New Zealand on Friday extended a national lockdown sparked by a Delta virus outbreak into next week but warned restrictions would last longer in the infection epicentre of Auckland.
The Delta cluster emerged in Auckland last week, ending a six-month run without local transmission that had made New Zealand one of the world’s last COVID-free zones.
While there were 70 new cases reported on Friday, taking the total to 347, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said there were signs the outbreak would soon peak if stay-at-home orders remained in place.
“We may be seeing the beginning of a plateau in cases,” she said.
“Our job is to keep up the hard work in order to bend, and then flatten, the (infection) curve.”
Ardern said a nationwide lockdown imposed on August 17 would now continue until August 31.
She said Auckland, where all but 14 cases have been found, and the neighbouring region of Northland, were set to face at least an extra two weeks of hard lockdown.
New Zealand is pursuing a “COVID zero” elimination strategy — which has resulted in just 26 deaths in a population of five million — using strict border controls backed by hard lockdowns when any cases do slip through.
Ardern said that from Wednesday areas outside Auckland and Northland would move down a notch to level three on New Zealand’s four-tier virus alert system.
Most residents must still remain at home during level three but some businesses such as restaurants and retail outlets can reopen using contactless collection methods.
Ardern said police checkpoints would be set up to ensure there was no travel between Auckland, Northland and the rest of the country.