By Syndication The Washington Post, Bloomberg · Tracy Withers
Every household will be required to go into self-isolation, all non-essential businesses will close and schools will be shut, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday in Wellington. The measures, which will remain in place for at least four weeks, are aimed at breaking the chain of community transmission, she said. Without them, her advice is that tens of thousands of lives will be at risk and health services would be inundated.
"These decisions will place the most significant restriction on New Zealanders' movements in modern history," Ardern said. "This is not a decision taken lightly. But this is our best chance to slow the virus and to save lives."
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Zealand jumped by 36 to 102 today, the Ministry of Health said. There are two cases that can't be traced to travel and are assumed to be the first evidence of community transmission. The government's steps to prevent the spread of the virus come as the central bank announced it will launch a large-scale asset purchase program to cushion the economic impact of the crisis.
The nation's top-50 share index plunged as much as 10% Monday, extending its decline since Feb. 21 to 26%. Telecom company Spark said call volumes spiked "beyond any level of calling ever seen in New Zealand" after the government's announcement, and urged people to use internet options.
Appearing with Ardern, Finance Minister Grant Robertson unveiled a range of new economic stimulus measures.
He said the government will expand its wage subsidy scheme to all affected businesses, lifting the cost to NZ$9.3 billion ($5.2 billion U.S.) from NZ$5.1 billion, to ensure all workers receive some form of income during the lockdown. Other measures include a freeze on rent increases and leveraging the Crown balance sheet to allow banks to extend lending to firms.
The government, the Reserve Bank and retail banks have also agreed in principle to significant support for mortgage holders, with details to be finalized, Robertson said.
Ardern said supermarkets, doctors, pharmacies, service stations and access to essential banking services will all remain available throughout New Zealand.
"If you do not have immediate needs, do not go to the supermarket," she said. "It will be there for you today, tomorrow, and the day after that. We must give time for supermarkets to restock their shelves, there will be enough for everyone if we shop normally."
However, over the next 48 hours all non-essential businesses in New Zealand must close. All bars, restaurants, cafes, gyms, cinemas, pools, museums, libraries, playgrounds and any other place where the public congregate must close their face-to-face function, Ardern said. No indoor or outdoor events can proceed.
"In short: we are all now preparing to go into self isolation as a nation," she said. "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 tens of thousands New Zealanders will die."
The government raised its virus alert system to three from two and said it will be lifted to four, the top level, in 48 hours.