24 Mar 2020

Coronavirus: Prime Minister implores NZers to stay home - 'That's how we will save lives'

3:52 pm on 24 March 2020

Anybody who is not an essential worker but tries to go to work during the alert level four lockdown is "literally putting people at risk", the Prime Minister says.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has spoken this afternoon after putting the country on alert yesterday for an unprecedented four-week lockdown to combat the spread of Covid-19.

Watch the prime minister's media conference live:

Ardern said the simplest thing New Zealanders could do to stop the spread of the virus was stay home.

"That's how we will save lives.

"Isolation and physical distancing from other people is key to our response at this level. Now of course, some New Zealanders will still be needed to operate our essential services, those who provide the necessities of life, such as our front line health workers and police being obvious examples.

"And to these people, every one of us owes a debt of gratitude, and I can tell you that we can repay that now by staying at home."

She said if you were not an essential worker, but you tried to go to work, or carry on as usual, "you are literally putting at risk those who have to be there".

She said Parliament would sit tomorrow to put the country into a state of emergency and establish the lockdown.

"People can not expect it to be life as normal, because it won't be for a period of time, and that's so we can keep this period as short as possible.

"If we're succesful, the shorter this period of self-isolation for all of us will be."

She said the underlying principle of alert level four was to bring contact down between people to the bare minimum. That meant people outside the essential services needed to stay home.

The prime minister reiterated that people could go outside for exercise, but those people must remain two metres away from anyone they were not in isolation with.

She said while people can drive locally to places like the supermarket to get groceries, she encouraged people to stay inside as much as possible.

Ardern said people needed to establish what their "bubble" was for the self-isolation period and they must stick to only interacting with each other.

She said this must be a very small group and everyone must remain "faithful" to only having contact with each other.

Mortgage holiday repayment scheme revealed

At the same press conference, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the retail banks had agreed to a mortgage holiday repayment scheme for those affected by Covid-19.

The mortgage repayment holiday will be for six months for households affected financially by Covid-19.

He said the scheme is similar to the one announced in Australia.

A new $6.25bn business financing guarantee scheme is being launched today and the government will underwrite bank loans to small and medium size business.

He said it would provide short-term credit to cushion the financial distress on solvent small and medium-sized firms affected by the Covid-19 crisis.

Robertson said the Budget is still set to be delivered on 14 May at this stage, but it will look different to what it was going to say before Covid-19 took over.

As Covid-19 spreads around the world, it can be daunting keeping up with the information. For RNZ, our responsibility is to give you verified, up to the minute, trustworthy information to help you make decisions about your lives and your health. We'll also be asking questions of officials and decision makers about how they're responding to the virus. Our aim is to keep you informed.

The Ministry of Health today confirmed 40 new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, bringing the total to 155.

There have now been four cases of community transmission - three in Auckland, one in Wairarapa.

Yesterday, Ardern announced the Covid-19 alert level had risen to three and would hit four in by Wednesday at midnight.

She said the lockdown could be extended for longer if the spread of the coronavirus was not brought under control, saying the move will "literally save lives, thousands of lives".

Today, Ardern told Morning Report she wanted to focus on "tightening up" restrictions on returning travellers, who made up the majority of confirmed cases in the country.

She said an announcement on that could be expected in the next few days.

This morning Transport Minister Phil Twyford today that $330 million of the funding set aside for the aviation sector will go towards ensuring air freight continues on key routes for the next six months.

More to come...

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