WELLINGTON, New Zealand – New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, will be on lockdown for three days just before midnight Sunday after three unexplained coronavirus cases were discovered in the community.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the move after an urgent meeting with other leading lawmakers in the cabinet. She said they decided to proceed cautiously until they learn more about the outbreak, including whether the infections are more contagious.
The lockdown is the first in New Zealand in six months and represents a significant setback for the US successful efforts to control the virus. It will also force a delay in the America’s Cup sailing regatta.
New Zealand had successfully eradicated the expansion of the community, and many people around the world watched with envy as New Zealanders went back to work and attended concerts and sporting events without having to wear masks or take other precautions.
In fact, on Sunday Ardern had planned to attend Big Gay Out, an Auckland festival that celebrates the rainbow community and attracts tens of thousands of people. In the end, she canceled those plans and returned to Wellington to tackle the outbreak.
“I ask the New Zealanders to continue to be strong and friendly,” said Ardern at a hastily arranged press conference on Sunday evening. “I know we all think the same when this happens. We all feel like “not again”. But remember, we’ve been here before and that means we know how to get out of it, and that’s together. “
New Zealand’s greatest vulnerability was at the border.
New cases are regularly detected among returning travelers who are quarantined every two weeks. Despite all precautionary measures, the virus leaked the border several times before being checked again and officials are trying to determine if it happened again.
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In the latter case, a mother, father and daughter from Auckland contracted the disease. Officials said the mother works for a catering company that does laundry for airlines, and officials are investigating whether there is a link to infected passengers. Officials said the woman did not board the planes herself.
Officials said the rest of New Zealand outside Auckland will also face tightened restrictions, although it will not be locked.
“We are gathering all the facts asap, and the system that has served us so well in the past is really preparing for it,” said Chris Hipkins, Covid-19 response minister.
He described the cases as new and active. He said scientists are doing genome sequencing to see if they are variants and if they match infected passengers.
“New Zealand contained Covid-19 better than almost any other country,” Hipkins said. “But as we have always said, there is no risk.”
New Zealand, with a population of 5 million, has reported a total of just over 2,300 cases and 25 deaths since the pandemic began.