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New Zealand's Ardern orders nationwide lockdown over 1 COVID-19 case

New Zealand's Ardern orders nationwide lockdown over 1 COVID-19 case

FILE PHOTO: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern participates in a televised debate with National leader Judith Collins at TVNZ in Auckland, New Zealand, September 22, 2020. Fiona Goodall/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

WELLINGTON: New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern put the nation under strict lockdown on Tuesday (Aug 17) after one new case of the coronavirus was reported in its largest city of Auckland, the country's first in six months.

All of New Zealand will be in lockdown for three days from Wednesday while Auckland and Coromandel, a coastal town that the infected person had also spent time in, will be in lockdown for seven days.

Imposing its toughest level 4 lockdown rules, schools, offices and all businesses will be shut down and only essential services will be operational.

"The best thing we can do to get out of this as quickly as we can is to go hard," Ardern said in a televised national address. 

"We have made the decision on the basis that it is better to start high and go down levels rather than to go low, not contain the virus and see it move quickly," she said.

"We have seen what can happen elsewhere if we fail to get on top of it. We only get one chance."

The New Zealand leader cited Australia's struggles to contain the highly transmissible variant for her "short, sharp" response.

Ardern said authorities were assuming the new case was a Delta variant infection although this has not been confirmed. There may be other cases, she said.

The last reported community case of COVID-19 in New Zealand was in February.

Officials said a major factor behind the strong response was the fact that the Auckland case has no obvious connection to the border or managed isolation.

"This case was identified in Auckland but is a national issue," director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield said.

"Because we cannot link it to the border it's possible there could be other cases around in Auckland and other chains of transmission (outside the city)."

New Zealand has won widespread praise for its coronavirus response  - centred on eliminating the virus rather than containing it - and has recorded just 26 deaths in a population of five million.

It had not needed to impose national stay-at-home orders for more than a year and life has remained close to normal, with no limits on social gatherings and limited mask use.

It also maintains strict border controls  - with mandatory two-week quarantine for international arrivals.

"The reason New Zealand has been held up as an example is because we've used strategies like this before and they've worked ... the best thing we can do to get out of this as quickly as we can is to go hard," Ardern said.

Ardern said New Zealand was one of the last places in the world to record Delta in the community, giving it the advantage of learning from others' experience.

But she said it was safest to presume the strain was now present, even though laboratory tests would not offer confirmation until Wednesday.

"Every case we've had at MIQ (border quarantine) recently has been the Delta variant and Delta is surging around the world," she said.

"We need to assume this will be too and this has shaped all the decisions we have made."

Auckland has previously been forced into three brief periods of lockdown since an initial eight-week national state of emergency at the beginning of the pandemic last year.

The most recent stay-at-home orders in the city of two million ended in March.

Officials earlier Tuesday outlined details of unrelated virus cases found at a border quarantine facility in Auckland that showed how easily the Delta strain spreads.

An investigation found three people sharing a room were infected by a Delta case staying across the corridor after their doors were both open at the same time for just three to five seconds.

"It really does highlight how this virus is continually evolving and how vigilant we all need to continue to be," quarantine chief Brigadier Rose King said.

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Source: AGENCIES/vc


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