Coronavirus: Keeping New Zealand from returning to lockdown task for all Kiwis - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

Keeping New Zealand out of lockdown past next week is a task largely in the hands of ordinary Kiwis, the Prime Minister says.

At 11:59pm on Monday night, Aotearoa will shift from its current nationwide lockdown to alert level 3. While that phase allows more businesses to open and Kiwis to extend their bubbles, people will still be instructed to work from home if they can and limit all non-essential travel.

Speaking to The AM Show on Tuesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the decision for lockdown to end on Monday was about ensuring we don't lose what we have achieved so far.

"You will have heard some epidemiologists say the longer you stay in, the more likely you are to be successful, but there is a balance to be struck there. We wanted to make sure that we really locked in all the gains of level 4 because of all the sacrifices New Zealanders have made, but also, make it the most likely we can that we won't go back." she said.

"No one wants a yo-yo. That would be bad for health, it would be bad for people's livelihoods and the economy. This decision struck a balance, meant it was less likely we would end up going back, lock in those gains, but also start progressing down."

Maintaining physical distancing to limit the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus will be essential in ensuring New Zealand doesn't see another outbreak of the infectious disease and be forced to return to the lockdown we have been in for nearly a month. While the Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield is confident New Zealand doesn't have widespread undetected community transmission, it only takes one case for an outbreak to occur.

Ardern said on Tuesday it is up to ordinary Kiwis to comply with the rules and make sure returning to level 4 isn't necessary.

"I want to reduce that chance as much as possible. Lots of that is in your hands and everyone else's hands. I keep referring to this team of roughly 5 million because it is going to take a team effort," Ardern said.

"Our success will be determined on how well we do at these different alert levels. There is more trust, but also more risk. We have an extra, potentially 400,000 people entering into work because they can't work from home and that means we need to reduce the risk of that as much as possible."

For anyone concerned the Government may reverse its decision to head to alert level 3 on Monday, Ardern said she "can't see a circumstance where that would arise", but told Kiwis not to become too worried if they continue to see small numbers of cases each day despite New Zealand's elimination strategy.

"Elimination doesn't mean zero cases, I don't want anyone to think we aren't succeeding if they see cases still bubbling away. It means zero tolerance for cases. So, if you see them arise, you test, you contact trace, you isolate, you stamp it out every time you see it bubble up."

Addressing concern that moving to alert level 4 had been an overreaction as we haven't seen the large rate of hospitalisations or deaths as other countries have experienced, Ardern said it was the lockdown that secured that success. 

"There are other countries around the world who started where we started. We made a decision early because we saw what was happening around us. If you reflect on where they are now, they have been in lockdown and now extended lockdown."

"The best response that we could make was one that protected our health because that protects our economy. It means you won't be a restrictive environment for as long, you can recover more quickly, which is the plan that we have had and continues to be the trajectory that we are on."

Prior to the lockdown, the Government was warned New Zealand was on a path similar to countries like Italy and Spain, which have recorded hundreds of thousands of cases and many deaths. One model pegged New Zealand's potential death toll at 14,000 if we didn't introduce significant action.

As of Tuesday, New Zealand has instead had 12 deaths and recorded 1440 cases of the illness. There are also more recovered cases than active ones.