Coronavirus: New Zealand extends health restrictions

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand expanded the restrictions imposed on the outbreak of the Covid-19 epidemic by four days on Friday, after which they will be eased slightly, except for Auckland, the largest city in the country.

The country has largely escaped the virus, but the spread of the Delta type prompted Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to order a national lockdown last week.

Jacinda Ardern said at a press conference that the epidemic, which has so far infected nearly 350 people, may reach a plateau. “But caution remains,” she added.

All of New Zealand, except for Auckland and Northland, the northernmost region of the country, will be able to go down to Alert Level 3 starting on Wednesday, September 1.

This will allow businesses to operate, but only for online orders and contactless services, as well as bars and restaurants, which will only be able to provide deliveries. Public spaces remain closed, while the number of people allowed to attend a wedding or funeral is limited to 10.

She said nearly 2 million people residing in Auckland and neighboring Northland would remain confined and on alert level 4, possibly for another two weeks.

The country reported 70 new infections on Friday, all at the Auckland epicenter of the pandemic, bringing the total number of cases to 347.

Jacinda Ardern’s draconian measures and the closure of international borders in March 2020 made it possible to stem the spread of the coronavirus but the government is now facing criticism for spreading its slow vaccination campaign.

Only 21% of the country’s 5.1 million people have been fully immunized, the slowest vaccination rate among the rich countries in the OECD group.

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(Reporting by Praveen Menon; French version by Kate Enteringer, Editing by Blandin Hinault)

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