Panic-buyers swarmed supermarkets and traffic was thrown into chaos across Auckland after Jacinda Ardern announced sweeping new lockdown orders on Tuesday night.
The New Zealand prime minister implemented Stage 3 stay-at-home orders for Auckland for 72 hours from midday on Wednesday after the city reported four new cases of COVID-19.
The rest of the country was placed under Stage 2 restrictions – mandating social distancing and limits on the size of gatherings.
Queues snaked around the block and car parks were overflowing at grocery stores throughout the city – even as Ms Ardern begged Kiwis not to congregate at shopping centres.
Tuesday’s new cases are all linked to one family and include a 50-year-old man and a young child.
Contact tracers are working to identify the source of the virus after Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield confirmed the family had no connection to overseas travellers or the hotel quarantine program.
The nation had been the envy of the world for its handling of the COVID-19 crisis, with Monday marking 101 days without a single case of community transmission.
New Zealanders had been enjoying the return of their usual freedoms after an autumn lockdown proved effective in eliminating the deadly virus.
On Tuesday night, they were told those freedoms would be put on hold.
Police are at New Lynn Countdown after people ripped the doors open when security tried to control the amount of people rushing in. That woman is saying she needs food for her kid. This ain’t it Auckland. pic.twitter.com/PDf1Oe26Mx
— Matt Manukia (@MattManukiaTVNZ) August 11, 2020
Following the announcement of a return to Stage 3 lockdown, motorists rushed to escape Auckland on Tuesday night.
Ms Ardern promised travellers in the city would be allowed to return home during lockdown, but motorways were congested as people attempted to make an early exit.
While some roads, including State Highway 1, were closed in sections for scheduled maintenance, there were plenty of cars on the roads heading out of Auckland or toward supermarkets, where frenzied buyers stocked up on supplies.
Opposition Leader Judith Collins on Tuesday night said there was ‘clearly a failure’ in the government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.
‘We have had essentially a lockdown of our borders since March, and the only people allowed in have apparently been in quarantine – clearly there is a failure,’ she told the NZHerald.
‘I am, like I’m sure the rest of the country, extremely disappointed that this has been allowed in through our borders.
‘We clearly have a failure that is disappointing – I am actually so disappointed that we are not in a situation that we have been told we were in.
‘I’m pinning it straight on the borders – clearly it’s come in through there; clearly it’s not organic to New Zealand.’
Ms Collins assured the public that the National Party would ‘be seeking an explanation and clear answers about the situation we now find ourselves in’.
‘This will come as a shock to all New Zealanders who believed what we had been told – that we had got on top of this virus. It is disappointing that it is once again in our community,’ Ms Collins said.
‘A lot of work will need to be done over the coming days to figure out exactly what this latest case of community transmission will mean for the country, and I urge all New Zealanders to follow the hygiene protocols that saw us do such a great job of dealing with the first wave of COVID-19. ‘
Ms Collins has suspended her election campaign in the wake of the latest update.
The federal election is scheduled to be held on September 19.
Ms Ardern would not comment on whether it would be suspended given the potential community transmission of COVID-19.