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New Zealand delays election four weeks after coronavirus outbreak in Auckland

Before the latest outbreak, New Zealand had gone 102 days without any known community transmission of COVID-19, and life had returned to normal for most people.

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday chose to delay New Zealand's national elections by four weeks as the country deals with a new coronavirus outbreak in its largest city, Auckland.

The election had been scheduled for Sept. 19 but will now be held on Oct. 17. Under New Zealand law, Ardern had the option of delaying the election for up to about two months.

Opposition parties had been requesting a delay after a virus outbreak in Auckland last week prompted the government to put the city into a two-week lockdown and halted election campaigning.

Before the latest outbreak, New Zealand had gone 102 days without any known community transmission of the virus, and life had returned to normal for most people, who were going to restaurants, sports stadiums and schools without fear of getting infected. The only known cases during that time were returning travelers who were quarantined at the border.

Officials believe the virus was reintroduced to New Zealand from abroad but haven’t yet been able to figure out how it happened. The Auckland outbreak has grown to 49 infections, with authorities saying they believe the cases are all connected, giving them hope the virus isn’t spreading beyond the cluster.

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Ardern said in making her decision, she had first called the leaders of all the political parties represented in the parliament to get their views.

“Ultimately I want to ensure we have a well-run election that gives all voters the best chance to receive all the information they need about parties and candidates, and delivers certainty for the future,” Ardern said.

Credit: AP
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern talks to reporters at Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020. Ardern announced the country's general election would be held on Sept. 19. (AP Photo/Nick Perry)

She said she wouldn't consider delaying the election again, no matter what was happening with any virus outbreaks.

Opinion polling indicates Ardern's Labour Party is favored to win a second term in office.