COVID-19 lockdown: Jacinda Ardern confirms Auckland will shift to alert level 2 on Sunday, March 7 at 6am

Auckland's fourth lockdown is coming to an end, with the city shifting to alert level 2 at 6am on Sunday while the rest of New Zealand will move to level 1.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's announcement follows five days in a row of no new community cases of COVID-19, easing anxieties after a young man who tested positive visited a gym and university campus. 

Auckland was thrust back into lockdown on Sunday after a 21-year-old, Case M, tested positive. It confused officials because while he had a sibling at Papatoetoe High School, they had returned three negative tests. 

It turned out Case M's mum, Case N, broke lockdown rules by meeting up with the mum of another family linked to Papatoetoe High School during the previous three-day lockdown - a meeting that had not been disclosed to officials. 

Case M spooked health authorities because he ignored advice by visiting several populated places, including a gym, after getting tested. It left the Government no choice but to impose a lockdown in Auckland.

But five days on and there have been no new community cases. Wastewater testing from three Auckland sites, including Papatoetoe, has come back negative, while more than 69,000 tests have been processed in the last week.

"I know here in New Zealand we take no one of what we have for granted, not least because so many of us know people or have people that we love abroad," Ardern said on Friday, "and while I absolutely maintain that our strategy of elimination is best for us, that does not make it easy."

Where did this all begin?

New Zealanders enjoyed a coronavirus-free summer until a community case popped up in January - a Northland woman who had completed her two-week stay in managed isolation at the Pullman Hotel in Auckland. 

The Ministry of Health was able to confidently say the woman caught it within the facility - after her day 12 test, which was negative, and before she was released. It led the Government to review the entire facility. 

No alert level change was required because the Government knew the Northland woman caught the virus from the border. But the same couldn't be said for the following outbreak. 

On February 14, three new cases of COVID-19 were announced that had no connection to managed isolation - a Papatoetoe High School student and her parents. The mum works at LSG Sky Chefs which does laundry for airlines. 

Auckland was shifted to alert level 3 the following day while the rest of New Zealand went to level 2. Three days later, Auckland shifted to level 2 and the rest of the country went back to level 1, despite evidence that others had been infected.  

Papatoetoe High School became embroiled in the latest COVID-19 outbreak.
Papatoetoe High School became embroiled in the latest COVID-19 outbreak. Photo credit: File

The Government didn't seem too concerned because the virus had only been passed on to contacts of the Papatoetoe High School student - people who were already self-isolating because the school had been closed - so there was a belief it was more or less contained. 

But five days later Auckland was back in level 3 and the rest of the country bounced back to level 2, after Case M tested positive last Saturday, leading to an impromptu Saturday night press conference where Ardern announced the news. 

The latest outbreak has infected four families connected to Papatoetoe High School. Each family was infected via a student, except for Cases M and N - the 21-year-old and his mum - who caught the virus via the secret meet-up. 

All of the positive cases were moved to the Auckland quarantine facility. The total number of active cases in New Zealand is 68. The source of the latest outbreak is still unknown - the same as the August outbreak last year. 

The war of words

The latest lockdown has been dominated by Case L, A KFC worker in one of the infected families who tested positive last Friday, who ended up in a war of words with Ardern after claiming she wasn't given clear instructions to self-isolate. 

She told Newshub her sister, Case I, received a text message on February 14 - the day of the Valentine's Day outbreak - saying casual contacts needed to self-isolate but their families did not. 

Case L said she saw the message and went to work at KFC on February 22. Case L's sister, Case J, was also deemed a 'casual plus' contact and worked at Kmart Botany on February 19 and February 20. 

Auckland's fourth lockdown has been dominated by a war of words between a KFC worker and the Prime Minister.
Auckland's fourth lockdown has been dominated by a war of words between a KFC worker and the Prime Minister.

On February 23, Case I and Case J tested positive. Case L tested positive three days later on February 26 - last Friday. On that day, Ardern told reporters Case L "should have" stayed at home instead of working on February 22. 

Case L asked Ardern to apologise to her because she went to work the day before her siblings tested positive. 

A Facebook post by the official Unite against COVID-19 website backs up Case L's claims, saying she and her sister were "not required to isolate" at the time they went to work.  

But COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the Facebook post was missing context that Case I and J were already showing symptoms on February 19 and 20 - before Case L went to work. 

"The reality is there is certainly enough information there that the person shouldn't have been going to work. I think that's the point that the Prime Minister was making. I think it's a very fair point to be making."