Auckland coronavirus lockdown tests New Zealanders' patience

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: People jog past a social distancing sign in Auckland, New Zealand, August 31, 2020

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - The mayor of Auckland called for residents to be prioritised for COVID-19 vaccines after New Zealand's biggest city was thrown into its fourth pandemic lockdown over the weekend.

The seven-day lockdown imposed by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on a city of 2 million was prompted by just a single new COVID-19 case, reinforcing the New Zealand leader's strict "go hard, go early" response throughout the crisis.

That approach has been credited with making New Zealand one of the most successful countries in the world at controlling the spread of the coronavirus, but the latest shutdown has been criticised by some on social media.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said the city would lose an estimated 200 jobs and more than NZ$30 million ($21.7 million) per day under the level 3 restrictions.

"We need the vaccine roll-out to be prioritised in Auckland to help avoid future lockdowns, protect jobs and incomes, and ensure Auckland can play its role in supporting the national economic recovery," Goff said in a statement.

The lockdown led to several major sporting and cultural events being cancelled or postponed and also caused traffic chaos over the weekend with people trying to get home stuck for hours at city checkpoints.

The case that prompted the shutdown was a person who had been infectious and out in the community for a week. Two more locally transmitted cases were subsequently reported over the weekend, but no new cases were reported on Monday.

Ardern said on Monday the person who sparked the lockdown had made "multiple mistakes", after public anger at reports the person had made contact with an infected family during lockdown and had visited public venues after taking a COVID test.

"It has had devastating consequences, no question," Ardern told Newshub's "The AM Show", adding that any punishment was up to the police.

"People do dumb things but we're not going to get through this if people pillory them to the point they do not tell the truth," she said.

New Zealand has reported just over 2,000 cases of the coronavirus and 26 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

($1 = 1.3818 New Zealand dollars)

(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Peter Cooney and Jane Wardell)