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‘Game Zero?’ Soccer Game Attended by 40,000 Fans Likely Made This Italian City a Coronavirus Epicenter

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(ROME) — It was the biggest soccer game in Atalanta’s history and a third of Bergamo’s population made the short trip to Milan’s famed San Siro Stadium.

Nearly 2,500 fans of visiting Spanish club Valencia also traveled to that Champions League match.

More than a month later, experts are pointing to the Feb. 19 game as one of the biggest reasons why Bergamo has become one of the epicenters of the coronavirus pandemic — a “biological bomb” was the way one respiratory specialist put it — and why 35% of Valencia’s team became infected.

The match, which local media have dubbed “Game Zero,” was held two days before the first case of locally transmitted COVID-19 was confirmed in Italy.

“We were mid-February so we didn’t have the circumstances of what was happening,” Bergamo Mayor Giorgio Gori said this week during a live Facebook chat with the Foreign Press Association in Rome. “If it’s true what they’re saying that the virus was already circulating in Europe in January, then it’s very probable that 40,000 Bergamaschi in the stands of San Siro, all together, exchanged the virus between them. As is possible that so many Bergamaschi that night got together in houses, bars to watch the match and did the same.

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t have known. No one knew the virus was already here,” the mayor added. “It was inevitable.”

Less than a week after the game, the first cases were reported in the province of Bergamo.

At about the same time in Valencia, a journalist who traveled to the match became the second person infected in the region, and it didn’t take long before people who were in contact with him also had the virus, as did Valencia fans who were at the game.

While Atalanta announced its first positive case Tuesday for goalkeeper Marco Sportiello, Valencia said more than a third of its squad got infected, “despite the strict measures adopted by the club” after the match in Milan.

As of Tuesday, nearly 7,000 people in the province of Bergamo had tested positive for COVID-19 and more than 1,000 people had died from the virus — making Bergamo the most deadly province in all of Italy for the pandemic. The Valencia region had more than 2,600 people infected.

Luca Lorini, the head of the intensive care unit at the Pope John XXIII hospital in Bergamo, currently has 88 patients under his care with the coronavirus; not including many more in other parts of the hospital.

“I’m sure that 40,000 people hugging and kissing each other while standing a centimeter apart — four times, because Atalanta scored four goals (the final result was 4-1) — was definitely a huge accelerator for contagion,” Lorini told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

“Right now we’re at war. When peace time comes, I can assure you we will go and see how many of the 40,000 people who went to the game became infected,” Lorini added. “Right now we have other priorities.”

Silvio Brusaferro, the head of Italy’s Superior Institute of Health, said over the weekend at the nightly nationally televised briefing by the civil protection agency that the game was “one of the hypotheses” being evaluated as a source of the crisis in Bergamo.

“It’s certainly an analysis that can be made,” Brusaferro said.

By last week, Bergamo’s cemetery became so overwhelmed by the number of dead that military trucks began transporting bodies to a neighboring region for cremation.

Italy remained the European country with the most cases, nearly 70,000, and with almost 7,000 deaths — the most worldwide and more than twice as many as China.

Spain is the next country in Europe with the most cases, nearly 48,000, and it has surpassed China in the number of deaths with more than 3,400.

More than 435,000 people worldwide have been infected and the number of dead closed in on 20,000, according to the running count kept by Johns Hopkins University. Overall, more than 100,000 have recovered.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

The official attendance for the Feb. 19 game was 45,792 — a “home” record for Atalanta, a small club making its debut in Europe’s top club competition.

Atalanta captain Alejandro “Papu” Gómez told Argentine daily Olé it was “terrible” to have played that game.

“It’s a city of 120,000 people and that day (40,000) went to the San Siro,” the Argentine said. “It was a historic match for Atalanta, something unique. To give you an idea, my wife took three hours to get to Milan, when that trip normally takes 40 minutes.”

The game was played in Milan because Atalanta’s stadium in Bergamo didn’t meet the requirements set by European soccer governing body UEFA.

