New Zealand reports three new COVID-19 local cases, imposes 3-day lockdown on Auckland

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New Zealand Prime Minsiter Jacinda Ardern on Sunday announced a three-day lockdown in the country’s biggest city Auckland, after three new local COVID-19 cases were reported.

Ardern said the level 3 restrictions, which require everyone to stay home except for essential shopping and essential work, repeating the super cautious approach the country has taken over the past year in stamping out the pandemic.

New Zealand has not had any local virus cases for months until the recent infections and was ranked the best performing in an index of almost 100 countries based on containment of the coronavirus. By closing its international borders early the island nation virtually eradicated the virus in the early stage of the pandemic. 

New Zealand’s minister for COVID-19 response, Chris Hipkins, said the three cases were a couple and their daughter in Auckland, and that genomic testing was being conducted to see if the family’s infection was linked to any highly infectious variants.

The new cases, the first since Jan. 24, forced Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to return to the capital Wellington, skipping a gay pride event in Auckland that she was due to attend on Sunday afternoon.

“Our system has swung into action,” Hipkins told a hastily called media conference. “We are gathering all of the facts as quickly as we can. And the system that’s served us so well in the past is really gearing up to do so again.”

New Zealand – which had gone more than two months without infection before the January case – is to start inoculating its 5 million people against the new coronavirus on Feb. 20, after receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine earlier than anticipated.

The country remains on alert level 1 for COVID-19, its lowest level, with no restrictions.

“No further consideration of change to alert levels has been taken at this point. We will collect more information before we would make any such decision,” Hipkins said.

Health authorities are still working to find out how the family contracted the virus and “whether COVID-19 could be out there in the community … or whether this is the start of what could be a chain of transmission,” he said.

As a precaution, the high school of the girl in the family will be closed on Monday and Tuesday, with COVID-19 testing facilities to be set up there, officials said.

Airlines have also been contacted, as the woman in the infected family works for an airline catering company, LSG Sky Chefs, where she mostly works in the laundry facilities, they said.

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