Jun 23, 2021 - World

New Zealand raises COVID alert level in capital after infected Aussie visits

A security guard in a medical face mask turns away visitors to the Te Papa National Museum, where there was a Covid-19 exposure site, on June 23, 2021 in Wellington, New Zealand.
A security guard turns away visitors to Te Papa National Museum in Wellington, New Zealand, which closed due to being identified as a COVID-19 exposure site following the Australian's visit. Photo: Lynn Grieveson/Getty Images

New Zealand's capital Wellington had its COVID-19 alert level raised on Wednesday after an Australian contracted a highly infectious strain in Sydney before traveling to NZ and testing positive upon his return.

Why it matters: This is the first positive case related to the Australia-New Zealand quarantine-free "travel bubble" since it opened in April. NZ last confirmed a COVID infection in the community on Feb. 28.

  • The government has also paused travel between New Zealand and the state of New South Wales — where a growing cluster of over 30 cases in state capital Sydney prompted officials to impose restrictions including on travel outside the metropolitan area.

Details: Wellington is now at alert level two under NZ's strict four-tier coronavirus response system, which limits gatherings to 100, after it emerged the traveler infected with the B.1.617.2 (Delta) variant had visited several locations in the city.

  • Health Minister Chris Hipkins stressed at a news conference in Wellington: "This is not a lockdown ... these are precautionary measures which will remain in place while we contact trace and test all of those we need to."

The big picture: The coronavirus vaccine rollout in both Australia and New Zealand has been slower than other OECD nations, with 21% of the Australian population receiving at least one dose and 11% in New Zealand as of June 15, per AAP.

Between the lines: New Zealand's government has implemented a targeted rollout using only the Pfizer vaccine, focusing on border and quarantine facility workers and vulnerable groups.

  • It's due to begin a staggered rollout to the general population on July 28 and aims to have 90% vaccine coverage by the year's end.
  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said she thought it important for pandemic-stricken countries to distribute the vaccine first.
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