New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern extended the nationwide lockdown on Friday as the number of COVID-19 cases in the country rose and the outbreak spread beyond its largest city, Auckland, to the capital, Wellington.
New Zealanders had been living virus-free and unrestricted until Ardern on Tuesday ordered a quick 3-day shutdown across the country and a seven-day shutdown in Auckland after discovering the country’s first case since February.
Ardern extended the lockdown until midnight on August 24, saying the outbreak had spread to other cities.
“We just don’t know the full scale of this outbreak in Delta,” Ardern said at the news conference.
Health officials said there were 11 new cases on Friday, three of which were in Wellington.
The three in Wellington had recently traveled to Auckland and visited locations that were identified as being exposed to the outbreak, the Health Ministry said in a statement.
“We want the entire country to be on high alert right now,” Ardern said.
New Zealand’s health chief Ashley Bloomfield warned that the shutdown in Auckland, the epicenter of the outbreak, could be extended further.
Ardern has earned praise for containing local transmission of COVID-19 through an elimination strategy, imposing heavy blockades and closing New Zealand’s international border in March 2020.
But his government now faces questions about a delay in launching a vaccine, as well as rising costs in a country that relies heavily on an immigrant workforce.
About 19% of the country’s 5.1 million people have been fully vaccinated so far, the slowest among OECD countries.