Auckland in lockdown as new cases end NZ's coronavirus-free status

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Four new Covid-19 cases found in the city, ending New Zealand's 102-day virus-free run

WELLINGTON: New Zealand announced yesterday it was shutting down its largest city, Auckland, after four new cases of Covid-19 were discovered there, the first evidence of domestic transmission after being coronavirus-free for 102 days.

New Zealand's successful fight against Covid-19 was hailed globally and the Pacific island nation of five million was seen as one of the safest places, as the pandemic raged globally.

Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the four cases were within one family in South Auckland. One person is in their 50s. They had no history of international travel. Family members have been tested and contact tracing is under way.

News of the cases sent panic across the country, with media reporting people rushing to supermarkets to stock up, and businesses preparing to shut.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Auckland would move to level 3 restriction from noon today as a "precautionary approach", which would mean people should stay away from work and school, and gatherings of more than 10 people would again be restricted.

The restriction would be applied for three days until Friday, which she said would be enough time to assess the situation, gather information and make sure there was widespread contact tracing.

"This is something we have prepared for," Ms Ardern said, adding that the increased caution was needed as the source of the virus was unknown.

"... No country has gone as far as we did without having a resurgence. And because we were the only ones, we had to plan. And we have planned," she said.

New Zealand is set to vote in a national election on Sept 19, in which Ms Ardern is expected to win comfortably.

Ms Ardern said she has not given any consideration to the impact of the new restrictions on the polls at this stage.

Parliament is scheduled to be dissolved today.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said: "I am urging Aucklanders to come together like we did last time to stamp out community transmission. Please remain calm, please do not panic buy and please follow the lockdown rules."

Ms Ardern said travel into Auckland, on the North Island, would be restricted unless you lived there.

She said the rest of New Zealand would enter alert level 2 from midday today for three days. This would mean social distancing measures would be applied again and mass gatherings would be limited to 100 people.

New Zealand was placed under a tight lockdown for weeks after it reported its first known case on Feb 26 and the last case of community transmission was detected on May 1.

In Australia, its second-most populous state Victoria yesterday reported 19 deaths from the coronavirus in 24 hours and 331 new cases.

The state had reported 322 infections and 19 deaths, its biggest one-day rise in casualties, a day earlier.

While the lockdown has caused significant economic harm, it is working. Daily infections peaked at 725 on Aug 5.

New South Wales state reported 22 new cases, the biggest one-day rise since April 17. - REUTERS