New Zealand’s largest city is being placed in a three-day lockdown following the discovery of the UK variant of virus in the community.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the move for Auckland after an urgent meeting with other top politicians in the cabinet.
The rest of New Zealand will also be placed under heightened restrictions although will not go into lockdown, Ms Ardern said.
First lockdown in six months
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.
“I’m asking New Zealanders to continue to be strong and to be kind,” Ms Ardern said at a hastily arranged press conference on Sunday evening. “I know we all feel the same way when this happens. We all get that sense of ‘not again’. But remember, we have been here before and that means we know how to get out of this again, and that is together.”
In the latest case, an Auckland mother, father and daughter caught the disease. Officials said the mother works at a catering company that does laundry for airlines, and officials are investigating whether there is a link to infected passengers. Officials said the woman had not been going aboard the planes herself.
“We are gathering all of the facts as quickly as we can, and the system that served us so well in the past is really gearing up to do so again,” said Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins.
“New Zealand has kept Covid-19 contained better than almost any other country,” Mr Hipkins said. “But as we have kept saying, there is no such thing as no risk.”
Meanwhile in the UK ministers are to begin reviewing coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England after more than 15 million people across the UK received their first dose of a vaccine.
Boris Johnson hailed the achievement – just over two months after the vaccination programme delivered its first jab – as a “significant milestone” in the fight against the disease.
Ministers have said they are “on track” to meet the target of getting an offer of a first dose to everyone the UK in the top four priority groups – including all over 70s – by Monday’s deadline.
The Prime Minister confirmed on Sunday that it had been met in England after First Minister Mark Drakeford announced on Friday that Wales had become the first of the four nations to reach it.
Meanwhile, strict new quarantine rules are coming into force requiring UK nationals returning from 33 “red list” countries to isolate in a Government-designated hotel for 10 days in an attempt to prevent new strains of the virus entering the country.
The passing of the 15 million vaccinations mark paves the way for the next phase of the the rollout – covering the next five priority groups, including the over 50s -to begin.
NHS England has already sent out 1.2 million invitations to the over 65s to book an appointment, with a similar number expected to go out this week.
The Government is aiming to get an offer of a vaccine to the estimated 17 million people in the next five groups by the end of April.
In a video message posted online on Sunday, Mr Johnson said there was still “a long way to go” and that there would “undoubtedly be bumps in the road”.\
The Prime Minister will this week begin considering how restrictions in England may be eased ahead of a statement on January 22 setting out his “road-map” out of lockdown.
He is already under pressure from some Tory MPs to push ahead amid frustration at the damage that is being done to the economy and the impact on people’s lives.
63 Conservative MPs sign our letter to the PM ?— Mark Harper (@Mark_J_Harper) February 13, 2021
? Vaccine = immunity from lockdowns & restrictions
? All pupils back in school 8 March
? Hospitality open by Easter
? No legislative restrictions after top 9 vulnerable groups protected #Road2Recovery starts here ?? pic.twitter.com/ae2IfXAS19
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