New Zealand reports 27 cases of COVID-19 amid anti-lockdown protests
(Reuters) – New Zealand officials on Saturday reported 27 new cases of the highly contagious variant of the Delta coronavirus in Auckland, as protesters took to the streets to rally against a nearly two-month lockdown in the largest city of the country.
Auckland’s 1.7 million residents expect a government decision on Monday as to whether it will remain isolated from the rest of New Zealand.
The number of daily cases has fluctuated between 8 and 45 in recent days, with the total outbreak in the city rising to 1,295 cases.
The health ministry said the fluctuation was expected “at this state of the epidemic.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern imposed what was to be a “short and brutal” national lockdown in mid-August in response to the Auckland epidemic. But while the rest of the country has largely returned to normal life, the North Island city has been stranded for about seven weeks.
About 1,000 people gathered in the city, organized by Destiny Church, a Pentecostal Christian fundamentalist movement, to demand “release from confinement,” New Zealand media reported. No immediate reports of violence or arrest were reported.
Gatherings were also to take place in the capital Wellington and Christchurch.
While New Zealand was one of a handful of countries that reduced COVID-19 cases to zero last year and remained largely virus-free until the last outbreak in August, difficulties in canceling the Delta variant challenged Ardern’s elimination strategy.
Amid the mounting pressure, Ardern said his strategy was never to have no cases, but to aggressively eradicate the virus.
She said strict lockdowns can end if 90% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated, unlike the current 46%.
(Reporting and writing in Melbourne by Lidia Kelly; editing by Jane Wardell)