New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has postponed her wedding as the nation imposes new restrictions to slow the community spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
The “red setting” of the country’s pandemic response includes heightened measures such as mask-wearing and limits on gatherings; the restrictions will go into effect on Monday.
The prime minister was rumoured to be planning to marry her longtime partner, fishing-show host Clarke Gayford, imminently.
“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,” she said.
“My wedding will not be going ahead,” she added.
Indoor hospitality venues such as bars and restaurants as well events like weddings will be capped at 100 people. The limit is lowered to 25 if venues are not using vaccine passes.
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 in Wellington on Sunday.
New Zealand had been among the few remaining countries to have avoided any outbreaks of Omicron, but Ardern acknowledged last week that an outbreak was inevitable given the high transmissibility of the variant.
The country has managed to contain the spread of the Delta variant, with an average of about 20 new cases each day. But it has seen an increasing number of people arriving into the country and going into mandatory quarantine who are infected with Omicron.
That has put a strain on the quarantine system and prompted the government to limit access for returning citizens while it decides what to do about reopening its borders, angering many people who want to return to New Zealand.
About 93 percent of New Zealanders aged 12 and over are fully vaccinated, and 52 percent have had a booster shot. The country has just begun vaccinating children aged between 5 and 11.
The latest curbs come after nine cases of Omicron were detected in a single family that flew to Auckland for a wedding earlier this month.
The family from the Nelson-Marlborough region attended a wedding and other events while in Auckland, with estimates suggesting they came into contact with “well over 100 people at these events”, Ardern said.
“That means that Omicron is now circulating in Auckland and possibly the Nelson-Marlborough region if not elsewhere,” she added.
As the country moves into the red traffic light setting later this evening, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is reminding people that the setting is not a lockdown. Here’s what else she had to the say on the move to red.
— RNZ (@radionz) January 23, 2022
Asked by reporters how she felt about the postponement of her wedding, Ardern replied: “Such is life.”