Before the match, Valencia fans freely roamed around Milan and gathered at some of the city’s plazas, including the Piazza del Duomo, drinking and chanting team songs.

Looking back, the conditions for virus contagion were high, with thousands of people gathering without much concern — at a time when the outbreak in Europe wasn’t yet known — and then traveling back home. Nearly 30 busloads of fans made the 60-kilometer (37-mile) trip from Bergamo to Milan.

The evening before the match, there was no social distancing as officials from both clubs mingled and exchanged gifts and handshakes at a gala dinner offered by Atalanta.

“I have heard a lot (of theories), I’ll say mine: Feb. 19, 40,000 Bergamaschi went to San Siro for Atalanta-Valencia,” Fabiano di Marco, the chief pneumologist at the hospital in Bergamo, told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. “In buses, cars, trains. A biological bomb, unfortunately.”

Valencia defender Ezequiel Garay was the first Spanish league player to test positive for COVID-19. The team played a Spanish league game against Alavés about two weeks after the game in Milan, and later Alavés reported that 15 people in the club were infected, though it did not say the cases were directly related to the match against Valencia.

Italian soccer players’ association president Damiano Tommasi believes sports authorities should look long and hard at the Atalanta match before restarting leagues.

“Look at what’s happening in China, where players are testing positive for the coronavirus now — despite all the safety rules and precautions being taken,” Tommasi told the AP, referring to a recent positive test for former Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini with Chinese club Shandong Lunen.

Fellaini’s positive test was alarming because, while the outbreak began spreading in China, the virus has reportedly been receding there.

“It’s not going to be enough to just test the athletes,” Tommasi added. “The entire setting needs to be safe. Because if one team is stuck, it blocks the entire system.”

After winning the first leg, Atalanta advanced to the Champions League quarterfinals following another victory in the second leg on March 10, which was played in an empty Mestalla Stadium in Valencia after Spanish authorities prohibited games involving teams from northern Italy to be played with fans. A few thousand Valencia supporters gathered at the Mestalla to welcome the team, though, and to watch the match together in nearby bars and restaurants.

Over the past month, Atalanta has mourned the deaths of five former staff members. While announcements on the club website made no mention of the virus, local media have reported that at least four of them died with COVID-19.

Still, only one positive test from Atalanta has been announced.

“Some squads have chosen not to test their players unless they show symptoms,” Tommasi said. “Other squads tested everyone. These are individual choices.

“The head of the civil protection agency has talked about the likelihood that for every proven positive case there are probably 10 actual positives. … The high number of positives at Valencia makes you wonder.”

With the Champions League suspended because of the pandemic, Atalanta has no idea when it might play in the quarterfinals — which again would be the club’s biggest game in its history. In the meantime, both the Bergamo team and Valencia are left wondering about the unforeseen effects of their match in February.

___

Azzoni reported from Madrid. Associated Press writers Daniella Matar in Milan and Joseph Wilson in Barcelona, and reporter Patricia Thomas in Rome contributed to this report.





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As Relations With U.S. Sink, China Tones Down 'Hotheaded' Nationalism

