The government of New Zealand announced Tuesday the entire country will go into lockdown after the first mystery case of covid-19 since February was detected in the city of Auckland. The whole country will go into lockdown for at least three days, with the cities of Auckland and Coromandel locking down for seven days.
A 58-year-old man from the Auckland suburb of Devonport tested positive on Tuesday but he has no known connection to the country’s border, according to New Zealand’s top health official Dr. Ashley Bloomfield, making his infection a true mystery. The man and his wife visited Coromandel over the weekend, a 2.5 hour drive, which is why the coastal town is included in the country’s longer lockdown.
The unnamed man’s wife has tested negative for covid-19 so far, though the 2-14 day incubation period for the disease can mean that a positive test may be on the horizon. The man was unvaccinated but his wife is vaccinated, which may also explain why she hasn’t tested positive for covid-19 yet.
The lockdown, known as “alert level four” in the country, means there are only four reasons you can leave your home: exercise, visiting the supermarket or pharmacy, receiving necessary medical care, and getting tested for covid-19. New Zealanders also must wear a mask when they leave the house.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gave a press conference announcing the restrictions on Tuesday and pointed to neighboring Australia as an example of what can happen if you don’t lock down quickly enough.
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“We’ve seen the dire consequences of taking too long to act in other countries, not least our neighbors,” Ardern said during the announcement, which was livestreamed on YouTube.
“As we’ve seen overseas, particularly in Sydney, unnecessary trips outdoors have spread the virus and these communities have not been able to get on top of it,” Ardern said.
Australia was experiencing long stretches in 2021 without any cases of covid-19 and no deaths this year until two months ago, when the state of New South Wales, the home of Sydney, started to see dozens of cases. The state now records over 400 cases per day and has deaths every day, a consequence of state government not locking down the region sooner.
People in New Zealand under the level four restriction are not allowed to congregate with other families, but people who live alone can establish a “singles bubble” with one other person.
Curiously, Ardern announced that covid-19 vaccinations would be paused for 48 hours “to make sure they can take place in a safe environment.” While New Zealand has done really well during the pandemic by keeping its cases to a minimum, the country has struggled with very low vaccination rates for covid-19. Just 18.7% of the country’s 5 million people have been fully vaccinated, compared to 51.3% in the U.S.
Dr. Bloomfield, Director General of Health, revealed during today’s press conference that he hasn’t even been vaccinated yet, though he’s booked for the shot soon.
Importantly, New Zealand is launching economic support for people negatively impacted by the lockdown, another thing that has been lacking until recently in neighboring Australia’s recent lockdowns.
The government is paying up to $600 per full-time employee per week for businesses that can show they’ve lost 40% of revenue during the lockdown period.
Ardern assured New Zealanders that she’d be back at 1 p.m. local time on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET Tuesday) to provide an update to the country. And while the lockdown is anticipated to lift for most of the country in just three days, presumably that could change if more cases are detected outside of Auckland.
It all might seem harsh to people outside of the region, but there’s a reason that countries like New Zealand have seen just 2,926 cases and 26 deaths since the start of the pandemic. They locked down hard and they locked down early. And most people in New Zealand think that’s better than just living with death and disease.