Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced everyone entering New Zealand must self-isolate

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has made an unprecedented set of announcements in response to the global spread of the coronavirus COVID-19.

As the number of people worldwide with the illness nears 150,000, with 5400 dead, Ardern announced on Saturday that every person entering New Zealand will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.

The measure, which will force New Zealand citizens to self-isolate and comes into effect at midnight on Sunday, is the strictest in the world, according to the Prime Minister. All restrictions will be reviewed in 16 days.

"We expect for New Zealanders currently overseas this is a stressful time. We encourage any New Zealander needing consular assistance to contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs."

A directive will also be issued at midnight telling cruise ships not to enter New Zealand until at least June 30. This does not apply to cargo ships.

Other essential flights will be allowed into New Zealand, for example, if they are bringing pharmaceuticals. The Prime Minister said people should not worry about supermarkets running out of products, as freight will be allowed into the country.

"This is about restricting the movement of people, not products. We will continue to have imports come into New Zealand," Ardern said.

The Prime Minister has received the support of the Leader of the Opposition. National Party leader Simon Bridges said that it is "good to see coronavirus being treated with more seriousness and urgency for the good of our country after a lot of pressure from National and New Zealanders".

"We are looking forward to more detail about exactly how self isolation will work and be enforced. This is critically important," Bridges said.

"We also want to work with the Government to see much more testing and other health related measures such as the urgent gearing up of our health system for the many patients coming."

Pacific Islands

Those coming from the Pacific are excluded from the travel measures. They will be the only people excluded. 

Ardern said New Zealand has a responsibility to look after the Pacific Islands.

"As such, strict new border exit measures for people travelling to the Pacific will be put in place," she said.

"These include: No travel for people who have travelled outside of New Zealand in the past 14-days. No travel for close or casual contacts of a confirmed case. No travel for anyone who is symptomatic, and health assessments, including temperature checks."

Some have questioned whether Australia was part of the Pacific Islands exemption. However, Air New Zealand chief revenue officer Cam Wallace has said the restrictions do apply to our neighbour across the Tasman.

Jacinda Ardern.
Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Getty.

Economic impact

Ardern said the Government would work with the aviation industry, which she understands will be significantly impacted. An economic response, which will include the business continuity package, will be revealed on Tuesday. The Government has suggested that package will include targeted wage subsidies. 

Among several other measures the Government has already announced is removing the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) stand-down period, and encouraging MSD and the IRD to work with businesses and employees on issues like provisional tax readjustments, late payment and filing fees, wage instalments plans and income support. It won't stop the upcoming minimum wage hike. 

Air New Zealand responded to the Prime Minister's announcement by saying: "Air New Zealand is reviewing the impact of the new measures announced this afternoon on its operations and will adjust its capacity accordingly.  We expect to provide an update on network changes over the next few days."

The company is offering fare flexibility to all those affected by Ardern's announcement. 

Customers with international flights affected by the restrictions due to depart up until March 31 are eligible to hold the value of their fare in credit for 12 months from the time of ticket purchase, receive a refund, or amend the date of their flight without change fees. The normal fare difference will apply.

New Zealand's tourism market is set for a battering. For the year ending March 2019, total tourism expenditure was $40.9 billion, up 4 percent on the last year. Nearly 300,000 people are directly employed within the industry.

Already the tourism industry has been hurt, as has been the forestry and seafood industries.

Following the Prime Minister's press conference, senior Infometrics economist Brad Olsen tweeted that it was the right move, but a "gut punch to the economy".

"Business activity will experience a swift decline, and job losses will rise. Comprehensive fiscal stimulus needed ASAP. What can people do? Consider a roadie to somewhere you haven’t been in NZ to support tourism."

Former chief economist at ANZ Cameron Bagrie said the Government "better have a bazooka fiscal / govt support package to announce in the next day or so".

"The economic impact of this is massive. We are now talking a deep recession. A govt bazooka is needed to make it less deep. We are in a lose lose situation. Just don’t lose too big."

Union E tū, which has about 8000 aviation members, says the scale of disruption will be "unlike anything we've witnessed before".

"We have implemented a comprehensive plan to ensure union members and their workplace leaders are supported and can get the information they need. We have already been involved in talks and negotiations with multiple employers," Savage, the union's head of aviation, said.

"That work will escalate in the weeks ahead as employers begin consulting employees about what the shutdowns mean in their sector."

Savage said the announcement would have a flow-on effect to the domestic and regional network. 

"Workers risk redundancies if these hard measures carry on too long," he said.

"The Government’s commitment to supporting the Aviation industry will be vital. Aviation is a life blood industry. It must be supported and ready to rebound soon as the restrictions finish.

"Aviation workers are skilled workers with high security clearance - the industry cannot afford to lose their skills and workers must remain ready to take off again as soon as possible."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced everyone entering New Zealand must self-isolate
Photo credit: Getty.

