New Zealand Enters Level 4 Lockdown as Country's COVID Case Total Nears 3,000

New Zealand is due to go onto its highest COVID alert level after the country reported a community case for the first time in months.

On Tuesday, the New Zealand Ministry of Health announced that officials were investigating a positive case of COVID in the city of Auckland. A public health unit has been conducting interviews with the person in order to trace their contacts.

The health ministry said in a statement: "A hard and early response is the best tool to stamp out any potential spread and everyone in New Zealand is asked to stay calm, be kind and play their part while we gather more information on the potential case."

Just hours after the case was announced, New Zealand said it would enter Alert Level 4 on its four-stage COVID alert system.

Under Alert Level 4 everyone must stay home and only leave for grocery shopping, exercise, or to attend necessary work. People must also only make physical contact with others inside their household bubble.

Businesses such as bars, gyms, cinemas and museums must also all close, and both indoor and outdoor events such as funerals and weddings can't go ahead.

The country's new lockdown was set to start at 11:59 p.m. local time on Tuesday 17 and last for three days, apart from in Auckland and on the Coromandel Peninsular, which will probably be in lockdown for the next seven days.

The country's government-run Unite Against COVID-19 group said the lockdown was "a response to a community outbreak in Auckland which is currently under investigation and possibly linked to the Delta variant."

The last community outbreak in New Zealand occurred back in February, ABC News reported.

Strict Border Controls

Throughout the pandemic New Zealand has largely avoided COVID outbreaks through a combination of lockdowns and very strict border controls—the country has been closed to almost everyone who isn't a resident or a citizen.

New Zealand has reported a total of just 26 deaths since the start of the pandemic and 2,927 cases, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern previously said the country could start to reopen to international visitors early in 2022 if the nation's vaccine rollout is complete—but so far the rollout has been relatively slow.

As of August 16 the country had administered a total of 2,554,150 COVID vaccine doses. Of this, 934,207 were second doses.

The rate of vaccination has increased in recent weeks, but the number of fully vaccinated people in New Zealand accounts for only 17.25 percent of the country's total population, according to Johns Hopkins data.

Jacinda Ardern
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks at a press conference on August 17, 2021, in Wellington, New Zealand. The country is due to go into a short lockdown on Tuesday night, local time. Hagen Hopkins/Getty