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For weeks, China fanned nationalist sentiment in its escalating war of words with the Trump administration. Now, it is toning down its message and calling for a truce, as President Donald Trump increasingly makes Beijing a target in his bid for reelection in November.One after another, top Chinese diplomats have called for "peaceful coexistence" with the United States, forgoing their previous assertions that Beijing's authoritarian system is superior. Hawkish scholars are now emphasizing prospects for defusing tensions, instead of urging China to challenge U.S. military might. Journalists at state-run news outlets are limiting their direct attacks on Trump, under instructions to take a more conciliatory approach."There's a reflection that we should not let nationalism or hotheadedness somehow kidnap our foreign policy," Xu Qinduo, a commentator for China Radio International, a state-run broadcaster, said in an interview. "Tough rhetoric should not replace rational diplomacy."In toning down the rhetoric, the ruling Communist Party hopes to reduce the risk that excessive nationalism will hurt Beijing's global image or cause tensions between the superpowers to accelerate uncontrollably. China's ties with the United States are at a perilous juncture now that Trump has made assailing Beijing a focal point of his election campaign, with his administration taking a series of actions against China in rapid succession.Just in recent weeks, the Trump administration has shut down the Chinese consulate in Houston; imposed sanctions on Communist Party officials; said it would cancel the visas of some students and tech company employees; and proposed restrictions on two popular Chinese social media networks. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has traveled abroad urging countries to band together to fight China's "tyranny."Unwilling to concede or look weak, China has responded in kind to most of the measures, closing a consulate in Chengdu and sanctioning U.S. politicians. But in rejecting Pompeo's criticisms, China's foreign minister, Wang Yi, also presented an olive branch, saying the government was ready to discuss all of Washington's concerns "at any level, in any area and at any time."Wang avoided the scathing denunciations that have come to characterize China's "Wolf Warrior" diplomacy, named after an ultrapatriotic Chinese film franchise. Only three weeks earlier, Wang had told his counterpart in Russia that the United States had "lost its mind, morals and credibility."The call for dialogue was repeated by several prominent officials, including Yang Jiechi, China's top diplomat, and Cui Tiankai, the ambassador to the United States, in recent days. On Wednesday, Le Yucheng, another senior Chinese diplomat, accused U.S. politicians of telling lies to smear China. But he also said the two countries should work to prevent relations from "spiraling out of control" over the next several months."The change is that the United States keeps attacking, and if China keeps countering, and also stops communicating while simply following along irrationally, it will probably only make the relationship worse," said Song Guoyou, an American studies expert at Fudan University in Shanghai, describing the shift in diplomatic strategy."China may be indeed sending this kind of signal intensively to the United States, saying it hopes to work with it the U.S. on issues calmly," Song said.The campaign for restraint also appears to be aimed, in part, at signaling to Trump's Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, and others in the United States that China still sees a friendly path forward. While Chinese officials believe Biden is less volatile and caustic than Trump, many also worry that he would continue to push for harsh action against China on human rights, technology and other issues, analysts said."There's still a possibility that tensions could become even more profound, and more severe, in the future under a Democratic administration," said Shi Yinhong, director of the Center on American Studies at Renmin University.Despite the softer tone, China's underlying view that the United States is a strategic and ideological rival bent on suppressing its rise has not changed. China's leader, Xi Jinping, continues to push a forceful agenda, including a crackdown on free speech and activism in Hong Kong, even in the face of punishments by the United States. Xi's government still routinely denounces America as a bully and hypocrite.But China's aggressive moves have also triggered disputes with other countries including India, Britain, Canada and Australia. Xi may now be seeking to project a less confrontational image as China finds itself increasingly isolated."Beijing's rhetoric appears aimed at defusing the global backlash that its brash diplomacy and harsh policies have provoked," said Jessica Chen Weiss, an associate professor of government at Cornell University.As Trump has escalated his punitive campaign against China, Beijing's propaganda apparatus has worked to avoid stoking anger at home by instructing state media outlets to play down unfavorable news and limit talk of war, according to interviews with Chinese journalists.News of the closure of the U.S. consulate in Chengdu last month, a visceral symbol of the erosion of ties between the two countries, was buried in a two-sentence brief at the bottom of page three of People's Daily, the Communist Party's flagship newspaper.Trump's signing last week of two executive orders meant to restrict the use of Chinese social media apps in the United States did not even make the evening news, one of the most widely watched television programs in China.Hu Xijin, the chief editor of Global Times, a staunchly nationalistic party-run tabloid, said that he has been surprised by the speed at which ties with the United States have deteriorated. In this climate, he said, his newspaper had an obligation "not to intensify this conflict," and was trying to limit the publication of content that could rouse hatred of the American people."We stress that when the United States suppresses China, in general we would say that this is the work of the U.S. government," Hu said in an interview. "We would generally not hang these hostile intentions on all of the United States or all Americans."Still, Hu drew some criticism late last month after suggesting on his social media page that China should rapidly expand its stock of nuclear warheads to deter the United States. A prominent nuclear weapons expert, in an unusually blunt rebuke, called such talk "hype" and said its aim was to "incite dissatisfaction" with the party and the military.Tamping down frustration at the United States among ordinary Chinese may be challenging. Chinese social media sites have been awash with assertive commentaries carrying headlines such as "America will collapse this year" and "Does the United States really dare to go to war with our country?"The public generally takes a hawkish view of foreign policy, surveys have shown, favoring greater military spending and a more assertive approach to defending China's territorial claims. Beijing continues to take a tough stance on Taiwan, the self-governed island China claims as its territory, and Thursday said it had held military drills near it.In some cases, Chinese internet users have attacked scholars and journalists who have toned down their rhetoric.Jin Canrong, a professor of international studies at Renmin University, has argued previously that China should take a more assertive role in global affairs and challenge America's influence. China has the ability to destroy U.S. military bases in Asia, he has said.More recently, Jin has said China should pursue a "chess war" with the United States rather than armed conflict or a Cold War. He was criticized on Chinese social media sites for his more moderate tone.In an interview, Jin defended his views, saying the risk of an accidental confrontation was higher before the U.S. election and that China would keep a low profile. "China won't fire the first shot," he said. "We won't provoke."Even as China shifts tactics, its success could be limited. The Trump administration shows no signs of easing its efforts to dismantle decades of political, economic and social engagement with China. The State Department on Thursday said it was designating the U.S. headquarters of the Confucius Institutes, a Chinese government educational organization, as a diplomatic mission, a move China denounced as "totally unacceptable."The Trump administration is also unlikely to heed calls for a cease-fire unless Chinese officials go beyond promises of reconciliation. Beijing may need to offer concrete proposals on issues such as military tensions in the South China Sea or Xi's crackdown in Hong Kong."There's no way to maintain the avoidance of major conflict without concrete trade-offs," said Shi, the American studies expert at Renmin University.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company



