A man in his 50s has died with coronavirus in New Zealand, the country’s Ministry of Health has announced.
It is the nation’s first death since May and takes the number of coronavirus-linked fatalities to 23. He is also thought to be the youngest victim since the outbreak began.
New Zealand's prime minister Jacinda Ardern said restrictions put in place to beat the spread of the coronavirus will now remain until at least mid-September.
Auckland, the country's largest city and the centre of a fresh outbreak, remains at alert level 2.5 –meaning gatherings are limited to no more than 10 people.
"The best economic response remains a strong health response. If we get it right we will ultimately shake off restrictions faster and lessen the risk of bouncing around," Ardern said.
Other parts of the country will be under alert level 2, which requires people to observe social distancing rules and restricts gathering sizes to no more than 100 people. The settings will be reviewed on 14 September.
New Zealand's health ministry said a man in his 50s had died in an Auckland hospital on Friday due to COVID-19. He was linked to a known Auckland cluster and was in intensive care for the last few days.
The health ministry also reported five new COVID-19 cases on Friday – three cases of community transmission and two imported cases at managed isolation facilities. The country has had 1,413 coronavirus cases so far, of which 112 are active.
The Pacific nation of five million people had appeared to have succeeded in halting community transmission of COVID-19 but Auckland's fresh outbreak prompted the government to place the city back in lockdown last month for two-and-a-half-weeks.
The lockdown was mostly lifted on Sunday, allowing schools and offices to reopen, although masks are mandatory on public transport across the country.
The Auckland cluster emerged in a family of four in mid-August and has since grown to 152, including three recorded on Friday.
It has proved difficult to eliminate despite a two-and-a-half week lockdown in Auckland that ended on Sunday night.
It remains a mystery how the virus made its way back into the country, as the international border has been closed to foreigners since March and all returning New Zealanders have been forced into mandatory 14-day quarantine.
Officials suggested at the time of the new outbreak that the latest batch of infections is a new strain, probably from Australia or the UK, according to genome testing.
Ardern said containment of the cluster, compliance to the rules and the impact of restrictions were considered by cabinet.
She said that because the source of the Auckland cluster was still not identified, the government had cause to be cautious.
"The best economic response becomes the best health response," Ardern said.
The country has had 1,413 coronavirus cases so far, of which 112 are active.
New Zealand was one of a handful of countries that emerged from the pandemic briefly, as big economies like the US, Britain, India and Brazil continued to grapple with the spreading virus.
Many factors contributed to the country’s success in slowing the spread.
Ardern won plaudits for acting quickly in the face of the pandemic, even as other western countries appeared remarkably slow to introduce lockdown restrictions.
Geography contributed also as the country is a remote nation with a population of just 5 million and its external borders are easily sealed.
The country also quickly expanded their test and trace programme early on in the pandemic. Their strategy prioritised “case isolation and quarantine of contacts”, which the academics said would allow New Zealand to “stamp out chains of transmission”.
However, their run of success was brief as in June, two new cases of coronavirus were confirmed to have come from two women who travelled from the UK, shortly after it had declared that the country was coronavirus-free.
The cases related to two women from the same family, both of whom had been given special permission to visit a dying parent after being released early from quarantine.
The women’s travel forced the government to suspend its policy of granting compassionate exemptions to its quarantine rules.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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