New Zealand marks downward trend in new COVID-19 cases

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People wear masks as they exercise during a lockdown to curb the spread of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Auckland, New Zealand, August 26, 2021. REUTERS/Fiona Goodall

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SYDNEY, Sept 8 (Reuters) - New Zealand reported a further fall in locally acquired COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, as the largely coronavirus-free nation looks to eradicate an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant.

New Zealand reported 15 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19, down from 21 a day earlier, on the first day of an easing of tough restrictions in all regions outside its largest city Auckland.

Daily infections hit a peak of 85 on Aug. 29. All of the latest cases were in Auckland.

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Officials earlier this week said schools, offices and businesses can reopen outside Auckland from Wednesday after near zero cases in the rest of the country, but there will be a cap on gatherings and masks will remain mandatory in public venues.

New Zealand had been largely virus-free, excluding a small cluster of cases in February, until an infected traveller from Australia seeded an outbreak, forcing officials to impose a national lockdown last month.

About 1.7 million people in Auckland, the epicentre of the outbreak, will be in hard lockdown until at least Sept. 14.

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Reporting by Renju Jose; editing by Richard Pullin

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