Coronavirus: A week of Delta in New Zealand - a timeline of our new COVID-19 community outbreak so far

At 2:30pm last Tuesday, the Ministry of Health sent out a press release to media advising of a new COVID-19 case in the community with no known links to the border.

Since then New Zealand has recorded 147 more cases, hundreds of locations of interest and thousands of contacts - and been plunged into another lockdown.

The virus circulating in the community has been confirmed to be the highly infectious Delta variant, leading to fears the country - and particularly Auckland - could be at alert level 4 for weeks.

Here's how our week of COVID-19 in the community unfolded.

Tuesday, August 17

It was a day that started as our 170th without a case in the community and ended with New Zealand in lockdown.

Early in the afternoon, the Ministry of Health learned of a new COVID-19 case in the community and placed it under investigation. A press release was sent to media at 2:30pm explaining the case is located in Auckland and a link with the border or managed isolation is yet to be established.

The first news reports resulted in widespread panic-buying as people flocked to supermarkets in their droves to stock up on essentials, resulting in fights over in-demand products and prompting Foodstuffs and Countdown to urge shoppers to remain calm.

Coronavirus: A week of Delta in New Zealand - a timeline of our new COVID-19 community outbreak so far
Photo credit: Newshub.

At 6pm Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield fronted a press conference, at which they revealed the case was a 58-year-old man from the North Shore suburb of Devonport who had visited Coromandel town during his infectious period.

An initial 23 locations of interest were released - 13 in Coromandel and 10 in Auckland.

Ardern and Dr Bloomfield then announced New Zealand would move to alert level 4 from 11:59pm. The lockdown was slated to last for an initial period of a week in Auckland and the Coromandel, and three days elsewhere across the country.

Coronavirus: A week of Delta in New Zealand - a timeline of our new COVID-19 community outbreak so far
Photo credit: Getty Images

Finance Minister Grant Robertson revealed the COVID-19 wage subsidy and resurgence support payment would both be reinstated to tide over businesses and employees during the lockdown.

Travel to the Cook Islands from New Zealand was suspended for at least 72 hours.

Wednesday, August 18

Kiwis woke up to their first full day of a nationwide lockdown by enthusiastically responding to the calls to get tested, with queues at some testing centres several kilometres long.

By 6:30am, it had been revealed New Zealand had a second COVID-19 case - an Auckland City Hospital nurse had contracted the disease.

Ardern's office said the nurse was just one of four new cases of COVID-19 identified overnight, and she had more bad news: the strain of the original case has been confirmed as the highly-infectious Delta variant.

At a press conference that afternoon, she added there had been two more cases. Dr Bloomfield also gave the first indication of the scale of the outbreak, saying modelling had shown it could grow by between "50 and 120 cases" - a figure that has since proven to be an underestimate.

Later, Police Commissioner Andrew Coster revealed about 20 people protesting against the lockdown in Nelson were given verbal warnings, while four were arrested outside a police station in Tauranga and another four - including conspiracy theorists Billy Te Kahika and Vinny Eastwood - in Auckland.

Billy Te Kahika is arrested.
Billy Te Kahika is arrested. Photo credit: Newshub.

Three more cases were announced on Wednesday evening, taking the total to 10, along with dozens more locations of interest.

The Government chose to make mask-wearing mandatory when accessing essential services.

Thursday, August 19

Another 11 cases were detected, taking the total to 21, while locations of interest ballooned to over 130. Thousands more rushed out to get tested.

Ardern revealed the Government had made a crucial breakthrough, with whole genome sequencing showing the source of the outbreak was a person from the Australian state of New South Wales, where the Delta variant is running rampant.

The returnee from Sydney had arrived in the country on a managed red-zone flight on August 7. The case later became unwell and was moved to Middlemore Hospital on August 16.

Ardern also announced 12-15-year-olds would now be eligible to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine - an estimated 265,000 more people.

Children aged 12+ can now get the vaccine.
Children aged 12+ can now get the vaccine. Photo credit: Getty Images

Elsewhere the government announced it had extended by 24 hours the time for people to return home on Air New Zealand flights or on the Interislander.

