New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern urged residents to follow her guidelines that aim to quickly eliminate the highly transmissible Delta variant spreading across the country as she announced an extension to the national lockdown amid a surge in confirmed cases.
However, despite her success last year in staving off the COVID-19 pandemic in the region, some critics are questioning if she can do the same now. The statements come amid a relatively low vaccination rate compared to other well-developed countries.
New Zealand's Return to Fight COVID-19
In a news conference, Ardern said that the country has been in this situation before last year and noted that elimination strategy works in keeping the infection at bay. She said that cases will rise and fall until there is no longer a threat. Ardern urged people to follow guidelines and endure temporary hardships.
The country of nearly five million people has opted to extend its lockdown until midnight on Tuesday. The decision came after the outbreak widened beyond the country's largest city, Auckland, and into the capital, Wellington, NBC News reported.
On Friday, authorities recorded 11 new cases, three of which were in Wellington, which brought the total number of infections to 31 so far. The three cases from Wellington were individuals who traveled to Auckland and visited areas considered to have been exposed to the outbreak.
Officials revealed that the patient at the center of the most recent cluster of cases was an unvaccinated 58-year-old man who traveled to other parts of the country. They said that he did not have direct links to the border, Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said on Tuesday.
His diagnoses urged Ardern and several other public health officials to implement a level four lockdown, the strictest in the country. The decision forces residents to stay at home and businesses to close down with the exception of essential services such as supermarkets and pharmacies, CNN reported.
On Tuesday, Ardern noted that New Zealand is one of the last countries to experience the highly transmissible Delta variant. She said that officials and residents can look at other nations and learn what should be done in order to prevent the infection from taking over the country.
The New Zealand infection came from an outbreak in Australia, where a state leader warned on Friday that Melbourne was slowly losing control of the Delta variant. Officials first discovered the surge in mid-June in Sydney, the largest city in Australia. The region reported more than 600 new infections in each of the last four days.
While neighboring nations have succeeded in using lockdowns as a means to prevent clusters from invading, the Delta variant is proving to be more powerful. Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said he was slowly losing hope that the region could eliminate the latest outbreak in Melbourne, which has already undergone its sixth lockdown on August 5.
On Friday, Victoria reported 55 new community infections, but the majority of new patients were already infecting other people before they began isolating themselves, which made "today a bad day," Andrews said, the Associated Press reported.