New Zealand to enter nationwide lockdown after single coronavirus case discovered

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The New Zealand government took drastic action on Tuesday by placing the entire nation in strict containment for at least three days after finding a single case of coronavirus infection in the community.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has invoked some of the moving rhetoric she used at the start of the pandemic by urging the “team of 5 million” – the people of New Zealand – to bend over backwards to try to eliminate the last epidemic.

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“We’ve seen what happens elsewhere if we fail to get it under control,” Ardern said. “We only have one chance.”

She said Auckland, where the infected man lives, and Coromandel, where he visited, would be stranded for seven days and the rest of the country for three days as health experts attempt to find the source of his infection.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said areas where the infected man lives and has visited will enter full lockdown for seven days while the rest of the country will be locked down for three days.  (Mark Mitchell / New Zealand Herald via AP, file)
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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said areas where the infected man lives and has visited will enter full lockdown for seven days while the rest of the country will be locked down for three days. (Mark Mitchell / New Zealand Herald via AP, file)

The developments prompted people to queue in front of supermarkets to stock up on essentials and triggered a sharp drop in the value of the New Zealand dollar.

New Zealand has successfully eradicated the virus and the last outbreak was in February. But Ardern had warned that the contagiousness of the delta variant would likely require more drastic action than previous outbreaks.

New Zealand has also been slower than other developed countries to inoculate its population, leaving them vulnerable to epidemics. Only 32% of people have had at least one injection and 18% are fully vaccinated.

Shoppers line up to enter a supermarket in Auckland, New Zealand on Tuesday, August 17, 2021. The New Zealand government took drastic action on Tuesday by putting the entire nation in strict containment after detecting just one community case of coronavirus.  (Brett Phibbs / New Zealand Herald via AP)

Shoppers line up to enter a supermarket in Auckland, New Zealand on Tuesday, August 17, 2021. The New Zealand government took drastic action on Tuesday by putting the entire nation in strict containment after detecting just one community case of coronavirus. (Brett Phibbs / New Zealand Herald via AP)

And officials have seen with concern a growing epidemic in neighboring Sydney, saying they don’t want to make the same mistakes by waiting too long to impose tough measures.

Health officials said genomic testing would not verify until Wednesday whether the infected 58-year-old man had the delta variant, although they were working assuming he did.

Officials said they couldn’t immediately find a link between the man and the handful of people who tested positive in quarantine isolation after arriving from abroad. The border is considered the most likely source of any outbreak.

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The move to the strictest lockdown underscored the very different approach New Zealand has taken towards the virus compared to most other countries, which are trying to suppress its spread rather than eliminate it altogether.

New Zealand has only reported 26 virus deaths since the start of the pandemic.

The confinement takes effect from a little before midnight Tuesday. It forces people to stay at home and avoid others. Most people can only go for shopping or exercise. The country’s immunization program had accelerated but was suspended for two days due to the outbreak.

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