A message claiming a nationwide "lockdown has been announced" is rapidly circulating across New Zealand and Australia, leading to widespread confusion and panic amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
A copy of the message obtained by Newshub claims a nationwide lockdown, including the closure of schools, the closure of all private businesses other than essential services and closed borders, will be in effect from Friday to March 31.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has rubbished the message as a hoax, warning New Zealanders not to fall for rampant rumours during a time of uncertainty and fear.
"There are a number of rumours that are circulating. I am present on social media... [but] I cannot go around and individually dismiss every single rumour," Ardern told reporters in Rotorua on Thursday.
"I want to send a clear message: We will share with you the most up to date information daily. You can also trust us as a source of that information.
"You can also trust the Director-General of Health, the Ministry of Health and covid19.govt.nz... otherwise dismiss anything else. Everything else you see; a grain of salt."
Ardern said the text and other examples of scaremongering misinformation "add to the anxiety".
"I continue to share the message - New Zealanders must prepare but do not panic. When you see those messages, remember that unless you hear it from us, it is not the truth," she said.
"The last thing we want is anxiety based on misinformation... tune in to us - we will keep sharing what we need to know."
The Prime Minister urged New Zealanders to check the factuality of rumours by visiting the Government's new website dedicated to COVID-19.
"I really ask people just visit covid19.govt.nz... we will continue to provide everything you need to know."
Eight additional cases of COVID-19 were confirmed by the Ministry of Health on Thursday afternoon, bringing New Zealand's total to 28.
A variation of the hoax message circulating on social media:
Country lockdown has been announced; likely to be effective from tomorrow until 31st March. Ban on all religious, sporting, social and cultural gatherings. All businesses and religious premises to close. Exemption on groceries, public markets, provision stores. Restriction on mosques and Islamic events subject to the Muzakarah meeting. 2. Nationwide travel restrictions on all citizens. Those who have just arrived from abroad must undergo self-quarantine. 3. All tourists and visitors barred from entry. 4. All public and private schools including kindergartens, nurseries, residential school and other educational institutions to close [sic]. 5. All private and public higher institutions of learning to close. 6. Closure of all government and private premises except essential services such as water and electricity, telecommunication, postal service, transport, fuel, gas, lubrication, broadcasting, banking, health, pharmacy, fire-fighting, ports, airports, prisons, security and defence, sanitary services, provision, and food supply.