New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters yesterday called for a delay to next month’s general election, given an abrupt reappearance of COVID-19 in the country, increasing pressure on New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to postpone the vote.
Last week’s resurgence of the infections in Auckland — after the country had been free of infections of SARS-CoV-2 for 102 days — was compromising the ability to hold a “free and fair election” on Sept. 19, Peters, the leader of the New Zealand First party, wrote in a letter to Ardern.
Peters, who delivered government to Ardern’s Labour Party through a coalition deal after a 2017 election failed to result in a majority for the National or Labour parties, suggested Oct. 17 and Nov. 21 as alternative dates.
New Zealand yesterday recorded 13 confirmed infections, including 12 linked to an outbreak in Auckland and one returning traveler who was already in quarantine, bringing the number of active cases to 69.
Ardern last week put Auckland, the country’s largest city, with a population of 1.7 million, under a two-week lockdown.
The opposition National Party also wants a delay, hoping that Ardern, who had garnered much praise for crushing the pandemic, would lose some of her luster once hardships caused by the Auckland lockdown begin to bite.
Ardern, who has been seen as largely resisting the calls for a delay, is set to decide by today.
“The prime minister has proactively sought the views of the leaders of every political party represented in parliament this afternoon about the election date,” a representative for Ardern said. “A range of views have been expressed that the prime minister has taken on board.”
The source of the recent outbreak remains under investigation.
Peters said that “the border remains the likely source of the outbreak,” suggesting a breach in quarantine procedures of people returning from abroad.
New Zealand Minister of Health John Hipkins yesterday told a media briefing that the government was working to ensure adequate supplies of masks, which are currently recommended, but not mandatory.
“We could make it compulsory and spend a lot of time on enforcement, what we need here is a cultural acceptance amongst all New Zealanders,” Hipkins said.
In Australia, which has also been struggling with a resurgence of the coronavirus in two of its largest states, New South Wales and Victoria, there were signs of a further downward trend.
New South Wales reported just five new cases, while Victoria, where masks became compulsory last month after the state became the center of the country’s largest outbreak, reported 279 new cases yesterday, along with 16 more deaths.
The daily number of new cases this past week has been well below the peak of 725 on Aug. 5.
Melbourne, the state’s capital, remains under a strict lockdown.
Speaking before Victoria announced its daily tally, Australian Minister of Health Greg Hunt said the state still has a long way to go.
“But the signs now are that the trend is of progressive reduction,” Hunt told Sky News television.
He also said that Canberra is close to striking a deal that would permit the production of a vaccine in Australia, likely next year.
“I am now, on the basis of our best advice, genuinely more optimistic,” Hunt said, without giving more details.
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