New Zealand has extended a lockdown in its most populous city as the country battles a fresh community coronavirus outbreak that comes after months without any locally transmitted cases.
Only five days ago, New Zealand was marking an enviable milestone — 100 days without any community transmission. But this week has demonstrated how fast that can change, even in a country like New Zealand which has been held up as a world leader for its handling of the virus.
On Friday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that Auckland — the city of around 1.5 million people at the center of the new outbreak — will remain under a level three lockdown for another 12 days, while the rest of the country stays under level two restrictions, meaning gatherings are limited to no more than 100 people. The rules extend restrictions that came into effect earlier this week.
Under level three restrictions, people will be told to stay home aside for essential personal movement, schools will operate at limited capacity, and public venues such as museums, playgrounds and gyms will remain shut.
Ardern has warned she expects to see more cases.
“Lifting restrictions now and seeing an explosion of cases is the worst thing we could do for Auckland and for the New Zealand economy,” she said. “We have got rid of Covid before … We can do all of that again.”
Earlier Friday, New Zealand’s Director General of Health Dr. Ashley Bloomfield announced another 12 locally-transmitted coronavirus cases. There are now 49 active cases in New Zealand to 49, 29 of which are linked to the recent outbreak.
The cases are all in Auckland apart from two in Tokoroa, a town of 24,000 about 200km (124 miles) south of the city. According to the Ministry of Health, these two tested positive after a visit from a contact of one of the Auckland cases.
In a press conference Friday, Bloomfield said that 771 close contacts of the confirmed cases had been identified, and more than 15,700 tests had been processed on Thursday — the highest number of tests processed in a single day in the country.
Since the start of the outbreak, New Zealand has conducted more than 500,000 tests. It has reported a total of 1,251 coronavirus cases, including 22 deaths.