New Zealand election date in doubt as COVID-19 returns

AUCKLAND: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern weighed delaying New Zealand's upcoming election on Wednesday (Aug 12), as experts investigated whether the coronavirus could have re-entered the country through freight shipments.

Health authorities rushed to implement a rapid lockdown in the country's largest city Auckland, where four more probable COVID-19 infections have been uncovered bringing the outbreak's total to eight.

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With 1.5 million people under stay-at-home orders, and millions more at risk of a wider outbreak, Ardern said she was seeking advice on delaying the Sep 19 election.

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Parliament was due to be dissolved on Wednesday to allow the election to take place, but the centre-left leader held off the move until Monday to monitor how the crisis evolves.

"At this stage, it's too early to make any decision but this means there is some flexibility if required," said Ardern, who is well ahead in opinion polls and expected to win a second term.

Leader of the opposition National Party Judith Collins called for a delay until late November, or even next year.

"It is simply unsustainable to expect there to be a fair and just election at a time when opposition parties are not free to campaign," she said.

Jacinda Adern said the coronavirus outbreak could force next month's elections to be postponed AFP/Marty MELVILLE

New Zealand's much envied run of 102 days without community transmission ended abruptly on Tuesday, when four people from one family – with no history of foreign travel – tested positive.

READ: New Zealand records 100 days without domestic virus case but warns against complacency

Authorities were still trying to piece together the movements of those infected and the source of the latest infections remained unknown.

But national director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield said tests were under way to see if the virus could have been imported via freight.

If the theory is proven, it could have profound implications for international trade flows already battered by the months-long pandemic.

READ: Coronavirus found on frozen seafood packaging in China

BACK IN THE BUNKER

Aucklanders were coming to terms Wednesday with a three-day stay-at-home order that came into force at lunchtime, ending months of near normality during which residents could flock to restaurants and pack rugby stadiums.

Some of the everyday freedoms New Zealanders had enjoyed were taken away again, with Ardern restricting gatherings in the city to a maximum of 10 people, and urging Aucklanders to wear masks.

Panic buying returned to supermarkets, huge queues formed at COVID-19 testing stations and masked police manned checkpoints on major roads to enforce the new measures.

Aucklanders are being tested in their cars AFP/DAVID ROWLAND

Nursing homes nationwide were told to shut their doors, with Ardern saying it was the best way to protect vulnerable seniors in facilities that have proved to be transmission hotspots overseas.

READ: New Zealand retirement home in lockdown to test for COVID-19

The final match of Super Rugby Aotearoa between Auckland Blues and Canterbury Crusaders – which had been set to take placeRead More – Source