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New Zealand records 20 new COVID cases and first virus death of 2021

The city of Auckland remains under strict stage four lockdown, but the rest of the country is on slightly relaxed level three restrictions, which allow some childcare and the purchase of take-away food.

Ardern urged Auckland’s residents to be patient and complaint.

She said the steady drop in daily infections demonstrated that “all of the efforts and energy that Auckland is putting into level four is making a difference, so that’s a reason to stick to it. The more that people follow those rules now, the sooner we’ll get to a place where we can lower them.”

The Cabinet is set to meet on Monday to assess the COVID-19 risk in the country south of Auckland, which has been at alert level three since Wednesday. With only a few cases in Wellington this past week – all known contacts of existing cases – and none in the rest of the level three zone, expectations are high that Cabinet will signal a further easing of restrictions.

But entertainment and events organisers around the country are preparing for a prolonged period in level two, perhaps amounting to months.

Level two restrictions would cap attendance at venues at 100 people, throwing into doubt concerts, conferences, festivals and sporting events.

On Thursday, Ardern defended New Zealand’s approach to combating coronavirus against criticism from Australia that trying to eliminate the fast-spreading Delta variant was “absurd”.

Asked during a daily update on coronavirus what she thought of criticism from Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg that the Delta variant can’t be eliminated, Ardern insisted elimination was the most sensible strategy until New Zealand is fully vaccinated.

“Delta is different; no one is denying that,” Ardern said, referring to the strain of coronavirus that has caused outbreaks both in Australia and New Zealand.

But she said New Zealand will not change its approach until its population is vaccinated.

“Elimination is the best strategy for us while we’re vaccinating people and then we’ll continue to look at all of the evidence going forward,” she said.


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