Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has defended her decision not to quarantine everyone arriving into New Zealand as the country enters lockdown.
“We expected we’ll have roughly 10,000 people coming in, until, roughly, the end of the month,” she told Heather Du Plessis-Allan on Newstalk ZB.
“We need to make sure that what we do with New Zealanders coming home is protect the health of them and protect the health of others.”
This meant quarantining those that were symptomatic, weren’t planning to self-isolate or didn’t have the means to safely return to their home to self-isolate.
Eight people who flew in to Auckland Airport yesterday had tested positive for Covid-19.
Police have and will be doing spot checks on those that have returned to New Zealand, she said.
“If they are not doing what they are meant to be doing, we will quarantine them and fine them.”
She said there were limitations on how many people could be safely quarantined in a facility, and pointed to cruise ships such as the Diamond Princess as an example of community spread of Covid-19.
Ardern reiterated that it was now on all New Zealanders to do their part.
“Everybody has to now move into a space where we all act like we have Covid-19.”
Businesses taking the available wage subsidy but firing their staff were committing fraud and police should be informed of this.
Police will be out and about from tomorrow and may ask people who are on the street where they are going and why.
“Common sense will apply and the police will be applying the same practices they do everyday when they’re assessing if people are out as they should be.
“There is no reason for us to have roadblocks in and out of centres, because ultimately, everyone is in lock down.”
She urged New Zealanders to “stay local”.
When asked about the possibility of mercy flights for stranded Kiwis, she said the issue was the closing window of opportunity.
“We gave the warning that they needed to come back. Now we’re saying that many New Zealanders need to stay where they are, because many of the transit routes are shutting down.”
‘Stay in your bubble’
Earlier in the afternoon, Ardern had a simple message for Kiwis – “Breaking the rules could kill someone close to you.”
It could also see the lockdown period extended beyond four weeks, she said.
Ardern gave her final press conference before a nationwide lockdown begins at midnight tonight to fight against coronavirus.
She said as the lockdown takes hold, police will move around the country and ask questions of people outside of their homes.
People without a valid reason to be outside can be reminded of their obligations, and enforcement action can be taken as a last resort.
The prospect of police and the military on New Zealand streets might be daunting, but Ardern said they were there to help, and their first approach would be about asking questions and reminding people of their self-isolation requirements.
“People shouldn’t be afraid of that.”
People should also be able to get some fresh air without being told to go home by police, and some common sense was needed in their approach.
But she cautioned against being too close to other people while outside, and warned against touching surfaces because Covid-19 could persist on a surface for 72 hours.
That was why playgrounds had to close.
Ardern stressed the main message was to stay home.
When asked about whether people could go hunting or fishing, Ardern said to stay home.
“Act like you have Covid-19. Every move you make could be a risk to someone else. That is how we must all collectively think now.
“I know how hard this will be, especially for New Zealanders who face the first day unemployed and with an uncertain future.”
She pointed to the measures the Government has made to save jobs and businesses, and to help home owners and renters.
“It won’t be easy, but the alternative is worse.
“You are not alone. You will hear us and see us daily as we guide New Zealanders through this period.”
She said success will not be instant and the number of cases will continue to rise, with modelling suggesting that the number could reach the thousands before dropping.
She said the alert level could be eased once the number of cases declined – though that would take some time. The nature of cases was also relevant, including how widespread community transmission is.
There are 50 new confirmed or probable cases in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 205.
Community transmission is attached to cases in Marist College and from the World Hereford Cattle conference in Queenstown, while there are four other cases of community transmission.
A national state of emergency now and the passage of urgent legislation meant the Government had all the enforcement powers it needed to fight the spread of Covid-19.
The decision was not taken lightly, and Ardern said she would front to the media to answer questions, and Parliament’s special select committee – chaired by National’s leader Simon Bridges – would allow an accountability mechanism.
Border enforcement would step up, she said, so that all New Zealanders returning home from overseas will be screened.
