The government of New Zealand has taken drastic action by putting the entire nation into a strict lockdown for at least three days following the discovery of a single case of coronavirus infection.
The Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday, urged the citizens of the country to go hard and early in trying to eliminate the latest outbreak.
According to Ardern, “New Zealand has not recorded any infections for six months but we cannot take any chances with the game-changer Delta strain.”
“We have seen what happens elsewhere if we fail to get on top of it,” Ardern said. “We only get one chance.”
She said Auckland, where the infected man lives, and Coromandel, where he had visited, would go into a full lockdown for seven days and the remainder of the country for three days while health experts make efforts to find the source of his infection.
This recent development has prompted people to line up outside supermarkets to stock up on essential items and sparked a sharp drop in the value of the New Zealand dollar.
New Zealand had managed to stamp out the virus, and the last outbreak was in February. However, the Prime Minister had been warning that the contagiousness of the Delta variant would likely require more drastic action than previous outbreaks.
New Zealand has also been slower than other developed nations to inoculate its population, leaving it vulnerable to outbreaks. Only 32 percent of people have had at least one shot and 18 percent are fully vaccinated.
The nation’s vaccination program had been accelerating but is currently suspended for two days because of the outbreak.
Health officials have said that genome testing would not verify until Wednesday whether the infected 58-year-old man had the Delta variant, although they were working under the assumption he does.
Officials have been viewing a growing outbreak in nearby Sydney, Australia, with alarm, saying they do not want to make the same mistakes by waiting too long to impose strict measures. According to them, they cannot immediately find a connection between the man and the handful of people who have tested positive while isolating in quarantine after arriving from abroad as the border is seen as the most likely source of an outbreak.
The move into the strictest lockdown underscored the vastly different approach New Zealand has taken to the virus compared with most other nations, which are attempting to suppress its spread rather than eliminate it entirely. It had not needed to impose national stay-at-home orders for more than a year and life had returned to close to normal, with no limits on social gatherings and limited mask use.
New Zealand reported only 26 virus deaths since the pandemic began.
The recent lockdown took effect from Tuesday midnight and people are required to remain at home and avoid gatherings except to buy groceries or exercise.