New Zealand’s new Covid cases are all UK variant, says Ardern, as Auckland goes into strict lockdown

The cases are New Zealand’s first instances of community transmission since 24 January, and led Australia to suspend the quarantine-free travel corridor for New Zealanders late on Sunday night.

While Auckland has been put under level 3 restrictions, which requires everyone to stay at home except for essential shopping and essential working, the rest of the country has been put under level 2 restrictions. Alert level 2 mandates social distancing and limits social gatherings to 100 people.

Prime Minister Ardern, who announced the new lockdown measures on Sunday as health officials investigated the new outbreak, on Monday told RNZ National that they were right to take such precautions, as she confirmed they were indeed cases of the more infectious variant.

“However, we also know that based on that sequencing, we haven’t been able to link it to any other cases that we’ve had come through our managed isolation facilities and that tells us it’s unlikely, therefore, to have been some form of issue with our managed isolation,” Ms Ardern told the radio network.

Ms Ardern said that health officials are still trying to figure out the source of infection and are working on two main leads. All three of the cases are members of the same family.

One possibility is that the virus entered New Zealand with a transit passenger, and another one was that it came from international aircrew. In some cases, those crews have their uniforms cleaned at the place where one of the people who tested positive for the virus works.

Ms Ardern added, however, that there has so far not been a reported case in which the transmission occurred from doing laundry.

“The most likely scenario is always human-to-human transmission … but even with those less likely possibilities we don’t rule them out, we try and explore every possible option,” she said.

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.

“We have stamped out the virus before and we will do it again,” Ms Ardern told a news conference in the capital, Wellington on Sunday.

New Zealand had closed its international borders and introduced strict social distancing rules early in the pandemic, thereby dramatically reducing the spread of the infection. With a population of 5 million, the country has reported a total of 2,330 cases and 25 deaths since the pandemic began.

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