New Zealand goes back into lockdown following new COVID-19 cases

Sky Tower in Auckland
A view of Sky Tower in Auckland, New Zealand, in December 2017. (Photo by Todd DeFeo/The DeFeo Groupe)

New Zealand is again under lockdown restrictions Wednesday after four COVID-19 infections were detected in Auckland, the South Pacific’s country’s biggest city. They are the first confirmed cases of community transmission of coronavirus in more than 100 days.

In June, New Zealand declared a victory in its fight against COVID-19. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the country had “united in unprecedented ways to crush the virus.”

Restrictions were lifted, and life began to return to what it was before the pandemic, although New Zealand’s international borders stayed closed.

But the coronavirus had not gone away. After more than three months without a local infection, four cases have been found among a family in Auckland. None had recently traveled overseas and the source of the disease is being urgently investigated.

Auckland, a city of 1.6 million people, is now subject to stage three restrictions. Bars and restaurants have closed, along with schools. Workers have been told to stay at home, although staff in essential services are exempt. The lockdown will last for at least three days.

Less stringent measures, including limits on gatherings and social distancing protocols, apply to the rest of New Zealand.

The health minister Chris Hipkins told New Zealand radio that the government wanted to avoid a surge in cases seen overseas, including in the Australian city of Melbourne.

“We are taking a very, very precautionary approach here. One of the reasons that we are moving very swiftly and that we are moving to level three (restrictions) for Auckland very quickly is we want to do everything we can to avoid (a) situation like Melbourne. You know, one of the lessons from overseas is you cannot be too hard, too soon. The faster you move the better your chances,” Hipkins said.

Ahead of Wednesday’s lockdown, large crowds of shoppers were seen queuing at supermarkets despite officials insisting that panic-buying was not necessary.

The World Health Organization had highlighted New Zealand as an example to other nations for having “successfully eliminated community transmission.” The re-emergence of the virus shows how difficult it is to stamp it out.

Australia, too, has seen a resurgence of COVID-19 in some states, including New South Wales and Victoria, where a strict lockdown has been imposed.