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New Zealand PM and governor general isolate after close contact with Omicron variant

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is isolating after flying on a plane with a flight attendant, who tested positive for Omicron. File Photo by David Rowland/EPA-EFE
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is isolating after flying on a plane with a flight attendant, who tested positive for Omicron. File Photo by David Rowland/EPA-EFE

Jan. 29 (UPI) -- New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Governor General Dame Cindy Kiro were in isolation Saturday after close contact with a person infected with the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Ardern and Kiro were on a flight last week from Kerikeri to Auckland with a flight attendant who tested positive for Omicron, and everyone on the flight were considered close contacts, the New Zealand Herald reported.

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"The prime minister is asymptomatic and is feeling well," the government said in a statement Saturday. "In line with Ministry of Health advice, she will be tested immediately tomorrow and will isolate until Tuesday."

All other passengers aboard the flight are required to self-isolate, immediately get tested and remain in isolation for 10 days after exposure, according to the government.

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"Whole genome sequencing for the case has been requested with an expected result on Sunday," the government statement said. "The result is expected to indicate that the case has been infected with the Omicron variant and the public health response reflects this."

Ardern and Kiro were returning from Waitangi last Saturday after "undertaking advance filming at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, at the invitation of the Waitangi National Trust for the Waitangi Day broadcast," the statement said.

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Waitangi Day is the national day of New Zealand, which marks the anniversary of the initial signing on Feb. 6, 1840, of the Treaty of Waitangi, the founding document of the nation.

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The New Zealand officials' isolation comes amid an expected surge in the Omicron variant.

University of Auckland COVID-19 expert Dr. Dion O'Neale told the New Zealand Herald that since current vaccines protect more against Delta than Omicron, the latter is "growing much faster," and the country should see a rapid doubling of Omicron cases over the coming week.

"Most countries and states around the world have seen a doubling time of around three days once you see an Omicron outbreak take off," O'Neale said. "So if we save it at 100-odd cases today and if there's a good chance that the majority of them are Omicron, in a week's time it's about two doubling times. So that's 200 halfway through the week and 400 per day maybe by the end of the week."

"It wouldn't be surprising to see 500 cases by next weekend," he added.

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