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Wellington: New Zealand began a strict, nationwide lockdown on Wednesday with news it now has five cases of COVID-19 in the community and confirmation it is facing the Delta variant.

A further four cases have been identified, all connected to the first case discovered on Tuesday, the Ministry of Health said in a statement. The original case has been confirmed as Delta, it said. It was the first community case since February.

Wellington on the first day of a national lockdown.Credit:Getty

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern put the nation into a three-day lockdown from midnight, assuming the unvaccinated Auckland man in his 50s had the more infectious Delta strain. Auckland and the nearby Coromandel region where the man and his wife visited are facing a seven-day lockdown.

It is New Zealand’s first nationwide closure since the initial pandemic response over a year ago, and it has the potential to re-write the economic and fiscal outlook.

Some economists said the central bank will now hold off delivering a rate increase later on Wednesday to gauge the impact of the lockdown on growth, while the government has said it will resume programs to assist affected workers and businesses that could cost billions of dollars.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern discussing the outbreak.Credit:AP

New Zealand has so far largely kept the virus out of the community, allowing its economy to recover quickly during the pandemic.

But a slow vaccine rollout has left it vulnerable to another outbreak, particularly of the Delta strain that is challenging virus containment efforts around the world.

All schools, public venues and most businesses must close and people are urged to wear a face covering if they need to venture out. Only shops providing essential services such as groceries, petrol and health products can stay open.

Less than 20 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated.

The health ministry said one of the new cases is a workmate of the original case, and the other three are contacts of the workmate. One of the three contacts is a fully-vaccinated health professional employed at Auckland Hospital who had been working in recent days.

Hospital authorities have taken immediate action to shut down any potential spread, including testing all staff and patients on the ward the health professional worked on.

Bloomberg

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