Ardern Steps Up Restrictions, Postpones Her Wedding

9 omicron cases are reported in New Zealand family
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 23, 2022 9:40 AM CST
Omicron Spread at Wedding Changes Rules in New Zealand
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks about the omicron situation Thursday in New Plymouth with COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins.   (Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald via AP)

(Newser) – Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced new COVID-19 restrictions for New Zealand on Sunday following the discovery of nine cases of the omicron variant in a single family that flew to Auckland to attend a wedding. One of the events affected is Ardern's own wedding, which she postponed. The so-called "red setting" of the country's pandemic response includes heightened measures such as required mask wearing and limits on gatherings. The restrictions will go into effect on Monday, the AP reports. Ardern plans to marry her longtime partner, Clarke Gayford. They have a 3-year-old daughter, Neve.

Ardern stressed that "red is not lockdown," noting that businesses can remain open and people can still visit family and friends and move freely around the country. "Our plan for managing omicron cases in the early stage remains the same as delta, where we will rapidly test, contact trace and isolate cases and contacts in order to slow the spread," Ardern told reporters. But her own wedding plans are on hold; the ceremony was scheduled for next weekend. "I just join many other New Zealanders who have had an experience like that as a result of the pandemic and to anyone who's caught up in that scenario, I am so sorry," Ardern said.

Estimates are that the family came into contact with more than 100 people at a wedding and related events, Ardern said. "That means that omicron is now circulating in Auckland and possibly the Nelson-Marlborough region" where the family lives, she added. New Zealand had avoided omicron outbreaks. The country has contained the delta variant, with an average of about 20 new cases a day. It has seen an increasing number of people arriving in the country and going into mandatory quarantine who are infected with omicron. That has strained the quarantine system and prompted the government to limit access for returning citizens. About 93% of New Zealanders age 12 and over are fully vaccinated, and 52% have had a booster shot.

(Read more omicron variant stories.)

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