Te Kahika and Eastwood were handed three charges each after their arrests at the Auckland anti-lockdown protest - two under the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act, and one under the Search and Surveillance Act.

Meanwhile police received 684 reports of lockdown breaches - about a third of which were in the Auckland area. Of those, 322 were regarding illegal gatherings, 320 were regarding businesses and 42 about an individual's movements.

Friday, August 20

It was decision day for Cabinet as they met to discuss whether New Zealand would come out of lockdown or remain at alert level 4 with Auckland and the Coromandel.

Ultimately they went for the latter option, with the entire country told to remain in lockdown until the following Tuesday. Cabinet would next review its settings on the Monday.

Another 11 cases were detected, taking the total to 31 - two of whom were hospitalised. The first COVID-19 cases emerged in Wellington, with three of the 31 based there.

The list of locations of interest grew to close to 200.

Elsewhere, there was widespread frustration over long queues and early closing times at COVID-19 testing centres and mixed messaging over vaccinations.

Saturday, August 21

A quiet day on the COVID-19 front as New Zealand headed into its first weekend in lockdown.

Two more people were arrested at an anti-lockdown protest at Auckland's Aotea Square.

Compliance overall at alert level 4 had been good, but police said "a small minority of people" had come to their attention - 17 were charged and 53 formally warned.

Locations of interest exploded to well over 200 across Auckland, parts of Wellington, the Coromandel and the central North Island.

Dr Caroline McElnay revealed New Zealand had 21 new cases of COVID-19 in the community, taking the total related to the outbreak to 51.

Sunday, August 22

A big day for New Zealand's vaccine rollout, with an invite-only initiative aimed at essential workers getting underway at Auckland Airport marking New Zealand's first drive-through immunisation event.

Another 21 cases of COVID-19 were detected, taking the outbreak to 72 - 61 linked to the Auckland cluster, and 11 under investigation. 

In a move that will provide a welcome boost to the seldom-used NZ COVID Tracer app, the Government announced it would be making scanning in at public places mandatory.

 New data modelling suggested around 100 cases were circulating in the community before the nationwide lockdown was imposed as the list of locations of interest expanded to almost 300.

The Prime Minister signalled for the first time that a lockdown extension beyond 11:59pm on Tuesday for Auckland was looking "very likely".

Monday, August 23

A day on which Ardern confirmed what many already suspected: all of New Zealand would remain at alert level 4 until 11:59pm on Friday.

But Auckland would stay in level 4 a bit longer - until at least 11:59pm the following Tuesday, August 31.

The decision came after 35 new cases of COVID-19 were detected in the community, bringing the total outbreak to 107, with more than 13,000 contacts uncovered.

The list of locations of interest grew again to more than 400, and signing in to events or most businesses, such as scanning in with the NZ COVID Tracer, will become mandatory across all alert levels.  

An investigation into the Crowne Plaza managed isolation facility in Auckland confirmed the Sydney returnee who the current outbreak has been linked to was in the lobby while six people walked through the atrium thoroughfare, an open walkway.

The Ministry of Health admitted there was a possibility of "air-flow between the two spaces". 

Tuesday, August 24

New Zealand's biggest increase in cases yet with 41 new infections recorded in the community, bringing the August 2021 community outbreak to 148 cases.

Dr Bloomfield said case numbers were expected to continue to rise for a few days yet, with disease modelling expert Shaun Hendy saying he believed the outbreak could reach as many as 1000 cases.

Hendy says the lockdown's effect on case numbers should start to be seen later in the week.

The locations of interest ballooned again beyond 400, and it was revealed a large proportion of the cases - 58 of 148 - are linked to a single sub-cluster: the Assemblies of God Church in Auckland's Māngere.

It's at least partly behind COVID-19's spread to the capital, with several COVID-19 cases identified in Wellington linked to the church. About 27 church groups, including some from Wellington, had travelled to Auckland for the August 15 service.

Read the latest on New Zealand's COVID-19 outbreak here.