Both infections that put Auckland in lockdown due to UK variant

AUCKLAND: Two new coronavirus infections which sent New Zealand's biggest city into lockdown yesterday are due to the British variant of the disease, the first to be detected in the country, officials said.

The Health Ministry said genomic sequencing identified the infections in Auckland as caused by the highly contagious strain and added there was no link to any other positive cases detected so far.

"This result reinforces the decision to take swift and robust action around the latest cases to detect and stamp out the possibility of any further transmission," the ministry said.

There were no results yet from sequencing of a third case linked to the Auckland cluster, all members of the same family, which emerged on Sunday and prompted Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to order a three-day lockdown in Auckland.

It was the first clampdown in nearly six months for the country, which has been widely praised for its handling of the pandemic with just 25 deaths in a population of five million.

Almost two million Auckland residents were told on Sunday to stay home from midnight, when the lockdown began, with schools and non-essential businesses forced to close.

The city has also been ring-fenced from the rest of New Zealand, with travel in and out of the metropolis highly restricted for the next three days.

Ms Ardern said the first batch of 60,000 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines have arrived and would undergo safety checks before border workers start receiving vaccinations from Saturday.

"This will be the largest full-scale vaccination campaign in this country's history," Ms Ardern said.

"We have purchased enough vaccines to cover all New Zealanders and to do so for free. That includes all those in New Zealand regardless of their visa status."

Australia, too, has received its first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines.

"The eagle has landed," Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters in Canberra yesterday as the first shipment of 142,000 doses of the vaccine touched down. Vaccination in Australia will start from Monday.

Victoria state reported one new case yesterday, taking the total in the cluster linked to the quarantine hotel to 17.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said it was too early to say if the five-day lockdown would end as planned tomorrow evening. - AFP, REUTERS