All of New Zealand will remain stranded until midnight Tuesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced, as the country’s coronavirus outbreak has reached 31 people and spread to Wellington.
The first case of the outbreak emerged in Auckland on Tuesday, prompting the government to place the entire country in a Level 4 lockdown – the highest level of restrictions. Genome sequencing linked the cluster to a returnee from Australia.
Since then, some of the cases that have emerged have included a high school teacher, students from two other high schools, an Auckland City Hospital nurse and an Air New Zealand cabin crew member.
Eleven more cases were announced on Friday, including a patient at Auckland’s North Shore Hospital, which forced the shutdown of emergency care and acute surgical care, and a postal worker.
Nineteen of the cases are linked to the first case, a 58-year-old man. The Air New Zealand worker is not linked, while the rest of the cases have yet to be sequenced. The first investigations show that they are likely to be linked to the first case.
The Wellington cases announced on Friday had visited places of interest in Auckland before returning to the capital before the lockdown.
Initially, Auckland and the Coromandel Peninsula, a nearby area visited by the first case, were taken into custody for a week, with the rest of the country locked up for three days. The whole country is now confined for the same period.
On Friday afternoon, Ardern said the infectious period of emerging positive cases still stretched back to the period leading up to the lockdown.
“Soon this should stop being the case, and it will certainly help us bring this epidemic under control. Until then, however, we just don’t know the full extent of this Delta outbreak.
“It tells us that we have to continue to be careful and that we need more time before we have the full picture. “
Ardern said the good news was that the cases, at that point, were linked.
“This is important because it means that we are starting to get a feel for the contours of this cluster. At this point, we don’t have any random cases popping up outside of the places we already expect them to be. “
Ardern acknowledged the closures were difficult, but urged New Zealanders to remain vigilant against bursting bubbles, visiting friends or organizing rallies.
“I know we all want to block the memory of 2020,” she said. “We’ve been here before. We know the elimination strategy works – cases go up, then they go down. It is tried and true. We just have to hold on. Everyone, I mean everyone, has to play their part.
Chief Health Officer Dr Ashley Bloomfield said as expected, contacts of those who tested positive had scattered across the country.
University of Auckland microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles applauded the decision to extend the lockdown, saying: “Keeping all of New Zealand at Alert Level 4 is the most prudent decision given that there are contacts who have left Auckland and traveled to other parts of the country.
“It is crucial that we do not lower the alert levels too quickly. The last thing we want is to have to go back to Alert Level 4 if we haven’t contained the outbreak. Considering the number of places of interest and types of places, we are likely to see the number of cases increase. “
Testing rates have increased dramatically, with Thursday being the busiest day for testing on record. About 24,000 people were swabbed, double the number on the previous busiest day.
Places of interest in Auckland and Coromandel have swelled to over 150 locations, but details are still pending on places of interest in Wellington.
Bloomfield said at this point a Wellington business-related flight and gas stations would be added to the list.
Cabinet will meet again on Monday to determine next steps.