As of Monday, New Zealand had officially gone 100 days without community spread of COVID-19, according to a report by Axios. The country's Ministry of Health confirmed the accomplishment in an email to reporters across the world. However, on Wednesday, the country went into high alert after detecting four new cases.
New Zealand seemed to be becoming a world leader when it comes to coronavirus response, as it passed 100 consecutive days with no new COVID-19 cases. Residents were even allowed to return to normal day-to-day life in many respects — until Wednesday. Four new possible cases were detected, all within one family in the city of Auckland. More patients are now displaying typical symptoms of COVID-19, according to a report by NPR, and are awaiting results of a test now. In the meantime, the country is trying to roll back its reopening rapidly, and public health officials are working on contact tracing.
"Two are work colleagues and two are another related household that one of the cases had stayed at in the preceding week," New Zealand's director-general of health Dr. Ashley Bloomfield said in a press conference on Wednesday.
Starting at noon local time on Wednesday, the country returned to an "alert level two," setting the city of Auckland slightly higher at level three. This status will last for at least three days. The whole country has been on a level one since June 9.
Under New Zealand's rules, alert level three will mean that most businesses and schools will need to remain closed, and bars and restaurants can only offer take-out. Meanwhile, an alert level two is a little looser on public spaces, but safety precautions such as face masks and social distancing are either required or highly encouraged by the government.
The return to strict lockdown measures reportedly had a measurable impact on life in New Zealand, with familiar patterns of panic buying and crowded stores. Supermarkets were apparently overwhelmed with the rush, particularly in Auckland. Testing centers also seeing long lines, with thousands of people seeking confirmation about whether or not they have the virus.
New Zealand officials are reportedly optimistic that these cases can be contained and traced, but they are taking no chances. In the meantime, many public health officials are pointing to the country's current precautions as a good example of how the response should be handled.