It was on June 8 that New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared of the country "we are ready now" to return to normalcy after it became COVID-19 free.
New Zealand has since gone eight days with no known cases and 24 days without new cases; however, that's come to an end as on Tuesday two new infections were reported.
It's sure to evoke controversy given that in this instance a pair of travelers were allowed to break quarantine early.
Reuters reports, "It took just eight days for New Zealand to lose its COVID-free status when two women who had been given permission to leave quarantine early after arriving from abroad tested positive for the coronavirus, authorities said on Tuesday."
Previously the country's leaders and health authorities touted they had become the first country to 'effectively eliminate' COVID-19 through stringent measures, including stay at home orders that were in effect by late March, locked-down borders, and a strict two week quarantine observance for anyone who had traveled outside the country.
In the instance of the pair of new cases, quarantine was broken early, and aggressive testing measures have returned for local population areas they were in contact with. Reuters reports based on local authorities "the two women were given compassionate exemptions, as they were traveling from the U.K. to visit a dying parent in Wellington."
Apparently one women even had symptoms and yet was still allowed to forego the full quarantine period:
One of the women exhibited symptoms consistent with COVID-19 before being released early but attributed them to a pre-existing condition. When they returned to quarantine, they both tested positive.
The prime minister vowed a full investigation as fresh controversy erupts over health authorities clearly dropping the ball in this case.
“Vigorous testing is now taking place across those who were in the quarantine facility at the same time, and those who may have had any, even the remotest chance of contact (with the women),” Ardern said in a statement posted to social media.
It's unclear to what extent lockdown measures may return to parts of New Zealand, or if others have been infected while the pair were outside quarantine. In total New Zealand has had 1,156 confirmed cases, including 22 deaths. Geography has certainly helped the nation, along with the inbound quarantine measures for anyone who had been abroad.
Recall too that during the early months of coronavirus spreading in the West, wealthy Americans attempted to get into New Zealand while they still could, often taking private jets to luxury 'doomsday' shelters in the South Pacific paradise prepped for just such a purpose.