Authorities in New Zealand say they have finally located and isolated a COVID-positive sex worker with gang links, but she refuses to cooperate with contact tracing, which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called “increasingly frustrating.”
The woman, whose name has not been released publicly, is in an official quarantine facility in West Auckland. Police had been searching for her for several days and have blamed her and another female associate, who has also been identified but not yet remanded into quarantine, for spreading COVID-19 to the extent the region around Northland had to be returned to a Level 3 lockdown.
The discovery comes as the country—once the shining example of how to manage the pandemic—faces a surge in cases.“We are on the exponential growth curve,” Michael Baker, a public health official, told The Guardian. “If you look at the trend, it’s clearly going up in Auckland, and it’s not just the total cases but also the unexplained cases, which suggests transmission in the community is increasing.”
Local press reports have described a chaotic scene as residents demand the woman’s name be released to help contact tracing and to stop community spread that could be linked to her clients. Police say the woman traveled extensively October 2-6 and potentially took clients in Whangārei, Kamo, Paihia, and Kawakawa—all of which have seen a rise in cases. But because of the nature of her work, which includes anonymity, contact tracing has proven an impossible obstacle.
Just 55 percent of New Zealanders over the age of 12 have been fully vaccinated. Nearly 80 percent have had at least one dose.
The tightening of restrictions in New Zealand comes as much of neighboring Australia revels in the end of its lockdown, celebrating “freedom day” on Monday with cafes, gyms, and restaurants in Sydney allowing fully vaccinated customers after a brutal 106-day lockdown during their winter season. Unvaccinated people must remain at home until at least Dec. 1, when further restrictions will be lifted.