New Zealand locks down Auckland after 3 new local Covid-19 cases

The three cases were a couple and their daughter in Auckland. PHOTO: AFP

WELLINGTON (REUTERS) - New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Sunday (Feb 14) announced a three-day lockdown in the country's biggest city Auckland, after three new local Covid-19 cases were reported, the first local infections since late January.

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 virtually eliminating the pandemic.

"We have stamped out the virus before and we will do it again...," Ardern said in a news conference in Wellington.

New Zealand, which had gone more than two months without local infections 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.

Restrictions were raised to level 3 for three days from Monday through Wednesday. That meant public venues would be shut, gatherings outside homes would be prohibited except for weddings and funerals, limited to 10 people.

Children were also asked to stay home from school.

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

Health authorities are still working to find out whether the cases involve one of the new highly infectious variants and how the family contracted the virus, Ardern said.

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

"That is what we believe the cautious approach requires and its the right thing to do." Airlines have been contacted, as the woman in the infected family works for 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 2, with all gatherings limited to 100 people, including at restaurants and cafes.

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

The two cases, including a 3-year-old child, were the first two 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 hotel 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.

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