Ardern on vax tour as Delta spreads in NZ

·2-min read

New Zealand's Delta outbreak is on the march, with fears realised the under-vaccinated Northland region will be thrust into lockdown due to the spread of COVID-19.

Health officials reported 44 new community cases of COVID-19 on Friday, with 41 in Auckland and three in the Waikato.

One of those infections was a woman, travelling in and out from locked-down Auckland to Northland's major centre Whangarei.

Kiwi news outlet Newshub has reported the woman is a sex worker.

COVID-19 Minister Chris Hipkins revealed at a snap press conference on Friday night the person was an "uncooperative" woman who fraudulently travelled across the lockdown border.

After she revealed she travelled across the region, a "very disappointed" Mr Hipkins decided to lock down Northland for five days.

"Cases spreading at alert level two is a risk we cannot take," he said.

Between Whangarei and Cape Reinga, the northernmost point of the NZ mainland, a string of suburbs and towns have fewer than half of eligible adults vaccinated.

The woman, who likely had a travel companion, travelled from 2-6 October, visiting Whangarei, Kamo, Paihia and Kawakawa before returning to Auckland.

Northland's shift into lockdown means roughly half of New Zealand is at alert level three.

At midnight on Friday, Jacinda Ardern's extended the lockdown border south to loop in more of the Waikato region.

Cases emerged in Hamilton, NZ's fourth-biggest city, and the nearby surf spot of Raglan last weekend, and in midweek infections popped up in the tiny towns of Kawhia and Karapiro.

Vaccination rates are looming as Ms Ardern's greatest challenge in the coming weeks as the government transitions from its heralded elimination strategy to a reluctant acceptance of living with the virus.

The prime minister on Thursday left Wellington for the first time since the Delta outbreak was identified, heading for Rotorua, Hawkes Bay and the East Cape, picking out towns that also have low vaccination rates.

She visited Murupara - where a school-aged Ms Ardern lived for a brief time - which boasts vaccination rates of around 32 per cent of the eligible population.

On her Instagram, the prime minister said "at the drive thru vaccine station today, roughly 8 per cent of the population came through for a vaccine. Fantastic!!".

She will visit another drive-through vaccination centre in Hastings today, before opening the Tairawhiti Arts Festival in Gisborne.

New Zealand's overall vaccination rate trails Australia - with 78 per cent of the eligible population at least partially vaccinated, and 42 per cent having received two doses.

On Friday, 25 Kiwis were in hospital with the virus, including five in intensive care.

The Delta outbreak has now infected 1492 people, and on the weekend will overtake the 2020 outbreak as New Zealand's largest of the pandemic.

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