New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has plunged Auckland into a draconian three-day lockdown after just three new coronavirus cases were recorded amongst the capital’s population of 1.5 million.
Officials said the rest of the country will also be placed under stringent restrictions but will avoid another economy-wrecking shutdown after an Auckland mother, father and daughter tested positive for the virus.
Parts of Auckland were shut down on November 12 last year after a single case of Covid-19 was recorded. In that instance, the infected person was a female university student with no immediate links to foreign travel.
In Melbourne, Australia, health officials are refusing to rule out extending Victoria State’s snap five-day lockdown as cases of the Kent mutant variant first detected in England around Christmas are recorded.
Victoria, which has recorded around 20,640 cases and 820 deaths, will close schools and ban private gatherings while masks will be required everywhere.
New Zealand has not started a vaccination programme – unlike in Britain, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has inoculated nearly 15 million people in a bid to bring the cycle of lockdowns to an end.
Ms Ardern announced that the jabs rollout will start on February 20 amid mounting pressure to start vaccination for the country’s five million people after the country recorded just 26 deaths and 2,300 cases.
The New Zealand government has refused to lift restrictions until it achieves Zero Covid – with methods of suppression including border controls, tight domestic curbs and an aggressive track and trace system combined.
In Britain, however, government scientists have recommended lifting lockdown measures when 1,000 daily cases are recorded amid pressure from Tory backbenchers who fear that shutdowns cause massive economic and societal damage – and inflict more harm than the virus.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has plunged Auckland into a draconian three-day lockdown. Pictured: Nurses at a Covid-19 testing station in Freyberg Place in November
In Australia, health officials are refusing to rule out extending Victoria State’s snap five-day lockdown as cases of the Kent mutant variant first detected in England are recorded. Pictured, Holiday Inn at Melbourne Airport where a person tested positive for Covid
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (pictured) has returned to Wellington for briefings after three members of a South Auckland family tested positive
New Zealand insists lockdown is ‘worth doing’ – despite inflicting record damage to economy
The New Zealand government has stuck by its claims that locking down the country is ‘worth’ doing – despite inflicting severe economic damage.
Its ministers have claimed that the fiscal and economic impact of the pandemic will be less bad than first feared as it claims its decision to impose one of the world’s strictest lockdowns ‘pays off’.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson announced in December that the economy had accelerated out of the lockdown-induced recession to grow a record 14 per cent in the third quarter.
New figures showed a resurgence in household spending drove the country’s recovery. The easing of some of the world’s toughest social-distancing restrictions prompted 11.1 per cent growth in service industries and 26 per cent growth in the goods producing sector.
New Zealand’s statistics agency also revised the decline in gross domestic product in the June quarter to 11 per cent, from previous estimates of a 12.2 per cent contraction.
However, the damage wrought by a nationwide lockdown remained evident in the annual growth figure, which shows economic activity fell 2.2 per cent in the year to the end of September.
Robertson attributed the record growth to the government’s decision to ‘go hard and early’ during the Covid-19 pandemic and offer support through a comprehensive wage subsidy scheme covering 1.8 million workers.
‘While New Zealand’s economy contracted in 2020, it is expected to rebound strongly in 2021, in line with countries we compare ourselves to, like Australia and the United States, and outperforming the United Kingdom and Japan relative to these countries’ 2019 starting point,’ he said.
So far, the UK has recorded nearly 117,000 Covid-related deaths, 13,308 new cases in the last 24 hours – and endured three crippling lockdowns which has seen entire sectors of the economy crushed by government action.
Cases of coronavirus are regularly being caught among travellers returning to the isolated Pacific island country, who are required by government mandate to spend two weeks in quarantine upon arrival.
Auckland, which has a population of 1.5 million, will be moved to Level 3 restrictions from midnight on Sunday for three days, meaning residents are not allowed to move freely until midnight on Wednesday.
Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins announced that health officials were moving rapidly to test and isolate close contacts. ‘There is a number of gaps in our knowledge around these cases,’ he said.
Pressure has been mounting on New Zealand Prime Minister Ms Ardern to start vaccinations for the country’s 5 million people to take advantage of its rare position of having virtually eliminated the virus domestically.
‘Last year we indicated the vaccine would arrive in quarter two, and earlier this year we updated that to quarter one,’ Ms Ardern told reporters. ‘It’s pleasing to be receiving doses this early in quarter one.’
Both New Zealand and neighbouring Australia have formally approved the vaccine jointly developed by US drugmaker Pfizer Inc and Germany’s BioNTech.
The Australian government has said it expects to begin inoculations by the end of this month, without giving a specific date.
However, Ms Ardern said the vaccination programs would have no immediate impact on a stalled trans-Tasman travel ‘bubble’.
Australia and New Zealand had hoped to allow bilateral travel by the end of March, but fresh coronavirus outbreaks in Australia have stalled those plans.
Ms Ardern said border restrictions could be eased if there was evidence that vaccines reduce transmission.
