Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirms the country is now at alert level 3

coronavirus 23/03/2020

New Zealand has hit coronavirus alert level 3 after the number of confirmed cases shot to 102 on Monday.

This means there is a "heightened risk that disease is not contained", with either cases being transmitted through the community or multiple clusters of COVID-19 breaking out.

Speaking to New Zealand at her post-Cabinet press conference on Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warned now is the time to act.

Effective immediately we will lift to alert level 3 nationwide, In 48 hours it will be lifted to 4.

What this means for New Zealand

  • Non-essential businesses must close - pools, bars, cafes, restaurants, playgrounds.
  • In 48 hours all businesses which provide takeaway services must close their doors.
  • Schools will be closed from tomorrow except to the children of essential services such as doctors, police, ambo drivers. This will give them time to plan.
  • Schools will close entirely from midnight Wednesday
  • People must work from home so contact with others is limited
  • Public transport will begin to transition over the next 48 hours. It will remain for essential workers and transporting freight

How long will it last?

These measures will be in place for four weeks.

"Testing will continue at pace - if we flush out the cases we already have we will be able to potentially lift areas out of level 4," Ardern said.

"If after four weeks we have been successful we will be able to ease these restrictions. If not we will have to live with them for longer.

"If you hang out with a friend at a park, or get lunch with a family member, you risk extending these measures for the whole of NZ."

Travel around New Zealand

Ardern says travel around New Zealand will change. For the next 48 hours, air travel will be open so people can get home.

"After 48 hours we will be moving to air travel only applying to the transport of people undertaking essential services and the transport of freight," she said.

"Public transport will also begin to transition over the next 48 hours [and] will only be available for those working in essential services, for medical reasons, and to move essential goods - including ferry services between the North and South Island."

Schools

Schools will be closed from Tuesday, except for the children of essential workers. This will be temporary, and schools will close entirely from midnight Wednesday.

The school term break will be brought forward. Schools will establish ways to deliver teaching online and remotely.

Self-isolation

Ardern has asked all New Zealanders outside essential services to stay at home and stop interactions with people outside of the household.

"I understand that self-isolation is a daunting prospect. So we are being practical," she said.

"You can leave your home for fresh air, a walk, exercise. To take your children outside. But remember the simple principle. It must be solitary.

"We are asking that you only spend time with those you are in self-isolation with. And if you are outside, keep your distance from others. That means two metres at all times. This is the single most important thing we can do right now to stop further community transmission."

Things will look worse before they look better

"In the short term the number of cases will likely rise because the virus is already in our community," Ardern said.

"But these new measures can slow the virus down and prevent our health system from being overwhelmed and ultimately save lives.

"I am in no doubt that the measures I have announced today will cause unprecedented economic and social disruption. But they are necessary."

Worst case scenario

Ardern warns that without these measures, "tens of thousands of New Zealanders could die from COVID-19".

"Everything you will all give up for the next few weeks, all of the lost contact with others, all of the isolation, and difficult time entertaining children - it will literally save lives. Thousands of lives," she said.

"The worst-case scenario is simply intolerable. It would represent the greatest loss of New Zealanders' lives in our country's history. I will not take that chance.

"I would rather make this decision now, and save those lives, and be in lockdown for a shorter period, than delay, see New Zealanders lose loved ones and their contact with each other for an even longer period."

Look out for each other

The Prime Minister urged Kiwis to "be kind" to each other.

"I know people will want to act as enforcers and I understand people are afraid and they are anxious, but we will play the role of enforcer," she told the nation.

"Go home tonight and check on your neighbours. Plan how you will keep in touch with one another. We will get through this together. Be strong and be kind."