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New Zealand delays election after Auckland coronavirus outbreak
17 August 2020, 09:56
New Zealand’s national elections have been delayed by a month as Auckland, its largest city, deals with a new coronavirus outbreak of almost 50 infections.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Monday that the election, scheduled for September 19, will now be held on October 17.
Under New Zealand law, Ms Ardern had the option of delaying the election for up to two months.
Opposition parties had been requesting a delay after a virus outbreak in Auckland last week prompted the government to put the city into a two-week lockdown and halted election campaigning.
Ms Ardern, whose Labour Party is expected to win a second term, said: "Ultimately I want to ensure we have a well-run election that gives all voters the best chance to receive all the information they need about parties and candidates, and delivers certainty for the future.”
The Auckland outbreak has grown to 49 infections, with authorities saying they believe all cases are connected, raising hope the virus is not spreading beyond the cluster.
On Friday, the city’s lockdown was extended by 12 days as it tried to stamp out the outbreak.
Several of those infected work at an Americold food storage facility in the Auckland suburb of Mount Wellington.
Officials are looking at the possibility that workers on a freight ship or at the port may have spread the infections, despite physical distancing requirements at those sites and orders preventing ship workers coming ashore.
Director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield said rigorous testing is being carried out "as part of our investigation just to follow that chain of the Americold goods that might have come in through the port and been transported to that Mount Wellington depot".
Officials are also investigating the possibility that the virus could have survived from abroad on chilled or frozen food boxes and then infected workers in New Zealand, a scenario they consider unlikely.
Mr Bloomfield said they completed a record of more than 15,000 tests on Thursday and they were getting a clearer picture of the outbreak's contours.
Before the latest outbreak, New Zealand had gone 102 days without any known community transmission of the virus, and life had returned to normal for most people, who were going to restaurants, sports stadiums and schools without fear of being infected.
The only known cases during that time were returning travellers who were quarantined at the border.
Officials believe the virus was reintroduced to New Zealand from abroad but have not determined how.
The only known infections outside Auckland are two people in the central North Island town of Tokoroa who were visited by infected family members from Auckland.
Officials said they thought the chances were low that the virus would spread further there.