New Zealand will go into a three-day lockdown at midnight Tuesday after the discovery of the first community virus case in the country in six months.
The case, believed to be the Delta variant, is in a 58-year-old Auckland man with no known links to hotel quarantine or other virus exposure.
The lockdown will last at least three days – and up to seven in Auckland and the neighbouring Coromandel region.
“Delta has been called a game changer and it is. It means we need to go hard and early,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.
The man has not been vaccinated, but has been in the process of booking his first vaccination appointment.
Ms Ardern said vaccinated people needed to “follow the rules like everybody else”.
She also used Australia as an example of why a fast lockdown was necessary.
“We want to be short and sharp rather than light and long. We’ve seen what happened in Sydney,” she said.
Under level four rules, people are only able to leave their homes to visit the supermarket, for solo exercise, or for medical care.
The positive case lives in Devonport and spent the weekend in Coromandel with his wife, who is fully vaccinated.
New Zealand’s director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said the man had followed the rules and had checked in, but was potentially infectious at the time.
Mr Bloomfield said there were 23 venues of concern, 10 in Auckland and 13 in Coromandel.
He reassured residents that health authorities were doing everything to trace the source of the infection and to find, test and isolate his close contacts.
He said that because the case had not yet been linked, a national response was required.
“Hard work from everyone around the country will help us get on top of this outbreak,” Mr Bloomfield said.
Ms Ardern said the nation would also suspend its vaccination program for at least 48 hours.
Schools will be closed for the duration, with no educational facilities available even for the children of essential workers.
Before the decision to impose restrictions had even been announced to the public, panic buying had already been reported.
Auckland resident Greta Wilkins told NZ’s Newshub her supermarket in the central suburb of Mount Eden was “pumping” within hours after the case was announced.
“When I got here there were already 40, 50 people in line … they had someone at the door letting someone in every few minutes,” she said.
NZ Health Ministry earlier on Tuesday advised Aucklanders to wear masks if they are on public transport or cannot socially distance.
“While we collect more specific information all New Zealanders are reminded of the basic public health measures of mask wearing and hand washing,” NZ’s Health Ministry said in a statement.
“In particular anyone in Auckland catching public transport this afternoon or who cannot socially distance in public spaces should wear a mask as a precaution.
“A hard and early response is the best tool to stamp out any potential spread and everyone in New Zealand is asked to stay calm, be kind and play their part while we gather more information on the potential case.”
New Zealand has not had a community case of coronavirus since February 28. So far, the country has managed to keep out the Delta strain of the virus, despite several scares with visiting ships.