Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern put New Zealand under strict lockdown on Tuesday after the country’s first coronavirus case in six months was reported in the largest city of Auckland.
Ardern told a press conference Tuesday authorities were assuming it was the contagious Delta variant, although genome sequencing is still underway.
Ardern’s “go hard, go early” strategy has helped curb COVID-19 but her announcement left people struggling to stack up essentials, businesses shutting abruptly and schools and offices making last-minute changes to go online.
All New Zealand will be in the toughest, level-four lockdown for at least three days from Wednesday. Auckland and Coromandel, a coastal town where the infected person also spent time, will be in lockdown for seven days.
“The best thing we can do to get out of this as quickly as we can is to go hard,” Ardern told a news conference.
An unvaccinated 58-year-old man in the country’s largest city Auckland tested positive for the virus. The man had traveled to other parts of the country, and had obvious link to the border, Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said Tuesday.
New Zealand will be under the strictest level lockdown level for the next three days starting from 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, local time, Ardern said. Under level four lockdown, everyone must stay home and businesses are closed aside for essential services such as supermarkets and pharmacies.
New Zealand was last under its most serious lockdown level a year ago, Ardern said.
Auckland and the Coromandel Peninsula — an area of the country’s North Island where the patient traveled — are likely to be under a level four lockdown for a week.
“We are one of the last countries in the world to have the Delta variant in our community,” Ardern said. “We’re in the position to learn from experience overseas, and what actions work, and what actions don’t work.”
“Delta has been called a gamechanger — and it is. It means we need to again go hard and early to stop the spread. We have seen what can happen elsewhere if we fail to get on top of it. We only get one chance.”
“We have made the decision on the basis that it is better to start high and go down levels rather than to go low, not contain the virus and see it move quickly.”
Schools, offices and businesses will close and only essential services will be operational.
New Zealand has been praised for its handling of the virus, which saw it close borders to almost all foreign nationals early, and impose strict state-run quarantines on incoming travelers.
That approach has seen it avoid the devastating outbreaks seen in other countries, and, prior to Tuesday’s announcement, life in the country had largely returned to normal. New Zealand has reported fewer than 3,000 Covid-19 cases and only 26 deaths in a population of about 5 million.