New Zealand entered a nationwide lockdown Tuesday after a single coronavirus infection was reported, the first confirmed COVID-19 case in the country in the past six months.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern defended the move in a televised press conference, saying officials have "seen what happens elsewhere if we fail to get on top of it."
“We only get one chance,” she added, according to The Associated Press. "The best thing we can do to get out of this as quickly as we can is to go hard.”
"We have made the decision on the basis that it is better to start high and go down levels rather than to go low, not contain the virus and see it move quickly,” the prime minister explained, according to Reuters.
Under the government order, the city of Auckland, where the infected man lives, and Coromandel, where the man reportedly visited, will be locked down for at least a week.
The rest of the country is set to remain under lockdown for just three days.
The health order reportedly prompted a panic among local citizens, who lined up outside grocery stores to stock up on household items.
Only businesses and services deemed essential will be allowed to operate under the lockdown, with other offices and schools ordered to close as the government investigates whether any other cases may be tied to the man’s infection.
New Zealand has had substantially lower COVID-19 case and fatality numbers compared to other wealthy countries across the globe, with about 2,750 confirmed infections and 26 deaths as of Monday, according to the World Health Organization.
However, the South Pacific island nation also has a relatively low vaccination rate, with just 32 percent of the population with at least one shot and 18 percent fully vaccinated, the AP noted.
While people traveling into New Zealand from abroad are required to quarantine upon arrival, Ardern said last week that vaccinated travelers coming from low-risk countries may be able to bypass isolation protocols as soon as early next year.
"We’re simply not in a position to fully reopen just yet," she explained at the time. "When we move we will be careful and deliberate, because we want to move with confidence and with as much certainty as possible."