New Zealand eyes freight contamination as possible COVID-19 cluster source

In closely watched unfolding pandemic developments, New Zealand today aired suspicions that surface contamination may have triggered a new cluster of COVID-19, and China's media reported a reinfection in a woman who was sick 6 months ago.

The global COVID-19 total today climbed to 20,439,274 cases, and 745,229 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

New Zealand eyes freight connection, confirms one more case

Following the detection of its first cases in 102 days, a 4-person family cluster, New Zealand officials are trying to pinpoint the virus source and are examining the possibility that it was imported by freight, Reuters reported. Surface testing is under way at a cold storage facility in Auckland where a man from the infected family was employed.

An official from the company that owns the cold storage unit said the man had been on sick leave for several days and all employees were sent home.

New Zealand's suspicions about imported freight come amid a spate of recent reports from different locations in China of evidence of SARS-CoV-2 on the packaging of imported seafood, some reportedly from Ecuador, Reuters reported. However, testing connected to a recent detection at a restaurant in the city of Wuhu in Anhui province was negative among workers, food, restaurant environmental samples, and wholesale company workers and their family members.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said there is currently no evidence that people can contract COVID-19 from food or food packaging and that the transmission route is through person-to-person contact and through direct contact with respiratory droplets from an infected person.

In a related development, New Zealand's health ministry today said one new confirmed case is being managed in isolation, in addition to the four cases reported yesterday. Also, it said the investigation has identified four probable cases linked to the four cases announced yesterday, and contact tracing is under way while health officials await test results.

New Zealand also continues to report sporadic cases in incoming quarantined travelers, such as that of a woman in her 50s who arrived on Aug 7 from Islamabad via Dubai and tested positive on day 3 of her stay.

China reports reinfection in patient who was sick months ago

China's state media today reported that a 68-year-old woman from Jingzhou in Hubei province was recently hospitalized and diagnosed with COVID-19, about 6 months after she had pneumonia and was diagnosed with the illness in February.

Early studies have hinted that antibodies to COVID-19 may fade quickly, a factor that would mean more people are vulnerable to the disease and complicate vaccine development.

The woman is being treated in isolation, and so far all contacts have tested negative.

Developments in Australia and Vietnam

In other developments, global health officials are closely watching new developments in two countries that had success curbing the virus—Australia and Vietnam—but are now experiencing flare-ups.

Australia today reported 21 new deaths, a daily record high, along with 410 new cases, up from the past 3 days, Reuters reported. The uptick today dashed hopes that the outbreak centered in Victoria state in the Melbourne area had stabilized.

Meanwhile, Vietnam reported 17 new cases, including one in Hanoi that is raising extra concern, because no link to the outbreak in Danang has been found, according to a separate Reuters story.

In other global developments:

  • Brussels announced mandatory facemasks in all public places, after a steady rise in cases has put Belgium among the European countries with the highest number of COVID-19 cases per capita.
  • Norway is reporting its highest illness levels since April and is stepping up quarantine measures on travelers from more countries.
  • Singapore said yesterday that it has completed testing on all migrant worker dormitories that were linked to an earlier spike in COVID-19 activity. About 315,000 foreign workers were tested for the virus.
  • United Kingdom officials announced today that the country is officially in a recession, its first since 2009, due to the economic downturn linked to COVID-19, the BBC reported.

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