Up to 10,000 Kiwis could come home by the end of the month, and some of them may pose a health risk.
“If they are symptomatic, they will be tested and they will be put in isolation in an approved facility.”
Asymptomatic people without the means to self-isolate will also be put in an approved facility, as would those who did not have a suitable way to stay isolated while traveling from the airport to their home city.
Recent arrivals with suitable self-isolation plans will be checked on by police in the days that follow, and they will be fined and quarantined if they fail to self-isolate properly.
Approved isolation facilities will be hotels, mainly, and the Government has already looked at hotels near airports to be used.
“These are the measures we must take,” Ardern said.
The new requirements would be in place at 2am tomorrow (Thursday), but Ardern said there were still details being worked out, including how the Government would pay for the use of approved facilities.
Kiwis stranded overseas
Ardern said Kiwis overseas may need to stay where they are as flights home had dried up.
Germany was chartering flights to New Zealand to fly Germans home, but Ardern said New Zealanders were scattered all around the world.
“We took proactive steps to send a message to New Zealanders around when they needed to return home, and now that window is closing.”
The Government had supported Air NZ to keep their major international flights open for longer, but those were finishing up and Kiwis offshore needed to realise they may not be able to get home for a while.
She had spoken to her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison about the 200,000 Kiwis living in Australia but who are ineligible for welfare in Australia.
She would continue to push for the case for the rights of New Zealanders in Australia, she said.
“Right now it’s not just an issue of fairness, but an issue of public health as well.”
Any New Zealander wanting to return to New Zealand would be looked after.
All non-essential services will be shut down for four weeks.
Ardern said the rules of the lockdown may need to be amended, but if in doubt, services and businesses should be closed.
“We will make changes if we have to, but now is not the time to be relaxed or flexible.”
Workers in child welfare and family violence were preparing for an increase in domestic violence, Ardern said.
Police and the Defence Force were working with agencies to help people in emergency homes and homeless people – and others who may not have a safe place to self-isolate.
Asked about great job losses in Queenstown, Ardern said the state of emergency powers allowed more flexibility in welfare payments.
The latest on the nationwide lockdown:
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Civil defence emergency
A civil defence emergency was declared at 12.21pm today, giving Civil Defence director Sarah Stuart-Black extraordinary powers to enforce the nationwide lockdown.
While in force, it will allow Civil Defence Emergency Management controllers to provide for the:
• conservation and supply of food, fuel and other essential supplies.
• regulate land, water and air traffic.
• close roads and public places.
• evacuate any premises, including any public place.
• if necessary, exclude people or vehicles from any premises or place.
Stuart-Black said she hoped those powers were not necessary, but there would be zero tolerance for people flouting the rules of self-isolation and the police could bring in the military, if necessary.
The PM said in her statement to Parliament on the emergency: “At 11.59pm tonight, we move to the highest alert level of 4, and we, as a nation, go into self-isolation.
“The trigger: early evidence of community transmission of Covid-19 in New Zealand.
“But unlike so many other gravely inundated countries, we have a window of opportunity to stay home, break the chain of transmission, and save lives. It’s that simple.”
Yesterday Ardern appeared frustrated that non-essential shops and cafes were still open, even though the alert level was only at 3 and won’t move to 4 until midnight tonight.
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“No bars, no restaurants. We should be in shutdown now for those services,” she said yesterday.
“Obviously it takes time for us to get to a position where everything is settled into alert level 4, but I want people to apply that as if it’s already arrived.”
She stressed the need for people to limit close contact with others.
“Every interaction we have with someone else increases the risk of spreading the virus.
Stay at home. That is the simplest way to save lives.”
People in lockdown should stick to their “bubbles” which, for most people, are those in their households.
Couples who don’t live together or parents with shared custody could be in the same bubble, as could the “buddy” of a person living alone – but bubbles shouldn’t overlap.
“You can’t spend time with other people outside of your bubble.”