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Chris Hipkins, who played a significant role in New Zealand’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, is set to replace Jacinda Ardern as prime minister after emerging on Saturday as the only candidate to lead the ruling Labour Party.

Hipkins, 44, is expected to be confirmed as leader at a meeting of Labour’s 64 lawmakers, or Caucus, on Sunday, succeeding Ardern, who made a surprise announcement on Thursday that she had “no more in the tank” to lead the country and would step down.

“I think we’re an incredibly strong team,” Hipkins told a news conference after the party announced him as the sole candidate.

“We’ve gone through this process with unity and we’ll continue to do that. I’m feeling really fortunate to be working with such an amazing group of people who have a real commitment to the service of the people of New Zealand.”

Known as “Chippy”, Hipkins built a reputation for competence in tackling Covid-19 and was a troubleshooter for Ardern when other cabinet ministers were struggling.

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