24 Mar 2020

Key coronavirus developments on 24 March

7:51 pm on 24 March 2020

On a day when confirmed cases of Covid-19 increased by 40, it was announced Parliament will adjourn after putting the country into a state of emergency and establishing a nationwide lockdown.

No caption

Photo: RNZ

The country will enter level-4 alert status from 11.59pm tomorrow, a full lockdown, for a minimum of four weeks.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a media conference that the simplest thing New Zealanders could do to stop the spread of the virus was stay home.

"That's how we will save lives."

At the same media 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 last for six months for households affected financially by Covid-19.

Travellers have been under huge pressure both domestically and overseas as they try and get home before the lockdown takes effect. Both Ardern and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said the window of opportunity for Kiwis to fly home from other countries was closing fast, mainly because transit airports are in countries that are closing their borders.

Anxious people have also been trying to get through to Air New Zealand to book flights that will get them or loved ones to parts of the country they want to be before the lockdown takes effect.

This afternoon it was announced the deadline for domestic travellers would be extended to midnight on Friday.

Community transmissions among NZ cases

There have been four cases of community transmission in New Zealand, as the Health Ministry reveals there are now 155 confirmed and probable cases in this country.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said 12 people have now recovered from the virus.

"There are 12 cases that we can confirm are recovered. We will be updating this number on a daily basis."

Watch the media conference here:

Six people are now in hospital, and all are in a stable condition. No cases have been taken to ICU. Six people who attended the Hereford Conference in Queenstown have been confirmed with the coronavirus.

There have now been more than 8300 completed tests in New Zealand.

The three probable cases are people who have returned a negative result from testing, but they are clinically treated as probable because of their connection with other cases.

Dr Bloomfield said recent travel back from overseas was still the main driver of Covid-19 cases in this country.

No caption

Photo: RNZ

Desperate travellers

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters is warning that the window for tens of thousands of New Zealanders overseas getting home is almost completely closed, and they should prepare to shelter where they are.

Peters said the government remained committed to helping New Zealanders overseas, and consular assistance would be provided where possible.

Many of the transit hubs relied on to get people home were no longer available, he said.

His comments came as Minister of Transport Phil Twyford announced the deadline for people needing to travel on domestic flights, trains and Cook Strait ferries to get home before the country moves into level 4 lockdown would be extended until Friday midnight.

Earlier in the day there was chaos in Picton as people tried to get onto inter-island ferries.

Ian and Vicki Philips in Peru

Ian and Vicki Philips are among the lucky ones, making a flight out of Peru. Photo: Supplied

Parliament set to go into recess

No caption

Chris Hipkins Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

Parliament will adjourn for almost five weeks, after urgent business tomorrow to put the country into a State of Emergency and establish the coronavirus lockdown.

Leader of the House Chris Hipkins said MPs present will focus on receiving the epidemic notice from the prime minister and pass an Imprest Supply Bill, which will allow government funding to continue to flow.

To ensure the government is still held to account during the adjournment, there will be a special select committee chaired by Opposition leader Simon Bridges, or someone he nominates.

It will have powers similar to that of the privileges committee, enabling it to effectively interrogate the government on its epidemic response.

Meanwhile, the prime minister has repeated her message that New Zealanders need to hunker down and stay home.

Jacinda Ardern 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.

Watch the prime minister's media conference live:

Mortgage holiday repayment scheme launched

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

A-League suspended

The New Zealand members of the Wellington Phoenix will return home before the border is shut tomorrow night following the suspension of the A-League.

Last week the Wellington Phoenix decided to base themselves in Australia and had been going through a two-week self isolation period.

Phoenix's keeper Oliver Sail puts on a mask at Wellington airport as the team heads to Australia for the rest of the season.

Phoenix player Oliver Sail. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

UK goes into lockdown

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered people to stay in their homes to try to halt the spread of coronavirus.

Gatherings of more than two people are banned.

Johnson said people would only be allowed to leave their homes for basic necessities: exercise, for a medical need, to provide care or travelling to and from work where absolutely necessary.

"If you don't follow the rules the police will have the powers to enforce them, including through fines and dispersing gatherings."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs