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New Zealand Scrambles to Trace COVID-19 Cases as Numbers Grow 

Medical staff prepare take a COVID-19 test from a visitor to a drive through community based assessment center in Christchurch, New Zealand, Aug. 13, 2020.

Officials in New Zealand say they have now identified 13 new cases of COVID-19 in Auckland, the nation’s largest city, all directly related to the four cases from the same household reported Tuesday.

New Zealand Ministry of Health Director-General Ashley Bloomfield told reporters in Wellington Thursday that authorities are treating the 13 cases as a cluster. He said they have learned clusters continue to grow, and he fully expects there will be additional cases.

He said all those in the cluster are in isolation and they, along will all other all confirmed cases, will be managed in a quarantine facility.

Until those new cases, the country had gone 102 days without a locally transmitted COVID-19 case. An additional case is a returned international traveler who is in a quarantine facility.

A news alert is displayed on a mobile phone in Christchurch, New Zealand, Aug. 11, 2020.
A news alert is displayed on a mobile phone in Christchurch, New Zealand, Aug. 11, 2020.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she is expecting the situation to worsen before it improves, though she said it was “heartening” to see these new cases all in one cluster, which usually means it can be isolated and contained.

But Ardern noted the virus is “tricky” and can spread easily, which is why she is moving forward with her plan to limit people-to-people contact in Auckland.

“We have a plan, we have acted quickly, and now we'll continue to roll out that plan," Ardern said.

Auckland has been shut down through midnight Friday, with businesses closed and mandatory mask requirements. Ardern Wednesday urged residents elsewhere in the country to wear masks to show their support.

Meanwhile, cars began lining up outside testing centers around Auckland as officials attempt to track and trace these new cases.

Before this week's outbreak, New Zealand had been held up by world health authorities as one of the best examples for managing the pandemic.