New Zealand’s health authorities are investigating whether the coronavirus that sparked its new outbreak was brought into the country via refrigerated goods.

The cluster in Auckland has grown to five after a new positive COVID-19 case was confirmed yesterday, and up to 200 close contacts are being tested.

The country’s largest city has been returned to a level three lockdown and the rest of New Zealand placed at level two after the first positive cases in 102 days were revealed on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern arrives during a press conference at Parliament on August 12, 2020 in Wellington, New Zealand. COVID-19 restrictions have been reintroduced across New Zealand after four new COVID-19 cases were diagnosed in Auckland. Auckland will be placed in full lockdown for three days from midday on Wednesday, with all residents to work from home unless they are essential workers and all schools and childcare centres to close. (Getty)

Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield yesterday said one of the first new cases was a man who worked at Americold, a cool store company in Mount Wellington.

Health officials have not ruled out the possibility that the virus may have arrived in New Zealand by surviving in refrigerated freight from abroad.

They are also investigating whether it may have been spread to other parts of the country in cold storage.

“We do know from studies overseas that, actually, the virus can survive in some refrigerated environments for quite some time,” Dr Bloomfield said.

“We start by looking at all the options and ruling then out, and that’s the position we’re in at the moment.”

New Zealand authorities, keen to beat the virus once more, are keeping a close eye on four additional “probable cases” of people with symptoms linked to those already confirmed to have COVID-19.

Queues stretch for kilometres in and out of Auckland as police stop vehicles at a checkpoint on SH1 north of Wellsford, which is situated north of Auckland. (Getty / Fiona Goodall)

“All of these probable cases are waiting test results,” Dr Bloomfield said.

“We will make available the test results as soon as we have them, but they are all being treated as probable cases and therefore are in full isolation and full contact tracing has been initiated for those cases.”

The new case confirmed yesterday is a woman aged in her 50s who arrived in New Zealand on August 7 from Islamabad, Pakistan via Dubai.

Panic buying hits New Zealand ahead of new lockdown

The four cases revealed on Tuesday are all from the same family. Contact tracers have identified hundreds of close contacts, mainly linked to two workplaces connected to family members.

Workers from Americold and the business Finance Now on Dominion Road in central Auckland are required to stay in their homes for at least a fortnight.

“Just over 200 close contacts have been identified and over a hundred of those have already been phoned and spoken with,” Dr Bloomfield said.

“The workplaces are closed, and [workers are] to stay at home until they were contacted and given further instructions.”

The isolation order also applied to anyone who visited those businesses in the last 14 days.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern referred to Australia’s current COVID-19 outbreaks as reasoning for why New Zealanders need to act fast to stamp out the country’s newest cases.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces COVID-19 restrictions have been reintroduced across New Zealand after four new COVID-19 cases were diagnosed in Auckland (Getty / Hagen Hopkins)

“There were 322 new cases of COVID-19 in Australia yesterday, 664 people are in hospitals, 54 are in intensive care units and 39 on ventilators,” the prime minister said.

“Across the globe there were 19.9 million cases yesterday. 

“Our response to the virus so far has worked – it opened our economy and our communities, and it gave New Zealanders freedoms that we cherished.

“We all want to get back there as soon as we can but success relies on us all working together, looking out for one another.

Ms Ardern also unveiled two new elements to Auckland’s stage three lockdown restrictions this afternoon.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has pledged a massive testing drive to find the source of the new infections. (Getty)

The current restrictions make it unlawful for people in Auckland to leave their homes unless for essential movements such as grocery shopping or local exercise. That order came into effect from midday (local time) today.

Ms Ardern also announced a mandatory QR code for Auckland businesses, to aid contact tracing purposes, and face masks for people leaving New Zealand’s biggest city.

Visitors in Auckland are being urged to return home, while locals are being urged to wear masks. Anyone leaving Auckland will need to wear masks on planes. 

Rapid response main weapon to stop outbreak

“We are taking a rapid response to break the chain of transmission through contact tracing, testing and the gathering of information.”

One of the family members from the infected household visited Rotorua at the weekend and testing efforts were being ramped up in the popular tourist town.

The woman in her 20s travelled to Rotorua while she was symptomatic.

Line lines of cars pack this Auckland street as people wait to be tested for COVID-19, just hours before the city enters lockdown. (Getty)

This person has visited several tourist spots in Rotorua. Health officials are now tracing these movements and working on locations visited by this person.

Dr Bloomfield said the country had to act swiftly and thoroughly to avoid a second wave like Victoria.

“So, we have seen in other countries, and jurisdictions, like in Victoria, in Hong Kong and in Vietnam, where a resurgence occurs that it is incredibly important to act early.

The family remain in isolation at home in south Auckland and authorities have yet to decide about whether they will be moved to a quarantine facility.

Officials said 130 people who work with the man who tested positive in a finance company are considered close contacts.

People queue outside a supermarket in Auckland. COVID-19 restrictions have been reintroduced in the country after four new COVID-19 cases were diagnosed in Auckland. (Getty)

Ms Ardern announced that all aged care facilities in New Zealand will close to everyone but staff and essential deliveries from noon today.

Panic buying broke out last night in the North Island city as people stocked up on essentials.

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