The announcement on Tuesday that locally acquired coronavirus cases had been confirmed in New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, prompted the government to introduce stringent level three lockdown measures on August 12. This occurs after about 100 days of no community spread.
The rest of the country has been placed in level two lockdown, with both lockdown periods extended to at least August 26, as new cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed.
But in a news conference that was broadcast live on Monday, Ardern said it was clear that “the re-emergence of Covid in Auckland at the start of the official campaign period was concerning.”
Ardern said that while the decision to change the election date rested solely on her as Prime Minister, she consulted with other party leaders because “moving an election date especially at the end of an electoral cycle is an important decision ”.
“At the end of the day, what matters most is what is in the best interests of the voters and of our democracy,” she said. “Any decision to revise the date of the elections must be as free as possible from partisan political interests. ”
Ardern said the New Zealand Election Commission had prepared for a range of circumstances, such as holding an election at level two or three, and had no plans to change the rule again. date of elections.
“Even if I hadn’t picked up the phone and contacted anyone, I believe that’s the outcome I could have come up with,” she said. “Covid is the new global normal. Here in New Zealand, we are all working as hard as possible to make sure that our new normalcy disrupts our lives as little as possible. ”
The New Zealand Parliament will meet again on Tuesday and will be dissolved on September 6 before the October poll.
“Confirming the date lets the public know when the election will take place,” Chief Electoral Officer Alicia Wright said in a statement. “We have considered other election dates and are confident that we can revise our existing arrangements for October 17th. ”
The commission said it has always prepared for the election to proceed as if it were subject to Alert Level 2 lockdown restrictions, with measures planned including contact tracing, provision of disinfectant for hands and physical distance.
Opposition lawmakers react
Opposition Leader, National Party Leader Judith Collins, had previously called for the election to be postponed until November.
In a statement after Ardern’s announcement on Tuesday, she said: “National has always been of the view that in order to have fair and democratic elections we need to deal with this second wave of Covid-19 so that politicians will all parties have a reasonable chance to present their policies. and the public felt comfortable participating in the campaign without putting their health at risk.
New Zealand’s first leader Winston Peters – who is deputy prime minister in Ardern’s coalition government – also publicly called for the postponement of the election and issued a statement welcoming the move.
“Holding an election during a Covid epidemic carries the risk of serious interference in our democracy. Voters would be expected to exercise their electoral rights with a dearth of information and that is unacceptable, ”said Peters.
New Zealand has already spent five weeks under one of the world’s toughest lockdowns, which closed most businesses and schools from March 25 and saw people stay at home.
He returned to the first level on June 9 with border controls remaining in place, but most citizens are living normally – until last week.
New Zealand had 49 confirmed cases linked to the most recent community group and another 20 active cases linked to overseas travel as of Sunday, with returning residents still facing a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival in the country.
As of March, New Zealand has reported a total of 1,622 confirmed and probable coronavirus cases and 22 deaths.
CNN’s Susannah Cullinane reported from Auckland and Samantha Beech from Atlanta.