New Zealand’s largest city is being placed in a three-day level 3 lockdown following the discovery of three cases of coronavirus in the community.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the move for Auckland after an urgent meeting with other top politicians in the cabinet.
Ms Ardern also confirmed that the rest of the country would be going into level 2 restrictions.
She said the country will be taking a cautious approach until they found out more about the outbreak, including whether the infections were of the new, more contagious variants.
People living within Auckland will not be permitted to leave the city under the new restrictions, working from home is encouraged, and children are encouraged to learn from home if possible. People are not permitted to leave their household support bubble.
Throughout the rest of the country, social distancing is now enforced, large events and hospitality venues will have a maximum attendance of 100 people, and mask wearing is mandatory on public transport.
The lockdown is the first in New Zealand in six months and represents a significant setback in the nation’s largely successful efforts to control the virus.
Before this point, New Zealand had successfully put a stop to community spread, claiming the prize of envy of the world as the country enjoyed normal life.
However the joy of normality and socialisation has now taken a hit, with Ms Ardern having to cancel her attendance at Auckland’s Big Gay Out to return to Wellington to manage the outbreak.
“I’m asking New Zealanders to continue to be strong and to be kind,” Ms Ardern said at a hastily arranged press conference on Sunday evening. “I know we all feel the same way when this happens. We all get that sense of ‘not again’. But remember, we have been here before and that means we know how to get out of this again, and that is together.”
“Please remember, we are going to be okay,” assured Ms Ardern.
In this latest case, an Auckland mother, father and daughter have caught the virus. Officials have stated the mother works at a catering company that carries out laundry services for airlines, and an investigation is underway to determine if an infected passenger passed on the virus through the mother’s work. Officials said the woman had not been going aboard the planes herself.
“We are gathering all of the facts as quickly as we can, and the system that served us so well in the past is really gearing up to do so again,” said Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins.
He described the cases as new and active. He said scientists are carrying out genome sequencing to see whether they are variants, and also to see whether they match with any infected passengers.
“New Zealand has kept Covid-19 contained better than almost any other country,” Mr Hipkins said. “But as we have kept saying, there is no such thing as no risk.”
New Zealand, with a population of five million, has reported a total of just more than 2,300 cases and 25 deaths since the pandemic started.