New Zealand PM Ardern defers lockdown decision but says good progress made

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Friday deferred a decision on whether to ease a lockdown on the city of Auckland as 11 new coronavirus infections were reported, including nine cases of community transmission.

New Zealand’s biggest city was placed in lockdown earlier this month until Aug. 26 amid a spike in new cases, forcing businesses to close and schools to shut.

Ardern said after a review of the lockdown that there was no need to change any settings at this stage, and promised to review them again on Monday.

“We have made good progress. Unlike our first lockdown we are not dealing with multiple outbreaks,” she said at a news conference.

“There is nothing to suggest we need change our course and certainly nothing that suggests that we need to escalate our response.”

The latest cases brought the total in New Zealand to 1,315, including 105 active cases. The country of 5 million people has reported 22 deaths from the respiratory disease caused by the novel virus.

Ardern also took aim at U.S. President Donald Trump after he claimed there had been a massive breakout of coronavirus cases in New Zealand, his third such reference to the country this week.

The United States had 16,563 cases per million people, while New Zealand had 269 cases per million people, Ardern said.

“Everyone can see that in New Zealand today we are talking 11 cases, whereas the United States has been dealing with over 40,000 cases,” she said.

“But I’ll also add, it’s not just whether you have cases it’s how you choose to deal with them as a nation and personally I am incredibly proud of the approach that all New Zealanders have taken to the battle against COVID-19.”

Reporting by Praveen Menon and Renju Jose; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Stephen Coates