Jacinda Ardern discussed alternatives to 'loud honk' COVID-19 mobile phone alert

A COVID-19 emergency alert message described as "ear splitting" was sent to mobile phones on Wednesday night, and the Prime Minister says she discussed alternative ways of getting the message to Kiwis. 

In a Facebook video update posted after the Civil Defence message was sent out, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern explained to New Zealanders what had just happened and why it was necessary to fight the coronavirus. 

"You will have got the message from Civil Defence systems this evening, this blast of the horn on your phone, and then some messages that we're really keen for everyone to stick to," Ardern said in the video. 

"There's no way to send out those Civil Defence emergency alerts on your phone with anything other than the loud honk that you heard... this was actually something we all discussed - was there a way that we could send that message in a way that wasn't quite so alarming?"

The Prime Minister said the alerts are usually only used when the Government needs people to react to something quickly, such as a natural disaster, but Civil Defence wanted to get a clear message across to Kiwis that the country was going into COVID-19 lockdown.  

Similar text messages have been sent out in the UK and Australia, telling people to stay at home, practise social distancing and to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged his people to obey the message. 

Ardern said she thought it was a "really useful way to get out some really key messages to everyone across the country", highlighting some of the alert message's key points such as staying home and avoiding physical contact. 

"Some of those key messages were about how important it is to stay home and that if you're not working in essential services then you shouldn't be going out to work," Ardern said. 

"Those essential services are based around some pretty simple principles - we're keeping going the people that we need to look after your health and your safety... our medical professionals and the people who are still policing New Zealand.

"We need to keep going in our efforts against COVID-19 so that means we're still making face masks and protective equipment and things like that.

"We need to keep going with services that are going to help you and your family be well while you're at home, so medical supplies, pharmacies, access to money via the banks and supermarkets and GPs.

"But by and large, we're very keen that you stay at home - that you stay within what we call your bubble of people that you'll be with for the next four weeks."

Kiwis reacted to the mobile phone alert mostly with support, but one Twitter user described it as "ear splitting", while another said it definitely got their attention.

You can read the message here:

Jacinda Ardern discussed alternatives to 'loud honk' COVID-19 mobile phone alert

The message was sent out to inform New Zealanders that the country is going into a four-week lockdown period in an effort to thwart the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, which has so far infected more than 200 Kiwis. 

Civil Defence Minister Peeni Henare took the unprecedented step on Wednesday of declaring a state of national emergency for New Zealand in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

An epidemic notice issued by the Prime Minister came into effect on Wednesday and it will remain for three months with ongoing review, enabling the use of a number of 'special powers' in legislation. 

Those special powers were passed in a number of Bills passed under urgency on Wednesday in a special session of Parliament with just a handful of MPs. 

Some of the legislation passed was to activate measures that have already been announced, such as a freeze on rent increases during the lockdown period to make sure everyone has a place to self-isolate. 

Other legislation was passed, such as setting up a special committee led by National leader Simon Bridges so the Opposition can still scrutinise the Government. 

Another piece of legislation allows the Government to access $40 billion in operational cash and $12 billion in capital, if it needs the money while Parliament is shut-down during lockdown.