Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern maintains New Zealand has strong travel restrictions after US-Europe ban

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern maintains New Zealand has among the strictest travel restrictions in the world while announcing no new specific border controls on Friday.

It comes after US President Donald Trump barred 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.

New Zealand already has 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 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.

The Prime Minister said on Friday that the COVID-19 Cabinet committee convened on Thursday night to discuss recent border information and developments with the US ban. She said new border measures would be implemented, but won't announce any yet.

"The impact of those from this point, particularly reflecting on the impact of the United States decision, does require some additional work to be done.

"I will give you an example: Some of New Zealand's pharmaceutical products enter into New Zealand through passenger travel. We need to make sure that whilst we ensure the public health of all New Zealanders, that we also at the same time protect the health of those who may be reliant on such products.

"We have agreed there will be additional border measures. We will be reconvening throughout the weekend… to make further decisions."

She said the United States' border decision hasn't been implemented by any other countries.

"New Zealand's restrictions continue to be among the most stringent in the world."

Ardern wouldn't rule out any restriction, including a blanket ban on Europe.

Among other countries' border restrictions, Australia has a travel ban on people from China, Iran, South Korea and Iran. India has suspended all tourist visa and a 14-day quarantine on all travellers from China, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, South Korea and Spain. Japan has banned passengers who have been in China, South Korea or Italy within the last 14 days. 

Coronavirus COVID-19 has infected more than 127,000 people and killed about 4700. There are five confirmed cases within New Zealand, all of whom are in a stable condition.

What we know about coronavirus

Coronavirus, which was declared a pandemic on Thursday, 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 (WHO). 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.