WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand’s Delta variant outbreak spread beyond the largest city of Auckland, prompting Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Sunday to put additional regions into a snap lockdown.
There were 32 new coronavirus cases on Sunday in Auckland, which has been in lockdown since mid-August, and two cases in the Waikato region, some 147 kilometres (91 miles) south of Auckland. Ardern said parts of the region will go into a five-day lockdown.
She added that the government will decide on Monday whether Auckland’s 1.7 million residents will remain sealed off from the rest of New Zealand.
Ardern enforced what was meant to be a “short and sharp” nationwide lockdown in mid-August in response to the Auckland outbreak, which now stands at 1,328 cases.
But while the rest of the country has largely returned to normal life, the North Island city has remained in lockdown.
“We are doing everything that we can to keep cases confined to Auckland, and managing them there,” Ardern said.
While New Zealand was among just a handful of countries to bring COVID-19 cases down to zero last year and largely stayed virus-free until the latest outbreak in August, difficulties in quashing the Delta variant have put Ardern’s elimination strategy in question.
Amid mounting pressure, Ardern has said her strategy was never to have zero cases, but to aggressively stamp out the virus.
She has said strict lockdowns can end if 90% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated, contrasting with the current 46%.
Full vaccination will become a requirement for non-New Zealand citizens arriving in the country from Nov. 1, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said on Sunday.
Air New Zealand said on Sunday it will require passengers on its international flights to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We have a different approach to COVID within our sights, and in our hands,” Ardern said on Sunday.
“So as we all look ahead and think about summer, and the plans we are making, make the first step a vaccine. It is the thing that will make those summer plans possible.”
(This story was refiled to correct spelling in reporting credit line, no change to story text.)
(Reporting by Praveen Menon in Wellington; Writing by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Editing by Daniel Wallis)