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New Zealand Posts Two New Coronavirus Cases After Declaring Itself Virus Free

A hand sanitizer dispenser sits outside a food market in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Monday, May 11, 2020.

A week after declaring the country free of the novel coronavirus, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says an “unacceptable failure” has resulted in two new cases of the virus.

Authorities revealed Tuesday two women who recently arrived from London to visit a dying relative tested positive for COVID-19, but only after being allowed to leave a mandatory 14-day quarantine early on compassionate grounds and drive across the country from Auckland to Wellington.

Prime Minister Ardern told reporters Wednesday she was appointing Air Commodore Digby Webb, the country’s assistant chief of defense, to oversee all quarantine and managed isolation facilities.

Health officials say they are contacting about 320 people the women may have come in contact with on their flight or the hotel they stayed at during their time in quarantine.

Ardern lifted the remaining social and economic restrictions just last Monday after declaring New Zealand had eliminated transmission of the coronavirus. Before the two women tested positive, the country had gone 24 days without any new confirmed COVID-19 cases.

The prime minister initially imposed a nationwide lockdown when the coronavirus outbreak first reached New Zealand’s shores in March, shutting down all economic activity except for essential services. She gradually began easing the restrictions in May, but has kept the country’s borders closed to international travel, with the exception of citizens returning home.

New Zealand has had a total of 1,154 confirmed coronavirus infections with 22 deaths out of five million citizens.