New Zealand's coronavirus outbreak spreads to South Island

New Zealand holds a COVID-19 single-day vaccination drive, seen in Auckland
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(Reuters) - New Zealand reported 104 new coronavirus infections on Saturday, including the first community case of the virus in the country's South Island in nearly a year, health officials said.

Most of the new infections were reported in Auckland, New Zealand's largest city that has been under a strict lockdown for more than two months. Looser restrictions are in place in most of the rest of the country of 5 million.

The risks of a further spread from the case reported in Blenheim, in the north east of the South Island, remained low, health officials said, with the person likely in the late stage of infection.

"So far, initial case interviews have identified a small number of close contacts, who have been contacted and are currently isolating with tests arranged," the health ministry said in a statement.

On Friday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that New Zealand will end its strict lockdown measures and restore more freedoms only when 90% of its eligible population is fully vaccinated. As of Saturday, 70% of those eligible were fully inoculated.

Once the poster child for stamping out COVID-19, New Zealand has been unable to beat an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant of COVID-19 centred in Auckland, forcing Ardern to abandon her elimination strategy and switch to living with the virus.

The number of cases in the current outbreak reached 2,492 and New Zealand has recorded 28 coronavirus-related deaths so far in the pandemic.

(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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