New Zealand, which has been hailed for its treatment of the coronavirus pandemic, put its largest city back in closure on Wednesday after the country recorded the first cases of COVID-19 in more than three months.
Four members of a family in Auckland tested positive, prompting Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to reintroduce strong restrictions on the city and measures for social distancing across the country by at least Friday.
To complicate the situation, health officials said two members of the infected family had visited tourist sites in the town of Rotorua, about 140 miles southwest of Auckland, expanding the number of people who might have been potentially exposed. The family had not traveled abroad.
“As we have seen in other countries where a resurgence occurs, it is extremely important to act early,”; said Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield.
“We have done this before and we can do it again,” he added.
Residents of Auckland, a city of about 1.7 million people, were given very little time to prepare for the return to level 3 restrictions, asking people to stay home, work from home and, if possible , wear masks when going outside. All schools, public facilities, bars, restaurants and businesses were closed.
Police set up checkpoints to discourage a mass exodus from Auckland as supermarkets rationed the sale of some major products amid a rush on the shelves. Long queues formed at COVID-19 testing centers in the city.
Although the source of the virus is unknown, health officials are investigating whether the virus may have been imported from goods.
New Zealand, which is holding a national election in mid-September, has managed to keep the virus in check throughout the pandemic, recording 1,225 confirmed cases and 22 deaths.
Although it has a small population, less than 5 million people, New Zealand has recorded only 4.56 deaths per million people, compared to almost 500 per million in the United States, according to figures from the University of Oxford.
In June, Ardern said she “did a little dance” to celebrate the news that New Zealand had no active COVID-19 cases.
While the resurgence of the virus after 102 days without local transmission is a hindrance to the nation’s efforts to stem the pandemic, Ardern remained optimistic.
“If we get our immediate response at this critical stage, we have the opportunity to reduce the time we will have those heavier constraints, and this is a lesson we have all learned together,” Arden said, adding that The new restrictions will be extremely frustrating for many people.
Neighboring Australia, meanwhile, recorded its deadliest day of the coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday and the largest daily increase in infections in three days.
A group of infections in Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city, prompted authorities last week to impose a night curfew, tighten restrictions on the daily movement of people and order large parts of the state economy to be closed.
Officials in the country’s far northern territory said on Tuesday they would continue to enforce strict border controls until at least 2022.
“If you can, cancel your Christmas holiday plans and stay here in the Northern Territory,” Territorial Prime Minister Michael Gunner told Australia’s ABC News.
Worldwide, the number of COVID-19 cases has now reached 20 million, with the US, Brazil and India accounting for more than half of them, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll is rising to over 740,000.
The virus has wreaked havoc on the global economy, with the monetary effects of the pandemic leaving hundreds of thousands of people worldwide without jobs or relying on government schemes.
The biggest contraction reported by any major economy so far was reported in the UK on Wednesday.
Officials there said Britain’s economy shrank by a record 20.4 per cent between April and June when it entered recession for the first time in 11 years.
“Today’s numbers show that hard times are here,” Chancellor Rishi Sunak told UK broadcaster Sky News, which like NBC News is owned by Comcast. “Hundreds of thousands of people have already lost their jobs and much more willpower.”
Britain suffered the worst coronavirus outbreak in Europe with more than 46,000 deaths so far.
Reuters contributed to this report.