The decision to lift or extend New Zealand's COVID-19 alert level 4 lockdown will be announced at 4pm on Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed.
During the daily media briefing on Sunday, Ardern announced that she and Cabinet will be meeting at 10:30am on Monday to determine whether to extend the current alert level 4 deadline, which was set for a preliminary four-week period beginning at 11:59pm on March 25. If the lockdown is lifted, the country will move into alert level 3 just before midnight this coming Wednesday.
The Ministry of Health's Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, will also be present when the decision is shared on Monday afternoon.
"No matter the outcome of Cabinet's deliberations tomorrow, it is important to remember that this is going to be a long-term project for us all," Ardern said to reporters at the Beehive on Sunday afternoon.
"Our move to alert level 3, whenever it comes, is not a return to pre-COVID-19 life for any of us. What eventually changes at alert level 3 is that more of the economy is able to come back online but our social lives, sadly, will not. If we move too quickly in that area, we undo the good work we have done collectively over some very long days."
Cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister will consider several components and different criteria when determining New Zealand's next move in the COVID-19 response. These include:
- that Dr Bloomfield is satisfied there is sufficient data from a range of sources, including testing and surveillance, [and] that public health experts, statisticians and modellers can have reasonable certainty that undetected community transmission is unlikely
- sufficient, rigorous and rapid case identification and contact tracing with surge capacity available in the case of an outbreak
- robust self-isolation, quarantine and border measures that are adhered to
- capacity in the health system more generally, including the workforce, ICU capacity, plus the availability of PPE for those whom it is recommended.
Alongside that, Cabinet will look at the evidence of the effects the measures have had on the economy and society more broadly; public attitudes towards the measures and the extent to which people and businesses are understanding, accepting and overall complying with them; and the ability to operationalise restrictions including satisfactory, detailed implementation planning by the All of Government team and Government agencies.
Ardern also made a rallying call to New Zealanders to continue working together, highlighting cooperation and unity as key reasons behind the Government's transparency.
"We all need to work together for success... this is a mission we are all on [as one]," she reiterated. "We are in this together, because that is only the way this will work."
She also paid special thanks to New Zealand's business owners and operators for their effort to keep their staff employed and afloat.
"Nobody underestimates how hard this situation is for all of you. I want to thank you for pouring so much effort into keeping your staff employed and working so hard to keep everyone afloat for the time when you can get back up and running.
"The wage subsidy wouldn't have worked without businesses making applications and giving their all to keep their staff, who many consider their family, connected to work."
New Zealanders are urged to get tested for COVID-19 as soon as they begin to notice symptoms of illness. Common symptoms of the virus include a dry, persistent cough, a fever, shortness of breath, fatigue, nasal congestion or a runny nose, a sore throat and aches and pains.
"If I could make two pleas to members of the public - if you even have a sniffle or the slightest sore throat, get a test. The sooner we get on top of knowing that someone has the symptoms of COVID-19, the more successful our isolation and contact tracing will be," Ardern advised.
"Think about all your movements as if we may come in and interview [you] tomorrow and find out who you've been with."
Nine new cases of COVID-19 were announced on Sunday, bringing New Zealand's overall confirmed and probable case total to 1431.