New Zealand’s run without COVID-19 is over, with Auckland heading back into a three-day lockdown after the discovery of three community cases.
On Sunday, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield announced a mother, father and their daughter had returned positive tests, with a possible link to border arrivals but no proven source.
In response, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern rushed from Auckland to the capital for an emergency cabinet meeting that decided on the snap lockdown.
“These new cases pose questions our public health staff are working around the clock to answer,” Ms Ardern said.
“We all feel the same way when this happens. We all have that feeling of ‘not again’.
“We have stamped out the virus before and we will do it again … we are going to be OK.”
#BREAKING "As of 11.59pm tonight, Auckland will move to level 3 for a period of three days until midnight on Wednesday.
The rest of New Zealand will be moved to Level 2 for the same period of time."https://t.co/4l712gsnLv
— RNZ (@radionz) February 14, 2021
Auckland has been placed at alert level three lockdown, with many workplaces and public venues closed, and people urged to associate only in their household bubbles.
The rest of New Zealand is at alert level two, meaning social distancing, caps on gatherings and increased mask-wearing return.
The alert levels are due to end at 11.59pm on Wednesday, but will be reviewed daily.
Frustratingly for health officials, the family have not used the government’s COVID Tracer app rigorously, making it harder to track down those at risk.
NZ now in 3 day lockdown. The four countries that probably have the best quarantine systems in the world — Taiwan, Vietnam, NZ, and Australia– have all had breaches in the past two months. This is a very daunting task so let's not indulge in blame games.
— Michael Toole (@profmiketoole) February 14, 2021
Earlier, three members of a South Auckland family tested positive for COVID-19.
Two parents and a student at Papatoetoe High School returned positive tests for the deadly virus on Sunday.
COVID-19 Minister Chris Hipkins said health officials were moving rapidly to test and isolate close contacts, although the origin of the infection remains a mystery.
“There is a number of gaps in our knowledge around these cases,” he said.
Of the three new cases, the mother looms as a likely index case, given she works at a catering company which services planes at Auckland airport.
The father is self-employed in the building industry, and the daughter is a student at Papatoetoe High School, a school with 1400 students in the south of Auckland.
The school will host a testing centre and be closed on Monday and Tuesday.
The alert level changes are the first in NZ since September.
“New Zealanders have enjoyed more freedoms for longer periods of time than nearly any other country in the world,” Ms Ardern said.
“We have never taken for granted how special that was.
“With COVID raging outside our borders and new, more transmissible strains of COVID-19 emerging … cabinet’s plan is based on the best science and what we know works from previous cases here, and responses we’ve observed overseas.”
The new cases come a day after New Zealand’s first COVID-related death in five months.
On Saturday, Dr Bloomfield said a person tested positive for the virus while in mandatory isolation died after being moved to North Shore Hospital in Auckland.
The fatality was New Zealand’s 26th COVID-related death through the pandemic.