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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

Oct 14, 2021 - Health

FDA will review Merck COVID-19 pill

The Merck logo. Photo Illustration by Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced on Thursday that it will meet on Nov. 30th to review Merck's experimental oral antiviral COVID-19 treatment

Why it matters: An oral antiviral drug designed to prevent or treat COVID-19 could be a key tool to combat the pandemic. Merck ended its vaccine development in January.

Oct 14, 2021 - Health

FDA panel unanimously endorses Moderna boosters for certain populations

A pharmacist prepares to give a COVID-19 booster vaccination. Photo: Karwai Tang/Getty Images

Members of the Food and Drug Administration's vaccine expert panel on Thursday endorsed boosters for Moderna recipients who are at high risk of severe COVID-19, occupational exposure to COVID-19 or are 65 years and older.

Why it matters: The unanimous decision mirrors the FDA conditions for those who qualify for a Pfizer booster.

Oct 14, 2021 - Sports

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban says he requires all employees to be vaccinated

Photo: Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said in a podcast Wednesday that he requires all of his employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Driving the news: Cuban's comments come the same week Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order Monday that prohibits COVID-19 vaccine mandates by any "entity," including employers.