People should expect months more changes to how they live and work as the government's new travel restrictions kick in, microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles says.
Dr Wiles, an Auckland University microbiologist, told RNZ's Morning Report the government's strict new travel controls were exactly what was needed.
"I'm so relieved, this is exactly what we need right now," she said.
"None of us have seen anything like this. The countries that are controlling this are making really tough decisions, they're making it early and they are keeping the virus either down or out ... those that are taking a rather different approach are seeing this exponential spread of the virus that is overwhelming their ability to take care of sick people, and people are dying.
"It is horrifying," she said.
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"What we need is everybody to come together and stop nitpicking and worrying, because if you are worried about how these measures are going to impact our economy and stuff, you are not looking at what is happening overseas."
She said the tipping point would be if there was transmission within the community.
People must be prepared for the fact that if the situation changed they may be asked to act very quickly, Wiles said.
"We need to do more looking into the community to see if there are any secret cases we don't know about and if we find those then we will act really fast.
"It may be that some schools close, it may be that some businesses close, it will just depend where they are and what the transmission looks like."
She said New Zealanders needed to expect months and months of a change in the way they lived and worked.
"This is a long game, right."
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A levelling out of the infection rate would depend on how everybody overseas responded, she said, but how long it would last could partly depend on other countries' responses to the virus.
"We could be looking at a year or two."
"What we may end up having is a relatively unscathed experience of this virus while we watch what other countries experience."
She said there might be an opportunity to rethink some things.
"I think normal life might never return. And maybe this is an opportunity for us to think really visionally about how we want to be as a society."
"Maybe something like a universal basic income; people then wouldn't be worried about what's going to happen when the tourists dry up."
"This could be an opportunity to think ... really have some grand visions for what our future could be."