Coronavirus: NZ faces potential UK and China-style moves to stop COVID-19's spread

Shops and bars might soon be forced to shut and some parts of the country made off-limits, health officials have warned.

New Zealand so far has 39 confirmed cases of COVID-19, but no reports yet the disease is loose, with every case as of Friday linked to travellers coming in from overseas.

Despite extreme measures being taken to keep it out - such as shutting the borders to non-residents for the first time in history - the Ministry of Health is getting ready for community transmission of the virus, which has killed more than 11,000 people worldwide in the past couple of months.

"We will then think about putting in place other measures to help avoid further transmission in the community," Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield told Newshub Nation on Saturday morning.

The UK overnight shut its bars, gyms, restaurants and pubs, Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling it a "heartbreaking" move.

"I do accept that what we're doing is extraordinary: we're taking away the ancient, inalienable right of free-born people of the United Kingdom to go to the pub, and I can understand how people feel about that."

Unlike New Zealand, the UK has experienced a widespread outbreak. So far 177 people there have died.

Ashley Bloomfield.
Ashley Bloomfield. Photo credit: Newshub Nation

Dr Bloomfield said people have been "responding well" to messages around social distancing, working from home and not holding big events.

"But some of the other things we can to help increase physical distancing may be for example asking some shops to close, or asking restaurants and bars to close. That could be further down the track."

Geographical lockdown could also be an option. Part of China's widely praised measures to halt the virus' spread within its own borders involved locking off entire cities, not allowing anyone to enter or leave. Anyone who has visited a quarantined region in the weeks before the lockdown would be required to go into self-isolation.

"That could be a very effective way of not only stopping transmission in that community, but preventing any further onward transmission in the country," said Dr Bloomfield.

He confirmed a recent Imperial College report, which said there could be waves of outbreaks over 12 to 18 months, was likely to be accurate.

"We need to be ready to be in this for the long haul if we want to avoid that really large peak that would lead to a high number of cases and potentially create real problems for our health care system. We've got time to ensure that we can follow that longer course. We need to go early and make sure we keep that peak below the health system's capacity." 

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