New Zealand city goes into strict lockdown after cases of UK variant discovered - what we know so far

New Zealand’s biggest city, Auckland, has been placed under a fresh lockdown by the country’s prime minister.

Jacida Ardern ordered the short, three-day restrictions from Monday 15 February after new community cases of Covid were identified.

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Genomic testing has shown that the cases were the UK variant of the virus.

The country, which has a population of five million, has been globally admired for its coronavirus response as it has gone months without any community transmission.

So, how many new local Covid-19 cases were found, and what are the tight Auckland restrictions?

Here’s everything you need to know.

How many new Covid cases were identified?

Auckland entered level three restrictions until midnight on Wednesday after three new local coronavirus cases were discovered.

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The cases are a mother, father and daughter from the same South Auckland family.

It is not yet known how the three residents contracted the virus, but Jacinda Ardern said health officials were working on two main leads.

The prime minister told Radio NZ: “We were right to take a cautious approach and focus on safety because we’ve confirmed it is the UK variant.

“Based on that sequencing we haven’t been able to link it to any of our managed isolation facilities... it wasn’t someone who went from an airline into our managed isolation.”

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The main focus is on the mother’s occupation as she works in the laundry department for an airline catering facility.

Officials are looking at whether she contracted the virus from a transit passenger or through the laundry of an air crew member.

Seven of the mother’s nine co-workers have tested negative for coronavirus so far.

Forty-two of the household’s close contacts, including the daughter’s classmates and teachers, have been identified with all test results coming back negative.

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Before they developed symptoms, two of the family members had taken a short break in New Plymouth between 6 and 7 February and visited a range of locations.

The family is now in quarantine while a fourth household member is also isolating.

On Monday 15 February, the country’s Ministry of Health said no new virus cases had been identified in the community but investigations into the Auckland cases were still ongoing.

However, it said there were another five cases in managed isolation, bringing New Zealand’s total number of active cases to 47.

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It said: “The priority is for close contacts and casual plus contacts to be tested so we can understand any risk in the community.”

What are Auckland’s tight restrictions?

Residents in Auckland - some 1.7 million people - are required to stay at home due to the discovery of the new local cases.

They will be able to do essential shopping and go to work, but schools and non-essential shops will close and entry to and from the city is restricted.

Ms Ardern said the country was going “hard and early” with the tight restrictions and that the three days would allow the government to test more people and determine if there was any community transmission.

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It is possible that the lockdown could be extended past midnight on Wednesday if the virus spreads further.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said: "New cases of Covid-19 in the community was something none of us wanted to happen.”

He said the tight measures were the “best way to stamp out the virus”.

The rest of New Zealand faces alert level two restrictions, which includes social distancing, caps on gatherings and more mask-wearing.

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How many Covid deaths have there been in New Zealand?

New Zealand closed its borders and enforced a tight 51-day national lockdown last year which helped the country to eliminate the virus altogether.

Thanks to its stringent virus strategy, New Zealand has recorded just over 2,300 cases of Covid-19 since the pandemic began.

To date, there have been only 25 deaths from coronavirus in the country.

Since the first lockdown, New Zealand has been able to lift most of its restrictions.

The few cases of community transmission have been quickly dealt with using localised lockdowns like the one imposed in Auckland.