NZ cases drop but Auckland lockdown stays

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New Zealand may be turning the corner in its COVID-19 outbreak after recording 53 daily cases, down from 83 the previous day.

Monday's result is the first time case numbers have fallen since the outbreak was first identified on August 17.

Within hours of that first case, Jacinda Ardern's government plunged the country into a nationwide lockdown.

On Monday, Ms Ardern announced the first loosening of those restrictions.

As of Wednesday, everywhere south of Auckland - including Wellington, which has had 15 cases in the outbreak - will move to a slightly less restrictive level three lockdown.

Level three keeps limits on almost all social gatherings, but allows for more businesses to open, including cafes and restaurants to open for takeaway.

Northland, the region north of Auckland, will go to level three on Friday should wastewater testing turn up negative results this week.

However, the 1.7 million residents of Auckland - responsible for all 53 of Monday's cases - did not receive such good news.

Ms Ardern confirmed a level four lockdown for at least another fortnight, meaning New Zealand's biggest city is resigned to at least a month in lockdown.

"Auckland is doing a huge service for all of us. And not just now, but throughout this pandemic," Ms Ardern said.

"It's Auckland that has maintained our gateway to the world, that has done a lot of the heavy lifting in welcoming Kiwis home safely, that has worked hard to keep the rest of New Zealand safe when there has been an outbreak.

"Auckland has done it tough and they've done it tough for all of us. I know we are all grateful."

The drop from 83 cases to 53 has buoyed many, including Ms Ardern who said she felt "encouraged" by the news.

The fly in the ointment is that the drop in positive tests correlates with a fall in total tests.

On Sunday, more than 23,000 tests were reported, but on Monday, health officials reported 16,000.

"I know that we are willing for that trend to remain," Ms Ardern said.

"It is too premature to say we have a trend yet.

"We are seeing a decreasing of cases outside households ... but the job is not yet done. We do need to keep going."

The outbreak has now infected 562 Kiwis; 547 in Auckland and 15 in Wellington.

There are 37 cases in hospital, including five in a stable condition in intensive care, with three requiring ventilators.

On Monday, New Zealand also recorded its first likely death from a side effect of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

Health officials say a woman died of myocarditis, inflammation of the heart, after being vaccinated, but insist the benefits of being vaccinated outweigh the side effects.

New Zealand has administered 3.3 million doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

Despite surging vaccine rates, Ms Ardern maintains New Zealand will not run out of doses, contrary to recent media reports and opposition claims.

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