New Zealand sees small increase in daily COVID-19 cases over weekend

FILE PHOTO: A COVID-19 lockdown remains in place as an outbreak of cases affects New Zealand
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(Reuters) - New Zealand reported 24 new locally acquired coronavirus cases on Sunday, up from 20 on Saturday, showing an upturn after several days of lower numbers, as the country's largest city Auckland awaits to hear if its lockdown restrictions will ease.

All of the new cases have been reported in greater Auckland, a city of about 1.7 million people which has been in a full level 4 lockdown since mid-August.

The government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is to announce on Monday whether the alert levels for Auckland and rest of the country will be changed.

Until the weekend, New Zealand was on a path to eliminate the latest outbreak, which began in mid-August and has infected 1,050 people with the highly transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus.

"Delta's tail is long and it is hard," Ardern told a briefing on Sunday.

Director of Public Health Caroline McElnay said that health officials are "still cautiously optimistic" that the vast bulk of the latest outbreak was under control.

New Zealand had been largely virus-free for months until the latest outbreak. It has had just over 3,700 confirmed infections since the start of the pandemic and 27 deaths.

(Reporting and writing in Melbourne by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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