New Zealand PM weighs postponing election as investigators say new cases may have been imported via freight

Giovanni Torre
·3-min read
Jacinda Ardern - Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images
Jacinda Ardern - Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

Jacinda Ardern is considering delaying New Zealand’s general election as investigators probe whether a cluster of new cases in Auckland was imported via freight.

Health authorities rushed to implement a rapid lockdown in the country's largest city Auckland, where four more probable infections have been uncovered, which would bring the outbreak's total to eight.

With 1.5 million people under three-day stay-at-home orders, and millions more at risk of a wider outbreak, Ms Ardern said she was seeking advice on delaying the September 19 election.

Parliament was due to be dissolved on Wednesday to allow the election to take place, but the centre-Left leader held off the move until Monday to monitor how the crisis evolves.

The prime minister’s Labour Party is expected to win the election in September. It currently dominates the polls on 55 per cent, with the opposition National Party on 28 per cent.

Coronavirus New Zealand Spotlight Chart - Cases default
Coronavirus New Zealand Spotlight Chart - Cases default

"At this stage, it's too early to make any decision but this means there is some flexibility if required," said Ms Ardern, who is well ahead in opinion polls and expected to win a second term.

Judith Collins, the leader of the National Party, called for a delay until late November, or even next year.

"It is simply unsustainable to expect there to be a fair and just election at a time when opposition parties are not free to campaign," she said.

Pundits believe the calls for putting back polling day are more to do with politics than safety, and that extra time would help the National Party become more competitive.

The centre-Right opposition party has changed leader twice in the space of eight weeks, and commentators speculate that Ms Collins - nicknamed "Crusher" - is playing for time.

Authorities on Wednesday were still trying to piece together the movements of those infected and the source of the latest infections is still unknown.

But Ashley Bloomfield, national director-general of health, said tests were being carried out to see if the virus could have been imported via freight, then picked up by a male member of the family, who worked in a cool room for imported goods.

"We know the virus can survive within refrigerated environments for quite some time," he said, revealing a team was at the Auckland site where the man worked.

If the theory is proven, it could have profound implications for international trade flows already battered by the months-long pandemic.

Chinese officials have reported cases of Covid-19 being detected on the packaging of imported frozen seafood.

On Tuesday local officials in Yantai, a port city, said it detected the virus on packaging that had arrived from the port city of Dalian, where there had been a recent outbreak.

While the four Auckland cases are from the same household, on Wednesday Ms Ardern said four more “probable” cases had been found, close contacts of the original group who were displaying symptoms.

Late on Wednesday their tests results were not yet known.

On Tuesday night the lockdown announcement sparked panic buying in Auckland, despite the prime minister stressing to people that there would not be shortages.

Toni Helleur, who leads a local community response team, told local media that her group are better prepared this time than they were during the first lockdown.

“We’ve been working really hard to get our systems and processes in a better place, so if there was a second wave we would be able to be a lot more responsive and a lot more ready to provide service and support,” she said.