New Zealand’s world-beating run of being Covid-free has come to an end, with the detection of new cases prompting the government to put largest city Auckland into lockdown.
Authorities have detected four cases of coronavirus in one Auckland household from an unknown source, and contact tracing is now underway to prevent further spread, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said late on Tuesday. New Zealand had recorded 102 days of no community transmission, with its only cases quarantined at the border.
“No other country in the world was free of community transmission as long as New Zealand,” Ardern told reporters. “Together we have beaten the virus before. We can do so again.”
New Zealand’s economy rebounded faster than expected from a nationwide lockdown in April and May, with confidence boosted by its Covid-free status. Elimination of the virus also fanned support for Ardern’s Labour Party ahead of the September 19 general election.
Today’s news means “there are almost certainly other active cases of Covid-19 present in Auckland at the moment,” said Shaun Hendy, a professor at University of Auckland. “There is also a chance the disease will have spread to other parts of the country.”
From noon on Wednesday, Auckland will move to level 3 on New Zealand’s Covid alert system, signaling people should stay at home if possible and avoid contact with others. Schools will close for most pupils while bars and restaurants will also shut.
This will remain in place for three days, and the rest of the country will go to level 2 restrictions that include social distancing and limits on the size of gatherings.
Health officials had warned it was only a matter of time before the virus returned.
“This is something we have prepared for,” Ardern said. “Now that moment has arrived. So my request is not to be dispirited or disheartened. I’m asking that everyone joins us on that journey again.”
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