WELLINGTON • New Zealand said it would increase the number of defence personnel at its quarantine facilities and border to beat any further spread of Covid-19, as it reported five new cases in the community yesterday.
Around 500 more defence personnel will be deployed, taking the total defence force personnel supporting the Covid-19 response to around 1,200 – the largest military contingent since New Zealand sent peacekeepers to Timor-Leste during unrest there in the early 2000s, the government said.
“There’s nothing to date that has tracked this particular cluster we are dealing with to the border, but nonetheless we want that to be as tight as possible,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at a news conference.
New Zealand had five new cases in the community in the last 24 hours, falling from 13 cases on Tuesday. Ms Ardern said this showed the country was not seeing a surge of Covid-19 in the community. “The rollout of our resurgence plan is working as we intended,” she said, adding that she has no intention to raise the level of restrictions in Auckland.
New Zealand has fared far better than most countries during the pandemic, but an abrupt resurgence of Covid-19 last week in Auckland prompted the government to enforce an alert level 3 lockdown on the city’s 1.7 million residents until Aug 26, while social distancing rules are in place in other towns and cities.
Under level 3, businesses are required to implement Covid-19 safety measures, most people are encouraged to work from home and schoolchildren learn from home.
The country has had 1,649 cases and 22 deaths.
The origin of the latest outbreak is still unknown, but the authorities have ruled out the possibility that it came from frozen foods or freight.
Ms Ardern delayed the country’s general election by a month earlier this week, bowing to pressure from parties who complained they could not campaign with nearly a third of New Zealand’s 5 million people under lockdown in Auckland.
Yesterday, a court found the first nine days of a hard lockdown put in place by the government earlier this year requiring people to isolate at home was justified, but unlawful.
The ruling comes after Wellington lawyer Andrew Borrowdale challenged the legality of steps taken in the early stages of the five-week lockdown, including calls by Ms Ardern and other officials between March 26 and April 3 telling New Zealanders to stay at home.
An order on stay-at-home restrictions was not passed until April 3, so New Zealanders’ rights and freedoms were unlawfully limited for those nine days, the court said. “While there is no question that the requirement was a necessary, reasonable and proportionate response to the Covid-19 crisis at that time, the requirement was not prescribed by law,” it said.
All other challenges to the lockdown were dismissed.
“The government was trying to educate people about the health risks and transition them quickly to take actions that curtailed normal freedoms like staying at home to stop the spread of the virus,” Attorney-General David Parker said after the ruling. “In the end, the measures taken by the government worked to eliminate Covid-19, save lives and minimise damage to our economy.”