New Zealand probes likely local COVID-19 case

New Zealand health officials launched an investigation on Sunday (January 24) into what they said was likely the country's first local COVID-19 case in months.

A 56-year-old woman returned from an overseas trip late last month, and tested positive for the coronavirus days after a two-week mandatory quarantine at the border.

Under quarantine, she had tested negative twice.

A top New Zealand health official said it's possible her case is a variant found in the UK or elsewhere.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield:

"We are working under the assumptions that this is a positive case and that it is a more transmissible variant, either the one identified first in South Africa or the UK, or potentially Brazil - or another transmissible variant."

Health officials added it's unknown if the woman caught the disease abroad or locally.

New Zealand last recorded a community case in mid-November, according to the Health Ministry online.

The island nation of 5 million people has virtually eliminated COVID-19 within its borders, with less than 2,000 cases since the global crisis began helped by a strict lockdown and its geographical isolation.

But with COVID-19 raging globally, more positive cases are returning to New Zealand, raising concern of a possible community outbreak of a more transmissible variant.

Pressure has been mounting on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's government to vaccinate the population, but she has said a mass rollout won't begin until the second half of this year.