New Zealand election date in doubt

Parliament was due to be dissolved yesterday to allow the election to take place, but Ardern held off the move until Monday

AUCKLAND • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern weighed delaying New Zealand’s upcoming election yesterday, as experts investigated whether the coronavirus could have re-entered the country through freight shipments.

Health authorities rushed to implement a rapid lockdown in the country’s largest city Auckland, where four more probable infections have been uncovered bring- ing the outbreak’s total to eight.

With 1.5 million people under stay-at-home orders, and millions more at risk of a wider outbreak, Ardern said she is seeking advice on delaying the Sept 19 election.

Parliament was due to be dissolved yesterday to allow the election to take place, but the centre-left leader held off the move until Monday to monitor how the crisis evolves.

“At this stage, it’s too early to make any decision but this means there is some flexibility if required,” said Ardern, who is well ahead in opinion polls and expected to win a second term.

Leader of the Opposition National Party Judith Collins called for a delay until late November, or even next year.

“It is simply unsustainable to expect there to be a fair and just election at a time when Opposition parties are not free to campaign,” she said.

New Zealand’s much-envied run of 102 days without community transmission ended abruptly on Tuesday, when four people from one family — with no history of foreign travel — tested positive.

Authorities were still trying to piece together the movements of those infected and the source of the latest infections remained unknown.

But national DG of health Ashley Bloomfield said tests were underway to see if the virus could have been imported via freight, then picked up by a male member of the family, who worked in a cool room for imported goods.

“We know the virus can survive within refrigerated environments for quite some time,” he said, revealing a team was at the Auck- land site where the man worked.

If the theory is proven, it could have profound implications for international trade flows already battered by the months-long pandemic.

Aucklanders were coming to terms yesterday with a three-day stay-at-home order that came into force at lunchtime, ending months of near normality during which residents could flock to restaurants and pack rugby stadiums.

Some of the everyday freedoms New Zealanders had enjoyed were taken away again, with Ard- ern restricting gatherings in the city to a maximum of 10 people, and urging Aucklanders to wear masks.

Panic buying returned to supermarkets, huge queues formed at Covid-19 testing stations and masked police manned checkpoints on major roads to enforce the new measures.

Nursing homes nationwide were told to shut their doors, with Ardern saying it was the best way to protect vulnerable seniors in facilities that have proved to be transmission hotspots overseas.

The final match of Super Rugby Aotearoa between Auckland Blues and Canterbury Crusaders — which had been set to take place in front of a sold-out 43,000 crowd at Eden Park on Sunday — was also in doubt.

New Zealand had been held up by the World Health Organisation as an example of how to contain the disease after recording only 22 deaths in a population of five million, and halting community transmission for more than three months. — AFP