Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is asking all people over 70 or with compromised immune systems to stay at home and all non-essential domestic travel to be curtailed.
And she had a stern message for New Zealanders who were not taking the threat of COVID-19 seriously, saying they should think about their friends and family and consider that their blithe approach could imperil people’s lives.
In her first ever address to the nation today, she also introduced a four-tier alert system based on the spread of the virus. New Zealand is currently at level two.
Level two means the disease is contained but the risks are growing, and contact with other people should be reduced through cancelled events, increased border measures, and people working from home.
Level three means there is a risk the disease is not contained and mass gatherings would be cancelled and public venues closed.
Level four means the disease was not contained and people should stay at home and non-essential businesses would be closed.
Public experts have called for alert four already but Ms Ardern has stood her ground.
Public health officials are currently investigating two confirmed cases – one in Auckland and one in the Wairarapa – that could have come through community transmission.
Ms Ardern said the alert system could be changed quickly to put those regions into lockdown – if necessary.
“We are constantly monitoring these settings,” Ms Ardern said.
There are 528,000 people aged 70-plus in New Zealand, including Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, who is 74.
Ms Ardern said in a press conference after her address that Mr Peters would continue to come to work as he was an essential part of the Government’s COVID-19 team, but he would exercise good health practices such as physical distancing and handwashing.
People over 70 or with compromised immunity should stay at home as much as possible, Ms Ardern said.
Neighbours, family and friends should be willing to bring supplies to the homes of over-70s or those with compromised immune systems, and if they needed to leave home, they should practice physical distancing.
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Paid a visit to some of our frontline health workers today at a GP clinic in Wellington, to get a closer look at how they’ve prepared their practice for people who need care while we’re all managing the global issue of COVID-19. You may have seen that in response to the global nature of the outbreak, the World Health Organisation has announced that COVID-19 is officially being classified as a pandemic. In practical terms, we’ve been treating COVID-19 as a pandemic since January when our pandemic plan kicked in. As I saw today, our healthcare system is well-prepared, but we all have a personal responsibility to help to stop the spread of the virus. On top of doing the fundamental things such as washing your hands with soap and making sure to sneeze into your elbows, there’s plenty of other ways to keep yourself, your family and your wider community safe, so a few quick reminders: 1. It is important that if you are feeling unwell, and you think you have symptoms that might be similar to COVID-19, to call Healthline on 0800 358 5453. They’ll be able to give you good advice as a first step. 2. If you feel unwell and you do need to visit your GP, it’s important to call ahead before you visit. This just gives your doctor a chance to prepare for you, so they can make sure they’re wearing protective equipment, and put some systems in place so you don’t potentially risk spreading illness to other people in the clinic. 3. If you are visiting your GP for any other reason, make sure you pay attention to the signs they’ll have up. That’s where you’ll see specific advice to that practice around protocols that they will have in place for COVID-19. 4. If you are going to your GP for something like a repeat prescription call first and see if it can be done over the phone or online. This is a global issue, and protecting New Zealanders health is our number one focus, so I’ll keep sharing information and advice on a regular basis. As always, if you do have any questions, put them below and I will do my best to answer them in my next post.
Ms Ardern said people should be “very practical” about travelling domestically and should ask themselves if their travel was essential.
“Every unnecessary movement gives COVID-19 a chance to spread,” Ms Ardern said.
During her address, Ms Ardern said closing the borders seemed “unimaginable” a month ago, but now seemed to be an obvious step to help combat the outbreak.
She warned against misinformation, and implored people to look at the Covid19.govt.nz website to see the Government’s official information.
“Please do stay tuned, and we will share daily updates.
“I ask that New Zealand does what we do so well. We are a country that is creative and community-minded.
“We know how to rally. We know how to look after one another. Be strong, be kind, and unite against COVID-19.”
New Zealand now has 52 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including the two cases which have no link to overseas travel.
A further 13 positive tests were confirmed in the past 24 hours, the biggest jump in cases in a single day so far.
Ms Ardern said she has not been tested for COVID-19, and was keeping her physical distance from others, and was frequently handwashing.
She was also basing out of Wellington now.
“We will continue to have food supply in New Zealand,” she said, asking people again not to panic-buy.
Doing that could deprive others of an item critical to them, such as families that need formula.
“Shopping must continue as normal – even if we are at alert level four, supermarkets will be open.
“Do not panic-buy at pharmacies … products will be available.”
She said capacity to test for COVID-19 will be increased. About 1500 tests took place yesterday. “People need to be tested. We are testing.”
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I’m really mindful that people are keen to have as much information as possible about COVID-19, so I’ve pulled together answers to some of the questions I’m hearing most frequently. If you’re not keen on flicking through them here, I’ve also posted on my Facebook page. Do feel free to leave any extra questions you might have and I’ll try and answer some of the more common ones tomorrow. Thanks everyone!
Public experts have called for alert four already to shut down the threat of an outbreak, but Ms Ardern said there were public health experts who have backed what the Government is currently doing.
Bloomfield said there was no need to go to alert level four now, but it was “under constant review”.
Alert level three is deemed appropriate when the disease is increasingly difficult to contain. “This is where we restrict our contact by stepping things up again. We close public venues and ask non-essential businesses to close,” said Ms Ardern.
“Alert level four is where we have sustained transmission. This is where we eliminate contact with each other altogether. We keep essential services going but ask everyone to stay at home until COVID-19 is back under control.”
While New Zealand’s borders are closed to non-citizens and non-residents and social gatherings have been curtailed, Ardern has not forced a lockdown on any community.
She has previously said that a lockdown would only occur to combat widespread community transmission.
This article originally appeared on the NZ Herald and was reproduced with permission