WELLINGTON • New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has lifted all coronavirus restrictions across the country, except in second-wave hot spot Auckland, as the number of new infections slowed to a trickle.
Some restrictions were also eased in Auckland to allow gatherings of up to 100 people, but the country's biggest city needed more time before all curbs could be lifted, Ms Ardern said yesterday.
"Our actions collectively have managed to get the virus under control," she told reporters in Auckland. "This was the centre of the outbreak and that's why that caution is needed here."
The decision means that mass gatherings, such as the first Bledisloe Cup rugby test match between the All Blacks and Australia in Wellington on Oct 11, can proceed without restrictions.
New Zealand, a nation of five million, appeared to have halted community transmission of Covid-19 earlier this year, but a fresh outbreak in Auckland last month prompted the government to place the city back in lockdown.
The country had no new cases of Covid-19 yesterday, keeping its total number of confirmed cases at 1,464, with 25 deaths, far below the number in many other countries.
Ms Ardern, who faces a general election on Oct 17, said a health ministry analysis indicated there was still only a 50-50 chance of having eliminated Covid-19 by the end of the month, maintaining the need for vigilance.
But she said Auckland "needs more time" to eliminate a stubborn cluster of infections that was detected last month in the city of 1.5 million.
"This was the centre of the outbreak and that's why caution is required here," she said.
The origin of the Auckland cluster remains unknown, but the health authorities say it is not the same strain of the virus experienced earlier this year. Despite the mystery, Ms Ardern said extensive testing and effective contact tracing were keeping it contained.
The city's virus setting will be reviewed in two weeks, with the possibility it could join the rest of the country at level one on Oct 7.
The 40-year-old Prime Minister has a strong lead over her rivals in the polls due to her success in containing Covid-19.
She was criticised, however, by opposition National Party leader Judith Collins yesterday for taking a group selfie with supporters while campaigning, without maintaining social distance.
Ms Ardern acknowledged it was a mistake, saying: "I should have stepped further forward, I should have asked them to step apart from each other, and I acknowledge that."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE