New Zealand seals off northern region over suspected spread of Covid-19

The normally bustling High Street in Auckland’s CBD is largely deserted during a lockdown in Auckland, New Zealand on Aug 26, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

WELLINGTON (REUTERS, XINHUA) - Authorities planned to seal off the northern tip of New Zealand with police cordons on Tuesday (Nov 2), as they enforce a lockdown in the region over fears of an undetected community transmission of Covid-19 there.

Part of the Northland region, about 270km from the biggest city of Auckland, is to begin a Level 3 lockdown from midnight, said Mr Chris Hipkins, the minister coordinating the response to coronavirus.

New Zealand has a four-tier Covid-19 alert system, where Level 4 indicates the highest risk in the country.

The move follows two cases in the region that lacked a link to any known cases.

"It's unclear how they could have possibly picked up the virus," Mr Hipkins told a news conference. "There could be undetected community transmission in Northland right now."

The cabinet will review on Monday the decision to seal off the area, where vaccination rates are among the lowest in the country, with just 64 per cent of North Island's eligible population fully vaccinated.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who was visiting Northland on Tuesday, had to abruptly halt a media conference after being continuously interrupted and heckled by at least two people, who appeared to be anti-vaxxers.

One could be heard singing during the event, while another asked Ms Ardern to identify a person who died in August after receiving the Pfizer vaccine, and accused her of lying to the public.

New Zealand won global praise last year for its response that stamped out the coronavirus.

But it has been tougher to quash the current outbreak of the Delta variant around Auckland, forcing authorities to decide to live with the virus rather than an earlier strategy of elimination.

Virus curbs in Auckland were extended by a week on Monday.

This comes as New Zealand reported 126 new cases on Tuesday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country's community outbreak to 3,634.

Among the new infections, 107 were recorded in the largest city of Auckland, 18 in nearby Waikato, and one in Northland, according to the Ministry of Health.

Forty-nine community cases are being treated in hospitals, including three in intensive care units or high dependency units, said a ministry statement.

There are 3,063 cases that have been clearly epidemiologically linked to another case or a sub-cluster, and a further 432 cases for which links are yet to be fully established, it said.

New Zealand also reported three new cases identified at the border among recent returnees. The cases have remained in managed quarantine in Auckland.

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in New
Zealand stands at 6,362 currently, according to the health ministry.

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