When NZ's COVID-free streak was broken: How our most recent cluster unfolded

It all unravelled on February 14, when COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced New Zealand's COVID-19-free streak had been broken.

The country went on to record 15 cases of coronavirus over the next couple of weeks and became known as the Auckland February COVID-19 cluster (also known as the Valentine Day cluster).

Hipkins confirmed the two new cases just before 1pm - a year 9 student at Papatoetoe High School (Case A) and her mother, a worker at LSG SkyChefs at Auckland Airport (Case B).

Just half an hour later, Hipkins and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield announced a third person had tested positive (Case C), Case A's father.

Around 7pm, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made an impromptu press conference where she revealed an alert level change. Auckland was plunged back into alert level 3 lockdown, while the rest of the country moved to level 2.

The cases forced the closure of the high school while students and teachers got tested for the virus. New Plymouth was also on high alert as cases A and B had recently returned from a trip to the city.

No new cases were recorded on February 15 and 16, but two more (Cases D and E) were announced on the 17th - siblings who both attended Papatoetoe High.

One of the cases was also a worker at the Cavendish Drive Manukau McDonalds, forcing the business to close for a deep clean.

The same day, Auckland moved down to alert level 2 and the rest of New Zealand shifted to level 1 as minimal cases had emerged.

However, on the 18th, 19th and 22nd of February, the Ministry announced three new COVID-19 cases, all in a second household (Cases F, G and H).

When Auckland moved back to alert level 1 on February 23, rumours circulated there were new cases, which the Ministry confirmed that night.

The three new cases included a casual-plus contact of the existing Auckland cluster (Case I), along with two of their siblings (Cases J and K).

Case J was a teenager who worked at Kmart Botany and visited Dark Vapes in East Tamaki while potentially infectious, while Case K was an infant sibling.

It was soon revealed household three had also held a private home viewing on behalf of the home's owners on Saturday, February 20.

"The viewing lasted half an hour and was attended by three people," the Ministry of Health said. 

"The agent and three attendees were all contacted by public health officials on Tuesday. They have all been tested and are awaiting their results. The home is not regarded as a location of interest as the identities of everyone present is known."

On the 26th, one of their household contacts, a KFC Botany Downs, employee tested positive (Case L). 

Case L sparked outrage when Ardern claimed the 19-year-old worked while she was supposed to be self-isolating. But the teenager pushed back, saying she did not receive clear instructions to self-isolate before her February 22 shift.

The Ministry announced two new cases on February 27 (Cases M and N) from a fourth household with links to Papatoetoe High School - however, that household member had returned three negative tests.

Case M was a 21-year-old who had visited a number of locations while potentially infectious, including City Fitness Papatoetoe and the Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) Manukau campus. Case N was their mother.

Jacinda Ardern placed Auckland back into alert level 3 as a precaution, forcing the cancellation of events including Round the Bays.

February 28th marked a year since New Zealand's first COVID-19 case, and another member of household 3 tested positive (Case O).

On March 1, it was also revealed the mothers of households two and four had breached lockdown rules by going for a walk during alert level 3 last month. 

Since then, New Zealand has remained almost COVID-free, with just one new case reported on April 8 - a security worker at an MIQ hotel.

The Government has also announced a quarantine-free travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand and vaccines are rolling out around the country.

Steps are well underway toward a return to a pre-COVID life, but with travel restrictions around the world still in place, only time will tell before we really return to normality.