New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Monday that the country’s national election will be delayed by four weeks due to a new COVID-19 outbreak.
The election was originally scheduled for September 19 and has now been pushed to October 17.
“COVID is the world’s new normal,” Ardern said when she made her announcement. “I absolutely have confidence we can and will deliver a safe election.”
Ardern made her remarks following calls from other elected officials for the vote to be pushed back after a COVID-19 outbreak was found in Auckland, a major city in northern New Zealand.
The prime minister added that she wanted to instill “certainty, a sense of fairness, and a sense of comfort to voters that this will be a safe election,” when she made her decision.
The delay will allow the Electoral Commission to re-book polling venues, send out information to voters about how to vote safely, and plan for a socially-distant election if needed.
Ardern also announced that she will not consider pushing the election back beyond October 17 because candidates, parties, and voters should have enough time to prepare, even if there is another virus outbreak before the election.
“My view is we will be sticking with the date we have,” she said.
— Bloomberg (@business) August 17, 2020
Judith Collins, the leader of the New Zealand National Party, which is Ardern’s Labour Party’s main opposition, agreed with the decision to delay the election in a statement on Monday.
“It was always National’s view that to have a fair, democratic election we needed to deal with this second wave of COVID-19 so politicians from all parties had a reasonable chance to present their policies, and the public felt comfortable engaging with the campaign without putting their health at risk,” she said.
New Zealand’s New Virus Outbreak
The new COVID-19 outbreak in Auckland caught the nation by surprise last week.
On August 9, New Zealand announced that it had reached 100 days with no community spread within its borders. But just a few days after that announcement, four members of one family in Auckland tested positive.
Since then, the number of cases in the Auckland cluster has been rising. Today, there are 58 total cases due to community spread. Officials are scrambling to learn how the virus entered the city and spread so quickly.
As Auckland went into lockdown on Wednesday, the source of the virus was unknown. The family who first tested positive had not traveled internationally.
One source that health officials are investigating is an Americold cool store, where refrigerated products are transported and stored. One man in the first family that tested positive works in an Auckland Americold facility.
“We know the virus can survive within refrigerated environments for quite some time,” Ashley Bloomfield, Director General of Health, said in a news conference last week.
Surface testing is currently underway at the Americold facility to determine if it was actually the local source of the virus.