New Zealand’s largest city began a three-day lockdown on Monday that forces two million people to stay at home, as authorities strive to contain the country’s first outbreak of the highly contagious variant located in the United Kingdom. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ordered a 72-hour lockdown in Auckland after three members of a family were found to be infected in the city. Schools and non-essential businesses were forced to close and residents were prohibited from leaving the city except for some essential needs.

The Health Ministry said the sequencing showed that two of the cases were caused by the strain that was first detected in the UK. Evidence for the third person is still pending. “This result reinforces the decision to take quick and forceful measures around the latest cases to detect and eradicate the possibility of any other transmission,” the ministry said. It is the first lockdown in New Zealand in almost six months. The country was praised for its management of the pandemic, with only 25 deaths per a population of five million. The rest of the country was put on a lower alert level, with the obligation to wear masks on public transport and meetings limited to a maximum of 100 people.


For its part, Australia announced today the suspension of its travel bubble with New Zealand, following the cases detected in Auckland. Following an emergency meeting on Sunday night, the Ministry of Health decided that flights from the island will be considered as “red zone” for the next three days and all travelers from the country must comply with a mandatory quarantine of 14 days in a hotel. The travel bubble, applied intermittently since October, allowed New Zealanders to enter Australia without the need for quarantines, although it only worked in one direction, as travelers from Australia to New Zealand did have to be confined.

Meanwhile, the authorities are investigating the origin of these three new infections in Auckland. The measure taken by the Canberra government comes on the same day that the first 142,000 doses of the Pfizer pharmaceutical vaccine arrived on Australian soil, which will allow the start of the vaccination campaign as of February 22. Both Australia and New Zealand are two of the countries that have best contained the pandemic, thanks to the prompt taking of measures such as the closure of their borders. Australia has so far registered 28,900 infections, including 909 deaths.