New Zealand was ordered into a strict nationwide lockdown Tuesday — after just one COVID-19 case was detected.
It was the first locally transmitted infection in the community in six months.
“The best thing we can do to get out of this as quickly as we can is to go hard,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a televised national address.
“We have seen what can happen elsewhere if we fail to get on top of it. We only get one chance,” she insisted.
Ardern announced that all New Zealand will be in the toughest, level-four lockdown for at least three days from Wednesday, with schools, offices and businesses closed and only essential services operational.
The biggest city, Auckland — where the unidentified 58-year-old man tested positive — would have a longer, seven-day lockdown, as would Coromandel, a coastal town where the infected person spent time.
“We are better to start high and be cautious, then move out as soon as we are comfortable doing so, than to start low and be in that phase (lockdown) for much, much longer,” the country’s leader said.
New Zealand’s tough stance with lockdowns and closed international borders has seen it escape relatively unscathed from the pandemic, with fewer than 3,000 infections recorded, and 26 deaths.
The last reported community case of COVID-19 in New Zealand was in February, which also sent Auckland into lockdown.
“The reason New Zealand has been held up as an example is because we’ve used strategies like this before and they’ve worked,” Ardern said.
Arden said authorities were assuming the latest patient had contracted the highly contagious Delta variant, although genome sequencing was yet to be completed. Health officials are tracing his recent contacts, assuming there will be more cases.
“Beating Delta means lifting our game,” Ardern said, telling people to wear face masks whenever in public.
“I ask New Zealanders to please follow the rules to the letter. We know from evidence overseas that the Delta variant can spread just by walking past someone.”
The announcement left people panicking and buying essentials, businesses shutting abruptly and schools and offices making last-minute changes to go online.
The New Zealand dollar tumbled on the announcement, falling 1.5% to $0.6926.
With Post wires