New Zealand said on Monday (Mar 23) it will move to its highest alert level imposing self-isolation, with all-non-essential services, schools and offices to be shut over the next 48 hours as the number of coronavirus cases more than double.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said these decisions will place the most significant restriction on New Zealanders' movements in modern history, but it was needed to save lives and slow the virus.
"We are all now preparing to go into self-isolation as a nation," Ardern said in a news conference. She added that without these measures tens of thousands of New Zealanders could die.
The number of coronavirus cases in New Zealand shot up to 102, more than double since Friday, as the country reported 36 new infections. New Zealand has had no deaths.
Ardern said the cabinet agreed that effective immediately, the country of 5 million people would move into alert level 3 nationwide, and after 48 hours it will be at the highest level 4. New Zealand has already closed its borders to foreigners.
Ardern said 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.
She said supermarkets, doctors, pharmacies, service stations, access to essential banking services will all be available throughout New Zealand at every alert level.
"If you do not have immediate needs, do not go to the supermarket. It will be there for you today, tomorrow, and the day after that," she added.
The move comes after neighbouring Australia, which has thousands of COVID-19 cases, started lockdown measures on Monday, but has stopped short of self-isolation. (CNA)