The Prime Minister says Cabinet has decided to extend the country’s Covid-19 lockdown until the middle of next week as the addition of 11 new cases, including three in Wellington, brings the total Delta outbreak case count to 31

New Zealand’s latest Covid-19 lockdown has been extended nationwide until next Tuesday, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying caution is warranted given the remaining unknowns about the Delta cluster.

Addressing the country on Friday afternoon, Ardern said Cabinet had decided to extend Alert Level 4 for the whole of New Zealand until 11.59pm next Tuesday – a full seven-day period in lockdown for the country, with a Cabinet meeting on Monday to discuss the next steps.

While the country was “in a reasonable position for this stage of the outbreak”, it was still early days and there was much that officials still didn’t know, including how far the virus had spread among the close contacts already identified.

The locations of interest also included bars, schools, church services, and other venues where large numbers of people gathered in close proximity.

There were some people isolating in the South Island due to visiting locations of interest, Ardern said.

Confirmation of the lockdown decision came as three people tested positive for Covid-19 in Wellington and eight more cases from Auckland were announced earlier on Friday, bringing the total number of cases in the Delta outbreak to 31.

The discovery of cases outside of Auckland indicated Cabinet was likely to extend the current restrictions. Experts advising the Government, like University of Canterbury mathematics professor and Te Pūnaha Matatini disease modeller Michael Plank, also urged an extension of Level 4.

Of the 31 cases in the cluster, 19 have been epidemiologically linked. The remaining 12 are still under investigation, including eight of the cases announced on Friday.

The Wellington cases have been linked to the cluster via travel to Auckland, including visiting one of the locations of interest.

The 31 case figure doesn’t include an Air New Zealand crew member who tested positive on Wednesday. Genome sequencing has shown their infection is unrelated to the current cluster.

Public health officials have managed to identity 1189 contacts of the cluster so far. Of these, 642 are in Auckland, 136 are in the Waikato and 149 are elsewhere in the country. At least a few are in the South Island.

This figure doesn’t include the large number of contacts expected from exposure events at schools and churches.

“The total number of contacts across the country is expected to increase as more locations of interest are identified,” the Ministry of Health press statement said.

Officials are also racing to trace the contacts of a hospitalised Covid-19 case who reported to North Shore Hospital prior to the lockdown for a different issue. Approximately 120 staff were rostered on at the time the case visited the hospital and 30 had direct contact with the person. As well, 107 patients were in the affected areas of the hospital at the same time. These patients are either still in hospital or self-isolating at home and awaiting a test.

Across New Zealand nearly 28,000 tests were processed. A record number of samples was taken in Auckland – 24,000 or 1.5 percent of the population.

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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