Guardian staffSun, 14 February 2021, 6:35 am
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern has placed Auckland in lockdown from midnight on Sunday, and increased restrictions across New Zealand after three local cases of coronavirus emerged in the region over the weekend.
Emphasising the past effectiveness of her “go hard and early” approach to the virus, Ardern said on Sunday that Auckland would go into level 3 lockdown for the next three days until more was known about the source of the most recent cases.
The rest of the country is moving to level 2 restrictions for the same time period, with reviews held every 24 hours. There was “not yet a complete picture” of the spread of the virus, the prime minister said, and health officials were awaiting genome sequencing and serology results.
Ardern said the decision to introduce tougher restrictions was “not taken lightly” and that she was aware of their economic impact. But she added: “We are also conscious of the far greater cost to the entire economy if we make the wrong call.”
“The precautionary approach has served us very well to date and, now, given the current global environment we are in, that further reinforces not weakens the need for that precautionary approach,” Ardern said.
The prime minister acted after it emerged on Sunday that three members of the same South Auckland family had tested positive from an unknown source.
Under level 3 measures, people should work from home where possible, and parents are asked to keep children home from school. A border will be set up around Auckland, with travel heavily restricted. Public venues such as libraries, museums, cinemas, food courts, gyms, pools, playgrounds and markets will close, as will businesses that cannot ensure physical distancing.
Seeking to prevent panic-buying, Ardern said supermarkets and petrol stations would remain open so there was “no need to rush out to get any essential items”. Gatherings of up to 10 people can continue, but only for weddings and funerals.
Level 2 restrictions placed on the rest of the country mandate face coverings on public transport and aircraft and increased vigilance in terms of physical distancing. No more than 100 people are allowed at social gatherings, including weddings, birthdays and funerals.
The three new cases are a mother, father and daughter, who returned positive tests on Sunday. The mother works at LSG Sky Chefs, one of the world’s largest airline catering providers, in Mangere. Covid-19 testing is being carried out at that workplace.
The woman, who worked mainly in the laundry department but also in catering, last tested negative on 18 January and was last at work on 5 February.
Dr Ashley Bloomfield, New Zealand’s director general of health, said the family had done all the right things, self isolating when they developed symptoms, and that the woman had not been infectious when at work.
The father is a tradesman.
The daughter is a student at Papatoetoe high school, which will be closed on Monday and Tuesday. Five teachers and 28 students are considered close contacts of the Year 9 student and all other students and staff at the school are “casual” contacts, who have been asked to self-isolate, said school principal Vaughan Couillault. Testing facilities will be provided at the school during the week.
Two of the confirmed cases went for a short break in New Plymouth during the Waitangi weekend on 6-7 February and visited various locations. It is unclear if they were infectious at the time. According to a Ministry of Health statement, the test results were indicative of new and active infections.
There is a fourth member of the household, who has also been tested and has been moved with rest of the family into a managed isolation facility at Jet Park.
Genomic sequencing is now under way to determine if the family has been infected with one of the more transmissible overseas variants.
Some testing centres in Auckland have now extended their hours but Bloomfield urged people to get tested only if they needed one.
Australia’s chief medical officer, Prof Paul Kelly, said before the lockdown announcement that there would be no change to the one-way trans-Tasman bubble allowing people from New Zealand to travel to Australia without needing to quarantine for 14 days.
“We feel at the moment the risk is very low,” he said. “But of course we will and we have looked at what those exposure sites are in New Zealand and we will be looking at that for anyone coming across the border from New Zealand.”
State health officials had sought the manifests of all New Zealand flights into Australia in the past few days to follow up as a precaution, Kelly said.
Separately on Sunday, one more case of coronavirus was reported in managed isolation facilities.
The new cases come a day after the first death in five months of someone with coronavirus in New Zealand, although the fatality is not yet being officially treated as Covid-related. On Saturday, Bloomfield said a person with a serious health condition tested positive for the virus while in mandatory isolation and died after being moved to North Shore hospital in Auckland.
Ardern said she was asking New Zealanders to be kind and strong. “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,” she said, urging people to check that their neighbours in Auckland were supported.
With Australian Associated Press