This picture shows an empty highway during a nationwide COVID-19 lockdown in Wellington on August 18, 2021. AFP

WELLINGTON – New Zealand extended a national Covid-19 lockdown on Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that an outbreak of the Delta variant has not yet peaked.

Ardern said the rapid spread of the highly transmissible variant meant that it was too early to lift restrictions imposed last week after a virus cluster emerged in Auckland, which ended a six month run with no local cases.

“Delta was ahead of us and we had to catch up as soon as possible … we don’t think we have reached the peak of this outbreak,” she said.

Ardern said 35 new cases had been discovered, a total of 107, with more than 13,000 close contacts tested.

The New Zealand lockdown was due to expire late Tuesday, but Ardern said it would be nationwide t last until Friday and until the evening of August 31 in Auckland.

“The safest option for all of us right now is to stay on course longer,” she said.

New Zealand’s Covid Zero Elimination Strategy – which has resulted in only 26 deaths out of a population of five million – has relied on tight border controls backed by tough lockdowns if cases fail.

Ardern’s own Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins asked Sunday if Delta made the strategy unsustainable, but the leader said she believed “absolutely”.

Only about 20 percent of New Zealand’s population is fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in the developed world.

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