Aucklanders are waking up on Monday to a new lockdown, hoping the short and sharp three-day restrictions ordered by Jacinda Ardern arrest the spread of Covid-19.
The prime minister said genomic testing had shown that the three community cases were the UK variant of Covid-19.
Those cases – from one Auckland family – mean 1.6 million Kiwis face bans on non-essential movement until midnight on Wednesday as part of alert level three restrictions.
The lockdown is the second time Auckland has undergone the emergency measures since last year’s more stringent 51-day nationwide lockdown which helped New Zealand eliminate the virus.
The rest of New Zealand has been placed at alert level two, which mandates social distancing, caps on gathering and increases mask wearing.
It is not yet clear whether the lockdown will extend beyond midnight on Wednesday.
That’s because health authorities are yet to gain a full picture of the virus’s spread.
On Monday morning, Ardern said genomic sequencing showed the virus was one of the slightly more infectious strains.
“We were right to take a cautious approach and focus on safety because we’ve confirmed it is the UK variant,” she told Radio NZ.
“Based on that sequencing we haven’t been able to link it to any of our managed isolation facilities … it wasn’t someone who went from an airline into our managed isolation.”
She said health officials were still trying to identify the source of infection, working on two main leads.
As one of the new community cases worked at a business servicing airlines at Auckland airport, officials are looking at whether the virus may have slipped out through a transit passenger, or via laundry of air crew.
“There may be a scenario where we aren’t able to answer what happened here,” Ardern warned.
Adding to the difficulty, it appears the infected family – a mother, father and a daughter – did not fulfil personal contact tracing as the government would like.
New Zealanders are being asked to download a Covid Tracer app and scan QR codes to record movement and who they pass by.
“It’s a good timely reminder to everyone. Please turn on the Bluetooth function and keep scanning,” Ardern said.
Test results from the family’s close contacts are likely to filter through later on Monday, giving an indication of the spread.
Ardern is asking for patience, calmness and for “New Zealanders to continue to be strong and be kind”.
“Remember, we have been here before. That means we know how to get out of this: together,” she said.
Australia has halted quarantine-free travel for New Zealand for an initial three-day period, starting Monday.
Australia’s medical experts met on Sunday night to declare New Zealand a red zone, meaning people arriving from New Zealand will need to go into hotel quarantine for 14 days.