Jacinda Ardern has extended New Zealand’s travel ban on Australia as Auckland remains in an ultra-strict lockdown for at least another week.
The Kiwi prime minister said NZ’s largest city will stay in a level four lockdown until September 21 after recording 33 new Covid cases on Monday.
The rest of the country will stay at level two restrictions including mandatory masks and social distancing, until at least Monday – despite zero cases outside Auckland.
Auckland is in the world’s toughest lockdown with even takeaway and delivery food banned and travel in and out prohibited.
Jacinda Ardern (pictured) has extended New Zealand’s travel ban with Australia as Auckland’s strict level four lockdown is lengthened by another week
While the outbreak is ongoing, flights between the city and Australia are banned, even with quarantine.
The quarantine-free Trans-Tasman bubble was cancelled months ago after Sydney’s Covid outbreak began.
‘It’s clear there is no widespread transmission of the virus in Auckland, but so long as we have new cases emerging, there are risks,’ Ms Ardern told a news conference.
‘The fact that we are finding them through surveillance and community testing, rather than through contact tracing, that is what we’re concerned about because that does present risk.’
Ms Ardern said level four lockdowns remain the best method for controlling the outbreak.
‘We don’t want to risk the sacrifices everyone has made, and all the hard work you’ve put in, by moving to alert level three too quickly,’ she said.
Under the city’s level four lockdown, quarantine-free travel to and from Australia has been suspended. Pictured: Women walk through Bondi, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, on Monday
One flight is scheduled from Sydney to Auckland on Wednesday, but it is limited to travellers with an exemption to enter New Zealand and is not available for public booking.
Those departing Australia from NSW, which is also fighting a Delta outbreak, must have not entered a Covid hotspots in the past two weeks and are required to submit a negative test prior to boarding the flight.
They will also need to quarantine for 14 days after touching down across the Tasman.
Ms Ardern said the country’s zero-Covid strategy – with harsh lockdowns used even for a handful of cases – helped bring the latest outbreak under control but that ‘we haven’t quite finished the job yet’.
She admitted there ‘is not widespread transmission of the virus in Auckland’ but said a handful of cases not linked to any known outbreaks are causing concern, because it means not all cases have been discovered yet.
Most New Zealanders remain vulnerable to infection, because the country has fully vaccinated just a third of its population.
Of the 33 cases discovered on Monday, one of them – a woman from the suburb of Middlemore – had no connection to any known outbreak.
There were 33 new locally-acquired Covid cases in Auckland (pictured) on Monday as the city braces for another week under strict level four restrictions
Kaiwaka Cheese Shop owner Kristel Faber says she is glad to be back serving customers in Northland, which is just outside Auckland and therefore back at level 2 restrictions
She tested positive after going into hospital for an unrelated condition, and seven of her family members have also tested positive since.
‘The detection of mystery cases unlinked to the current outbreak is concerning,’ immunologist Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu of University of Otago Wellington said.
‘Community transmission appears to continue, and it will be important to identify and break new transmission paths for the virus quickly. The unlinked cases highlight the need for everyone to remain vigilant.’
Ms Ardern said ministers have agreed in principle that Auckland should move to Level 3 restrictions – meaning people are allowed to socialise in bubbles and move around their local areas – but that the move will only be signed off next week.
Offices, schools and public venues would still remain closed.
Police and navy personnel check cars coming in and out of Auckland with all but the most essential travel banned
New Zealand’s Covid strategy saw borders shut quickly and harsh lockdowns brought in to stamp out cases before they spread.
It has meant the country’s case and death totals have remained low – with just 3,593 infections throughout the whole of the pandemic, and 27 deaths.
The strategy has also meant that life has remained relatively normal for most people between the periods of lockdown.
However, as Covid has mutated and become more infectious the strategy has become harder to sustain, with outbreaks of the Delta variant proving difficult to eradicate entirely.