Auckland locked down after three local Covid-19 infections detected

Couple, daughter are first local infections in NZ since Jan 24

WELLINGTON: New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday announced a three-day lockdown in the country's biggest city Auckland, after three Covid-19 cases emerged, the first local infections since late last month.

Level three restrictions will require everyone to stay home except for essential shopping and essential work, Ms Ardern said, repeating the strict approach the country has taken over the past year in virtually eliminating the pandemic.

"We have stamped out the virus before and we will do it again," Ms Ardern told a news conference.

New Zealand, which had gone more than two months without local infections before the January case, is to start inoculating its five million people against the coronavirus on Saturday, receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine earlier than anticipated.

Restrictions were raised to level three through Wednesday, shutting public venues and prohibiting gatherings outside homes, except for weddings and funerals of up to 10 people.

Schools will stay open for children of essential workers, but others were asked to stay home.

Yesterday's cases were a couple and their daughter in Auckland, the first local infections since Jan 24.

Health authorities are trying to find out whether these cases involve any of the new, highly infectious variants and how the family contracted the virus, Ms Ardern said.

"Three days should give us enough time to gather further information, undertake large-scale testing and establish if there has been wider community transmission," she said.

"That is what we believe the cautious approach requires and its the right thing to do."

Ms Ardern said there was no need to stock up on goods, as essential services - including supermarkets, pharmacies and petrol stations - would remain open.

Still, long queues formed outside Auckland supermarkets, and pictures on social media showed empty grocery shelves.

Meanwhile, Australia's Victoria state reported two new locally transmitted cases yesterday - day two of a snap lockdown as the authorities scrambled to curb the spread of the highly infectious British variant of the disease.

The two cases, including a three-year-old, were the first two who were not household contacts of a cluster of infected workers at a quarantine hotel at Melbourne airport that had triggered the five-day lockdown, health authorities said.

The hotel cluster has affected 16 people.

While there have been only three new cases identified following thousands of tests since the lockdown was announced on Friday, Victoria's health officials said the tough curbs - forcing the state's six million-plus people to stay home for five days - were still needed.

"It is too early to say whether we have been successful, but the signs show Victorians are doing the right thing," Victoria's Health Minister Martin Foley told reporters.

All Victorians have to stay home except for essential shopping, work, caregiving and outdoor exercise, as the state races to trace customers of an airport cafe where a worker was infected, as well as contacts of the two new cases. - REUTERS