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After 102 Days COVID-Free, New Zealand’s Resurgence Highlights the Difficulties of Returning to Normal Life

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For the past three months, New Zealanders have enjoyed a ‘COVID-free’ country, with citizens hugging one another, children returning to classrooms and sport fans filling stadiums. But this changed on Tuesday, when a family of four from Auckland, the country’s biggest city, tested positive for the virus, breaking a 102 day streak without any new COVID-19 cases. As of today, 29 people have tested positive for the virus, all of which remain linked to the original four cases.

Although the government says the latest outbreak appears to currently be limited to one cluster, it is taking tough actions to prohibit any further spread. The small outbreak has sent a third of the population back into lockdown and the rest of the country into restrictions. Auckland has been placed under level 3 lockdown, with residents asked to stay home unless they have to go into work, buy groceries or exercise. “We can see the seriousness of the situation we are in,” Jacinda Ardern, the country’s prime minister said at a press conference. “It’s being dealt with in an urgent but calm and methodical way.”

New Zealand has been lauded internationally for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic with some suggesting Ardern is “the most effective leader on the planet.” Intense contact tracing, isolation and testing made New Zealand one of the first COVID-free countries in the world. On June 8, all social distancing measures were lifted after a 51-day lockdown, allowing citizens to return to normal life. Strict border controls remained in place, however, prohibiting entry to non-New Zealenders and requiring all returning citizens quarantine for 14 days.

But the latest outbreak in New Zealand—a country held up as an example by the World Health Organization—shows that even in a COVID-free nation that is implementing the toughest border control measures, coronavirus remains a threat. “Once again we are reminded of how tricky this virus is and how easily it can spread,” Ardern said in a televised media conference on Thursday. “Going hard and early is still the best course of action.”

