New Zealand loses coronavirus-free status after more than 100 days


New Zealand has reported its first new cases of COVID-19, after remaining COVID-free for 102 days.

New Zealand locked down nursing homes nationwide Wednesday after a 102-day streak without the coronavirus ended, as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the outbreak could force her to postpone next month's general election.

"We have seen overseas how quickly the virus can re-emerge and spread in places where it was previously under control, and we need to be prepared to quickly stamp out any future cases in New Zealand", he continued.

As a result, Auckland moves to level 3 restrictions from 12 noon tomorrow.

The restriction would be applied for three days until Friday.

"The rest of the country will be raised to a level two alert, which limits the size of gatherings both inside and outside, and hospitality services must be seated and separated".

The city-wide lockdown - the wider Auckland region is home to almost 2 million of New Zealand's 5 million people - was a "cautious" approach, said Ardern, but the three-day window gave officials time to gather the necessary information about the outbreak before she made longer-term decisions. "Act as if you have covid and the people around you have covid", she said.

The government launched a raft of measures offering economic support to businesses and individuals affected by COVID-19 and the lockdown, including $9.3bn in wage subsidies and a $20bn business loan initiative whereby the government agrees to provide guarantees of up to 50% for new loans to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

The order provides the legal basis to require people to stay at home, unless they are working in places where it is safe for them to do so.

Gatherings of more than 10 people in Auckland are not allowed and are restricted to funerals, tangihanga and wedding services only.

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Ashley Bloomfield says a woman in her 20s, who is part of the Auckland family now in self-isolation, visited the Bay of Plenty town while symptomatic.

Fast-food outlets are also operating under the new alert levels, with all other eateries were also open as usual.

Mt Hutt operations manager James Urquhart says the ski field closed on Wednesday so staff could be briefed on the plan for operating while in level 2.

The first case was a person is in their 50s who lives in South Auckland.

They have returned two positive results.

Three other family members of the six in the house have tested positive for coronavirus; the others have tested negative.

"We got on top of the clusters and isolated them before there were too many of them", epidemiologist Brian Cox at the University of Otago in Dunedin told NPR. The woman and one of the pre-schoolers have tested positive, Bloomfield said. But Ardern said she was delaying the dissolution until at least Monday in case lawmakers needed to meet at short notice.

DHBs are also planning "pop up clinics", Bloomfield said.

The Ministry of Health would work closely with DHBs throughout the country to ensure there are enough tests to meet demand.