New Zealand's Ardern extends lockdown to stamp out coronavirus outbreak

Cheryl Sanders
August 14, 2020

WELLINGTON, Aug 14 (Reuters) - New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is due to announce on Friday whether a lockdown in its biggest city will be eased or extended, as officials said it appeared the country's first outbreak in more than three months was an imported strain. The only known infections outside Auckland are two people in the central North Island town of Tokoroa who were visited by infected family members from Auckland.

Four people from the same family in South Auckland have tested positive for Covid-19 via community transmission, with no known links to the country's border or global travel. Milder social distancing measures have been imposed in the rest of the country.

Ardern added that the fresh cluster would "grow before it slows", but that officials had found the outbreak "relatively early".

The 1.5 million people in Auckland were "carrying a heavy load" for the rest of the country, she said. Residents have been told to stay in their "household bubbles" when not at work or school if they have to attend. She said genome sequencing disproved the theory from some health experts that the virus could have been quietly moving through community since the original outbreak.

The origin of the Auckland outbreak, which broke a 102-day streak of no community transmission, remains unclear and is the subject of ongoing investigation.

National health director-general Ashley Bloomfield acknowledged feelings were running high but urged the public not to take out their frustrations on frontline health workers.

New Zealand is following the same strategy that helped contain the virus after a seven-week lockdown earlier this year - isolating positive cases, contact tracing and extensive testing.

The new cases brought the number of active cases to 36 - 17 of which are linked to the recent outbreak, the ministry said in a statement.

Bloomfield added 83 per cent of close contacts had been isolated within 48 hours, which was above the gold-standard of 80 per cent.

Genomic tests indicated the latest infections were not the same strain of coronavirus recorded in New Zealand earlier this year.

Jacinda Ardern says the Government will extend the wage subsidy scheme to help struggling businesses facing second round of Covid-19 restrictions. Officials said they thought the chances were low the virus would spread further in Tokoroa.

Of the 13 new cases, all bar one, are linked to existing cases.

Details will be finalised over the weekend.

Ardern said on Tuesday night the Auckland lockdown would last until midnight tonight unless it was decided it needed to be extended.

"We've seen no evidence of a COVID-19 positive test outside of Auckland which is unrelated to the cluster we're dealing with", said Health Minister Chris Hipkins.

They the island's 10 volunteer puna can not effectively manage supervised quarantine at the homes of returning travellers.

Other reports by iNewsToday