New Zealand releasing Auckland from brief COVID-19 lockdown

FILE PHOTO: People jog past a social distancing sign on the first day of New Zealand's new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) safety measure that mandates wearing of a mask on public transport, in Auckland, New Zealand, August 31, 2020. REUTERS/Fiona Goodall//File Photo

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand will lift a COVID-19 lockdown of its largest city of Auckland and ease restrictions across the rest of the country from midnight on Wednesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

Auckland’s nearly 2 million residents were plunged into a snap three-day lockdown on Monday, after a more contagious COVID-19 variant that first emerged in Britain was detected in a family of three.

Health authorities reported three new locally transmitted cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, all of them from the same home as the child who tested positive on Sunday.

The Auckland lockdown was the first in the country for about six months, after a hard nationwide shutdown early in the pandemic appeared to have largely eliminated local transmission.

The fresh outbreak prompted neighbouring Australia to suspend an arrangement that allowed New Zealanders to enter Australia without serving a 14-day hotel quarantine period.

New Zealand is to start inoculating its 5 million people against the new coronavirus on Feb. 20, having received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine earlier this week.

Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Himani Sarkar & Simon Cameron-Moore