Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand has canceled her wedding celebrations as the Pacific nation grapples with an emerging outbreak of the highly transmissible omicron coronavirus variant.
She announced the cancellation during a news conference on Sunday in which she unveiled new public health measures and restrictions on public gatherings to limit the virus’s spread.
“My wedding won’t be going ahead, but I just join many other New Zealanders who have had an experience like that as a result of the pandemic,” the 41-year-old prime minister told reporters. “Such is life.”
Ardern did not mention any plans to have the wedding sometime in the future or indicate whether she and Gayford intend to marry at some point without a wedding celebration.
New Zealand had mostly kept the omicron variant at bay until now; the island nation’s borders remain closed to international visitors, and officials recently suspended new bookings into the country’s mandatory quarantine system for returning citizens, worried the virus would leak out into the community from those government-run facilities.
Ardern said Sunday that a family of nine people who flew from the country’s South Island to Auckland for a wedding this month had tested positive for the omicron variant. A fully vaccinated flight attendant picked it up on the same flight and worked on four additional flights while infectious, she said.
“Given the amount of omicron circulating overseas and presenting at the border, this was inevitable,” said James Ussher, an infection-control expert at New Zealand’s University of Otago. “It is unlikely that we will be able to stamp this out,” he added.
For much of the pandemic, New Zealand has worked hard to eliminate the virus from its shores. It maintains a system of contact tracing — where health officials attempt to map and notify everyone who may have come into contact with an infectious person. But as authorities in the United States and elsewhere have found, that task is made more difficult by the highly transmissible omicron variant, which spreads faster and farther than other strains of the virus.
“We don’t yet have a clear lead on the index case that links this family to the border, as we have with our other omicron cases to date,” Ardern said in a statement Sunday. “As we have seen elsewhere in the world, omicron is significantly more infectious, and in due course we know we will see far more cases than we have in the two years of the pandemic to date.”
New Zealand has had only about 15,000 confirmed cases and 52 deaths since the pandemic began. Ardern predicted case numbers would rise to 1,000 a day in coming weeks — far higher than the nation has experienced at any point during the pandemic.
As omicron spreads rapidly around the world, it is testing even places that have almost entirely kept the coronavirus out. The Pacific island nation of Kiribati went into lockdown on Saturday for the first time in the pandemic.
Under the New Zealand restrictions unveiled Sunday, events and gatherings for vaccinated people will be capped at 100. If people at an event are unvaccinated, the number is limited to 25. Hospitality businesses can open but are limited to 100 people, and customers must be seated and socially distanced. Masks are required indoors, including in schools.
Officials also are encouraging people to get their booster shots: About 56 percent of those eligible for a booster have already had one, Ardern said Sunday. Nearly 80 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.