Coronavirus Global situation

Auckland under lockdown after 3 local cases surface

Authorities checking if cases are linked to one of the new highly infectious Covid-19 variants

WELLINGTON • New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday announced a three-day lockdown in the country's biggest city Auckland, after three new local Covid-19 cases were reported, the first domestic infections since last month.

She said the level three restrictions, which require everyone to stay home except for essential shopping and essential work, repeated the super cautious approach the country had taken over the past year in virtually eliminating the pandemic.

"We have stamped out the virus before and we will do it again," Ms Ardern said.

New Zealand, which had gone more than two months without local infections before last month, is to start inoculating its five million people on Saturday, after receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine earlier than anticipated.

Restrictions were raised to level three for three days from today through Wednesday. That meant public venues would be shut, gatherings outside homes would be prohibited except for weddings and funerals that were limited to 10 people.

Children were also asked to stay home from school.

The three cases reported yesterday were a couple and their daughter in Auckland, the first local cases since Jan 24.

Health authorities are working to find out if the cases involve one of the new highly infectious variants and how the family contracted the virus.

"Three days should give us enough time to gather further information, undertake large-scale testing and establish if there has been wider community transmission," Ms Ardern said.

"That is what we believe the cautious approach requires and it's the right thing to do."

Airlines have been contacted, as the woman in the infected family is hired by an airline catering company, LSG Sky Chefs, where she mostly works in laundry facilities, officials said.

The Covid-19 alert for the rest of the country was raised to level two, with all gatherings limited to 100 people, including at restaurants and cafes.

Australia yesterday reported two new local Covid-19 cases in the second most populous state, Victoria, on the second day of a snap lockdown to contain the spread of the highly infectious British variant.

The two cases, including a three-year-old child, were the first who were not household contacts of a cluster of infected workers at a quarantine hotel at Melbourne airport which triggered the five-day lockdown, health authorities said.

The cluster has now affected 16 people.

Both New Zealand and Australia closed their international borders and introduced strict social distancing rules early in the pandemic, dramatically reducing the spread of the virus.

New Zealand was ranked the best-performing nation in an index of almost 100 countries based on containment of the coronavirus.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2021, with the headline 'Auckland under lockdown after 3 local cases surface'. Subscribe