New Zealand’s looming election could be delayed as the government battles to contain its latest COVID-19 outbreak.
The country was forced back into lockdown on Wednesday after four new coronavirus cases were discovered, after 102 days without a single community transmission.
Auckland, the country’s most populous city, was placed under Stage Three lockdown, forcing families to stay at home for 72 hours.
The rest of the country was placed under Stage Two restrictions – mandating social distancing and limits on the size of gatherings.
The move has thrown the general election, which is scheduled for September 19, into question, with several politicians calling for it to be delayed.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (pictured on Wednesday) said no decision had been made on pushing the date back
Auckland, the city with the largest population, was placed under Stage Three lockdown on Wednesday (pictured, testing underway in the city)
Opposition leader Judith Collins, who earned the nickname ‘Crusher’ for an initiative to crush the cars of criminals while police minister, said the lockdown made running a proper election campaign difficult.
‘It’s going to be very difficult to have an election in mid-September when we are now mid-August. It is very little time,’ she told the AM Show.
National MP Simon Bridges also expressed concern over the timing of the election.
‘Let’s be honest about how problematic a Sept 19 election in under 40 days is. I’ve just cancelled public meetings and a lot of volunteers doorknocking,’ he said on Twitter.
‘Meanwhile, Labour, while suspending campaigning, continues with all machinery of Govt and thus the power of the airwaves.’
Labour, National, the Greens, and NZ First have all suspended campaigning for now as contact tracing gets underway.
Opposition leader Judith Collins (pictured) said the lockdown made running a proper election campaign difficult
The country was forced back into lockdown on Wednesday after the four new coronavirus cases were discovered
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said no decision had been made on pushing the date back.
‘We’re seeking advice around the options of the issue of the election from the Electoral Commission, just so that we make sure we have all those options available to us.
She announced on Wednesday that parliament would not be dissolved until Monday to allow politicians to debate and deal with the crisis.
The dissolution of parliament is the first step towards holding the general election, which is scheduled for September 19.
Rotorua residents line up for a COVID-19 test at the clinic after a confirmed case visited the city over the weekend (pictured, a testing queue in Auckland)
Queues stretch for kilometers in and out of Auckland as police stop vehicles at a checkpoint on SH1 north of Wellsford after the lockdown was announced (pictured on Wednesday)
The government and cabinet could have continued without parliament sitting, but it would have no way to pass new legislation if needed.
‘We’re giving ourselves as much flexibility as possible to deal with what we learn over the next 72 hours,’ Ms Ardern said.
‘We’ve therefore decided it would be prudent to defer the dissolution of parliament by at least a few days to preserve all options for, if needed, reconvening parliament or … the date of the general election.’
‘No decisions have been made, we’re obviously at the very early stages.’
Delaying the election by a few weeks would require consultation between the prime minister, the leader of the opposition and the chief electoral officer.
Police question drivers as they head in and out of Auckland on SH1 north of Wellsford on Wednesday (pictured)
Queues stretch for kilometers in and out of Auckland as police stop vehicles at a checkpoint on SH1 north of Wellsford on Wednesday (pictured)
However, delaying it by months would require an amendment to the Constitution Act to allow Parliament to sit for longer.
According to the latest public polls, Ms Ardern was firmly on track to win a second term as prime minister.
New Zealanders applauded Ms Ardern’s lockdown back in autumn, sending Labour soaring in popularity.
It remains to be seen how Kiwis will see a second lockdown – they may see Ms Ardern’s government as responsible for new cases, or reminded of Ms Ardern’s impressive leadership during the initial crisis.
New Zealand’s new lockdown: What it means for you
Residents in Auckland:
Auckland will enter a Level 3 lockdown for three days starting from midday Wednesday August 12.
Residents within New Zealand’s largest city will be given stay-at-home orders and must not leave their houses for any non-essential purposes during the three-day window.
All non-essential businesses must close by noon, while takeaway services will be able to continue operating under level 3.
Schools have been ordered to close for all students aside from children of essential workers.
Any employee who is not in an ‘essential’ field must also stay at home.
Non-residents will not be able to enter the city.
Gatherings of more than 10 people are banned.
All residents should wear masks when conducting essential business outside of their homes.
Residents in the rest of New Zealand:
The rest of New Zealand will move into Stage 2 restrictions for the same time frame as Auckland’s lockdown.
These directives are more designed to reduce the risk to the public.
People can continue to go to work or school, but should maintain social distancing and wear masks when social distancing is not possible.
Businesses can remain open to the public, but will have customer limits and must enforce social distancing.
Residents are urged to stay at home and seek testing if they feel unwell.