‘That will be a significant step-change if we see that evidence emerge and I’m sure that will make a difference to travel in the world,’ she said. ‘But at this stage, it won’t necessarily make a difference.’
Ms Ardern said New Zealand’s approximate 12,000 border workers would be the first to be vaccinated, followed by their household contacts.
Healthcare workers and high-risk people like the elderly would be next, before vaccinations for the wider population start in the second half of the year.
‘We have pre-purchased enough vaccines to cover all New Zealanders and to do so for free, and the Pacific as well,’ she said.
New Zealand’s medicines regulator is also in talks with AstraZeneca, Novavax and Janssen Biotech regarding approval for their Covid-19 vaccines.
It comes as Victoria’s health authorities will not rule out extending the state’s snap five-day Covid lockdown as new exposure sites are revealed and new details emerge about the Coburg dinner virus spread.
Sunday’s two new local coronavirus cases – a toddler and an unrelated hotel quarantine worker – were linked to the Holiday Inn cluster, which has now reached 16 cases.
Both had also attended a private dinner on Sydney Road, Coburg, on February 6.
The city recorded three Covid cases. Pictured, a relatively deserted Parnell Rise, Auckland
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has plunged Auckland into a draconian three-day lockdown. Pictured: A person walks through the CBD on October 8 in Auckland
How New Zealand’s swift and decisive Covid response was praised globally – while Britain suffers the worst toll in Europe
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at a Labour Party event in Wellington, New Zealand
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been praised globally for her government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Her administration imposed drastic measures quickly after imitating measures adopted by the Chinese government in Wuhan last winter.
A Lancet report noted that switching from mitigation to suppression, the New Zealand government set about eradicating Covid-19 through state action – involving a border crackdown, tough domestic curbs and quarantining.
Between February and May last year, it introduced the following tiers:
- Alert Level 1: ‘Travel restrictions are introduced. National case and contact management guidelines are implemented and communication campaigns are launched (eg, promotion of hand and respiratory hygiene, isolation and testing if symptomatic). Government COVID-19 income support and debt relief is initially established.’
- Alert Level 2: ‘Physical distancing is enforced, additional precautions are encouraged for higher-risk groups (eg, people aged >70 years) when leaving home, and specific gatherings (eg, weddings) are permitted if no more than 100 people.’
- Alert Level 3: ‘Population is asked to stay within so-called bubbles (comprising household close contacts) that can include additional support (eg, carers) and encouraged to work from home, businesses must not physically interact with public, public venues are closed, no gatherings of more than ten people are allowed, telehealth services are encouraged, and only essential inter-regional travel is permitted.’
- Alert Level 4: ‘Population is required to stay at home except for essential reasons (e.g., short periods of exercise), businesses are closed unless offering essential services (e.g., supermarkets), educational facilities and public venues are closed, and health-care services are reprioritised. A communication well-being campaign entitled Getting Through Together is launched.’
Official figures show that New Zealand recorded a negligible number of daily cases and deaths while Britain recorded the worst toll in Europe
These measures, combined with New Zealand’s isolated geography and spread-out five-million population, allowed the Government to declare that it had suppressed Covid – achieving Zero Covid for periods of time.
Official figures show that New Zealand recorded a negligible number of daily cases and deaths while Britain – a major global travel hub on the Western corner of Europe – recorded the worst toll across the Continent.
By comparison, the British government has been accused of acting too slow during the spring outbreak last year. Government scientists insist the high numbers of cases and deaths are explained by the failure of rule-breakers to comply with tough domestic and travel restrictions.
However, Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey recently sparked outrage after implying that Britain’s 100,000-plus death toll could be mostly explained by the underlying health of the nation.
In an incendiary interview with Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain, she suggested that Britain’s ageing population and the level of obesity were some of the factors behind the high death numbers from the disease.
By comparison, the British government has been accused of acting too slow during the spring outbreak last year. Government scientists insist that the high number of cases and deaths recorded across the UK is explained by a failure by rule-breakers to comply with restrictions including the ‘stay at home’ order
But she became furious when Mr Morgan said she seemed to be blaming the problems on people being too fat and too old, asking her: ‘Are you saying that the reason for us having the worst death rate in the world is because of the public? We’re too old and we’re too fat?’
A clearly angry Ms Coffey shot back: ‘I think that’s a very insulting thing that you just said. I’m conscious that there are a variety of factors that would have sadly led to being ill during this time, sadly that translating into deaths.
‘I’m very conscious that this is a very serious impact that our prime minister was in hospital, in intensive care himself last April.
‘I am conscious that we want to have a wrap-around response from people.’
The toddler’s mother has been tested three times with different test results and is also potentially infectious.
Four new exposure sites were also revealed on Sunday evening after an infectious person caught a tram to Melbourne’s popular Queen Victoria Market on Thursday, February 11.
The person caught the No.11 tram from Harbour Esplanade/Collins St at 7.55am to the William/Collins St stop at 8.10am, making it the first new exposure site.
