Updated: August 20, 2020 12:53:34 pm
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has delayed the general election by four weeks until Oct. 17 as the nation’s first community outbreak of Covid-19 in more than three months worsens.
Ardern said Monday she delayed the election from Sept. 19 after consultation with other political parties, to provide certainty to voters.
A fresh outbreak of the virus in Auckland has seen the largest city locked down since Aug. 12 with people urged to stay home and consumer-facing businesses shut — denting consumer confidence while making political campaigning and fund-raising impossible. The city, home to almost one third of the nation’s 5 million citizens, is a key battleground for Ardern as her Labour Party seeks a second term.
“Moving the date by four weeks also gives all parties a fair shot to campaign and delivers New Zealanders certainty without unnecessarily long delays,” she told reporters. “This decision gives all parties time over the next nine weeks to campaign and the Electoral Commission enough time to ensure an election can go ahead.”
The New Zealand dollar declined to 65.30 U.S. cents at 1:15 p.m. in Wellington from 65.48 cents ahead of the postponement news.
On Friday, Ardern extended Auckland’s lockdown until at least Aug. 26 saying a cluster of cases that began in a southern suburb was set to get bigger, and the best way of containing the outbreak was to limit person-to-person contact. Social distancing rules and limits on gatherings have been reimposed on the rest of the country until the same date.
The Auckland cluster has grown to 58 cases from the original four revealed on Aug. 11 and there are no other outbreaks in the community, the Health Ministry said Monday. Active cases total 78, including 20 identified during mandatory quarantine for all returned overseas travelers. The nation has had 1,280 cases and 22 deaths.
Health authorities are yet to establish how the outbreak occurred and are trying to establish whether the source is an Americold cold-storage plant in the city that’s linked to the earliest symptomatic case. They are working with Australian counterparts to determine whether cases have the same genome sequence as an outbreak in an Americold facility in the city of Melbourne, where there has been a surge of cases in recent weeks.
Ardern said her priority is to get the outbreak under control, and the delay should assure voters it will be a safe election. She expects an increase in advance voting, and doesn’t intend to change the election day again even if the outbreak worsens. The Electoral Commission has plans in place to conduct an election under certain lockdown conditions and would also have the power to defer the vote under extreme situations, she said.
Ardern is leading in opinion polls, thanks largely due to her handling of the virus earlier this year, which saw community transmission eliminated until last week’s announcement of a fresh outbreak.
Labour was on 53% support in a 1News/Colmar Brunton poll published July 30 with the main opposition National Party on 32%. The poll suggests Ardern could govern alone, which is an unlikely outcome in New Zealand’s proportional representation electoral system, which lends itself to coalition government. The Green Party, a Labour ally, had 5% support in the poll — giving the center-left a strong margin over the right.
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