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Did COVID Contaminated Airline Laundry Cause New Zealand’s First Community Case in Weeks?

Did COVID Contaminated Airline Laundry Cause New Zealand’s First Community Case in Weeks?

Investigators in New Zealand are trying to figure out how a family of three became the first new cases of COVID-19 community transmission in weeks and one line of enquiry is looking at whether contaminated airline laundry might be responsible. The new community cases were first revealed on Sunday prompting an almost immediate three day snap lockdown across the Auckland city region as a mass-testing effort got underway.

On Monday, health officials said that no further positive cases had so far been identified, although tests from some close contacts, as well as the wider community, were still being processed. Genomic sequencing has confirmed the family were infected with the highly transmissible B1.1.7 variant first detected in the UK.

The mother and daughter first sought testing when they became symptomatic and the father was tested soon after. All three have been moved into managed isolation while investigations continue, although it’s not believed that the family had any connection with any other COVID cases.

The mother worked in the laundry department at airline catering company LSG Sky Chefs, prompting some experts to speculate that she may have become infected through contaminated items like airline blankets. Serology tests are still underway and this might link the new community cases to a recently arrived passenger currently in hotel quarantine.

LSG Sky Chefs employs around 270 people at its Auckland facilities but only eight employees directly work in the laundry department. They have all been ordered to self-isolate and get a tested. In the meantime, the laundry department had been temporarily shut down.

A spokesperson for the catering company refused to disclose which airline clients it worked with at its Auckland hub. Air New Zealand, however, stated that it did not use the company for laundry services.

The company said that employees were provided with personal protection equipment like face masks and gloves. “The health and wellbeing of our employees are our utmost priority,” a statement from LSG Sky Chefs said.

“As a matter of principle, we follow the current national guidelines in our catering facilities when it comes to social distancing, wearing masks…our employees are regularly trained in hygiene measures, such as thorough hand washing, which is also part of our standard food safety and hygiene procedures,” the statement continued.

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