Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced the level 4 lockdown will be extended five days to 11.59pm on Monday 27 April.
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The country went into the alert level 4 lockdown at 11.59pm on Wednesday, 25 March. It was initially planned to last at least four weeks, ending this Wednesday night.
Ardern said that once the level four alert was reduced to level three next Monday night, the country would remain in level three for a further two weeks before reviewing the alert status again.
The decision follows a Cabinet meeting today from 10.30am via video link to debate whether the threat of the Covid-19 coronavirus merited a further extension or not.
"We have done what very few countries have been able to do we have stopped the wave of devastation. Our transmission rate is now 0.48, overseas the average is 2.5 people," Ardern said.
Announcing the decision, Ardern said changing alert levels region by region in future had not been ruled out but with the data and modelling so far it was thought best for the country to stick together as a nation.
At alert level 3 the main message would still be for people to stay at home unless they had to leave for essential work and services.
It would however allow thousands of businesses to continue trading, schools to reopen to some students, and funerals and weddings up to 10 people could be allowed.
Businesses, schools to have access to prepare for level 3
Businesses would this week be allowed to access premises to get ready for level three, but people must stay within their bubble.
Ardern said the construction, manufacturing and forestry industries would be able to return to work in level 3.
"We need to get this next phase right."
She was clear the alert level would remain until next Monday, and while businesses could access premises to prepare, they should not take it as a signal to start up again immediately.
"This not an invitation to trade, it is only an invitation to prepare."
She said people were being asked to continue to work from home when possible.
"We ask that in doing so they stick to social distancing and their bubbles. This is not an early move out of alerts, it is merely a matter of preparation."
She said the same principle applied to schools and the education sector.
Those who needed to attend school could start on 29 April, Ardern said, and schools would also have a teacher only day on 28 April to prepare.
"If your children can learn from home, they should learn from home.
"Schools and early learning centres can be accessed this week for cleaning, maintenance and any other preparations. The current plan is for schools to be able to reopen for a teacher only day on 28 April as part of the preparation."
Schools and early learning centres could be accessed for cleaning, maintenance and other operations.
Higher level of trust, but police still vigilant
"This weekend, Anzac weekend, enjoy your bubble," Ardern said.
She said New Zealanders had sacrificed too much to lose the gains made in level four and those gains needed to be locked in.
The worst thing would be for the country to yoyo between levels, Ardern said.
She said level 3 was "socially ... not that different from level 4". Economically, it was going to be very different.
She said level 3 came with a higher level of trust, but police would still be acting as enforcers and people would still be asked questions.
Contact tracing to be ramped up
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said most of the recent cases were people who had symptoms since before lockdown and have been in a bubble "so the risk of further transmission is very low".
Ardern said testing had scaled up and more than 85,000 New Zealanders had been tested, one of the highest testing rates per capita in the world, and that would continue.
"In the last few days, we expanded testing to include random testing in Queenstown, the Waikato, Canterbury and Auckland. We have tested over a thousand people this way and so far have produced not a single positive result."
"Contract tracing will be bolstered even further," Ardern said.
Dr Bloomfield said New Zealand had the capacity to trace 5000 contacts per day.
He said a report by Dr Ayesha Verrall showed she was confident that "the direction of travel was good, the model implemented was good. The first recommendation was [to] invest in the public health units".
The decision to extend
Ahead of the decision to extend the lockdown, RNZ's political editor Jane Patterson wrote that ministers had needed to balance between public health and the economy or risk losing New Zealanders' goodwill and continued co-operation.
Four main criteria are being considered:
- Strong border controls
- A robust health system able to cope with an influx of patients
- A strong programme of testing and contact tracing
- Infection control within the community
Dr Bloomfield was on standby to answer any questions from Cabinet Ministers during the meeting.
Last week, Ardern recognised the huge toll on business in particular, but said it was in everyone's interest to stamp out the virus.
The government would be moving "cautiously" as it considered what the next step should be, she said.
"No one wants to lose the huge gains we've made as a country off the back of the hard work of every New Zealander."
One of the experts advising the government about Covid-19, Professor Shaun Hendy, this morning urged the Cabinet to extend the level four lockdown a further two weeks but acknowledged the government is under pressure to reduce restrictions as soon as it is safe to do so in order to restart stalled businesses and revive the economy.
Read more about the Covid-19 coronavirus:
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- The Coronavirus Podcast