New Zealand’s golden COVID-19 run is over, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern placing Auckland in a short-term lockdown after confirming the country’s first cases of community transmission in 102 days.
For three months, New Zealanders have enjoyed the return of usual freedoms after an autumn lockdown proved effective in eliminating the deadly virus.
Those freedoms will be put on hold as health authorities undertake rapid contact tracing and widespread testing in an attempt to locate the source of the fresh outbreak.
Ms Ardern and NZ’s Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield announced the news in an unscheduled late-night press conference on Tuesday.
Dr Bloomfield revealed four people in one south Auckland family returned positive test results for the deadly virus.
“We have been saying for some weeks that it was inevitable that New Zealand would get another case of community transmission,” he said.
“That time is now and the health system is well prepared.
“The important thing now is that we stop the spread of the virus in our community.”
For the first time, New Zealand will regionalise its response to COVID-19.
Ms Ardern said Auckland would be placed under ‘level three’ restrictions from noon on Wednesday until midnight on Friday.
The rest of New Zealand has been placed on ‘level two’, mandating social distancing and placing caps on gathering sizes.
Ms Ardern appealed to Kiwis – referring once more to the ‘‘team of five million’’ – to act calmly and respect the restrictions.
“My request is not to be dispirited or disheartened. When we’ve rolled out our plans before it has worked,” she said.
“Please stay home if you are in Auckland. Be vigilant. We will get through this.
“We know what to do because we’ve successfully done it before.”
About 1.5 million Aucklanders will be asked to stay home within their ‘bubbles’ except for essential workers, or to go to the supermarket or access health services.
Schools will remain open, but public venues such as gyms, libraries, playgrounds and cinemas will close.
The regional approach will ban travel in and out of Auckland.
Across the entire country, physical distancing and basic public health measures, such as hand washing, must also be maintained.
The cases bring into question New Zealand’s election day scheduled for September 19.
- Four members of a south Auckland family have tested positive to COVID-19
- The ‘index case’ is a person in their 50s who has been symptomatic for five days and has no overseas travel history
- Six family members received a rapid test on Tuesday evening; three tests came back positive and three are negative
- Health officials are moving to isolate and test contacts of the family, including two Auckland workplaces.
- Auckland returns to a ‘level three’ lockdown from noon on Wednesday until midnight on Friday. Aucklanders are being asked to stay home except for essential work or essential needs
- The rest of New Zealand returns to ‘level two’ for the same timeframe, with caps on gatherings and the return of social distancing
- These measures have been enacted to buy health officials time to test and isolate contacts, and to locate the source of the outbreak
- Every worker at NZ’s border regime and managed isolation facility will also be tested in the next few days.