After 102 days with no new coronavirus cases, New Zealand has broken its streak. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced today that the country has new locally transmitted cases of COVID-19. Per New Zealand's Director-General of Health, Dr. Ashley Bloomfield, there are four new cases, all within the same household in Auckland, the country’s most populous city.
“While we have all worked incredibly hard to prevent this scenario, we have also planned and prepared for it,” Ardern said at a press conference. “We have a resurgence plan that we will now activate.”
That plan includes putting Auckland under level 3 restrictions from noon local time on Wednesday, Aug. 12, through midnight on Friday, Aug. 14. Under those restrictions, all non-essential businesses, including schools and childcare facilities, must close, and public gatherings are limited to funerals (including tangihanga) and weddings capped at 10 attendees total. The rest of the country will be put under level 2 restrictions for the same time period, which limits social gatherings to groups of no more than 100 people. Under both levels, standard social distancing protocols, including wearing masks, is strongly advised.
“Three days will give us time to assess the situation and gather information, including contact tracing, so we can find out more about how the case arose and make decisions of how to respond after that,” Dr. Bloomfield said in the same press conference.
New Zealand will also implement mass testing in Auckland with a focus on workers at the border and within quarantine facilities, though any Auckland resident with symptoms is advised to get tested as well. In the meantime, the city’s residents are being asked to remain at home save for activities like grocery shopping and local recreation.
Since the discovery of COVID-19, New Zealand has been highly proactive in controlling the virus’s spread. It first banned travelers coming from China, where the virus originated, on February 3. New Zealand then reported its first coronavirus case on February 28. On March 16, New Zealand mandated that all incoming travelers to the country must self-isolate for 14 days, and on March 25, the entire country was placed under level 4 lockdown; the country returned to level 1 on June 9, after the spread of the virus was under control. Of its population of nearly 5 million people, approximately 1,500 are suspected to have had the virus as of today, with just 22 deaths. Prior to the four cases announced today, the last new locally transmitted infection was recorded on May 1, though there were 21 actively infected patients in quarantine facilities as of August 10. Those infections originated abroad.