SYDNEY—New Zealand will move to the highest level of its Covid-19 restrictions as it seeks to contain an Omicron-variant outbreak that also led Prime Minister
to cancel her wedding plans.
Ms. Ardern said on Sunday that nine Covid-19 cases in the Nelson Marlborough region, on the country’s South Island, had been confirmed as Omicron. The nine cases are from a single family that flew earlier this month to Auckland—New Zealand’s largest city, located on the North Island—to attend a wedding and other events. A further case from the same household has also been confirmed.
New Zealand leader Jacinda Ardern at a press conference on Sunday.
Early estimates, authorities said, suggest there were well over 100 people at the events attended by the family. Ms. Ardern said a fully vaccinated flight attendant who worked on a flight the family was on has tested positive for Omicron and worked while infectious.
“That means Omicron is circulating in Auckland and possibly the Nelson Marlborough region if not elsewhere,” said Ms. Ardern. Authorities are planning for cases to rise rapidly, potentially as high as 1,000 a day.
Of her decision to cancel her wedding to partner
Ms. Ardern said: “I am no different to, dare I say it, thousands of other New Zealanders who have had much more devastating impacts felt by the pandemic.”
New Zealand, with a population of five million, was an early success story of the pandemic, adopting a version of China’s aggressive lockdowns and closing its border, which initially halted the spread of the virus. In October, the remote South Pacific country ended its effort to keep Covid-19 out, moving instead to actively controlling the virus.
The country has recorded about 15,500 cases and 52 deaths since the pandemic began, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
As part of moving to the red setting of New Zealand’s traffic-light restrictions, businesses, schools and hospitality venues will remain open, but there will be mask mandates and limits on the size of gatherings. Hospitality businesses will be capped at 100 people indoors and customers must be seated and separated. Events that include unvaccinated people will be smaller than those where everyone has been jabbed.
“I know those sorts of case numbers will sound deeply concerning for people to hear. But it’s important to remember that Covid is a different foe to what it was in the beginning,” said Ms. Ardern.
New Zealand has fully vaccinated roughly 76% of its population against Covid-19, according to the University of Oxford’s Our World in Data project. That is higher than the comparable rate for the U.S. at 63%.
Ms. Ardern said New Zealand would rely on a test-and-trace regime to combat the Omicron outbreak, similar to what it used against other strains such as Delta. People who have had contact with confirmed cases and are at risk of spreading the virus would be required to isolate, she said.
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