New Zealand's Ardern vows to stamp out Delta as outbreak widens

The first day of a COVID-19 lockdown in Wellington
Lambton Quay is devoid of people on the first day of a lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Wellington, New Zealand, August 18, 2021. REUTERS/Praveen Menon
  • Nationwide lockdown extended until midnight Aug 24
  • PM Ardern said full scale of Delta outbreak still unknown
  • Ardern says elimination works if people stick with it

WELLINGTON, Aug 20 (Reuters) - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern urged New Zealanders on Friday to adhere to her strategy to eliminate the fast-spreading Delta variant as she extended a strict lockdown amid a surge in infections.

Ardern's critics are questioning if she can repeat last year's feat of almost stamping out COVID-19, as her government struggles to get the population vaccinated in the face of the more infectious Delta variant.

"We have been here before...we know the elimination strategy works," Ardern told a news conference. "Cases rise and then they fall until we have none. It's tried and true...we just need to stick it out."

Ardern extended the lockdown for the population of 5.1 million until midnight on Tuesday as the outbreak widened beyond the largest city, Auckland, to the capital, Wellington.

Friday's 11 new cases, three in Wellington, took New Zealand's tally of infections to 31.

The Wellington sufferers had recently travelled to Auckland, visiting locations identified as having been exposed to the outbreak.

"We just don't quite know the full scale of this Delta outbreak," Ardern added. "We want the whole country on high alert right now."

New Zealanders had been living virus-free and without curbs until Ardern on Tuesday ordered a snap 3-day nationwide lockdown, with a seven-day shutdown for Auckland, after the discovery of the first case since February.

Health chief Ashley Bloomfield warned that the lockdown in outbreak epicentre Auckland could be widened further.

Ardern's tough lockdowns and international border closure in March 2020 helped rein in COVID-19, but the government now faces questions over a delayed vaccine rollout, as well as rising costs in a country heavily reliant on an immigrant workforce.

Just about 19% of the population has been fully vaccinated, the slowest pace among the wealthy nations of the OECD grouping.

Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Clarence Fernandez

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Praveen leads a team of reporters covering companies and financial news in Australia and New Zealand. Before moving to Sydney he was the New Zealand Bureau Chief, where he reported on the leadership of former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, the coronavirus pandemic, the terrorist attack in Christchurch and several natural disasters. Prior to New Zealand, he was Bureau Chief for Malaysia and Brunei leading a team of reporters covering the missing MH370 airliner, the 1MDB scandal and the country's political turmoil in 2018, which won him an journalism award from the Society of Publishers in Asia. He has previously worked as a correspondent in the UAE, Afghanistan and India.