ACE2 receptor.

UK Government scientists are studying it at laboratories but there is no evidence to suggest it is more likely to lead to serious illness. However, if it can bind more easily to human cells, it may spread quicker and people could end up with a higher viral load .

British professor Lawrence Young, who is also a molecular oncology expert, said the new variant does “two things” which make it more transmissible.

The Warwick Medical School academic said: “One is it’s getting into the body more efficiently and it looks like that’s because this change (mutation) which has occurred in the spike protein increases the strength of the interaction of the virus with cells in our bodies – it increases the stickiness if you like.

“There’s also data reported last week from Nervtag (The New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group) and it looks like where you do see this virus infection individuals are making more of it as well – there are higher virus loads in the throat.”

Scientists have said the mutated coronavirus strain could more easily infect children and Prof Young added that preliminary research suggests this is also due to its “stickiness”.

He said children have less of the receptors which picked up the older coronavirus variant, meaning they were less likely to catch it, but the new variant “might compensate for lower levels of that receptor or that door to the virus in children by being stickier”.

However there is currently no evidence that this variant – or any other studied to date – has any impact on disease severity.

NZ’s 19 new border cases – where they came from:

• One is historical. This person arrived on 19 December from the United States via Australia. This person tested positive at routine testing around day 12 and is staying in quarantine in a facility in Hamilton.
• One case arrived on 20 December from India via the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia. This person tested positive at routine testing around day 12 and has been transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility.
•One case arrived on 23 December from the United Kingdom via Singapore. This person tested positive following the onset of symptoms on day 8 and has been transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility.
• One case arrived on 24 Dec from India via the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia. This person tested positive around day 6 and has been transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility.
•One case arrived 27 December from United Kingdom via United Arab Emirates and Malaysia. This person tested positive during routine testing around day 3 and has been transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility.
• One case arrived on 28 December from the United States. This person tested positive during routine testing around day 3 and has been transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility.
•One case arrived 29 December from United Kingdom via United Arab Emirates. This person tested positive following the onset of symptoms on day 2 and has been transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility.
• One case arrived 29 December from United Kingdom via United Arab Emirates and Malaysia. This person tested positive during routine testing around day 3 and has been transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility.
•One case arrived 29 December from the United Kingdom and tested positive during routine testing around day three. They were transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility.
•One case arrived 29 December from Denmark via United Arab Emirates and Malaysia. This person tested positive following the onset of symptoms on day 1 and is in the Auckland quarantine facility.
• Two cases, travelling together, arrived on 29 December from the United Kingdom via Qatar. They tested positive during routine testing around day 3 and were transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility.
•Four cases, travelling separately, arrived on 29 December from the United Kingdom via United Arab Emirates. They tested positive during routine testing around day 3 and were transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility.
•One case arrived on 29 December from the Seychelles via United Arab Emirates. They tested positive during routine testing around day 3 and were transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility.
• One case arrived on 29 December from South Africa via Singapore. They tested positive during routine testing around day 3 and were transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility.
•One case arrived on 31 December from the United States.This person tested positive on day 0/1 of routine testing and is in a Christchurch quarantine facility.

It comes as it has been revealed all travellers from the United Kingdom or the United States will need a negative virus test before departing for New Zealand.

The new rules will come into effect from January 15 and Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says work is already underway to extend the requirement to other long-haul flights to New Zealand.

In the last Covid-19 update on December 31, officials announced there had been 11 cases detected in recent returnees since December 29.

There were no new cases in the community and five previously reported cases had recovered, bringing the total number of active cases to 55.

UK hits new daily case high, urged to keep schools closed

As daily coronavirus infections surged as a result of a new virus variant, the British government is facing mounting pressure from teachers’ unions to keep schools in England closed for at least another two weeks.

The government, which oversees schools in England, has already decided to keep all schools in London closed next week to try to stem new infections. Unions want the policy extended across the whole of England, expressing fears about the health of teachers and children.

The UK on Saturday hit a daily record for new coronavirus infections — 57,725 — and according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University has overtaken Italy once again to be the worst hit country in Europe with nearly 75,000 Covid-related deaths.

The fear is the number of deaths will grow over the coming weeks. The UK has recorded its five highest daily new infection numbers over the past five days — all above 50,000 and double the daily number of only a few weeks ago.

US funeral homes run out of space as deaths climb

As communities across the United States feel the pain of a surge in coronavirus cases, funeral homes in the hot spot of Southern California say they must turn away grieving families as they run out of space to put the bodies piling up.

The head of the state funeral directors association says mortuaries are being inundated as the US nears a grim tally of 350,000 Covid-19 deaths. More than 20 million people in the country have been infected, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

“I’ve been in the funeral industry for 40 years and never in my life did I think that this could happen, that I’d have to tell a family, ‘No, we can’t take your family member,'” said Magda Maldonado, owner of Continental Funeral Home in Los Angeles.

Continental is averaging about 30 body removals a day — six times its normal rate.

Mortuary owners are calling one another to see whether anyone can handle overflow, and the answer is always the same: they’re full, too.

Read more here.

Australian couple fined $40k for fleeing airport break their silence

The two people who allegedly fled from Melbourne Airport after being told they’d have to do 14 days of quarantine have apologised for their actions.

Terry Elford, 26, and his wife Debbie Elford, 24, arrived in Melbourne on Friday morning on a flight from Canberra.

It’s claimed they then fled the airport.

Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley announced the pair would each receive hefty fines.

“I did want to make particular mention of two people who absconded from discussions with authorised officers yesterday who have now apparently returned to Goulburn in New South Wales,” Foley said.

“Upon the advice of the public health team, those people have breached numerous orders of the public-health state of emergency in Victoria and they will each be fined at least $19,000 for their breaching of those arrangements.”

Read more here.

Queenstown’s adult industry struggling without tourists

The absence of wealthy overseas tourists has taken a toll on the adult entertainment industry in Queenstown, as New Zealanders are less willing to spend big.

Indulge Me NZ owner Antonia Davison-McDonald said her striptease company had lost 80 per cent of bookings because of Covid-19.

Australians on stag do’s, hen’s parties and lads’ weekends would use her agency to hire topless waitresses and book stripteases by men or women.

The lack of bookings meant five of her staff had moved away from Queenstown because they could no longer afford to live there.

Davison-McDonald said her staff worked for Indulge Me NZ as a second job to help pay rent or fund their lifestyles, and in some cases the pandemic meant they lost their main jobs.

She and others in the wider adult industry said Christmas tended to be a quiet period, but her business was still recovering from the loss of earnings in August – normally the busiest time.

“This year was terrible; last August we had 26 bookings and this year we had five.”

Read more here.

– Additional reporting Otago Daily Times, AP, and News.com.au

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