WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND (AP) — New Zealand’s largest city of Auckland went into a three-day lockdown beginning just before midnight yesterday following the discovery of three unexplained coronavirus cases in the community.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the move after an urgent meeting with other top lawmakers in the Cabinet. She said they decided to take a cautious approach until they find out more about the outbreak, including whether the infections are of the more contagious variants.
The lockdown is the first in New Zealand in six months and represents a significant setback in the nation’s largely successful efforts to control the virus. It will also force a delay in the America’s Cup sailing regatta.
New Zealand had successfully stamped out community spread, and many people elsewhere in the world looked on in envy as New Zealanders went back to work and began attending concerts and sporting events without the need to wear masks or take other precautions.
Indeed, Ardern yesterday had planned to attend an Auckland festival that attracts tens of thousands of people.
She ended up cancelling those plans and returning to Wellington to manage the outbreak. “I’m asking New Zealanders to continue to be strong and to be kind,” Ardern said at a hastily arranged press conference yesterday evening.
“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.”
New Zealand’s greatest vulnerability has been at the border. New cases are regularly caught among returning travellers, all of whom are required to spend two weeks in quarantine.