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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.

Go deeper

Updated Jan 27, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Omicron is finally burning out — It's very difficult to get access to antiviral COVID treatments — Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Alaska governor joins Texas lawsuit over National Guard vaccine mandate — Navy discharges 45 sailors for refusing vaccine — Spotify to remove Neil Young's music after his Joe Rogan ultimatum.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker
Updated Nov 26, 2021 - Health

Europe, Asia tighten borders in fear of new COVID variant

Passengers stand at the check-in at Frankfurt Airport. Photo: Boris Roessler/dpa via Getty Images

Countries across Europe and Asia are rushing through new travel restrictions in response to a new COVID variant identified by scientists in South Africa.

The big picture: Israel, Japan, the U.K., France, Germany, Italy and Singapore are moving to restrict entry from countries in the south of Africa, AP reports. Many are also adding quarantines for their own citizens upon return from the region.

Nov 26, 2021 - Health

Fauci: U.S. "rushing" to get scientific data about new COVID variant

Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

U.S. public health officials were set to speak Friday with their South Africa counterparts as they sought scientific details about a new COVID-19 variant already prompting European and Asian countries to enact new travel restrictions.

Driving the news: Anthony Fauci, President Biden's chief medical adviser, told CNN Friday "we're rushing now to get that scientific data to try and make an informed decision" on a possible travel ban.