New Zealand is to remain in full lockdown until midnight on Friday in almost all parts of the country, and until next Tuesday in Auckland – two weeks of full lockdown, as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern insists that entirely eliminating the coronavirus is still a realistic possibility.

Ardern declared a Level 4 lockdown – the country’s highest level – last Tuesday, after a single case of COVID-19’s Delta variant was discovered in Auckland. That confirmed case was a recent returnee to New Zealand who had complied with quarantine regulations, but despite that, the outbreak has now grown to 277 cases, with officials still baffled as to how the virus spread.

Speaking to press on Thursday, Ardern said she was “not fussed” about criticism of her policy of “go hard, go early,” insisting that it saved lives.

“For me, and I’m sure many others, the measure of success in this pandemic is not just what happens in August of 2021. It’s what has happened since February 2020, when COVID arrived in New Zealand.

“Then, and now, we had three goals: We wanted to save people’s lives, and we have. We wanted to try and have people’s lives lived as normally as possible and even now, we’ve had some of the shortest periods of restrictions of any country. We wanted to save people’s jobs in the economy. With unemployment at 4% and the economy performing at pre-COVID levels, we’ve done that too,” she said.

Ardern added that the goal was to move away from lockdowns, but stressed that this would only become possible once most of the population had been vaccinated. So far, around 75% of New Zealanders over the age of thirty have either had at least one dose or are booked to receive one.