Coronavirus lockdown: NZ to hit Alert Level 4 Wednesday night

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 23 Mar 2020, 1:44PM
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. (Photo / NZ Herald)
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. (Photo / NZ Herald)

Coronavirus lockdown: NZ to hit Alert Level 4 Wednesday night

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 23 Mar 2020, 1:44PM

KEY POINTS
• NZ is in coronavirus lockdown for next four weeks after PM lifts alert status.
• Our coronavirus alert level will move up to 3 immediately and to 4 within 48 hours.
• Alert Level 4 will take effect from 11.59pm on Wednesday.
• Schools, childcare centres and universities will be closed from tomorrow.
• All non-essential businesses or services must shut in the next 48 hours.
• Kiwis should stay at home unless visiting an essential service, PM says.
• This will save tens of thousands of lives.
• Finance Minister announces new economic plan to help struggling companies and workers.

Schools and non-essential services across New Zealand will be closed for at least the next four weeks after the Government put the country in nationwide lockdown to try to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern acknowledged the magnitude of the measures as she announced them today, but said they could save the lives of tens of thousands of New Zealanders.

The country's coronavirus alert level would be raised to level 3 immediately.

In 48 hours the alert level would be raised to level 4 - "stay at home" instruction, schools and businesses closed except essential services, severely limited travel - and will remain in place for a minimum of four weeks.

The Prime Minister's Office has confirmed that Alert Level 4 will take effect from 11.59pm on Wednesday.

Essential services would still be open at both alert levels, she said.

"Kiwis - go home ... If in doubt, don't go out," Ardern said of level 4.

"I have a very keen sense of the magnitude of this moment in New Zealand's history and we did not take this decision lightly.

"But we all absolutely believe this is the right thing to do. If community transmission takes off in New Zealand the number of cases will double every five days.

"If that happens unchecked, our health system will be inundated, and thousands of New Zealanders will die."

She said the new measures will be enforced, and John Ombler, who is leading the Covid-19 National Response Team, is set to give a press conference about what enforcement will look like.Police Commissioner Mike Bush, who is part of the team, told the Herald this morning that the military could be used, but he did not expect any armed police or armed military personnel in the streets.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said all rents would be frozen, and the Government's wage subsidy programme, announced last week with a $150,000 cap, would now be extended to all businesses so as many workers as possible would keep an income.

It would now cost $9.3b, up from $5.1b, and further urgent work was being looked at.

New Zealand had been at alert level 2, but the call for a lockdown had been mounting, with the Teaching Council and former chief science advisor to the PM Sir Peter Gluckman adding their voices this morning.

Ardern said the rapid spread of Covid-19 cases in Italy - where more than 5000 people have died - and the confirmation of community transmission in two of the country's 102 confirmed cases compelled the Government to act.

WHAT LEVEL 3 MEANS

Level 3 means limited travel in areas with clusters of Covid-19 cases, affected educational facilities closed, mass gatherings cancelled, public venues closed (such as libraries, museums, cinemas, food courts, gyms, pools, amusement parks), some non-essential businesses closed, and non face-to-face primary care consultations, with non-elective services and procedures in hospitals deferred.

Level 4 means people instructed to stay at home, schools and universities closed, as well as non-essential businesses, major reprioritisation of health services, and severely limited travel.

"All indoor and outdoor events cannot proceed. In short, we are all now preparing as a nation to go into self-isolation in the same way we have seen other countries do. Staying at home is essential."

That would give the health system a chance to cope, she said.

WHAT LEVEL 4 MEANS

While in alert level 4, Ardern said contact tracing would continue and testing would go on "at pace" to find out where cases are.

If we flush out cases we already have, and slow down transmission, areas could move out of level 4, she said.

Community transmission had a lag time, and these measures would be in place for at least four weeks, she said.

She repeated that pharmacy products will still be available, and supermarkets would stay open.

SCHOOLS & UNIVERSITIES CLOSED

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said tertiary institutions would close as soon as possible.

Funding for educational institutes would continue.

All schools and ECE centres would close from midnight Wednesday.

Hipkins said schools and ECEs should send any vulnerable workers sent home immediately.

They would be open for 48 hours so that essential workers did not have to make sudden arrangements for childcare.

He said the key focus was on winding down schools, ECEs and universities, and scaling up online learning was being looked at.

Dealing with equity issues, such as variations in access to broadband, was also being looked at.

Parents of children with learning disabilities should talk to their schools, he said.

NEW ECONOMIC RESCUE PACKAGE

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said that Cabinet decided to do more to cushion the impact of Covid-19.

The wage subsidy would have no cap, so all businesses will be eligible.

Businesses less than a year old were now also eligible, as were self-employed people, registered charities, NGOs, and incorporated societies.

The cost would now be $9.3b, up from $5.1b.

He said rents would also be frozen.

The Government had also agreed in principle to guarantee lending to businesses to help their survival. Details were being finalised.

"We are also making urgent preparations for further income support for all workers as we move into alert 4."

He asked workers and firms to talk to each other, to talk to banks, and to make a plan. He said all workers would keep making an income in this period

"We are all in this together."

Robertson said the wage subsidy changes had no financial cap, and was available for 12 weeks - but it would be reviewed and could be extended.

He said all options were still on the table when asked about further increases to benefit payments. "What we've done today is cushion the blow ... but we can't save every job and we can't save every business."

ENFORCEMENT OF CORONAVIRUS RULES

Ardern asked people not to self-police the measures. "People are afraid and they are anxious, We will play the role of enforcer."

Enforcement would be through police, she said.

Ardern said the military could work with police to enforce the measures.

She would issue an epidemic notice which, under the 1956 Health Act, gives the necessary powers. A Civil Defence emergency would also be declared, she said.

She would issue an epidemic notice which, under the 1956 Health Act, gives the necessary powers. A Civil Defence emergency would also be declared, she said.

ARDERN BASED IN WELLINGTON

Ardern said she would remain based in Wellington, and her contact with others would be "very limited".

"I will only really be present here in this building and the building where I live."

Other Ministers have been told to work from home, she said.

She said she had contacted National leader Simon Bridges, who expressed support for the measures announced today.

Parliament was working through how it would continue to work under alert level 4.

"There will still be accountability and we will be enabling the Opposition to play that role," she said, but those details were still being worked through.

Ardern ruled out a "grand coalition" that would include the Opposition in decision-making. She said there were still no plans at this stage to move the September 19 election.

Hipkins, who is also Leader of the House, said that a small number of MPs would come to Parliament tomorrow, and MPs would be asked not to come to Parliament unless it was vital.

All parliamentary business before select committees would be suspended.

Parliament would adjourn and there was no fixed date for when it will be resumed.