The prime minister of New Zealand has warned the situation will get "worse before it gets better" as Covid case numbers grew and a new lockdown was predicted to wipe billions off the economy.
New Zealand this week announced an end to an 102-day run of zero local cases, with a cluster of four that has now grown to 17.
Officials have investigated the possibility it may have been imported into the country via frozen goods, but Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister, said on Thursday that it was most likely caused by human to human transmission.
"As with our first outbreak, we do have an expectation that things will get worse before they get better," she said on Thursday.
“Modelling suggests that we will still see more positive cases. At this stage, though, it’s heartening to see them in one cluster.”
“As we all learnt from our first experience with Covid, once you identify a cluster, it grows before it slows. We should expect that to be the case here,” Ms Ardern added. “We can see the seriousness of the situation we are in. It’s being dealt with in an urgent but calm and methodical way.”
The cases, which are in New Zealand's economic capital of Auckland, prompted a level-three lockdown, which is due to end on Friday. However, with the source of the outbreak still unknown, it is likely the restrictions will continue.
Auckland accounts for just under 40 per cent of the country's GDP, and the quarantine measures - which have closed pubs, restaurants and non-essential businesses - is expected to wipe $439 million (£216m) a week from the economy, according to new research by ASB, an economics analysis firm.
"Our estimates suggest a modest impact on New Zealand's GDP, but this could easily grow," ASB senior economist Mark Smith told the NZ Herald.
The financial impact will worsen if the restrictions are extended, or if lockdown measures are raised to a higher level.
New Zealand’s director general of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, revealed on Thursday that the genome sequence from the country’s new coronavirus cluster “most closely resembles” patterns from the United Kingdom and Australia.
Dr Bloomfield said genome sequencing investigations are ongoing and there is currently “no exact link” between the sequence of the new locally transmitted cases and imported cases in managed isolation facilities.
Auckland resident Matt, who declined to give his surname, told The Daily Telegraph that despite warnings from government officials, the new outbreak has come as a shock.
“Of course, we had been warned that this would occur at some stage, but with just over 100 days without community transmission, it did come as a surprise,” he said.
"We are seeing individuals and businesses crippled by the lockdown, either mentally or financially, or both. Personally, I am happy with the government’s response, I would rather be in New Zealand than anywhere else.”