Jacinda Ardern urges anyone sick not to attend work or mass gatherings as coronavirus declared pandemic

The Prime Minister is urging anyone who is sick not to attend work or mass gatherings as the World Health Organization declares the coronavirus COVID-19 a pandemic. 

"If you are sick, do not go to work and if you are sick do not go to mass gatherings," Jacinda Ardern told reporters in Wellington on Thursday. "That is one of the most important messages that we need to get out.

"You might not feel that unwell, but you're putting at risk others... I think there is a feeling amongst communities that if you are unwell, then going out and being at work and public places, is putting others at risk."

It comes as the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic on Thursday morning, citing "deep concerns" about the "alarming level of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction". 

And despite the Prime Minister's warning about spreading the illness, two large public events are still going forward this weekend: The March 15 Christchurch mosque attack memorial and the Pasifika Festival in Auckland. 

"I've sought specific advice from the Ministry of Health (MoH) around large gatherings and their message to us has been very clear: we are at a point where we don't have community transmission," the Prime Minister said.  

The MoH reported back urging the public to remain cautious and practice good hygiene, but leaving decisions around cancellations to event organisers. 

"People need to take responsibility for not spreading illness; if you have a temperature or cough or cold then stay at home and don't attend," the ministry said in a statement on Tuesday. 

The Prime Minister visited Island Bay Medical Centre in Wellington on Thursday morning where she met with GPs to discuss access to and use of personal protective equipment for COVID-19. 

"Today was an opportunity for us to meet directly with general practice here in Wellington to hear about some of the preparations that they have in place to deal with COVID-19," she told reporters. 

"The vast majority of cases of COVID-19 will be individuals who are likely to experience mild-to-moderate symptoms but they are likely to perhaps at that point contact their GP for advice and information.

"GP practices are preparing by making sure they have plenty of information outside the practice before people come in, to try and keep that social distance from people who may be symptomatic."

Ardern said the Government has "already been treating COVID-19 as a pandemic" since January when "we began operationalizing our pandemic plan and we've been tailoring it to the information and evidence we have specific to COVID-19". 

The Prime Minister admitted that she has still been shaking hands with people she meets day-to-day, but she said she is confident in her hand-washing etiquette. 

On Wednesday, Ardern announced that all travellers from Italy instead of just northern Italy will now be required to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival in New Zealand, bringing it into line with travellers from South Korea. 

But the travel ban still only includes China and Iran, despite Australia banning travellers from Italy and South Korea to prevent the spread of the virus. 

Ardern justified not banning Italian and South Korean travellers, saying the self-isolation requirement has "had the right effect right down to the point where I imagine now we will have just citizens and permanent residents".

Ardern argued New Zealand has "some of the tightest border restrictions in the world".

New Zealand has five confirmed cases of COVID-19.