New Zealand’s Covid-19 outbreak has worsened, with 82 new cases taking the total infected to 415.
All of Saturday’s cases were in Auckland, with the Pacific community again over-represented with 62 cases.
New Zealand has reached day 11 of a harsh lockdown designed to curb the spread of the virus. The vast majority of recent cases are coming from household contacts, and not gatherings or essential workplaces. However, New Zealand’s battle to eliminate the highly infectious Delta variant appears delicately poised.
The NZ prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has previously advised she expected cases to near a peak after eight to 10 days, and on Friday said the government did not expect further “big jumps” in cases.
New Zealand has extended its nationwide lockdown until Tuesday. Ardern said her cabinet would decide on the lockdown setting in Auckland and the neighbouring Northland region on Monday, but said it was likely Auckland would stay in level 4 – the highest setting – for another two weeks.
Saturday’s total of 82 – up from 70 on Friday – is New Zealand’s fifth-worst day for cases during the entire coronavirus pandemic.
On 17 August, the government put the nation into full lockdown after only a single community case was detected in the city of Auckland.
New Zealand has reported 26 deaths from the virus in a population of 5 million since the pandemic began.
New Zealanders lived virus-free in the six months leading up to the latest outbreak, going to workplaces, shops and sport stadiums without needing to wear masks, while children attended school. Then a traveller returning from Sydney brought the Delta variant, which escaped from a quarantine hotel.
The outbreak has grown to about 350 known cases and is straining New Zealand‘s contact-tracing system as workers try to track down 30,000 other people who might have been exposed.
The lockdown prevents most people from leaving home other than to exercise, or to buy groceries or medicine. Retail stores are closed, as are restaurants – including takeaway – schools and most businesses.
New Zealand’s vaccine rollout has been the slowest of any developed nation, with only 39% of people having gotten at least one shot and 22% fully vaccinated. The country chose to use only the Pfizer vaccine and did not approve its use until two months after US regulators first approved it for emergency use.
The government blamed the initial slowness of the rollout on Pfizer’s delivery schedule.
Vaccinations have sped up rapidly since the outbreak began, with health workers now giving doses to nearly 2% of the population every day.