Further 'tough' travel restrictions expected, PM says

Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 12 Mar 2020, 5:47PM
Jacinda Ardern talking with health officials at Auckland Airport. (Photo / NZ Herald)
Jacinda Ardern talking with health officials at Auckland Airport. (Photo / NZ Herald)

Further 'tough' travel restrictions expected, PM says

Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 12 Mar 2020, 5:47PM

New Zealand has had some of the toughest border restrictions in the world to stop the spread of coronavirus - and it plans to move further very shortly, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

It comes as US President Donald Trump has just announced a 30-day ban on travel between Europe and the US, beginning Friday, to combat the spread of Covid-19.

Asked what impact that move would have on New Zealand, Ardern said other countries' decisions were only one factor in New Zealand's response.

"Often we have been first. We moved relative to others first on northern Italy, we've moved on South Korea, and of course we moved on Iran very early as well and we will keep moving as we see that changing environment."

New Zealanders' public health was the number one priority.

"That has meant that we've had some of the toughest restrictions in the world. I expect I'll be getting further advice in the next 24 hours to move again on our border restrictions."
Ardern said the Government was trying to slow the disease's transmission by being one step ahead.

"You'll see globally countries talking about flattening the curve, because there are examples of countries who are just having big spikes in cases and that makes it very hard for healthcare systems to maintain the level of care that you'd expect.

"So it's all about getting ahead ... and that's exactly what New Zealand's been doing well."

Health Minister David Clark says there are no plans currently to ban travel from Europe to New Zealand.

Nor is the Government planning on banning large-scale public events at this stage, such as the March 15 one-year anniversary event planned for Sunday, he added.

National leader Simon Bridges has called on the Government to extend its travel ban to include Italy and South Korea, and he reacted to Trump's announcement by saying New Zealand should look at all options "which will slow the virus's growth in our country".

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said every country had a different situation and there had been a community outbreak in the US - but there had only been transmissions within families in New Zealand.

He said there would clearly be an economic impact of Trump's travel ban, and the Government would continue to work on the details of its package to help businesses, more of which is expected to be announced next week.

Clark said that travel from Italy had already reduced to a trickle, and anyone arriving from there was required to self-isolate - which was the best advice on how to stop the spread of Covid-19.

It had a dynamic environment and the Government was getting daily updates from its technical advisory group, he added.

He said the fact that the WHO had declared a pandemic and that Tom Hanks had tested positive showed how important it was to take the public health advice seriously.

"There's a couple of things today which will just remind people of the importance of taking this seriously ... If you're feeling at all unwell, don't go out to events. If you're washing your hands regularly, you are keeping your friends and loved ones safer than if you're not."

The Government has already announced $11 million to help tourism, including targeting North America, and Robertson said that the US travel ban would make the domestic aspect of that tourism package much more important.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters said New Zealand already has more stringent travel restrictions than most other countries.

But he said the US ban would have "huge implications".

"There's cancellations of meetings between countries, conferences between countries. They'll all on hold and we'll just have to deal with it as we get on top of the problem."

Peters' trip to the Pacific has already been cancelled, at the request of two Pacific countries.

Asked to describe Trump's announcement of the travel ban, Peters said he wasn't interested in taking "pot shots from this far away".

"The Americans have acknowledged where they think their concerns lie."

Robertson will fly to Australia tomorrow to meet with his Australian finance counterpart to discuss both countries' economic response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The trip comes at a time when Australia has earmarked billions of dollars of Government spending to help limit the economic damage of the virus' spread.

Robertson has also signalled a Government spending package and has unveiled some details.

But the main thrust and focus of the package, including how much the Government is planning to spend, won't be revealed until next month.