New Zealand is not alone in confronting new COVID-19 waves after initial success in curbing the spread of the virus. Vietnam went 99 days without any new cases only to see a surge of new infections in July centered on the port city of Danang. Australia—where officials had talked of eliminating the coronavirus there, as well—recorded its deadliest day of the pandemic on August 10 due to a major outbreak centered on Melbourne. Much of the city, and surrounding state of Victoria, was forced a second lockdown to curtail the spread.

How did the virus resurface in New Zealand?

On Tuesday, four people from the same family tested positive for the virus, becoming the first cases since the country declared itself COVID-free on June 8. None of the patients worked at the country’s borders or had traveled overseas, raising questions about how they became infected in the first place. As of Friday, the cluster of cases has grown to 29 but remain connected to the original cases in Auckland. Thirty-eight people are in government quarantine.

Over 200 people who may have been exposed to the patients have since been tested, the majority of whom are from the same two workplaces as the infected individuals. One unproven theory is that the virus arrived in New Zealand by way of cargo, as one of the original infected individuals worked at Americold, a cold storage facility with imported food. Everyone at the company has been tested, with seven workers testing positive for the virus. Surfaces at the companies’ facilities have also been tested, amid evidence that the virus thrives in cold storage facilities. The company has mandated that all employees and their families self-isolate.

Additional testing is also being done at Rotorua, a town 142 miles southeast of Auckland, where the four family members visited prior to testing positive with the virus.

Although New Zealand has seen success in curbing the spread of the virus, experts say it is unsurprising the country is experiencing a new surge.

“Even with quite stringent precautions I don’t think we can be too surprised to see clusters arising,” said Angharad Davies, a clinical associate professor in microbiology at Swansea University. “Asymptomatic or near-asymptomatic infection and transmission makes this infection very difficult to track and it can circulate below-the-radar before being picked up, especially in clusters of younger people.”

Although all cases have been linked back to one cluster, it is too early to know whether the virus is circulating more widely. The original patient started showing symptoms on July 31, making it possible that the virus has been spreading undetected in New Zealand for several weeks.

“As we all learnt from our first experience with [COVID-19], once you identify a cluster, it grows before it slows,” Ardern said at a media briefing in Wellington on Thursday. “We should expect that to be the case here.”

What new restrictions has the government imposed?

On Wednesday, the government implemented a three-day lockdown in Auckland, requiring residents of the city to stay home except for work, necessary shopping and exercise. All schools, childcare facilities and non-essential businesses have been closed.

Although restrictions are less strict across the rest of the country, people are required to socially distance by maintaining two metres apart and wearing masks. The government has released 5 million masks from the national stockpile and is circulating them to vulnerable people who may be unable to afford one. All retirement homes have also been shut down and gatherings have been limited to under 100 people. Unlike with the previous lockdown, all patients who test positive for COVID-19 will be required to stay in a government-managed quarantine.

The government is also rolling out a COVID-19 tracer app to allow individuals to create digital records of where they have been that will help with contact tracing in the event of an outbreak. All businesses and services are required to display a QR code at the entry of their sites so that people using the app can check themselves in to that establishment. On Tuesday night alone, 100,000 people downloaded the app. “The ability to contact trace is one of the key tools we have to find new cases and get them in isolation to avoid future lockdowns,” Ardern said. “Using the app is a big investment in keeping our businesses and economy open.”

Since lockdown measures were announced on Wednesday, the country has seen a mixed response, with many abiding by the new rules and some fighting against them. In the Northland city of Whangarei, a small group of sixty people protested against new lockdown measures on Thursday. The protesters argued that the government’s latest restrictions violated their rights.

On Friday, Ardern announced a 12-day extension of the Auckland lockdown.

“They have achieved such a good level of control and so few cases that quite drastic short-term local measures are justified, in order to preserve relative normality in the medium to longer term,” said Davies.

How did New Zealand contain the virus the first time?

When COVID-19 was beginning to spread to other countries at the beginning of this year, New Zealand took decisive action to protect itself from the virus.

