The shutdown will last until at least Friday after health authorities detected 35 new local infections of the fast-spreading Delta variant.
This is the highest number of daily Covid-19 cases in the country since April last year and takes the total number of cases in New Zealand to 107.
Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, said “more certainty” was needed as she announced the lockdown would continue until at least the end of the month in Auckland where most of the cases have been found.
“We do need more information,” said the prime minister. “We don’t want to take any risks with Delta.”
She added: “If the world has taught us anything, it is to be cautious with this variant of Covid-19.”
Ms Ardern said modelling suggested the outbreak should peak in a few days’ time and then decline.
Health authorities said they have found links among most of those cases, giving them hope they can quash the outbreak.
One of the reasons lockdowns are considered essential in New Zealand is because inoculation rates remain low, with only about 20 per cent of people fully vaccinated.
The strict lockdown means most people must remain at home, leaving only to buy groceries or medicine or to exercise.
Ms Ardern also announced the government had decided to suspend regular parliament sessions for a week, a move that drew criticism from opposition politicians.
Judith Collins, the leader of the opposition, criticised the move. “At a time when New Zealanders have the harshest lockdown in the world and have lost our freedoms because of the government’s failure to vaccinate and secure the border, this move by Jacinda Ardern is unfathomable,” she said.
While New Zealand maintains its strategy of trying to wipe out the virus completely through lockdowns, neighbouring Australia appears to have conceded that lockdowns will not be able to eliminate the Delta variant entirely and can only slow its spread.
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison said lockdowns were “not a sustainable way to live in this country”. He said states must open their borders once vaccination rates reach 80 per cent of the population aged 16 years and older. His remarks came as an outbreak in Sydney grew by more than 800 cases, near record levels.
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