New Zealand PM tests COVID-positive two weeks before election

SYDNEY (Reuters) -New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has tested positive for COVID-19 and will work remotely while isolating, his office said on Sunday, just two weeks before a general election in which his Labour party is struggling.

The positive test will temporarily sideline Hipkins in the campaign for the Oct. 14 election. Labour has been sliding in the opinion polls, with the centre-right National party leading by 31.9% to 26.5% in a recent survey.

Hipkins has cold and flu symptoms that began on Saturday and will isolate for five days or until he returned a negative test, the prime minister's office said in a statement.

"He will continue with engagements he can undertake via Zoom," the statement said.

Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni would stand in for Hipkins at a Samoan church service in Auckland on Sunday, a spokesperson said.

"Thanks to all of Labour's great volunteers and supporters who I know will keep our campaign going in my absence," Hipkins said on his official Facebook page. "There’s a lot at stake this election, and I’ll be working doubly hard when I can get back out there to make sure Labour is re-elected."

The prime minister's office said further updates on his schedule "will be provided in due course".

The government removed its last COVID restrictions in August, but health authorities still recommend that people stay home for five days if feeling unwell or if they have tested positive.

(Reporting by Sam McKeith in Sydney; Editing by Nick Zieminski and William Mallard)