Coronavirus: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern thanks New Zealand's 'new frontline' workers

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is thanking a group of workers she describes as New Zealand's "new frontline" in the fight against COVID-19: supermarket check-out staff - a role she once held. 

Speaking to the media in her daily COVID-19 update, the Prime Minister gave a "special mention" to New Zealand's frontline workers, including nurses, doctors, police, ambulance staff and firefighters, as the country goes into lockdown. 

But she said they are "now joined by a new frontline", highlighting how supermarket workers, bank tellers and cleaners are continuing to work during the lockdown as essential services, risking their health to maintain social wellbeing. 

"I was once a checkout operator," Ardern told reporters. "I can tell you that it is a thankless job at the best of times. I cannot imagine what some of those individuals will have experienced in the last few weeks.

"But on behalf of all New Zealand, I say thank you to them, for what you're doing for us now and what you'll continue to do for us in the weeks ahead."

The Prime Minister thanked all New Zealanders for "their commitment to staying home and contributing to our efforts to break the chain of COVID-19", as the country entered the first day of official lockdown. 

Ardern said she's been advised that to date everything is running "as smoothly as could be expected at this time" and extended her gratitude to those who are giving up their daily routines. 

"I do just want to pause on that for a moment - on Monday, we said we needed to shut New Zealand down, and here we are on Thursday with our streets essentially empty... that is a remarkable feat and I want to thank the nation for that," she said. 

"I've been advised that supermarkets are generally orderly, and that the panic buying we saw in recent days seems to have settled down as people observe the isolation requirements.

"I expect over time people will continue to build their confidence that those essential services will remain available to them and that people's behaviour will change as a result."

The Prime Minister again asked New Zealanders to only shop when necessary, and that it's preferable if there is just one person per household who shops. Dairies will remain open in New Zealand, but only one customer will be allowed in at a time. 

"Remember, always, to act like you have COVID-19, stay clear of others so that you don't put them in harm's way, in the same way we expect them to stay clear of you," Ardern said.

"There will be the odd issue here and there as we move through this unprecedented time in New Zealand's history, but I want to acknowledge the start that everyone has made and the commitment people are showing."

Ardern's 3pm press conference followed another one held at 1pm by the director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, who confirmed 78 new cases of the coronavirus in New Zealand, bringing the total to 283. 

More than 400,000 people across the globe have contracted COVID-19 so far, claiming the lives of more than 20,000, but more than 114,000 have recovered.