New Zealand scrambles to find source of new coronavirus cases as Auckland re-enters lockdown
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New Zealand’s health authorities are scrambling to find the source of a new coronavirus outbreak, which has sent the country’s largest city into lockdown.
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Tuesday that four Covid-19 cases had been found in one Auckland household – the origins of which remain unknown.
The new infections were the first confirmed cases of local transmission in the country for 102 days.
Two of the people who tested positive had travelled to the tourist city of Rotorua last weekend while suffering symptoms, according to officials.
“We are working with urgency to find out what places the family may have visited while in Rotorua over the weekend,” Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield told reporters.
“But the important thing is here, people in Rotorua and indeed around the country should be vigilant about their health and seek advice if they have symptoms.”
Auckland residents rushed to stock up on supplies as local lockdown restrictions were imposed (Getty Images)
Auckland was moved to Alert Level Three at midday local time on Wednesday.
This means all non-essential workers are required to stay home, while bars, restaurants and most businesses must remain closed until midnight on Friday, according to current plans.
The rest of the country was moved to Alert Level Two, meaning that mass gatherings are limited to 100 attendees and people are required to maintain a safe social distance.
Mr Bloomfield said officials would use genome sequencing as part of efforts to trace the source of the new outbreak.
Huge queues at New Zealand supermarkets amid return of lockdown
Meanwhile, Ms Ardern explained how she had worked quickly to impose the Auckland lockdown measures after first learning about the new cases on Tuesday afternoon.
“We are taking a rapid response to break the chain of transmission through contact tracing, testing, and the gathering of information,” she said.
Ms Ardern said Aucklanders were also “strongly encouraged” – but not obliged by law – to wear masks, and that authorities were releasing five million masks from a central supply.
First coronavirus outbreak in New Zealand after more than 100 days
New Zealanders have not widely worn masks before, although authorities have been urging people to buy them or fashion them from scarves or bandannas just in case.
The latest outbreak was uncovered after a man in his 50s went to his doctor with symptoms on Monday. He then tested positive twice for Covid-19.
Six other people in his household were then tested – with three more offering up positive results .
The case has so far baffled authorities, since the man had not recently travelled overseas and does not appear to have any connection with infections contained at the border.
Until Tuesday, the only known cases of the virus in New Zealand were 22 people held in quarantine after returning from abroad.
New Zealand has been praised globally for its virus response and had just celebrated reaching 100 days without any known community transmission.
The South Pacific nation of 5 million 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.
However, some expressed fears that the country had grown complacent in light of its successes.