26 Mar 2020

Covid-19 lockdown day one: Things going as smoothly as possible as NZ begins new way of life

7:43 pm on 26 March 2020

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 country has - almost - made it through the first day of lockdown, and according to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, things have gone "as smoothly as could be expected".

Empty streets across New Zealand (clockwise, from top left) in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

Empty streets across New Zealand (clockwise, from top left) in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. Photo: RNZ

Speaking to media today, Ardern highlighted just how much of a feat that was. The lockdown - unprecedented in New Zealand - was only announced on Monday.

Police commissioner Mike Bush said this morning that most people were abiding by the rules, but noted a few hadn't been complying.

"We've engaged with a few of those, given them some advice ... you won't believe it but some people were saying they were unaware of these conditions," he said.

"People were out driving around, just having fun, people were visiting ATMs, things like that."

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP - don't show up at a medical centre

Dawn on the first day of the lockdown revealed an eerily quiet Aotearoa.

Normally bustling city streets were empty, there was no rush hour and only a handful of people could be seen out and about as the country entered day one of the lockdown.

As the day progressed, the Ministry of Health revealed 78 new cases of Covid-19, bringing the total to 283. And 27 people have now recovered from the coronavirus.

Seven people are now in hospital - three in Wellington, two in Nelson, one in Waikato and one in Northland - but none of them are in intensive care.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the new results included a number of clusters - at Marist College, the World Hereford conference in Queenstown, a wedding in Wellington, a group trip to the US, a number of people in Hawke's Bay that are associated with someone on the Ruby Princess, and a rest home in Hamilton.

Meanwhile, modelling conducted by New Zealand researchers showed the lockdown measures now in place could buy the country more than a year for a vaccine or treatment to be developed.

However, the research shows that without a vaccine or cure, cases of Covid-19 will still peak well beyond hospital capacity as soon as any lockdown ends.

The modelling, released today by Te Punaha Matatini, shows measures similar to those now in place can suppress the virus for up to 400 days but infections could spike as soon as they are gone, because the population will not have developed any herd immunity.

And fatality rates from Covid-19 in New Zealand "would be very low," University of Auckland Professor Shaun Hendy said.

He is one of experts modelling Covid-19 spread in NZ.

"If we kept this up, in our model we could keep the fatality rates to very small numbers," Prof Hendy said.

"Absolutely" less than 100 could die, he said, but "we'd have to keep that going for a long time, essentially until we've got a vaccine.

"But because we've also got contact tracing taking place, testing taking place and we can quarantine people have Covid-19, that actually means this regime should be more effective than what we've modelled."

While the initial panic of impending lockdown has now passed and we're in it, many are still facing the realities of what the shutdown and its impact on the economy means.

Senior economists are predicting unemployment to reach 15 percent, with one warning it could even hit 30 percent as Covid-19 brings the economy to a shuddering halt.

Another said the sudden stop to most sectors would make the pandemic far more economically-damaging than even the Global Financial Crisis.

The Minister of Housing says property managers who told tenants they would be evicted for not paying rent during the lockdown period have been corrected.

Minister of Housing Megan Woods told Morning Report tenants could only be evicted on narrow grounds including threatening someone, damaging property, or if the home became uninhabitable.

"Under the legislation we passed yesterday, evictions cannot occur for unpaid rent for up to 60 days," she said.

Civil defence agencies are trying to piece together lists of vulnerable people who need help during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Iwi across the country have also mobilised to stop the spread of Covid-19 in their rohe and protect their most vulnerable.

And a pregnant woman who is due to give birth during the nationwide shutdown says she fears being forced into having a home birth.

Others attempted to settle into the lockdown by coming up with ways to make it more manageable.

In addition, there's been a swathe of other Covid-19-related news, and you can find it here.

Read more about the Covid-19 coronavirus:

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs