A man in his 50s has died in an Auckland hospital after contracting coronavirus, New Zealand health authorities say.
He is New Zealand’s 23rd COVID fatality, and the first death arising from the outbreak that began in Auckland in August.
He is also the country’s youngest coronavirus death.
Reports of the man’s death came just hours after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand’s COVID-19 settings would remain at just below lockdown until at least mid-September.
On Friday, her Cabinet met to review the restrictions aimed at beating the deadly virus, currently set at level two, with additional measures for Auckland.
Nationwide, Kiwis must wear masks on public transport, gather in groups of fewer than 100 and maintain social distancing.
In Auckland, which had a 16-day lockdown in August, social gatherings are capped at 10, except for funerals, which can have up to 50 attend.
Those restrictions will remain until September 16.
New Zealand went 102 days without a case in the community until the new cluster emerged in Auckland in August.
Health authorities still don’t understand the origins of that case, though it most likely leaked out of NZ’s tight isolation regime for international arrivals.
A small number of community cases continue to be reported each day – including three on Friday – but Ms Ardern said New Zealand’s overall position was solid.
“The Auckland cluster remains contained,” she said.
“There is no indication at this stage that Auckland needs to move back to level three.
“But we do not want Auckand or the rest of the country pinging in and out of level three [lockdown] … that is why today Cabinet decided to retain the current settings.”
Ms Ardern’s Cabinet will meet next to review restrictions on September 14, just a month out from the country’s re-scheduled election on October 17.
The Labour leader said she had no plans to loop in the opposition on her next decisions, saying NZ’s caretaker conventions kick in only after the election date.
The decision to maintain level two restrictions is likely to be attacked by Ms Ardern’s political opponents and business groups.
South Islanders too are likely to be aggrieved given they have not recorded a community case since May.
Ms Ardern said Cabinet did debate moving South Island down to level one but decided against it.
“We are a very mobile country. People travel a lot,” she said.
“The best protection is keeping in place those risk mitigations of social distancing and caps on large gatherings.”