‘We must go hard and we must go early’

PM massively escalates border restrictions and limits big events to "flatten the curve" of Covid-19 cases once they start spreading to take pressure off hospitals

In a massive escalation of the Government's response to the global spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced what she said were among the world's toughest border restrictions and previewed plans to limit large events. 

The measures announced after a special Cabinet meeting in Auckland on Saturday included:

1. Making all people arriving into New Zealand from midnight Sunday go into self-isolation for 14 days, unless they are coming from the Pacific,

2. Stopping the arrival of cruise ships until the end of June,

3. Stopping people who have recently returned from non-Pacific countries going to the Pacific Islands, and stopping anyone going to the Pacific if they are exhibiting flu symptoms,

4. Issuing guidelines for large events to stop the transmission of Covid-19. The Pasifika festival in Auckland and the March 15 attack commemorations scheduled for this weekend were cancelled yesterday and today, respectively.

Ardern told a news conference in Auckland after the meeting that New Zealand needed to flatten the curve of new cases to avoid our hospital system being overwhelmed.

"That is why ultimately we must go hard and we must go early. We must do everything we can to protect the health of New Zealanders. That is exactly why to tackle this global pandemic Cabinet made far reaching and unprecedented decisions today because these are unprecedented circumstances," Ardern said.

"As of midnight Sunday, every person entering New Zealand, including returning New Zealand citizens and residents, will be required to enter self-isolation for 14 days -- everybody," she said.

"The Pacific Islands are exempted from this measure. They are the only ones. Anyone from these (Pacific) countries, though, will be required to automatically self-isolate should they exhibit any Covid-19 symptoms upon arrival in New Zealand.

"Alongside Israel and a small number of Pacific islands who have effectively closed their borders, this decision will mean New Zealand will have the widest ranging and toughest border restrictions of any country in the world."

Ardern said the Government was also encouraging New Zealanders to avoid all non-essential travel overseas.

"In addition to restrictions on air travel, we are also taking firm measures on cruise ships. As of midnight tonight, we're issuing a directive to all cruise ships not to come to New Zealand until at least 30 June 2020," she said.

It's about people, not products.

Ardern said the restrictions did not apply to cargo ships, cargo planes, shipping crews or airline crews.

She advised against any runs on supermarkets.

"It's worth remembering that we've had travel restrictions on China for over a month and the supply routes, despite those travel restrictions, have continued," she said.

"We are mindful that some items that come into New Zealand come via passenger flights. That's why support, where needed, will be provided to ensure that essential air freight like pharmaceuticals continue to arrive and be shipped in to New Zealand.

"We do not take these decisions lightly. We know these travel restrictions will place a significant strain on the aviation industry and we anticipate some routes will reduce or cease for a period of time," she said.

"As such, the Government will work closely with the aviation sector to encourage and support airlines to remain active in New Zealand so that we can rebound from the restrictions quickly and not have significant impacts on our tourism sector, exports and economy."

Business support on Tuesday

Ardern said Finance Minister Grant Robertson would announce an economic response, including a previewed business continuity package, on Tuesday.

"We are also stepping up our actions at the border as a key departure route to the Pacific. New Zealand does have a huge sense of responsibility to our Pacific neighbours. As such, strict new border exit measures for people travelling to the Pacific will be put in place. These include: no travel for people who have travelled outside of New Zealand in the past 14 days; no travel for close or casual contacts of a confirmed case; no travel for anyone who is symptomatic and health assessments, including temperature checks," she said.

"Taken as a whole, the border measures we are taking today will mean significantly more people will enter self-isolation and supporting and facilitating that to occur is critical," she said, adding officials had been instructed to start spot checks.

Economic impact acknowledged

Ardern said the best protection for the economy was to prevent the fast spread of the virus.

"A widespread outbreak will hurt our economy far more in the long run than short term measures to prevent a mass outbreak occurring," she said.

"These measures, while disruptive, are needed to make the space we need as a nation to prepare, manage the spread, and, as I said, flatten the curve."

Guidelines on mass gatherings

Ardern also announced the Government would announce guidelines next week on mass gatherings, pointing to the cancellation of Pasifika and the March 15 commemoration.

The guidance we will be developing more broadly on these gatherings will be based on the following criteria: large events or people in close proximity events where people are more likely to be in physical contact; events where participants have travelled from overseas, or where there is a known likelihood of a large group having travelled from overseas; and non ticketed events where, for instance, there is no seat allocation because that does make the job of contact tracing that much harder."

"In conclusion, we have two choices as a nation: one is to let Covid-19 roll on and simply to brace. The second is to go hard on measures to keep it out and stamp it out," she said.

"Not because we can stop a global pandemic from reaching us, but because it is in our power to slow it down. I make no apology for choosing this second path. New Zealanders' public health comes first. If we have have that, we can recover from the impacts on the economy."

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