Omicron affairs put New Zealand on red alert, leader Ardern calls off wedding
SYDNEY — New Zealand has moved to the highest level of its Covid-19 restrictions as it seeks to contain an outbreak of the Omicron variant which has also led Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to cancel her wedding plans.
Ms Ardern said on Sunday nine cases of Covid-19 in the Nelson Marlborough area of the country’s South Island had been confirmed as Omicron. The nine cases come from a single family who earlier this month flew to Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city on the North Island, to attend a wedding and other events. Another case from the same household has also been confirmed.
Early estimates, authorities say, suggest more than 100 people attended the events the family attended. Ms Ardern said a fully vaccinated flight attendant who worked on a flight the family was on tested positive for Omicron and worked while contagious.
“That means Omicron is circulating in Auckland and possibly the Nelson Marlborough area, if not elsewhere,” Ms Ardern said. Authorities are predicting a rapid rise in cases, of up to 1,000 a day.
Of her decision to call off her marriage to partner Clarke Gayford, Ms Ardern said: ‘I am no different, dare I say it, from thousands of other New Zealanders who have had far more devastating effects felt by the pandemic.”
New Zealand, with a population of five million, was an early success story of the pandemic, adopting a version of China’s aggressive lockdowns and closing its border, which initially halted the spread of the virus . In October, the remote South Pacific country ended its efforts to ward off Covid-19, moving instead to active control of the virus.
The country has recorded around 15,500 cases and 52 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
As part of New Zealand’s move to the red frame of traffic light restrictions, businesses, schools and hospitality venues will remain open, but there will be mask mandates and limits on the size of gatherings. Hospitality businesses will be capped at 100 people indoors and customers must be seated and separated. Events that include unvaccinated people will be smaller than those where everyone was bitten.
“I know these kinds of case numbers will sound deeply concerning for people to hear. But it’s important to remember that Covid is a different enemy than it was when it started,” Ms Ardern said.
New Zealand has fully vaccinated around 76% of its population against Covid-19, according to the University of Oxford’s Our World in Data project. This is higher than the comparable rate for the United States at 63%.
Ms Ardern said New Zealand would rely on a test and trace regime to tackle the outbreak of Omicron, similar to what it has used against other strains such as Delta. People who have been in contact with confirmed cases and are at risk of spreading the virus would be required to self-isolate, she said.
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Appeared in the print edition of January 24, 2022 as ‘New Zealand steps to highest level of Covid curbs’.