New Zealand COVID-19 cases rise ahead of Auckland lockdown decision

FILE PHOTO: A normally busy road is deserted during a lockdown to curb the spread of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Auckland, New Zealand, August 26, 2021. REUTERS/Fiona Goodall

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand reported an increase in new coronavirus cases on Monday, all in its largest city Auckland which is struggling to control the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant.

Health authorities recorded 33 new cases of the Delta variant of COVID-19 on Monday, higher than 23 and 20 cases reported over the weekend.

The latest cases were released ahead of a announcement by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at 0400 GMT on whether the social restrictions in place in Auckland would be eased or extended.

The new cases take the number of confirmed cases in the new outbreak to 955, most of which have been in Auckland.

New Zealand had been largely virus-free for months until an outbreak of the Delta variant imported from Australia prompted Ardern to order a snap nationwide lockdown on Aug. 17.

The lockdown was lifted in the rest of the country last week but Auckland remains shut, with schools, offices and public venues shuttered and its 1.7 million people ordered to stay indoors.

COVID-19 experts in the country have said it was unlikely Ardern would ease the restrictions in Auckland.

Otago University epidemiologist Michael Baker told state broadcaster TVNZ that although the Auckland outbreak seems to have passed its peak, there are still risks.

“We’re at the end of this outbreak in Auckland, we just have to persist for a few more days,” Baker said.

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