New Zealand has its first COVID case in 6 months—and now the entire country is shutting down

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern - COVID
Photo via Ulysse Bellier/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the country is entering a “snap lockdown” after a 58-year-old man tested positive for COVID-19. It is the country’s first COVID case in six months. 

The entire country will be in lockdown for three days, beginning on Aug. 17, in hopes of keeping the virus from spreading further. Auckland, the city where the case was detected, will be in lockdown for a week, as will Coromandel, a town visited by the infected man. 

New Zealand officials are operating under the assumption that the case was a result of the delta variant, prompting extra caution. The delta variant is far more transmissible than the initial COVID strain and currently accounts for the vast majority of cases in the U.S. and the U.K. Some estimations point to the delta variant being responsible for up to 93% of COVID cases in the United States. 

New Zealand has historically performed well against the virus. The country has reported approximately 2,500 COVID cases since the start of the pandemic and only 26 COVID-related deaths. Compared to the more than 36.8 million cases and 622,469 deaths the U.S. has experienced, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, New Zealand has done remarkably well against COVID.

Around 20% of New Zealand’s population has been vaccinated against COVID-19. This leaves the majority of the country vulnerable to the virus. The country will enforce “level four” lockdown rules, which require schools and most businesses to close. Only those establishments deemed “essential” by the government will be permitted to remain open. 

Level four rules also require citizens to stay at home, restricting them to leaving only for essential services. They also require face masks to be worn at all times outside of the home. The sudden shutdown led to a mild panic among New Zealand citizens, who crowded grocery stores in hopes of stocking up for the brief lockdown.

Officials say a strong response is necessary, due to the delta variant’s high transmissibility and the country’s low vaccination numbers. The majority of COVID cases caught at New Zealand’s border have been delta, which Ardern called a “game changer.”

“We have seen what can happen elsewhere if we fail to get on top of it,” Ardern said. “We only get one chance.

“I want to assure New Zealand that we have planned for this eventuality. Going hard and early has worked for us before.”

Sources: Axios, BBC, NYMag, Johns Hopkins

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