New Zealand reports two new local coronavirus cases ahead of Auckland lockdown decision

FILE PHOTO: People jog past a social distancing sign on the first day of New Zealand’s new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) safety measure that mandates wearing of a mask on public transport, in Auckland, New Zealand, August 31, 2020. REUTERS/Fiona Goodall//File Photo

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand reported two new locally transmitted cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, just hours before authorities are due to announce whether a lockdown in the country’s biggest city of Auckland will be extended.

Auckland’s nearly 2 million residents were plunged into a snap three-day lockdown on Monday, after a family of three – two adults and a child – were diagnosed with COVID-19, with at least two determined to be the more transmissable UK variant.

The two latest cases are siblings studying at the same school as the child, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told members of a health select committee.

The Auckland lockdown is due to end at midnight on Wednesday and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is expected to announce her decision at 1630 local time (0330 GMT). She is also expected to reveal whether the remainder of the country steps down a level on the country’s COVID-response scale.

The Auckland lockdown was the first in the country for about six months, after a hard nationwide shutdown early in the pandemic appeared to have largely eliminated local transmission.

The fresh outbreak prompted neighbouring Australia to suspend an arrangement that allowed New Zealanders to enter Australia without serving a 14-day hotel quarantine period.

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