New Zealand delays election after virus outbreak in Auckland

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has delayed New Zealand’s elections by four weeks due to the coronavirus outbreak in Auckland.

The election had been scheduled for September 19 but will now be held on October 17. Opposition parties had sought a delay after the virus outbreak prompted the government last week to put Auckland under a two-week lockdown and halted election campaigning.

Before the latest outbreak, New Zealand had gone 102 days without any known community transmission of the virus, and life had returned to normal for most people, with restaurants and schools open and sports fans back in stadiums. The only known cases during that time were returning travellers who were quarantined at the border.

Officials believe the virus was reintroduced to New Zealand from abroad but haven’t yet determined how. The outbreak in the nation’s largest city has grown to 58 infections, all thought to be connected, giving health officials hope the virus isn’t spreading beyond the cluster.

Ardern had the option of delaying the election for up to about two months. She said she had called the leaders of all the political parties represented in the Parliament to get their views before making her decision yesterday.

“Ultimately I want to ensure we have a well-run election that gives all voters the best chance to receive all the information they need about parties and candidates, and delivers certainty for the future,” Ardern said.

She said she wouldn’t consider delaying the election again — no matter what was happening with any virus outbreaks.