New Zealand delays general election over coronavirus fears

New Zealand has postponed the country's general election by a month amid a spike in coronavirus cases, prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has said.

The vote was due to take place on 19 September but will now be held on 17 October instead.

Calls had been growing from opposition parties for the election to be moved, with opposition leaders saying it wasn’t “just and fair” to hold an election while an outbreak was underway and level 3 restrictions were in place in the country’s largest city, prohibiting campaigning.

Ms Ardern said on Monday that the new date would allow parties "to plan around the range of circumstances we will be campaigning under".

"This decision gives all parties time over the next nine weeks to campaign and the Electoral Commission enough time to ensure an election can go ahead," Ms Ardern said.

New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters -- who is Deputy Prime Minister in Ardern's coalition government -- had also called publicly for the election to be delayed and issued a statement welcoming the move.

"Holding an election during a Covid outbreak has the risk of serious interference in our democracy. Voters would be expected to exercise their electoral rights with a dearth of information and that is unacceptable," Peters said.

Restrictions were imposed on Auckland on Wednesday after a number of new infections were identified in the city.

Nine new coronavirus cases were confirmed on Monday, bringing the number of active cases linked to the Auckland cluster to 58.

Five people were in hospital being treated for the disease, and the source of the outbreak remained a mystery, the ministry of health said.

“We still don’t have any particular clues as to the origin of the outbreak,” director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said.

“Our first focus is on the mapping the extent of it and managing the outbreak, once we have the complete picture we are much more likely to then go back and trace the origin of it.”

There are four "alert levels" in New Zealand, and Auckland has been on Level 3 since the new measures were announced. The rest of the country is on Level 2.

Since March, New Zealand has reported a total of 1,280 confirmed and 351 probable coronavirus cases and 22 deaths. The country had previously been coronavirus-free for 102 days.

New Zealand's Parliament will now reconvene Tuesday and be dissolved on September 6 ahead of the October poll.