WELLINGTON: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Friday (Aug 21) deferred a decision on whether to ease a lockdown on the city of Auckland as 11 new coronavirus infections were reported, including nine cases of community transmission.
New Zealand's biggest city was placed in lockdown earlier this month until Aug 26 amid a spike in new cases, forcing businesses to close and schools to shut.
Ardern said after a review of the lockdown that there was no need to change any settings at this stage, and promised to review them again on Monday.
"We have made good progress. Unlike our first lockdown we are not dealing with multiple outbreaks," she said at a news conference.
"There is nothing to suggest we need change our course and certainly nothing that suggests that we need to escalate our response."
The latest cases brought the total in New Zealand to 1,315, including 105 active cases. The country has reported 22 deaths from the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Ardern also took aim at US President Donald Trump after he claimed there had been a massive breakout of coronavirus cases in New Zealand, his third such reference to the country this week.
The United States had 16,563 cases per million people, while New Zealand had 269 cases per million people, Ardern said.
"Everyone can see that in New Zealand today we are talking 11 cases, whereas the United States has been dealing with over 40,000 cases," she said.
"But I’ll also add, it's not just whether you have cases it's how you choose to deal with them as a nation and personally I am incredibly proud of the approach that all New Zealanders have taken to the battle against COVID-19.”
New Zealand announced earlier this week that it would increase the number of defence personnel at its quarantine facilities and border to beat any further spread of COVID-19.
Around 500 more defence personnel will be deployed, taking the total defence force personnel supporting the COVID-19 response to around 1,200 – the largest military contingent since New Zealand sent peacekeepers to Timor Leste during unrest there in the early 2000s.
An abrupt resurgence of COVID-19 in Auckland has prompted the government to enforce an alert level 3 lockdown on the city's 1.7 million residents, while social distancing rules are in place in other towns and cities.
The origin of the latest outbreak is still unknown, but authorities have ruled out the possibility that it came from frozen food items or freight.
Ardern has delayed the country's general election by a month, bowing to pressure from parties who complained they could not campaign with nearly a third of New Zealand's 5 million people under lockdown in Auckland.