New Zealand went on the country’s first lockdown since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday because one person tested positive for COVID-19, and the case can’t be linked to travel or to the country’s border testing.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made the announcement during a Tuesday media conference that New Zealand will be on “Alert Level 4.” During lockdown, officials will look at test results from people in “locations of interest,” conduct wastewater testing and do general community testing of people with cold or flu symptoms, Ardern said.
“We have made decisions on the basis that it is better to start high and go down levels rather than start too low, not contain the virus, and see it move quickly,” Ardern said.
Most of New Zealand will be on lockdown for three days, Ardern said. Auckland, a city in northern New Zealand where the person who tested positive lives, and the Coromandel Peninsula, which they visited, will be on lockdown for seven days.
People living in New Zealand can leave their home during an Alert Level 4 if they’re going to the grocery or dairy store or the pharmacy, seeking medical care or getting a COVID-19 test, Ardern said.
Ardern called out the extremely contagious delta variant as the reason to act quickly. Genome sequencing still needs to determine whether the community case was caused by delta, but every identified COVID-19 case in the country since June (except one) has been the delta variant, Dr. Ashley Bloomfield, director general of health, said Tuesday.
About 40% of New Zealand’s population has had at least one COVID-19 shot, Ardern said. Around 17% of the population is fully vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins University.
New Zealand has been applauded by some for its response to the pandemic. In a country of roughly 5 million people, New Zealand currently has 43 coronavirus cases, according to the Ministry of Health, and 26 people total have died from COVID-19, per Johns Hopkins data.
By contrast, in the US, there’s an average of 406 new confirmed COVID cases per million people each day, according to Aug. 16 data from Oxford University’s Our World in Data. Over 600,000 people in the US have died.
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