New Zealand Extends Nationwide Lockdown as Criticism Over Strategy Mounts

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern extended the country’s national COVID-19 lockdown on Monday, saying the current outbreak has not peaked and more certainty about the Delta variant of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus is needed.

The entire nation will remain at “alert level 4,” until 11:59 p.m. on Aug. 27, the ministry of health announced. The region of Auckland, the epicenter of the latest outbreak of 35 CCP virus cases, will be under the nation’s strictest rules until at least Aug. 31.

“We don’t yet believe that we have reached the peak of this outbreak or necessarily the edge of it,” Ardern said at a press briefing in the capital of Wellington. “That does mean the safest option for all of us right now is to hold the course for longer.”

“Six days into the outbreak, we are building a picture of Delta’s spread,” she added. “There remain a number of unanswered questions, and with Delta more certainty is needed.”

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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield attend the COVID-19 update and Post Cabinet press conference at the Beehive Theatrette on Aug. 23, 2021 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Robert Kitchin/Pool/Getty Images)

Under level four, the highest level of lockdown in the country, everyone is required to stay at home and are only allowed to make physical contact with those in their household bubble. Businesses and schools will be closed and only essential services will be operational.

The latest government update brings the total number of cases in the community outbreak to 107. Of the 35 latest cases, 33 were identified in Auckland and two in Wellington.

The discovery of a single “assumed” Delta case last week was all it took to put the country back into a full national lockdown.

Health officials announced last week a 58-year-old man from Auckland, who has not been identified, likely contracted the Delta variant, although genome sequencing has yet to be completed. Ardern enforced a snap three-day nationwide lockdown over the case that began on Aug. 17 around midnight.

The outbreak of the Delta variant has called into question Ardern’s snap lockdowns and border restrictions approach that have curtailed New Zealand’s economy.

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A giant sign painted near the main runway of the Wellington International Airport greets travelers returning home in Wellington, New Zealand on April 19, 2021. (Nick PerryAP Photo)

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand last week held off hiking interest rates following the outbreak and lockdown. The Bank’s chief economist said on Monday that the outbreak was not a “game-changer” yet, but was causing some economic uncertainty.

“For now everyone is in agreement … elimination is the strategy,” Ardern said as she defended her CCP virus strategy during Monday’s briefing. “There is no discussion or debate amongst any of us about that because that is the safest option for us while we continue to vaccinate our people.”

New Zealand has recorded just 2,698 confirmed COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, along with 26 deaths, according to the health ministry.

About 20 percent of the 5.1 million New Zealanders are fully vaccinated, with approximately 1.75 million people having taken a first dose and just over 1 million people having taken two doses.

Earlier this month, Ardern also confirmed that the border will remain shut for international travelers for the rest of the year, adding that she hopes for a cautious reopening in a phased manner starting after the New Year.

Reuters contributed to this report.