New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern put the nation into a three-day lockdown after the discovery of the first community case of COVID-19 since February.
The snap lockdown will begin at midnight Tuesday as authorities rush to identify the source of a single infection in Auckland, Ardern said at a news conference in Wellington on Tuesday. While genome sequencing has yet to be completed, the case is assumed to be the highly infectious delta variant, she said.
“Delta has been a game-changer — we’re responding to that,” Ardern said. “The best thing we can do to get out of this as quickly as we can is to go hard.”
It is New Zealand’s first nationwide lockdown since the initial pandemic response over a year ago. Under so-called Alert Level 4, all schools, public venues and most businesses must close and people are urged to wear a face covering if they need to venture out. Only shops providing essential services such as groceries, gasoline and health products can stay open.
The case is an unvaccinated man in his 50s from Auckland who is deemed to have been infectious since Aug. 12. He and his fully vaccinated wife visited the nearby Coromandel region over the weekend. Both Auckland and the Coromandel have been placed into lockdown for seven days.
Because of those movements and the probability of it being delta, officials advised an immediate nationwide response, Ardern said.
“Going hard and early has worked for us before,” she said. “We want to be short and hard, rather than light and long.”
New Zealand has so far largely kept the virus out of the community, allowing its economy to recover quickly during the pandemic. But a slow vaccine rollout has left it vulnerable to another outbreak, particularly of the delta variant that has forced large parts of neighboring Australia back into lockdown.
The case comes on the eve of the Reserve Bank’s review of the official cash rate, with the majority of economists forecasting a quarter percentage point hike in response to an overheating economy. The New Zealand dollar fell as investors pared bets on the prospect of a tightening.
Westpac economists said late Tuesday they now expect the RBNZ to keep the cash rate on hold Wednesday, citing the uncertainty of the new COVID-19 outbreak.
Australia’s delta outbreak continues to spread despite more than half the nation’s 26 million people being placed into lockdown. New South Wales state recorded 452 new cases on Tuesday after a record of 478 set the previous day, with the vast bulk of those infections detected in Sydney.
Australia’s most-populous city has been in lockdown for more than seven weeks, and some health experts have criticized the New South Wales government for entering the lockdown after the virus was already seeded in the community.
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