Omicron spreads in New Zealand, spoiling prime minister’s wedding plans
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is postponing her wedding after announcing new COVID-19 restrictions Sunday following the discovery of nine cases of the Omicron variant in a family that flew to Auckland to attend a wedding.
The so-called “red setting” of the country’s pandemic response includes heightened measures such as required mask wearing and limits on gatherings. The restrictions will go into effect on Monday.
Ardern stressed that “red is not lockdown,” noting that businesses can remain open and people can still visit family and friends and move freely around the country.
“Our plan for managing Omicron cases in the early stage remains the same as Delta, where we will rapidly test, contact-trace and isolate cases and contacts in order to slow the spread,” Ardern told reporters.
But her own wedding plans are on hold.
Officials say the Omicron variant has flooded the emergency room at Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital, ground zero for hospitals besieged by a winter surge, with people who are not as sick.
The 41-year-old prime minister was planning to tie the knot next weekend.
“I just join many other New Zealanders who have had an experience like that as a result of the pandemic and to anyone who’s caught up in that scenario, I am so sorry,” she said.
New Zealand had been among the few remaining countries to have avoided any outbreaks of the Omicron variant, but Ardern acknowledged last week that an outbreak was inevitable given the high transmissibility of the variant.
The country has managed to contain the spread of the Delta variant, with an average of about 20 new cases each day. It has seen an increasing number of people arriving in the country and going into mandatory quarantine who are infected with Omicron.
That has put strain on the quarantine system and prompted the government to limit access for returning citizens while it decides what to do about reopening its borders, angering many people who want to return to New Zealand.
About 93% of New Zealanders age 12 and over are fully vaccinated, and 52% have had a booster shot. The country has just begun vaccinating children between 5 and 11.
The family from the Nelson-Marlborough region attended a wedding and other events while in Auckland earlier this month, with estimates suggesting they came into contact with “well over 100 people at these events,” Ardern said.
“That means that Omicron is now circulating in Auckland and possibly the Nelson-Marlborough region if not elsewhere,” she added.
Ardern plans to marry her longtime partner, Clarke Gayford. They have a 3-year-old daughter, Neve.
Ardern in 2018 became only the second elected world leader in modern history to give birth while holding office.
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