N.Z. Locks Down Second City as Virus Spreads Beyond Auckland
New Zealand placed its fourth-largest city into a snap lockdown after two cases of Covid-19 were reported outside Auckland, where an outbreak of the infectious delta variant continues to fester.
The city of Hamilton and the small beachside town of Raglan, both in the Waikato district south of Auckland, will join the nation’s biggest city on Alert Level 3 restrictions at midnight Sunday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said. The areas will remain locked down for an initial period of five days as health officials assess whether the virus has spread widely.
“Two cases have been identified today beyond the Auckland boundary,” Ardern told a news conference. “One is in Raglan, the other is in Hamilton East. The two cases are connected to one another, but at this stage we have not connected them to our Auckland outbreak.”
Ardern’s cabinet is due to decide on Monday whether Auckland can exit a lockdown that is now in its seventh week. Opposition parties are calling for the government to abandon its elimination strategy, saying it’s clear that the lockdown isn’t working. Daily new case numbers have risen recently, with 32 additional infections reported in Auckland on Sunday.
“The spread of Covid into the Waikato and increasing numbers of unlinked cases is all the proof needed to confirm Level 3 in Auckland is not containing the virus in line with the government’s elimination strategy,” Judith Collins, leader of the main opposition National Party, said in a statement. “A new approach is urgently required.”
Ardern has said the government wants to move away from lockdowns but can only do so once a high proportion of the population is vaccinated. About 79% of eligible people aged 12 and over have had one dose, but only around 48% are fully vaccinated.
“It is not a coincidence that those in our current outbreak have not been vaccinated,” Ardern said. “That’s because the vaccine works, but it’s also because the virus is literally finding unvaccinated people.”
New Zealand has been among the most aggressive countries in imposing lockdowns and travel bans. Only 27 people have died of Covid-19.
News that Auckland’s outbreak is spreading comes just days before the central bank is expected to raise interest rates to curb inflation pressures. While the Reserve Bank has said lockdowns alone won’t deter it from acting, it will have to consider the economic impact of the now-lengthy delta outbreak.
Meanwhile, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said Sunday that New Zealand will require all non-citizens aged 17 and over arriving in the country to be fully vaccinated from Nov. 1, and Air New Zealand said it would require international travelers to be inoculated starting in February.
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