WELLINGTON (Reuters) -Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern urged New Zealanders on Friday to adhere to her strategy to eliminate the fast-spreading Delta variant as she extended a strict lockdown amid a surge in infections.
Ardern's critics are questioning if she can repeat last year's feat of almost stamping out COVID-19, as her government struggles to get the population vaccinated in the face of the more infectious Delta variant.
"We have been here before...we know the elimination strategy works," Ardern told a news conference. "Cases rise and then they fall until we have none. It's tried and true...we just need to stick it out."
Ardern extended the lockdown for the population of 5.1 million until midnight on Tuesday as the outbreak widened beyond the largest city, Auckland, to the capital, Wellington.
Friday's 11 new cases, three in Wellington, took New Zealand's tally of infections to 31.
The Wellington sufferers had recently travelled to Auckland, visiting locations identified as having been exposed to the outbreak.
"We just don't quite know the full scale of this Delta outbreak," Ardern added. "We want the whole country on high alert right now."
New Zealanders had been living virus-free and without curbs until Ardern on Tuesday ordered a snap 3-day nationwide lockdown https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/new-zealand-reports-4-more-covid-19-cases-delta-variant-spreads-2021-08-17, with a seven-day shutdown for Auckland, after the discovery of the first case since February.
Health chief Ashley Bloomfield warned that the lockdown in outbreak epicentre Auckland could be widened further.
Ardern's tough lockdowns and international border closure in March 2020 helped rein in COVID-19, but the government now faces questions over a delayed vaccine rollout, as well as rising costs https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/virus-free-new-zealand-plans-border-reopening-amid-labour-shortage-2021-08-09 in a country heavily reliant on an immigrant workforce.
Just about 19% of the population has been fully vaccinated, the slowest pace among the wealthy nations of the OECD grouping.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Clarence Fernandez)