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Auckland hit by traffic jams as residents leave city following New Zealand Covid-19 outbreak



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Auckland residents have been pictured seemingly attempting to flee the city as New Zealand’s authorities scramble to trace the source of a new outbreak of coronavirus in the nation’s metropolis.

The photos of workers, students, and returning holiday-makers sat in snaking queues on roads serving the city and its surroundings came as police began setting up roadblocks around the wider Auckland area on Wednesday as part of efforts to check people’s travel plans and stop further community spread of the deadly Covid-19 virus.

From midday, officers were expected to be “increasing reassurance” measures as Auckland went into alert level 3 restrictions, the New Zealand Herald reported.

The designation was initially set to continue until midnight on Friday and means that non-essential workers are required to stay home, while bars, restaurants and most businesses will be closed.

Police question drivers as they head in and out of Auckland on SH1 north of Wellsford on August 12, 2020 in Auckland, New Zealand (Getty Images)

“Like many other government agencies, Police have been planning for this eventuality so we have been able to reasonably quickly mobilise staff to key areas to provide assurance, and to operate our checkpoints around the region’s Super City boundaries,” Police Commissioner Andrew Coster was quoted by the newspaper as saying.

Mr Coster also urged the wider Auckland community to “play their part” in curtailing the fresh outbreak, which authorities have so far traced back to four confirmed cases of Covid-19 in one Auckland household from an unknown source.

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The test results of four more people suspected to have infections – two work colleagues and two relatives of those in the house – are being awaited.

“We are relying on people to heed the message to go home and stay home,” Mr Coster said.

“We will be stopping vehicles and questioning drivers, but as has been our approach through the Covid response, our first focus will be on educating people and ensuring they are aware of the new restrictions.”

Police man a road block on the outskirts of Auckland as New Zealand’s largest city moved to COVID-19 Alert Level 3, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020 (AP)

The cases this week were the first known local transmission of the virus in New Zealand in 102 days .

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said more than 200 people with connections to those in the house were contacted on Wednesday.

“Our plan of mass testing, rapid contact tracing and, of course, our restrictions to stop the chain of transmission has been in full swing in Auckland today,” Ms Ardern said.

The outbreak was found after a man in his 50s went to his doctor on Monday with symptoms and was swabbed twice, testing positive both times.

The case has health authorities scratching their heads, as the man had not recently travelled overseas and had no immediately apparent connection with infections contained at the border.

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Director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield said one of the people who tested positive works at an Americold food cold-storage facility in Auckland, which was being swabbed to check if it was a possible source of the infections .

“We do know from studies overseas that actually, the virus can survive in some refrigerated environments for quite some time,” he said.

Mr Bloomfield said two of the people who had tested positive had travelled to the city of Rotorua while suffering symptoms over recent days and had visited several tourist attractions.

“People in Rotorua and indeed around the country should be vigilant about their health and seek advice if they have symptoms,” he said.

Outside of Auckland, the rest of New Zealand has been moved to alert level 2, meaning that mass gatherings are limited to 100 attendees and people are required to socially distance themselves.

First coronavirus outbreak in New Zealand after more than 100 days

The South Pacific nation of five million has been praised globally for its Covid-19 response and initially got rid of the virus by imposing a strict lockdown in late March when only about 100 people had tested positive for the disease, stopping its spread.

Life had returned to normal for many people as they attended rugby games at packed stadiums and sat down in bars and restaurants without fear of getting infected. But some had warned that the country had become complacent.

New Zealand’s parliament was due to be dissolved on Wednesday ahead of a general election on September 19 as politicians hit the campaign trail.

But Ms Ardern said she was delaying the dissolution until at least Monday in case politicians needed to meet at short notice.

She said she was also seeking advice about options for the election.

Under New Zealand law, the government could delay the election for up to about two months. The main candidates have already cancelled most of their planned upcoming campaign events.

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Jacinda Ardern

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Auckland