Niue faces covid-19 community transmission for first time

Niue . . . a new chapter in the covid-19 response
Niue . . . a new chapter in the Pacific country's covid-19 response. Image: RNZ Pacific/Gary Webber/123rf

By Lydia Lewis, RNZ Pacific journalist

The Niue government has confirmed the country is experiencing covid-19 community transmission for the first time since the virus was recorded at the border in March.

“We don’t have additional resources to be finding sources of infection, previously we haven’t done that before.

“This is the first time we have had community transmission in Niue,” Acting Secretary of Government Gaylene Tasmania said.

Out of the seven cases recorded in the reporting period to November 28 local time, four were listed as covid-19 community transmission.

On November 29, 12 new cases were recorded taking the total number of active cases to 33 and the total number of cases since covid-19 arrived at the border in March 2022 to 136.

Community transmission means a case has not been linked to any other infections, Tasmania said.

“We are unable to link it back and we stopped linking it back because we need to look at containing the spread,” she said.

New Zealand-based public health specialist Sir Collin Tukuitonga said this marked a new chapter in Niue’s covid-19 response,

“You can have a community case that is not from a community transmission, this is a case that is in the community connected to the border but this person is now in the community, that is not community transmission,” Sir Collin said.

What is ‘community transmission’?
There has been confusion around what community transmission means with the term being used by the public.

“You have got to be careful, for public health people like myself, we have a very strict definition of what constitutes a community transmission,” Sir Collin said.

Any case that starts in the community and can’t be linked to the border is called a case of community transmission, according to Auckland University.

“A case comes through the border, negative tests and therefore goes into the community but nobody knows they have covid-19 because they are asymptomatic and they test negative but they are carrying the virus with them.

“So that individual could go home and be with family and be the source of infection,” Sir Collin gives an example of how community transmission can occur.

Tasmania said at the moment Niue residents could assume that there were people in the community that were positive that had not yet been identified.

“People are just picking it up just by being around the community,” Tasmania said.

The cases deemed community transmission were not been able to be linked back to any of the positive cases or any of the close contacts, she said.

New phase for Niue covid-19 health response
As of Tuesday, 29 November, the government covid-19 website is set to change and will not report “community cases” just “active cases”, Tasmania said.

“It is not an unusual response,” Sir Collin said.

He said New Zealand “gave up”, or placed less emphasis on contact tracing when the covid-19 numbers became high and the system was stretched.

“They have accepted the fact that there will be cases. Why would you persevere with all of that if you have changed your focus,” he said.

“Like us they’ll probably see a blip like increasing cases you are seeing here [in New Zealand] but given the high vax status I expect the peak to be lower and not as many sick people.”

No request has been made to New Zealand for support but Tasmania said there were options if needed.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ. 

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