New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern put the nation on a three-day lockdown after the discovery of the first community case of Covid-19 since February.
The rapid lockdown will begin at midnight tonight when authorities rush to identify the source of a single infection in Auckland’s largest city, Ardern told a news conference in Wellington on Tuesday. While genome sequencing has yet to be completed, the highly infectious delta variant is assumed to be the case, he said.
“Delta has changed the rules of the game, we are responding to that,” Ardern said. “The best thing we can do to get out of this as quickly as possible is to push ourselves.”
It is New Zealand’s first nationwide lockdown since the initial response to the pandemic more than a year ago. Under the so-called Alert Level 4, all schools, public places and most businesses must close and people are urged to cover their faces if they need to go outside. Only stores that provide essential services such as groceries, gasoline and health products can remain open.
The case is an unvaccinated man in his 50s from Auckland who is considered infectious as of August 12. He and his fully vaccinated wife visited the nearby Coromandel region over the weekend. Both Auckland and the Coromandel have been blocked for seven days.
Because of those movements and the likelihood of it being delta, officials advised an immediate national response, Ardern said.
“Working hard and early has worked for us before,” he said. “We want to be short and hard, rather than light and long.”
So far, New Zealand has largely kept the virus out of the community, allowing its economy to recover quickly during the pandemic. But a slow launch of the vaccine has left it vulnerable to another outbreak, particularly of the delta variant that has forced much of neighboring Australia to crash again.
The case comes on the eve of the Reserve Bank’s review of the official cash rate, with most economists forecasting a rise of a quarter of a percentage point in response to the economy’s overheating. The New Zealand dollar fell as investors lowered their bets on the prospect of an adjustment.
Westpac economists said Tuesday night that they now expect the RBNZ to keep the cash rate on hold on Wednesday, citing the uncertainty of the new Covid outbreak.
The Australian delta outbreak continues to spread despite the fact that more than half of the country’s 26 million people are locked up. The state of New South Wales recorded 452 new cases on Tuesday after a record of 478 set the previous day, with the vast majority of those infections detected in Sydney.
Australia’s most populous city has been on lockdown for more than seven weeks, and some health experts have criticized the New South Wales government for entering the lockdown after the virus was already planted in the community.
© 2021 Bloomberg