James O'Brien 10am - 1pm
New Zealand announces three-day Covid lockdown in Auckland
14 February 2021, 08:50
New Zealand has announced a three-day lockdown for its largest city, Auckland, after three unexplained Covid cases emerged in the community.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed the tightening of restrictions on Sunday following an urgent meeting with other Cabinet members.
Measures will also be heightened throughout the rest of the country but will not go as far as a lockdown, the NZ leader said.
Ms Arden explained that the government chose its cautious approach so it can find out more about the outbreak, including whether the infections were of the more contagious coronavirus variants.
Auckland's lockdown is New Zealand's first in six months and represents a serious setback in the country's mostly successful efforts to control and contain the virus.
Many nations have heralded New Zealand and its leader for successfully stamping out community transmissions.
The country had returned to a level of normality prior to February's outbreak, with Kiwis free to return to work, attend concerts and watch sporting events without the need to wear masks or take other precautions.
Ms Ardern had planned to attend the Big Gay Out on Sunday - a festival in the city that sees tens of thousands of people celebrating Pride - but she ended up cancelling and returning to Wellington, the capital, to manage the situation.
"I'm asking New Zealanders to continue to be strong and to be kind," the NZ leader said at a press conference on Sunday evening.
"I know we all feel the same way when this happens. We all get that sense of 'not again'. But remember, we have been here before and that means we know how to get out of this again, and that is together."
New Zealand has experienced issues with Covid-19 at the border, with new cases regularly detected among returning travellers, all of whom are made to quarantine for two weeks.
However, despite the tight measures, multiple infections have crept through before being controlled again.
Officials are trying to determine whether that has happened again for the current outbreak, which involved a mother, father and daughter in Auckland.
The mum is said to work at a catering company that does laundry for airlines, and authorities are investigating whether there is a link to infected passengers. Officials said the woman had not been going aboard the planes herself.
"We are gathering all of the facts as quickly as we can, and the system that served us so well in the past is really gearing up to do so again," said Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins.
He described the cases as new and active and said scientists are carrying out genome sequencing to see whether they are variants, and also to see whether they match with any infected passengers.
"New Zealand has kept Covid-19 contained better than almost any other country. But as we have kept saying, there is no such thing as no risk," Mr Hipkins said.
New Zealand, with a population of five million, has reported more than 2,300 cases and 25 deaths since the pandemic began.