New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern chides marchers over virus rule breach

WELLINGTON: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday (Jun 2) criticised Black Lives Matter protesters for flouting social distancing rules when the country is on the verge of eliminating the coronavirus, with just one active case remaining.

The leader said she sympathised with people who marched in New Zealand cities on Monday to protest the death of US man George Floyd, an African-American, at the hands of a white police officer.

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But she was concerned that large crowds – estimated at about 2,000 in Auckland – could undermine New Zealand's success in fighting the virus as they stood shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity with US protesters.

"We are in a global pandemic and I would hate for there to be an outbreak caused by someone who felt really moved to go and share their view to then become ill," she told TVNZ.

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"That's exactly what we're trying to prevent … if we had one person, in that crowd (with coronavirus) just think what could happen."

New Zealand, with a population of five million, has recorded just 1,154 cases of COVID-19 with 22 deaths, after imposing a strict seven-week lockdown that ended last month.

The most recent new infection was recorded on May 22 and only one person is regarded as an active case, a woman in her 50s linked to a cluster at an Auckland nursing home.

However, social distancing rules remain in place and gatherings are limited to 100 people as a precaution in case there are undetected infections in the community.

Ardern's deputy Winston Peters – a coalition partner from the populist New Zealand First Party – called for the organisers of Monday's protests to be prosecuted.

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