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New Zealanders scramble to prepare for lockdown

August 12, 2020

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said she is working on targeted economic relief for Auckland in case restrictions last longer. She also warned the country's upcoming election could be delayed.

Jacinda Ardern
Image: Getty Images/H. Hopkins

New Zealand's largest city Auckland is back in lockdown after a reemergence of coronavirus outbreaks. A three-day stay-at-home order has seen region-wide police checkpoints introduced and panic-buying supermarkets.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Cabinet will make a decision on Friday on whether to impose further restrictions. She said authorities are working on targeted economic relief for Auckland in case the city of 1.5 million people faces a long-term shutdown.

The new outbreaks forced nursing homes nationwide to shut their doors. Health officials warned they could act as transmission hotspots. 

"I realize how incredibly difficult this will be for those who have loved ones in these facilities, but it's the strongest way we can protect and look after them," Ardern said.

Read more:  Coronavirus: 5 things New Zealand got right

What led to the new lockdown?

Ardern said that there were four cases in an Auckland household from an unknown source, ending New Zealand's run of 102 days without community transmission.

The prime minister described the new infections as "unsettling" but said authorities are racing to trace anyone who had been in contact with the four Auckland residents.

Huge queues formed outside COVID-19 testing stations and face-masked police patrolled Auckland's major roads to enforce the new measures.

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Elections may be delayed

Ardern warned the county's September 19 election may have to be postponed if the outbreak failed to be contained. 

"We're seeking advice from the Electoral Commission, just so that we make sure we have all options open to us," she said. "No decisions yet, as you can imagine, have been made."

New Zealand's Parliament had been due to be dissolved Wednesday to allow the election to go ahead.

In a statement, the legislature said that step "will no longer be held today" but could be done any time before October 13, 2020, potentially delaying the election by months.

New Zealand has reported just 22 deaths from the virus in a population of slightly under 5 million.

Hailed by the World Health Organization as a coronavirus success story, New Zealand managed to contain the virus through a tough seven-week lockdown earlier this year.

mvb/rt (Reuters, AFP)