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Two new coronavirus infections that put New Zealand’s largest city on lockdown on Monday can be traced back to the British variant of the disease, which official figures said were the first to be discovered in the country.

The Department of Health said genomic sequencing identified the Auckland infections as the cause of the highly contagious strain first found in the UK and that there was no link to any other positive cases discovered so far in New Zealand.

“This result confirms the decision to take swift and decisive action in recent cases to identify and eliminate the possibility of further transmission,” said the ministry.

There have been no results yet from sequencing a third case related to the Auckland cluster, all members of the same family, which showed up on Sunday and prompted Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to order a three-day lockdown in Auckland.

It was the first crackdown in almost six months in the Pacific island nation that received widespread praise for its handling of the pandemic, with just 25 deaths out of a population of five million.

Nearly two million Auckland residents were ordered to stay home from midnight on Sunday when the third stage lockdown began. Schools and non-essential businesses had to close.

The city is also delimited from the rest of New Zealand, and entry and exit into the metropolis is severely restricted for the next three days.

Tracing the source of infection

The rest of the country has been put on alert level two, with people using public transportation and gatherings limited to 100 people wearing masks.

“I know that if this happens, we will all think the same – not again,” said Ardern as he announced the measures on Sunday afternoon.

“But remember, we’ve been here before, which means we know how to get out of here – together.”

Health officials said a mother who works for a company that provides laundry and catering services for international flights and her daughter tested positive on Saturday before the father returned a positive sample on Sunday.

New Zealand health director-general Ashley Bloomfield said the initial focus is on the mother’s workplace “because of its obvious border ties.”

But he added it was “too early to rule out or exclude a source of transmission” and the woman had not been at work for eight days before testing positive.

Auckland spent more than two weeks in lockdown last August after a virus outbreak was linked to a worker handling imported frozen cargo, but New Zealand has been largely loose restrictions for months.

Several cases of COVID-19 were also discovered in the city three weeks ago before being traced back to a hotel where people had quarantined after arriving from overseas.

Ardern has received wide praise for managing the pandemic, with New Zealand recording fewer than 2,000 infections.

The country closed its borders and implemented a strict five-week lockdown in March and April of last year, with occasional virus outbreaks quickly contained since then.

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© 2021 AFP

Quote: The New Zealand virus outbreak is the first of the UK variant: officials (2021, February 15) were discovered on February 15, 2021 from variant.html

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