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Virus looms as election issue for New Zealand's Ardern

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Wellington (AFP)

The global coronavirus outbreak is emerging as a potential stumbling block for New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's re-election plans, with a poll Thursday showing unease over her government's handling of the crisis.

The centre-left leader goes to the polls on September 19 facing a tight race to win a second term against the conservative National Party.

While Ardern is enormously popular overseas due to her compassionate handling of last year's Christchurch mosque shootings, her Labour Party trails National and almost certainly again needs support from coalition partners to form a government.

National has accused the government of not doing enough to counter the virus' impact on a New Zealand economy that is heavily reliant on trade with China.

"Businesses need clear and urgent action from the government to help them through this period of uncertainty, not just tinkering around the edges and ad-hoc announcements that lack detail," National finance spokesman Paul Goldsmith said Thursday.

While the government has announced measures to help some sections of the economy affected by the virus, an opinion poll published by news website stuff.co.nz indicated the attacks were hitting home.

The survey of 1,900 voters found less than half, some 47 percent, were satisfied with the government's handling of the virus, with 34 percent dissatisfied and 19 percent unsure.

It showed 55 percent wanted stronger travel bans covering all countries where the virus has caused deaths, rather than the current bans applied to China and Iran.

New Zealand has three cases of the virus, all of which were confirmed this week.

Massey University politics specialist associate professor Grant Duncan said the more the virus spread in New Zealand, the larger its likely impact on the election.

"It's very unpredictable. One would hope for the sake of New Zealand that it turns out to be a fizzer," he told AFP, speaking before the poll's release.

"But if it's not, it could be a big factor come September if people are blaming the government."

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