New Zealand’s largest city of Auckland will go into a three-day lockdown beginning just before midnight on Sunday following the discovery of three unexplained coronavirus cases in the community.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the move after an urgent meeting with other top lawmakers in the Cabinet.
She said they decided to take a cautious approach until they find out more about the outbreak, including whether the infections are of the more contagious variants.
The lockdown is the first in New Zealand in six months and represents a significant setback in the nation’s largely successful efforts to control the virus.
New Zealand had successfully stamped out community spread, and many people elsewhere in the world looked on in envy as New Zealanders went back to work and began attending concerts and sporting events without the need to wear masks or take other precautions.
Indeed, Ardern on Sunday had planned to attend the Big Gay Out, an Auckland festival that celebrates the rainbow community and attracts tens of thousands of people. She ended up canceling those plans and returning to Wellington to manage the outbreak.
Ardern asked New Zealanders “to continue to be strong and to be kind,” at a hastily arranged press conference on Sunday evening.
New Zealand’s greatest vulnerability has been at the border. New cases are regularly caught among returning travelers, all of whom are required to spend two weeks in quarantine. Despite precautions, there have been several times when the virus has leaked out from the border before being controlled again, and officials are trying to determine whether that’s happened again.