New Zealand's government took drastic action Tuesday by putting the entire nation into a strict lockdown for at least three days after finding a single case of coronavirus infection in the community. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern invoked some of the stirring rhetoric she used early in the pandemic by urging the "team of 5 million"—New Zealand's population—to go hard and early in trying to eliminate the latest outbreak. "We have seen what happens elsewhere if we fail to get on top of it," Ardern said. "We only get one chance."
She said Auckland, where the infected man lives, and Coromandel, where he had visited, would go into a full lockdown for seven days and the remainder of the country for three days while health experts tried to find the source of his infection. The lockdown takes effect from just before midnight Tuesday. It requires people to remain at home and avoid others. Most people can leave only to buy groceries or exercise. The developments prompted people to line up outside supermarkets to stock up on essential items and sparked a sharp drop in the value of the New Zealand dollar, reports the AP.
New Zealand has been slower than other developed nations to inoculate its population, leaving it vulnerable to outbreaks. Only 32% of people have had at least one shot and 18% are fully vaccinated. Health officials said genome testing would not verify until Wednesday whether the infected 58-year-old man had the delta variant, although they were working under the assumption he does. Officials said they could not immediately find a connection between the man and the handful of people who have tested positive while isolating in quarantine after arriving from abroad. New Zealand has reported just 26 virus deaths since the pandemic began. (More COVID-19 stories.)