Three more cases of the Omicron strain of Covid-19 have emerged in managed isolation.
The three people with Omicron arrived from Dubai on Saturday and were taken to a Rotorua managed isolation and quarantine facility (MIQ) on a bus with other arrivals, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.
The trio were moved to quarantine at Jet Park in Manukau where they continue to isolate.
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“One case travelled to Dubai from London, the second case travelled to Dubai from Spain and the third travelled to Dubai from Nigeria,” the ministry statement said.
“All three then boarded the same flight to Auckland.”
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Everyone on the flights with the three Omicron cases will be kept in MIQ for 10 days, instead of being released after seven days for three days of home isolation, as is the current policy.
“The detection of further Omicron cases is not surprising, given the rapid spread of Omicron internationally,” the ministry said.
“Our health and MIQ teams around the country have been planning for Omicron cases at the border, and will continue to manage all arrivals cautiously.”
The Christchurch Omicron case had 82 close contacts in seven MIQs.
The Ministry of Health has yet to say how many close contacts the three new cases have.
Research from the University of Hong Kong recently found Omicron was about 70 times better than Delta at infecting and replicating in cells in upper respiratory tract tissue.
That research could indicate Omicron spreads more easily than the Delta variant, according to University of Otago lecturer Dr Jemma Geoghegan, an evolutionary biologist and virologist.
“It means it reaches a higher viral load, and it reaches that quicker. That means people are much more contagious,” Geoghegan told Stuff earlier.
Omicron would spread more easily than Delta because people were infected with more of the virus, it could grow more rapidly in their cells, and then transmit more of the virus.
“There’s going to be more virus particles they are breathing out. There’s much more of it in the air.”
Roxie Mohebbi leads a discussion about the Covid-19 vaccine with immunologist Dr Maia Brewerton and general practitioner Dr Api Talemaitoga as part of Stuff’s Whole Truth project.
Geoghegan was optimistic MIQ would prevent Omicron cases escaping the border.
But the variant couldn’t be kept out of the community indefinitely, she said.
The processes in MIQ had been drastically improved in the past 18 months, and had been highly effective at keeping new Covid cases out, in her view.