Updated Feb 15, 2021 - World

New Zealand confirms U.K. coronavirus strain as city locks down

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces the timetable for the arrival of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on February 12, 2021 in Auckland
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during a news conference in Auckland, New Zealand, on Friday. Photo: Lynn Grieveson - Newsroom/Newsroom via Getty Images

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday it was "absolutely right" for New Zealand's most populous city to lock down, after genome sequencing linked a COVID-19 outbreak in an Auckland family to a more virulent strain.

Why it matters: It's the first time the B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the U.K. has been found in NZ. Auckland locked down late Sunday for three days over the three community cases amid concern it might be a more contagious strain.

  • Restrictions weren't imposed for the rest of New Zealand, but social distancing and other precautions will be reintroduced — just as the country's events season heats up.
  • There had been no restrictions in NZ since last October.

Driving the news: The mother and her daughter tested positive for the coronavirus on  Saturday and the father on Sunday, per the Ministry of Health.

  • Scientists have yet to determine the origins of the community cases. But the mother works at the city's airport, where newly returned New Zealand travelers pass through on their way to managed hotel quarantine.
  • Ardern said during a Sunday news conference that a three-day "should give us enough time to gather further information, undertake large scale testing and establish if there has been wider community transmission."

For the record: Auckland entered level 3 restrictions under NZ's four-tier alert level system, with people urged to stay in their household "bubbles." Gatherings of up to 10 are permitted in exceptional circumstances, such as funerals.

  • Public venues must close and only essential services like pharmacies and grocery stores can open for in-person contact, with distancing measures in place.

The big picture: This is Auckland's third lockdown. Level 3 restrictions were imposed in August, before being moved down to level 2 by the month's end. All domestic restrictions were removed in October.

By the numbers: There are currently 47 active COVID-19 cases, with 44 in managed hotel isolation.

  • A total of 1,974 cases have been confirmed since the pandemic reached New Zealand last March.

Of note: Ardern announced Monday that the first batch of coronavirus vaccines had arrived in New Zealand. Border staff are expected to become the first to receive doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine this Saturday.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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