World

NZ PM Ardern postpones general election as coronavirus flares up

WELLINGTON : New Zealand's prime minister yesterday postponed the country's general election by a month to Oct 17 as the city of Auckland remains in lockdown due to a growing coronavirus outbreak.

The country recorded nine new infections, taking the number of active cases to 78. There have now been a total of 1,280 cases in the country and 22 deaths.

Ms Jacinda Ardern bowed to pressure to delay the polls after parties complained they could not campaign with nearly a third of New Zealand's 5 million people under lockdown in Auckland.

"Ultimately, the 17th of October... provides sufficient time for parties to plan around the range of circumstances we will be campaigning under," Ms Ardern said at a news conference.

The prime minister ruled out delaying the polls any further, as her Labour Party maintains a strong lead over the conservative National Party in opinion polls. The election was initially scheduled for Sept 19.

The Election Commission said it was ready to hold a vote with health measures including hand sanitiser and physical distancing in voting centres, protective gear for staff and contact-tracing systems.

The origin of the new outbreak is still unknown. The authorities said previously that it could have been through a cold-storage facility where one of the infected individuals worked. Tests of surfaces in the facility are under way to identify the genome sequence. Results are expected later this week.

Another possible source is the quarantine system for New Zealanders returning from overseas.

"Right now the focus must be on finding out exactly what failed so catastrophically at the border so we can be sure it won't happen again," National Party leader Judith Collins said on Twitter.

In Australia, Victoria state recrded its deadliest day yesterday with 25 deaths, more than the previous worst daily toll of 21 reported nationally last Wednesday. The authorities said 282 cases had been detected, about the same as the 279 cases reported on Sunday. This is well below the peak of more than 700 daily cases earlier this month and health officials are confident strict lockdown measures are working. - REUTERS

WORLD