WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand’s government on Tuesday reported that new COVID-19 cases fell for a second day, down to 49, amid the tight lockdown the country undertook during the latest outbreak this month.
The total number of cases in the outbreak, which broke a six-month period with no cases, is 612, with 597 in New Zealand’s largest city of Auckland and 15 in the capital Wellington.
“We have a second day where our numbers have declined. We want the tail of this outbreak to be as short as possible,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at a news conference.
Around 1.7 million Aucklanders will remain in strict level 4 lockdown for another two weeks, while restrictions for the remainder of the country will ease slightly from Wednesday.
Schools, offices and public venues will still remain shut nationwide, but businesses will be allowed to operate contactless services.
Except for a small number of cases in February, New Zealand was mainly coronavirus-free for months, until an outbreak of the Delta variant imported from Australia prompted Ardern to order a snap nationwide lockdown on Aug. 17.
There are now 33 people in hospitals from the latest Delta outbreak, the Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said, with eight cases in stable condition in intensive care.
“It is sobering to see six cases in the outbreak are under the age of one,” he said
But he added that the public health measures in place were slowing the spread of the virus and cases will continue to decline.
Ardern’s lockdowns, along with closing the international border from March 2020, were credited with reining in COVID-19.
However, the government now faces questions over a delayed vaccine rollout, as well as rising costs in a country heavily reliant on an immigrant workforce.
Just over a quarter of the population has been fully vaccinated so far, the slowest pace among the wealthy nations of the OECD grouping.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Tom Hogue and Christian Schmollinger)