New Zealand extends strict national Covid lockdown

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New Zealand on Friday extended national lockdown restrictions by four days after which they will be eased slightly but the biggest city Auckland faces strict restrictions for longer.

New Zealand had been largely virus-free, barring a small number of cases in February, but that changed last week after an outbreak of the Delta coronavirus variant erupted, prompting Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to order a nationwide lockdown.

The outbreak, which has so far infected nearly 350 people, may be reaching its peak, Ardern said at a news conference.

"We may be seeing the beginning of a plateau of cases," Ms Ardern said. "But caution is still required."

Watch: Lockdown curbing Delta spread in New Zealand, says Ardern

She ordered all of New Zealand, except Auckland and Northland, the country's northernmost region, to move one step lower to alert level 3 restrictions from next Wednesday.

The change means businesses can only operate for online orders and contactless services, and bars and restaurants remain shut except for takeaways. Public venues remain closed, while the number of people at weddings and funerals are limited to 10 people.

"Yes, you might be able to order some food, but there is not a lot more in terms of freedoms," Ms Ardern said.

Meanwhile, nearly 2 million people residing in Auckland and neighbouring Northland will remain in full level 4 lockdown, possibly for another 2 weeks, Ms Ardern said.

The country reported 70 new cases of Covid in the community on Friday, all in the epicentre Auckland, taking the total number of cases to 347.

Almost 21 per cent of the country's 5.1 million people has been fully vaccinated, the slowest pace among OECD nations.

Ardern has defended the government's position, saying elimination was the right strategy until everyone is vaccinated.

"Our goal at the moment is to vaccinate more people than any other country in the world and at this rate New Zealand is doing very well," she said. 

Watch: New Zealand to let in vaccinated travellers in 2022

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