On February 3, New Zealand, which did not yet have any reported cases of COVID-19, banned entry to any foreigner coming from or via China where the outbreak began. Shortly after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March, officials imposed a mandatory lockdown for all those entering the country, one of the strictest lockdown measures in the world during that period. Within weeks, the government closed the border entirely to all non-citizens and residents.

At the same time, the government implemented a countrywide lockdown that restricted movement and limited social interaction to within a household. The government also carried out over 10,000 tests a day and implemented extensive contact tracing.

Although the island country is isolated and has a low population density, making containment efforts easier, experts say it’s the government’s decisive action that helped curb the spread of the virus. “New Zealand had the advantage of being an island but also established a hard lockdown and strict border controls early on, which were critical,” said Davies.

Part of what also appears to have made New Zealand’s strategy so successful is the willingness of citizens to abide by lockdown rules. Overwhelmingly, New Zealenders support the government’s approach to the pandemic, with one poll finding that 87% of citizens backed the government’s lockdown measures and only 8% opposed. Ardern has repeatedly thanked the New Zealand public, referring to the country as a “team of five million.”





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After 102 Days COVID-Free, New Zealand’s Resurgence Highlights the Difficulties of Returning to Normal Life

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For the past three months, New Zealanders have enjoyed a ‘COVID-free’ country, with citizens hugging one another, children returning to classrooms and sport fans filling stadiums. But this changed on Tuesday, when a family of four from Auckland, the country’s biggest city, tested positive for the virus, breaking a 102 day streak without any new COVID-19 cases. As of today, 29 people have tested positive for the virus, all of which remain linked to the original four cases.

Although the government says the latest outbreak appears to currently be limited to one cluster, it is taking tough actions to prohibit any further spread. The small outbreak has sent a third of the population back into lockdown and the rest of the country into restrictions. Auckland has been placed under level 3 lockdown, with residents asked to stay home unless they have to go into work, buy groceries or exercise. “We can see the seriousness of the situation we are in,” Jacinda Ardern, the country’s prime minister said at a press conference. “It’s being dealt with in an urgent but calm and methodical way.”

New Zealand has been lauded internationally for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic with some suggesting Ardern is “the most effective leader on the planet.” Intense contact tracing, isolation and testing made New Zealand one of the first COVID-free countries in the world. On June 8, all social distancing measures were lifted after a 51-day lockdown, allowing citizens to return to normal life. Strict border controls remained in place, however, prohibiting entry to non-New Zealenders and requiring all returning citizens quarantine for 14 days.

But the latest outbreak in New Zealand—a country held up as an example by the World Health Organization—shows that even in a COVID-free nation that is implementing the toughest border control measures, coronavirus remains a threat. “Once again we are reminded of how tricky this virus is and how easily it can spread,” Ardern said in a televised media conference on Thursday. “Going hard and early is still the best course of action.”

New Zealand is not alone in confronting new COVID-19 waves after initial success in curbing the spread of the virus. Vietnam went 99 days without any new cases only to see a surge of new infections in July centered on the port city of Danang. Australia—where officials had talked of eliminating the coronavirus there, as well—recorded its deadliest day of the pandemic on August 10 due to a major outbreak centered on Melbourne. Much of the city, and surrounding state of Victoria, was forced a second lockdown to curtail the spread.

How did the virus resurface in New Zealand?

On Tuesday, four people from the same family tested positive for the virus, becoming the first cases since the country declared itself COVID-free on June 8. None of the patients worked at the country’s borders or had traveled overseas, raising questions about how they became infected in the first place. As of Friday, the cluster of cases has grown to 29 but remain connected to the original cases in Auckland. Thirty-eight people are in government quarantine.

Over 200 people who may have been exposed to the patients have since been tested, the majority of whom are from the same two workplaces as the infected individuals. One unproven theory is that the virus arrived in New Zealand by way of cargo, as one of the original infected individuals worked at Americold, a cold storage facility with imported food. Everyone at the company has been tested, with seven workers testing positive for the virus. Surfaces at the companies’ facilities have also been tested, amid evidence that the virus thrives in cold storage facilities. The company has mandated that all employees and their families self-isolate.

