WELLINGTON: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern extended New Zealand’s coronavirus lockdown on Monday, saying the current outbreak has not peaked, as criticism mounts of her strategy to eliminate COVID-19 amid the slow rollout of its vaccine programme.
Ardern garnered global praise for stamping out COVID-19 in New Zealand last year and the country was virus-free since February. But an outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus last week while few people have been vaccinated has called into question the approach of snap lockdowns and border restrictions that have curtailed the economy.
Ardern extended the strict level 4 national lockdown by three days until midnight on Aug. 27 while its largest city Auckland, the epicentre of the current outbreak, will have restrictions in place at least until Aug. 31.
“We don’t yet believe that we have reached the peak of this outbreak, or necessarily the edge of it,” Ardern said at a news conference in the capital Wellington.
“That does mean the safest options for all of us right now is to hold the course for longer,” she added.
With about 80% of the 5.1 million New Zealanders yet to be fully vaccinated, Ardern, the leader of the Labour Party that holds the majority in the parliament, chose to quickly lock down the entire country, angering many of her critics.
“For now everyone is in agreement … elimination is the strategy. There is no discussion or debate amongst any of us about that because that is the safest option for us while we continue to vaccinate our people,” Ardern said.
But, she did not rule out New Zealanders eventually having to live with the virus.
“Going into next year let’s continue to get their (experts) advice. But I would say that’s always been our approach … constantly learning, constantly adapting,” she said.