New Zealand has recorded three new community cases of COVID-19 - a father, mother and daughter from the same south Auckland household.
A string of cases were detected in the community last month, but all four - a mother, father and child from North Auckland and a Northland woman - were linked to the Pullman Hotel, a managed isolation facility housing new arrivals.
According to COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, these latest infections are not linked to the country's managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) system - however, the mother is an employee at the Auckland Airport branch of LSG Sky Chefs, indicating there is a connection between the cases and the border.
During a press conference following the announcement, Hipkins reiterated that the source of the infections is currently unknown.
The news has sent a shockwave through New Zealand on an otherwise sleepy Sunday afternoon, with Auckland Mayor Phil Goff reassuring the public that the announcement offers proof that the "system is working".
"The detection of these cases demonstrates that the system is working and is picking up potential transmission quickly. It’s now up to everyone to keep scanning in with the NZ COVID Tracer app, stay home and get tested if you feel sick, and follow good hygiene practices," Goff tweeted shortly before 2pm.
"We all know what to do now, and we know we can beat COVID-19 again if we have to. Please keep following the health guidelines including scanning the COVID Tracer app--this is the best way to keep everyone safe."
He also urged Aucklanders not to overwhelm the city's testing clinics, reiterating that only those who are symptomatic - or those who were at one of the specified locations of interest - should seek a test.
While New Zealanders expressed their shock at the news on social media, many said they were unsurprised and had expected to see more cases in the community.
A number also conveyed concern that the woman had not been tested since January 18, despite health officials reiterating that frontline workers are required to undertake frequent testing to ensure there has been no transmission at the border.
"While it's not too surprising that the more virulent strain is escaping into the community, what I did find surprising and alarming was that the front line worker had her last test result on January 18," one tweeted. "How often are we getting our people checked?"
"Uh-oh. This doesn't bode well," said another.
"If we had vaccinated front line workers by now this wouldn’t have been an issue. Where is the urgency with this Government?" another pitched in.
"Again the Government's systems have failed us and in one of the most vulnerable areas in Auckland."
ACT leader David Seymour has condemned New Zealand's border system in a statement on Sunday afternoon, arguing that the Government should have implemented "better contact tracing, testing, and vaccination over the past year".
"News of new COVID-19 community cases show New Zealand is a sitting duck, hoping for luck," he tweeted.
The current locations of interest identified include the Manukau Pak'nSave, Papatoetoe High School and a number of tourist attractions in New Plymouth which are yet to be specified. The daughter is a student at the school and two of the cases visited the supermarket briefly on Saturday. People in-store between 3:45pm and 5pm are advised to isolate and get tested.