A fifth person has tested positive for COVID-19 in New Zealand just hours after the country was returned to lockdown.
Health officials are also awaiting test results for four other “probable” cases of coronavirus – three adults and a teenager – linked to a family group.
If confirmed, Wednesday’s five new coronavirus cases will bring New Zealand’s total to nine after 102 consecutive days without transmission.
Authorities are still scrambling to determine the cause of the early cases, with the current line of inquiry focusing on the possibility that the infection was imported by cargo.
Auckland, the country’s largest city, reverted to Stage 3 restrictions on Wednesday after four members of the same family tested positive for the virus the day before.
Five suspected coronavirus cases – four probable and one confirmed – have been detected in New Zealand, hours after a family group sent the country on lockdown
The rest of the country was subject to Stage 2 restrictions – demanding social distancing and limits on the size of gatherings.
Two of the probable new cases are co-workers and the other two are from a related household that some infected family members had visited, reports the NZ Herald.
The fifth confirmed case, a woman in her 50s, is in managed isolation and 200 close contacts are being tested.
She tested positive on her third day of quarantine after arriving in New Zealand from Islamabad, Pakistan on August 7.
The new outbreak has baffled authorities who were convinced the country had eliminated the virus.
Investigations are currently focused on whether the infection could have been transported across the country to a cold storage company, where one of the family members works.
“We are very confident that we have had no community transmission for a very long time,” Chief Health Officer Ashley Bloomfield said at a televised press conference.
“We know that the virus can survive in refrigerated environments for some time.
Dr Bloomfield said the majority of close contacts came from two family-related workplaces, with employees being asked to stay home.
The two companies involved are Auckland-based company Americold and the Finance Now business on Dominion Road in central Auckland, according to 9News reports.
Anyone who has visited these premises in the past two weeks must also enter 14 days of isolation.
An additional 6,000-7,000 people in Auckland, Rotorua, Christchurch and Wellington are also currently being tested.
Residents of Rotorua, 230 km south of Auckland, have been urged to remain on high alert after family members, including a woman in her 20s, traveled to the city for a holiday early of the month.
A woman is pictured in a COVID-19 quarantine center on Wednesday as the country returned to lockdown
Queues of cars meandered around the block and parking lots were overflowing at city grocery stores
She stayed at the Waiora Hotel August 8-11 and visited the Skyline Gondola Luge on August 8.
Ms Ardern said those required to stay at home if they have been in contact with a case will be notified through their employers, contact tracing or an announcement via a public platform.
Businesses and services have also been ordered to place a QR code for the Covid Tracer app prominently at all entry points over the next week.
Ms Ardern has ordered anyone leaving Auckland to wear a face mask.
All elderly care facilities in New Zealand have been closed to all except staff and essential deliveries from noon on Wednesday.
Panicked shoppers swarmed supermarkets and traffic was thrown into chaos in Auckland after Jacinda Ardern announced new lockdown orders.
Queues meandered around the block and parking lots spilled over into town grocery stores – even as Ms Ardern pleaded with Kiwis not to congregate in malls.
Medical staff are testing South Auckland residents at a pop-up Covid-19 testing center in Otara Shopping Center, Auckland, as New Zealand prepares to move to Covid Alert Level 3 Wednesday 19
Queues stretch for miles in and out of Auckland as police stop vehicles at a checkpoint on SH1 north of Wellsford on August 12
Panicked shoppers flooded grocery stores across New Zealand on Tuesday night ahead of Wednesday’s lockdown
Tuesday’s new cases are all linked to a family and include a 50-year-old man and a young child.
Contact tracers are scrambling to identify the source of the virus after Chief Health Officer Ashley Bloomfield confirmed the family had no ties to foreign travelers or the hotel’s quarantine program.
There have now been 1,225 cases of the coronavirus in New Zealand, 22 of which are active.
The nation had been the envy of the world for its handling of the COVID-19 crisis, Monday marking 101 days without a single case of community transmission.
New Zealanders have been enjoying the return of their usual freedoms after an autumn lockdown proved effective in clearing the deadly virus.
On Tuesday night, they were told that these freedoms would be suspended.
Psychologist Jacqui Maguire said that kiwis experience a range of emotions, including “anxiety, fear, anger and disappointment.”
“Take that disappointment and use it as motivation to play by the rules,” she said.
“Turning away from or suppressing your emotional reactions will only intensify them.
“Have compassion and kindness towards yourself and others as you adjust, reach out and offer your support to those around you.
“Take it one day at a time, practice your wellness strategies, and hold on to the hope that we will be successful together. “
More than 100,000 people downloaded the Covid Tracer app on Tuesday evening.
The prime minister announced at a press conference on Wednesday morning that the main weapon in his government’s response would be testing.
“We are taking a quick response to break the chain of transmission through contact tracing, testing and information gathering,” she told reporters.
Dr Bloomfield said action must be swift to prevent a second horror outbreak from happening in other countries around the world.
“So we’ve seen in other countries and jurisdictions, like Victoria, Hong Kong and Vietnam, where a resurgence is happening, that it is extremely important to act early.
The main roads to the CBD were unusually quiet when restrictions on Auckland’s third stage came into effect from Wednesday
Emergency public safety alert text message sent to inform New Zealanders of the latest restrictions during a COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak
The streets were deserted as cars stocked up on the roads to supermarkets on Wednesday as the Aucklanders were ordered to stay home and only venture out for essential supplies.