Ardern Extends Auckland Lockdown for 12 Days to Curb Virus

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern extended the lockdown of New Zealand’s largest city Auckland for 12 days as authorities try to stamp out the nation’s first outbreak in more than three months.

Under the level 3 restrictions, people will be urged to stay home and consumer-facing businesses will be shuttered until Aug. 26. Across the country, level 2 restrictions that include social distancing and gathering limits, will also be extended until the same day.

The move is in line with New Zealand’s philosophy of “going hard and going early,” Ardern told reporters. To help people cope with the economic shock of the lockdown, a wage subsidy program and mortgage payment deferral scheme will be extended.

After eradicating community transmission, New Zealand’s 102-day Covid-free run ended this week when an initial four new cases were detected in an Auckland household. Ardern responded to the fresh outbreak by putting Auckland, a city of 1.6 million people and a hub of commerce, into an initial three day lockdown and reimposed social distancing rules across the rest of the country.

The prime minister said she will make a decision on whether to delay the Sept. 19 election within 48 hours.

New Zealand recorded 12 new confirmed local cases of the coronavirus on Friday including 2 in the North Island town of Tokoroa. That takes the cluster, all linked to the Auckland outbreak, to 30, including one probable case. The nation now has 48 active cases, which includes 18 people who tested positive during the 14-day quarantine that’s mandatory for anyone returning to the country from overseas.

While the origin of the outbreak is yet to be determined, the earliest case dates to July 31 with the infection of a worker at the Americold cold storage plant in the Auckland suburb of Mt Wellington, Ardern said.

“We have found this outbreak relatively early in its life,” she said. Some 30,000 tests have been carried out this week, and the country has stockpiles sufficient for another 303,000 tests, she said.

Businesses and investors are wary that an extension of the restrictions would stall the economic recovery that has been underway since a seven-week nationwide lockdown that ended in mid-May. The first lockdown -- a so-called alert level 4 -- saw manufacturing and construction closed, tipping New Zealand into recession for the first time in 10 years.

“If this is just a scare and the alert levels are raised only briefly, then the economic implications are small,” said Dominick Stephens, chief New Zealand economist at Westpac in Auckland. “If New Zealand goes into another strict level 4 lockdown, the economic implications would be more severe.”

Still, international experience shows that losing control of the virus would be much more damaging to the economy, he said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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