Single Delta Case Sends New Zealand Into Nationwide Lockdown

Why the country is reacting quickly after months of virus-free living.
August 18, 2021, 7:01am
Single Delta Case Sends New Zealand Into Nationwide Lockdown
A staff member organizes traffic at a COVID-19 testing station during the first day of a national lockdown on Aug. 18 in Wellington, New Zealand. PHOTO: Hagen Hopkins / Getty Image

New Zealand went into a nationwide lockdown on Wednesday after detecting a single coronavirus infection that turned out to be from the feared delta variant, ending a six-month virus-free streak as more cases are reported. 

Until this week, the country enjoyed a rare sense of normalcy compared to much of the rest of the world, with residents attending sports games, clubs and concerts. But that changed overnight after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said authorities needed to “go hard and early” to curb an outbreak after the case was confirmed.

Ardern announced a three-day lockdown across the country, but in the city of Auckland, where the virus was first detected in a 58-year-old man, the period was set for a week.

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“We are dealing with the delta variant,” Ardern said in a press conference on Tuesday, referring to the highly infectious version of the virus that has fueled outbreaks across Asia, where vaccination rates remain low. “We’re in the position to learn from experience overseas, and what actions work, and what actions don’t work.”

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A general view of Featherston Street during the first day of a national lockdown on Aug. 18, 2021 in Wellington, New Zealand. PHOTO: Hagen Hopkins / Getty Image

The health ministry has confirmed that there are now seven coronavirus cases, including three in isolation facilities. One is a fully-vaccinated health professional who works in an Auckland hospital. 

Despite its enviable record of months without the virus, New Zealand has vaccinated less than 20 percent of its nearly five million people, according to Our World in Data. Rates for two doses in the United States and the United Kingdom are now over 50 percent

Panic buying was reported in New Zealand on Tuesday despite assurances that there will be enough supplies during the strict lockdown, where only essential services will remain open. 

Ardern said the first case was linked to Australia, and that New Zealand was one of the last countries in the world to detect the delta variant.

Australia, which has successfully managed the virus with similarly strict lockdown but low vaccination rates, is battling a new surge as the newer variant wreaks havoc in many states, including New South Wales where a massive anti-lockdown protest broke out last month. This forced New Zealand to bar travelers from Australia last month. 

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