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A single coronavirus case puts New Zealand into national lockdown

Shoppers lining up outside a supermarket
Shoppers line up outside a supermarket in Auckland, New Zealand, on Tuesday.
(Brett Phibbs / New Zealand Herald)

New Zealand’s government took drastic action Tuesday by putting the entire nation in strict lockdown for at least three days after finding a single case of community spread of the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern invoked some of the stirring rhetoric she used early in the pandemic by urging the “team of 5 million” — New Zealand’s population — to go hard and early in trying to eliminate the latest outbreak.

“We have seen what happens elsewhere if we fail to get on top of it,” Ardern said. “We only get one chance.”

She said Auckland, where the infected man lives, and Coromandel, which he had visited, would go into a full lockdown for seven days and the remainder of the country for three days while health experts tried to find the source of his infection.

The developments prompted people to line up outside supermarkets to stock up on essential items and sparked a sharp drop in the value of the New Zealand dollar.

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New Zealand had managed to stamp out the coronavirus, with the last outbreak in February. But Ardern had been warning that the contagiousness of the Delta variant would likely require more drastic action than previous outbreaks.

Canberra, the Australian capital, is put in lockdown for a week after a single COVID-19 case was detected and the coronavirus was found in wastewater.

New Zealand has also been slower than other developed nations to inoculate its population, leaving it vulnerable to outbreaks. Only 32% of people have had at least one COVID-19 shot, and only 18% are fully vaccinated.

Officials have been viewing a growing outbreak in nearby Sydney, Australia, with alarm, saying they don’t want to make the same mistakes by waiting too long to impose strict measures.

Health officials said genome testing would not verify until Wednesday whether the infected 58-year-old man had the Delta variant, although they were working under the assumption he does.

Officials said they could not immediately find a connection between the man and the handful of people who have tested positive while isolating in quarantine after arriving from abroad. The border is seen as the most likely source of any outbreaks.

Google co-founder Larry Page has gained New Zealand residency, stoking debate over whether the very rich can essentially buy access to the country.

The move into strict lockdown underscored the vastly different approach New Zealand has taken to the coronavirus from most other nations, which are attempting to suppress its spread rather than eliminate it entirely.

New Zealand has reported just 26 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began.

The lockdown was to take effect just before midnight Tuesday night. It requires people to remain at home and avoid others. Most people can leave only to buy groceries or exercise. The nation’s vaccination program had been accelerating but has been suspended for two days because of the detected infection.


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