SYDNEY, Australia — New Zealand on Monday said it would postpone its national election by four weeks as a cluster of new coronavirus cases continued to spread through the city of Auckland despite a lockdown.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has the sole authority to determine when people cast ballots, said she had consulted with all the major parties before delaying the vote, originally scheduled for Sept. 19, to Oct. 17.
Ms. Ardern called the decision a compromise that “provides sufficient time for parties to plan around the range of circumstances we could be campaigning under, for the electoral commission to prepare and for voters to feel assured of a safe, accessible and critical election.”
She also ruled out further change. Even if the outbreak worsens, she said, “we will be sticking with the date we have.”
The shift keeps Election Day within the time frame allowed under the law — the latest possible date is Nov. 21 — but it also highlights the national concern as a cluster of at least 58 new cases frustrates investigators, clears the streets of Auckland and suspends scheduled campaign events.
Ms. Ardern’s approval ratings skyrocketed after the country’s first lockdown, in late March, led to what health officials described as the elimination of the virus and a return to life verging on normal, with crowded restaurants, stadiums and schools. Now, she faces greater scrutiny over what went wrong and how long the country will have to endure another round of restrictions.
“If it transpires that there was a considerable oversight, lax regulation or flawed implementation, that could have a very significant impact on the narrative,” said Richard Shaw, a politics professor at Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand.
But, he added, “there is a deep reservoir of good will toward the prime minister,” and it is possible that the way she has handled the election delay will only bolster her chances.
“She might have just added 5 percent to her polling by making an announcement that many New Zealanders will think is reasonable, fair and sensible,” Mr. Shaw said.
He added the election delay was inevitable in part because the September date would have required the dissolution of Parliament on Monday to allow for a month of campaigning. Parliament will now be dissolved on Sept. 6.
“She needed to be seen as responding to this,” he said of Ms. Ardern. “It’s a straightforward political decision.”
New Zealand’s election is far from the first to be postponed because of the pandemic. Hong Kong cited the virus in delaying by a year a Legislative Council vote; more than a dozen U.S. states moved the date of their primaries, as did New York City. And though President Trump floated the idea of delaying the general election, he was promptly shut down by members of Congress and his own party.
In the short-term, Ms. Ardern’s delay will allow her government to focus primarily on the virus. Health officials in New Zealand are still scrambling to test thousands of workers at airports and other points of entry, along with quarantine facilities and a frozen food warehouse, to try to determine how the virus re-emerged last week after 102 days without known community transmission.
On Sunday, officials announced 12 new cases tied to the cluster of four from last Sunday. On Monday, they announced nine more.
Pressure on Ms. Ardern and her Labour Party to change the date had been building over several days. A New Zealand Herald-Kantar poll taken over the weekend showed that 60 percent of New Zealanders favored a delay.
The Coronavirus Outbreak ›
Frequently Asked Questions
Updated August 12, 2020
Can I travel within the United States?
- Many states have travel restrictions, and lots of them are taking active measures to enforce those restrictions, like issuing fines or asking visitors to quarantine for 14 days. Here’s an ever-updating list of statewide restrictions. In general, travel does increase your chance of getting and spreading the virus, as you are bound to encounter more people than if you remained at your house in your own “pod.” “Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from Covid-19,” the C.D.C. says. If you do travel, though, take precautions. If you can, drive. If you have to fly, be careful about picking your airline. But know that airlines are taking real steps to keep planes clean and limit your risk.
I have antibodies. Am I now immune?
- As of right now, that seems likely, for at least several months. There have been frightening accounts of people suffering what seems to be a second bout of Covid-19. But experts say these patients may have a drawn-out course of infection, with the virus taking a slow toll weeks to months after initial exposure. People infected with the coronavirus typically produce immune molecules called antibodies, which are protective proteins made in response to an infection. These antibodies may last in the body only two to three months, which may seem worrisome, but that’s perfectly normal after an acute infection subsides, said Dr. Michael Mina, an immunologist at Harvard University. It may be possible to get the coronavirus again, but it’s highly unlikely that it would be possible in a short window of time from initial infection or make people sicker the second time.
I’m a small-business owner. Can I get relief?
- The stimulus bills enacted in March offer help for the millions of American small businesses. Those eligible for aid are businesses and nonprofit organizations with fewer than 500 workers, including sole proprietorships, independent contractors and freelancers. Some larger companies in some industries are also eligible. The help being offered, which is being managed by the Small Business Administration, includes the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. But lots of folks have not yet seen payouts. Even those who have received help are confused: The rules are draconian, and some are stuck sitting on money they don’t know how to use. Many small-business owners are getting less than they expected or not hearing anything at all.
What are my rights if I am worried about going back to work?
What is school going to look like in September?
- It is unlikely that many schools will return to a normal schedule this fall, requiring the grind of online learning, makeshift child care and stunted workdays to continue. California’s two largest public school districts — Los Angeles and San Diego — said on July 13, that instruction will be remote-only in the fall, citing concerns that surging coronavirus infections in their areas pose too dire a risk for students and teachers. Together, the two districts enroll some 825,000 students. They are the largest in the country so far to abandon plans for even a partial physical return to classrooms when they reopen in August. For other districts, the solution won’t be an all-or-nothing approach. Many systems, including the nation’s largest, New York City, are devising hybrid plans that involve spending some days in classrooms and other days online. There’s no national policy on this yet, so check with your municipal school system regularly to see what is happening in your community.
The leaders of other major parties also argued that the Level 3 lockdown in Auckland, the country’s largest city, prevented campaigning and would have made a free and fair election impossible on the original date.
Winston Peters, the deputy prime minister and leader of the New Zealand First Party, Ms. Ardern’s coalition partner, said in a letter to Ms. Ardern last week that until the alert level dropped in Auckland, the “playing field is hopelessly compromised.”
The National Party’s leader, Judith Collins, has said that she would prefer that the election be moved to next year, which would require approval from 75 percent of Parliament.
On Monday, Ms. Collins said the focus must be on determining what led to the current outbreak “so we can be sure it won’t happen again.”
What the delay means for Ms. Ardern and her party’s prospects in the election may depend on the vicissitudes of the virus.
In the announcement on Monday, Ms. Ardern sought to portray the delay as an example of her willingness to listen to the public and make tough decisions.
“Covid is the world’s new normal,” she said. “Here in New Zealand, we are working as hard as we can to make sure our new normal disrupts our lives as little as possible.”