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Auckland lockdown extended, masks mandatory on NZ public transport

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SYDNEY: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday extended a coronavirus lockdown in the country's largest city and introduced mandatory mask wearing on public transport across the nation.

Ms Ardern said the four-day extension in the city of Auckland was critical to enable the country to step down its scale of emergency restrictions - and remain at less restrictive levels.

"We want both confidence, and certainty for everyone," Ms Ardern said during a televised media conference.

The Auckland lockdown, imposed on Aug 11 after officials detected the country's first locally acquired cases of Covid-19 in more than three months, had been scheduled to end tomorrow. It will now end on Sunday night.

The city's step down from Level 3 to Level 2 restrictions will be made gradually from Monday, Ms Ardern said.

Around 150 people have been diagnosed as part of the cluster that originated in Auckland but daily new case numbers have slowed to single digit increases over the past three days.

To maintain control as Auckland eases down to Level 2 restrictions, which will allow schools and shops to reopen, public gatherings will still be restricted to a maximum of 10 people, Ms Ardern said.

Meanwhile, Australia reported its lowest one-day rise in infections in almost two months yesterday. Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia states reported a combined 121 new cases over 24 hours, the lowest single-day rise since July 5.

Victoria accounted for the vast majority with its capital city of Melbourne the epicentre of the latest outbreak.

In a separate development, the World Health Organisation said some 172 countries are engaging with the Covax facility designed to ensure equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines, but more funding is needed and countries need to make binding commitments.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: "Vaccine nationalism only helps the virus." - REUTERS