They then caught the No. 58 Yarra Tram from the Bourke/William St stop at 8.10am to the Queen Victoria/Peel St stop just before 8.30am.
They went into the Queen Victoria Market fruit and vegetable section and the women’s toilets in section 2, making it an exposure site from 8.25am to 10.10am.
The person then caught the No.58 Yarra tram back from the Queen Victoria Market at 9.40am to the Bourke/William St stop at 9.55am making it the fourth exposure site.
Anyone there at the same time as these exposures must immediately isolate for 14 days and get tested.
Disturbing new details emerged about the dinner party at Coburg on Sunday, with health authorities revealing 38 people had gathered for the event.
Testing commander Jeroen Weimar said a number of positive cases had been traced to the function.
He rejected claims that a woman aged in her 50s who is linked to the Coburg function had gone there instead of being in isolation while infectious.
Instead, she had been infectious before she had been identified with testing.
‘The staff member was identified on Wednesday and tested positive on Wednesday this week, that is February 10,’ Mr Weimar said.
‘At that point, the social contact point of the Saturday was not identified in those early conversations.’
‘There was a negative test result that she returned as part of her normal workplace testing on the seventh but that has since been reviewed and that test is now a week positive and we have had to take the timeline back to include the sixth.’
‘The genomics is clear that this is all part of the same strain,’ Mr Weimar said.
To encourage everyone at the function to step forward with contact tracing and testing, Mr Weimar said the owner of the venue would not be fined for a potential covid regulation breach.
‘I’m not remotely interested in who did what at what time,’ he said.
Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley said contact tracers had reduced the number of primary close contacts from the Holiday Inn cluster down from 996 to 940.
Of nearly 1000 close contacts, 129 are direct family relations of those who tested positive from the Holiday Inn exposure.
‘It is too early to say whether we have been successful, but the signs show Victorians are doing the right thing, supporting each other, and our test, trace and isolate system is staying ahead of this,’ he told reporters on Sunday.
‘But it is too early to say as yet whether this fantastic effort by all Victorians has got us there.’
‘We will continue to monitor it on a day-by-day basis, really it is up to the shared effort of all Victorians.’
Mr Foley said the child and the quarantine worker revealed as positive on Sunday had been from separate households.
‘Both have been in isolation since February 12 and both tested and returned a positive sample in isolation on February 13.’
The toddler has attended the Goodstart Early Learning Centre in Glenroy, but the childcare centre has not yet been added to the list of exposure sites.
Regarding the three different test outcomes for the child’s mother, Testing commander Jeroen Weimar said the experts were working on it.
‘Our epidemiologists and specialists are working with her and with our labs to be clear about the nature of what possible infection she may have, whether she is at the start of our infectious period or whether she is coming towards the end,’ he said.
‘Serology is being done, and we will work out over the next few hours exactly where this individual stands.’
Authorities have also identified four more exposure sights after the three-year-old child and quarantine worker visited several venues while infected.
One of the cases visited a Woolworths at Broadmeadows Central, in Melbourne’s north, between 12.15pm and 12.30pm on February 2.
The person then visited Pascoe Vale Oak Park Sports and Aquatic Centre between 4pm and 7.30pm on February 10.
They also went to Elite Swimming in Pascoe Vale between 5pm and 6pm on February 8.
Another positive Covid-19 case visited Broadmeadows Ferguson Plarre Bakehouse on Pascoe Vale Road between 12.30pm and 12.45pm on February 9.
‘If you have been to these sites you will need to isolate, to get tested and to stay isolated for 14 days,’ Mr Foley said.
‘That goes above and beyond the general circuit maker that we are currently in,’ he said.
The health minister refused to comment further on the original Holiday Inn case after a man was accused of sparking the Covid-19 outbreak after using a nebuliser.
‘Since I have been the minister for health I have made it crystal clear that I do not comment on individual cases and put people and families through trauma,’ he said.
‘And I will not be starting that today. This family needs to put all of its effort into getting well.’
The new cases come after Greek tennis player Michail Pervolarakis tested positive to Covid-19 after he flew from Melbourne to South Africa.
Pervolarakis had represented his home country at the ATP Cup before he left the city on February 9.
Tennis Australia says he tested negative to Covid-19 the day he left Melbourne.
‘His own medical advice is that it was likely he contracted the virus in Doha or on the plane,’ a spokesperson said.
Pervolarakis took to Instagram on Saturday to say he was ‘completely asymptomatic’.
‘I am completely asymptomatic at the moment and will have to quarantine in an isolation facility in Potchefstroom,’ he said on his Instagram account.
‘I am not a person that complains, but I feel that I need to express my disappointment with the conditions we are in.’
Victoria recorded one new case in hotel quarantine, bringing the total number of active cases in the state to 22.
Mr Weimar added all 12 staff had tested negative at the Brunetti Cafe in Terminal 4 at Melbourne Airport.
The cafe was listed as an exposure site after a Covid-19 positive person visited the venue on February 9.
An international traveller makes their way inside Novotel Melbourne
A general view of an empty street in the central business district of Melbourn