Additional testing is also being done at Rotorua, a town 142 miles southeast of Auckland, where the four family members visited prior to testing positive with the virus.

Although New Zealand has seen success in curbing the spread of the virus, experts say it is unsurprising the country is experiencing a new surge.

“Even with quite stringent precautions I don’t think we can be too surprised to see clusters arising,” said Angharad Davies, a clinical associate professor in microbiology at Swansea University. “Asymptomatic or near-asymptomatic infection and transmission makes this infection very difficult to track and it can circulate below-the-radar before being picked up, especially in clusters of younger people.”

Although all cases have been linked back to one cluster, it is too early to know whether the virus is circulating more widely. The original patient started showing symptoms on July 31, making it possible that the virus has been spreading undetected in New Zealand for several weeks.

“As we all learnt from our first experience with [COVID-19], once you identify a cluster, it grows before it slows,” Ardern said at a media briefing in Wellington on Thursday. “We should expect that to be the case here.”

What new restrictions has the government imposed?

On Wednesday, the government implemented a three-day lockdown in Auckland, requiring residents of the city to stay home except for work, necessary shopping and exercise. All schools, childcare facilities and non-essential businesses have been closed.

Although restrictions are less strict across the rest of the country, people are required to socially distance by maintaining two metres apart and wearing masks. The government has released 5 million masks from the national stockpile and is circulating them to vulnerable people who may be unable to afford one. All retirement homes have also been shut down and gatherings have been limited to under 100 people. Unlike with the previous lockdown, all patients who test positive for COVID-19 will be required to stay in a government-managed quarantine.

The government is also rolling out a COVID-19 tracer app to allow individuals to create digital records of where they have been that will help with contact tracing in the event of an outbreak. All businesses and services are required to display a QR code at the entry of their sites so that people using the app can check themselves in to that establishment. On Tuesday night alone, 100,000 people downloaded the app. “The ability to contact trace is one of the key tools we have to find new cases and get them in isolation to avoid future lockdowns,” Ardern said. “Using the app is a big investment in keeping our businesses and economy open.”

Since lockdown measures were announced on Wednesday, the country has seen a mixed response, with many abiding by the new rules and some fighting against them. In the Northland city of Whangarei, a small group of sixty people protested against new lockdown measures on Thursday. The protesters argued that the government’s latest restrictions violated their rights.

On Friday, Ardern announced a 12-day extension of the Auckland lockdown.

“They have achieved such a good level of control and so few cases that quite drastic short-term local measures are justified, in order to preserve relative normality in the medium to longer term,” said Davies.

How did New Zealand contain the virus the first time?

When COVID-19 was beginning to spread to other countries at the beginning of this year, New Zealand took decisive action to protect itself from the virus.

On February 3, New Zealand, which did not yet have any reported cases of COVID-19, banned entry to any foreigner coming from or via China where the outbreak began. Shortly after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March, officials imposed a mandatory lockdown for all those entering the country, one of the strictest lockdown measures in the world during that period. Within weeks, the government closed the border entirely to all non-citizens and residents.

At the same time, the government implemented a countrywide lockdown that restricted movement and limited social interaction to within a household. The government also carried out over 10,000 tests a day and implemented extensive contact tracing.

Although the island country is isolated and has a low population density, making containment efforts easier, experts say it’s the government’s decisive action that helped curb the spread of the virus. “New Zealand had the advantage of being an island but also established a hard lockdown and strict border controls early on, which were critical,” said Davies.

Part of what also appears to have made New Zealand’s strategy so successful is the willingness of citizens to abide by lockdown rules. Overwhelmingly, New Zealenders support the government’s approach to the pandemic, with one poll finding that 87% of citizens backed the government’s lockdown measures and only 8% opposed. Ardern has repeatedly thanked the New Zealand public, referring to the country as a “team of five million.”





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