New Zealand’s Ardern Announces Virus Alert System as Risks Grow

(Bloomberg) -- New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a coronavirus alert system with escalating restrictions on human contact, travel and business operations as the risk of community transmission grows.

In a televised address to the nation Saturday, Ardern said New Zealand had moved to level two on the four-tier system, signaling the virus is contained but domestic transmission risks are increasing. The country now has 52 confirmed cases of Covid-19, up from five two weeks ago. Most of them are travel-related but there are at least two instances where no link to overseas travel has yet been ascertained, the Ministry of Health said.

New Zealand’s Ardern Announces Virus Alert System as Risks Grow

“The international situation is changing rapidly and we need to clearly sign-post the changes New Zealanders will be asked to make as we step up our efforts to limit the spread of the virus,” Ardern said. “The alert system means people can see and plan for the kinds of restrictions we may be required to put in place, which may be required rapidly.”

New Zealand has closed its border to all non-residents and banned gatherings of more than 100 people, but schools currently remain open. Ardern on Saturday urged those over 70, or people who have certain pre-existing health conditions, to stay at home. She also asked people to limit travel around the country and to work from home where possible.

‘Significant Disruption’

“Based on expert medical advice and international evidence I am moving New Zealand to Alert Level 2, Reduce Contact,” she said. “This will have a significant disruption on how we go about our daily lives, but it is necessary to protect lives.”

A move to level three on the alert system would signal a heightened risk that the virus is not contained, requiring more stringent measures such as closing public venues and some non-essential businesses. Level four signals the disease is likely not contained and would necessitate everyone staying at home and most businesses closing.

“It’s important to note that at every alert level supermarkets around New Zealand will remain open,” Ardern said. She urged people not to panic buy and empty shelves.

Earlier Saturday, New Zealand said it had agreed with Singapore to keep supply chains open and remove any existing restrictions on trade of essential goods, especially medical supplies, in the face of the crisis.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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