Self-isolation and health

The enforcement of self-isolation will be stepped up, according to Ardern, through measures like spot checks. Every traveller must register with Healthline and she expects people will travel home from airports in private vehicles. 

The Prime Minister said many people will be able to work from home and some will be eligible for sick leave.

She believes the country has the capacity to test everyone it necessary to.

Ardern's message to New Zealanders is to wash their hands, don't travel overseas if you don't need to, stay home if you are sick, sneeze into your elbow, stop handshakes, hugs and hongi. She said this was counter to who New Zealand was.

"This is an unprecedented time. While we don't have community transmission here, now is the time to prepare. We can all play a role in that," she said.

Directives about mass gatherings will be announced early next week. Australia has advised against gatherings of more than 500 people. 

Prime Minister Ardern's concluding message was that we must "go hard" to combat the spread, and she believes the Government's actions will assist with that.

"We are a tough, resilient people. We have been here before. Our journey will depend on how we work together. We are taking every measure we need as a Government and every step we can as a Government, and we are taking them early," Ardern said.

"We ask that you do that too. We all have a role to play. Look out for your neighbour, look out for your family, look out for your friends."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced everyone entering New Zealand must self-isolate

Sport

The Prime Minister's announcement had near-immediate impact.

Within minutes, the Chappell-Hadlee one-day international cricket series and the ensuing Twenty20 series was postponed. 

"A consequence of this is that we need to get our team back to New Zealand, before the restriction is imposed, meaning it will not be able to participate in the two remaining Chappell-Hadlee fixtures," said New Zealand Cricket.

"Arrangements are, at this moment, being made to fly the bulk of the squad home this evening."

Meanwhile, the restrictions are likely to curtail play in the Super Rugby competition and severely compromise the Warriors' involvement in NRL.

The Crusaders (Australia) and Highlanders (Argentina) are already overseas, and now face the two-week stand-down, presumably making them unavailable for next week's round. The Crusaders were due to host the Hurricanes.

The Chiefs were waiting to depart for South Africa, while the Blues are scheduled to face Canberra at Eden Park, with the visitors also subject to the stand-down.

Warriors chief executive Cameron George was due to meet with NRL officials this evening, after his team took on Newcastle Knights on the New South Wales coast.

The Auckland-based side would also face isolation, when they return to New Zealand - they're due to face the Canberra Raiders in an Eden Park cross-code doubleheader next week.

Previous details

The decision was made in a COVID-19 Cabinet committee meeting on Saturday, after the Prime Minister signalled on Friday that more border measures would soon be announced. 

The United States announced on Thursday that it would ban foreign nationals who have recently been in most European countries from entering the United States for at least 30 days. That ban excluded the United Kingdom and Ireland. Other countries to take drastic border measures include India and Ukraine, which have barred foreigners from entering. 

New Zealand already had travel restrictions in place for China and Iran, banning individuals from Aotearoa who have been in or through them in the last 14 days. New Zealand citizens and permanent residents are exempt. 

On top of that, travellers from Italy and South Korea have had to self-isolate for 14 days after entering New Zealand. Ardern has said that isolation requirement has had a similar effect to a ban, pushing traveller numbers down significantly.

As Ardern explained on Friday, one of the issues for authorities is that many of New Zealand's pharmaceutical products arrive in the country via passenger planes. Restricting travel on those planes would likely lead airlines to drop out of the routes.

There are six confirmed cases of the coronavirus in New Zealand, with the most recent being announced earlier on Saturday. That individual is a man in his 60s who recently returned to New Zealand from the United States, where there are nearly 2000 cases of the illness.

In an attempt to combat the spread of the virus, this weekend's Pasifika festival has been cancelled, while the Christchurch Remembrance Service will also not go ahead on Sunday. 

What we know about coronavirus

Coronavirus is primarily spread through droplets in the air after someone sneezes or coughs. However, it can also be contracted by touching surfaces where the illness is present, according to the World Health Organization. The length of time the virus stays alive on surfaces is unknown at this stage, but some viruses can remain active for days. 

The WHO was first informed of cases of the virus in Wuhan on December 31. It was identified as a coronavirus on January 7 and can spread through human-to-human transmission. 

"Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death," the WHO says.

"Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing."

There is currently no vaccine for the sickness.

How can I protect myself? 

  • avoid touching the mouth, nose and eyes with unwashed hands

  • washing your hands before eating

  • carrying a hand sanitiser at all times

  • being particularly mindful of touching your face after using public transport or going to the airport

  • carry tissues at all times to cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing (then dispose of it)

  • not eating shared or communal food

  • avoiding shaking hands, kissing cheeks

  • regularly cleaning and sanitise commonly used surfaces and items, such as phones and keys

  • avoiding close contact with people suffering from or showing symptoms of acute respiratory infection

  • seeking medical attention if you feel unwell.

A full explainer on protecting yourself from coronavirus can be found here.

The Ministry of Health is reminding the public to get in touch with Healthline on 0800 358 5453 if they have symptoms or concerns.

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