AUCKLAND: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern weighed delaying New Zealand’s upcoming election Wednesday, as experts investigated whether the coronavirus could have re-entered the country through freight shipments.
Health authorities rushed to implement a rapid lockdown in the country’s largest city Auckland, where four more probable infections have been uncovered bringing the outbreak’s total to eight.
With 1.5 million people under stay-at-home orders, and millions more at risk of a wider outbreak, Ardern said she was seeking advice on delaying the September 19 election.
Parliament was due to be dissolved on Wednesday to allow the election to take place, but the centre-left leader held off the move until Monday to monitor how the crisis evolves.
“At this stage, it’s too early to make any decision but this means there is some flexibility if required,” said Ardern, who is well ahead in opinion polls and expected to win a second term.
Leader of the opposition National Party Judith Collins called for a delay until late November, or even next year.
“It is simply unsustainable to expect there to be a fair and just election at a time when opposition parties are not free to campaign,” she said.
– Cool room testing –
New Zealand’s much envied run of 102 days without community transmission ended abruptly on Tuesday, when four people from one family — with no history of foreign travel — tested positive.
Authorities were still trying to piece together the movements of those infected and the source of the latest infections remained unknown.
But national director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield said tests were under way to see if the virus could have been imported via freight, then picked up by a male member of the family, who worked in a cool room for imported goods.
“We know the virus can survive within refrigerated environments for quite some time,” he said, revealing a team was at the Auckland site where the man worked.
If the theory is proven, it could have profound implications for international trade flows already battered by the months-long pandemic.