Updated Aug 19, 2021 - World

New Zealand's PM says scientists have solved COVID outbreak "puzzle"

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks during a COVID-19 response update at Parliament on August 18, 2021 in Wellington, New Zealand.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks during a COVID-19 response update at Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand, on Wednesday. Photo: Mark Mitchell - Pool/Getty Images

New Zealand scientists linked the country's growing COVID-19 cluster to the Delta outbreak that began in Sydney, Australia — and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Thursday they're "fairly certain" they've found the source.

Why it matters: Since the country entered its highest pandemic restrictions just before midnight Tuesday over one positive local test result, scientists have uncovered links to a traveler who arrived in NZ from Sydney on Aug. 7.

  • The World Health Organization has praised New Zealand for its rapid COVID-19 genome sequencing and "unique" targeted modeling technology that can predict down to the suburb where the coronavirus might spread.

What they're saying: "Today we believe we have uncovered the piece of the puzzle we were looking for," Ardern said at a news conference Thursday.

  • "And that means our ability to circle the virus, lock it down and stamp it out generally has greatly improved."

The big picture: Ardern imposed alert level 4 restrictions nationwide following the first positive test result in the community for nearly six months.

  • As the number of coronavirus cases in the Auckland community rose to 21 on Thursday, Ardern announced that 12- to 15-year-old children would be eligible for the vaccine from Sept. 1.

Of note: Officials see lockdown enforcement as another key tool in once again banishing the virus from the community. There's a visible police presence across the country and police have made several arrests for health order breaches.

  • Police prosecuted dozens of people for breaching pandemic rules during NZ's only other nationwide lockdown, early in the pandemic.

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

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