Auckland to exit lockdown on Sunday

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has defended the need for a lockdown in Auckland.
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has defended the need for a lockdown in Auckland.

Aucklanders have been buoyed by the news their latest COVID-19 lockdown will end on Sunday morning.

After health officials reported a fifth successive day without community transmission on Friday, New Zealand's cabinet agreed to end the lockdown a week after it began.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the lockdown in a press conference late on Saturday night after contact tracers failed to immediately identify a link to previous cases.

She defended the need for the lockdown on Friday, saying the low case numbers and link to established cases only became evident after the lockdown was called.

"And even if there had been, there were a large number of exposure events which posed a significant risk," she said.

The cabinet decision takes Auckland from alert level three to level two, and the rest of New Zealand from level two to level one.

Ms Ardern said cabinet would meet to decide whether to move Auckland to alert level one late next week.

Just 15 people were infected by the latest cluster, which began on Valentine's Day, with no deaths to date.

Infuriating many, a number of Kiwis infected in the Valentine's Day cluster either didn't follow or didn't understand isolation rules, going to work or school or to the gym while they had the virus.

Additionally, evidence of bungled government communications has emerged, making New Zealand's fourth lockdown - and the third endured by Aucklanders alone - the most frustrating.

The first lockdown, a hard 51-day affair beginning last March, was an almighty shock to the system but was supported by Kiwis and produced the country's stunning elimination of the virus.

Roughly 1.7 million people within greater Auckland returned to lockdown in August when a family of four tested positive in South Auckland.

That lockdown lasted 18 days, with 179 people infected and three deaths.

There is still no definitive assessment of how the virus returned to the community, though officials believe the virus found its way out of the country's managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) system.

Both the third and the fourth lockdown sprung from the Valentine's Day cluster.

Unlike on previous occasions, the government ended the third lockdown while there was still a lingering trail of community cases emerging, believing they had contact traced and isolated the most at risk.

Australian Associated Press