New Zealand delays election after Auckland virus outbreak

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WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday chose to delay New Zealand’s national elections by four weeks as the country faces a new coronavirus outbreak in its largest city, Auckland. The election was scheduled for September 19 but will now be held on October 17. Under New Zealand law, Ardern had the option to postpone the election for up to about two months.

Opposition parties had called for a delay after the virus outbreak in Auckland last week prompted the government to lock the city up for two weeks and halt the election campaign.

Before the last outbreak, New Zealand had gone 102 days without any known community transmission of the virus, and life had returned to normal for most people, who went to restaurants, sports stadiums and schools without fear of being infected. The only known cases during this time were returning travelers who were being quarantined at the border.

Officials believe the virus was reintroduced to New Zealand from overseas but have yet to be able to understand how it happened. Auckland’s outbreak has grown to 49 infections, with health officials saying the cases are all connected, giving them hope the virus does not spread beyond the cluster.

Ardern said that in making her decision, she first called the leaders of all political parties represented in parliament to get their views.

“Ultimately, I want to make sure we have a well-organized election that gives all voters the best chance to receive all the information they need about parties and candidates, and provides certainty for the future, ”Ardern said.

She said she would not consider delaying the election again – no matter what happens in the event of a virus outbreak.

“COVID continues to disrupt life around the world,” Ardern said. Other countries including South Korea and Singapore have nevertheless managed to hold elections during the pandemic, she added.

Ardern also announced that lawmakers would be recalled to parliament, which had finished sitting ahead of the election. The parliament will continue to function until the beginning of September.

Conservative Opposition Leader Judith Collins did not give much of an opinion on the delay, only saying her national party “recognizes the new date” while claiming there have been test failures at the border .

But the small opposition party ACT welcomed the delay. Chief David Seymour said the new outbreak had already forced him to cancel a dozen events, including debates and community meetings

“In order to have free and fair elections, candidates must be in the community listening to voters, and that is not possible as long as Aucklanders are confined to their homes,” he said in a statement.

The delay will lead to logistical problems, including re-booking polling places and ensuring that the thousands of election workers needed for the poll will be available on the new date. Ardern said she believes there is enough time to organize everything.

Opinion polls indicate Ardern’s liberal Labor Party is favored to win a second term. The party’s popularity has increased significantly since the pandemic, with Ardern winning international praise for the way she handled the crisis.

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