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New Zealand braces for biggest Covid outbreak of pandemic

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Police control the long vehicle line waiting for COVID-19 testing in Auckland, New Zealand, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021. Japan, Australia and New Zealand all got through the first year of the coronavirus pandemic in relatively good shape, but now are taking diverging paths in dealing with new outbreaks of the fast-spreading delta variant. (Jason Oxenham/New Zealand Herald via AP)

New Zealand is bracing for its biggest coronavirus outbreak yet as cases rise, the locations of interest balloon to more than 400 sites, and the number of close contacts swells to 14,000 people.

On Monday, the country recorded 35 positive cases, bringing the total number in its outbreak to 107 – half of whom were Pasifika peoples.

A nationwide, level 4 lockdown – the highest setting – has been extended until at least the end of the week, as the country battles to contain the outbreak of the Delta variant.

Auckland – the country’s largest city, where the majority of cases have been detected – will remain in lockdown until the end of the month.

On Tuesday morning, the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern told RNZ the 35 new cases reported on Monday were “not unexpected”.

Health workers continue to find people who are likely to have been in contact with a Covid-19 case and could have been infectious before the lockdown started, Ardern said.

“So their view is that we will start to see fewer locations of interest, but where we are right now, only seven days in, we are not at the point where we are picking up infections that are only in lockdown the entire time.”

Prof Shaun Hendy, a modeller at Te Pūnaha Matatini, told the NZ Herald a “best-case scenario” could see about 200 cases – greater than the outbreak in August last year – while it was possible the cluster could swell to 1,000.

A mathematics modeller at the University of Canterbury, Alex James, said the cluster was well on track to be the biggest the country has experienced.

“Last August took 18 days before we were confident that it was under control. This time, we are already on double the daily case numbers. It’s going to be longer this time.”

James said the country could see the number of cases peak in the next few days, but expects it will take four to six weeks before the virus is stamped out.

Health officials will provide an update on case numbers on Tuesday afternoon.

On Monday, sittings of New Zealand’s house of parliament were suspended for a week to prevent Delta’s spread.

Ardern, who made the decision to suspend the house, said MPs coming from around the country risked spreading the virus further.

The move has riled opposition parties, who say the suspension could allow the government to avoid scrutiny and criticism of its lockdown policies and pandemic management.

“There are important questions that need to be asked as to how Delta got into New Zealand. Suspending parliament means the government avoids this scrutiny,” opposition leader Judith Collins said in a release on Monday. ACT party leader David Seymour said the government should launch an opposition-led epidemic response committee, which would be a source of “accountability”.

The leader of the house, Chris Hipkins, said the decision had been advised by the director-general of health. “It is not advisable for MPs to participate in a large indoor gathering for an extended period of time, or travel inter-regionally to do so, while the Covid-19 risk for New Zealand remains high.”

He said opposition and other MPs could still ask questions during online select committees.

“In making this decision, cabinet was very mindful of the need for ongoing democratic scrutiny. Opposition and backbench MPs should still have the opportunity to question the government in the absence of House sittings.”

Source: The Guardian

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