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18 Mar 2020 | 01:30 AM UTC

New Zealand: Mass gatherings banned on March 16 /update 2

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern bans gatherings of more than 500 people from March 16 to prevent further spread of coronavirus (COVID-19); other containment measures in effect

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Event

New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced on Monday, March 16, that gatherings of 500 people or more will be prohibited to prevent further spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the country. The ban applies to festivals, fairs, and sporting events, while schools and universities will be exempt for now. Further restrictions may be put in place if the outbreak continues to spread in the country. On Tuesday, March 17, a high school in Dunedin was ordered to close for at least 48 hours after a student who recently returned from abroad tested positive for the virus. Around 150 students have been ordered to self-isolate for 14 days as a precaution.

Other containment measures remain in place as of Wednesday, March 18. Anyone entering New Zealand is required to self-isolate for 14 days. The only exception will be for travelers coming from small South Pacific island nations which have no confirmed COVID-19 cases. Individuals who do not comply with the regulations may be detained or deported. The government is advising all citizens overseas to consider returning to New Zealand as soon as possible to avoid strict travel restrictions being put in place by other countries.

As of March 18, 20 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the country. Individuals who display symptoms of coronavirus are being asked to phone the Healthline number (0800 358 5453) first before visiting a doctor or a medical center. Further international spread of the virus is expected over the near term.

Context

The first case of COVID-19 was reported on December 31 and the source of the outbreak has been linked to a wet market in Wuhan (Hubei province, China). Human-to-human and patient-to-medical staff transmission of the virus have been confirmed. Many of the associated fatalities have been due to pneumonia caused by the virus.

Cases of the virus have been confirmed in numerous countries and territories worldwide. Virus-screening and quarantining measures are being implemented at airports worldwide, as well as extensive travel restrictions. On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the global outbreak a pandemic.

Pneumonia symptoms include dry cough, chest pain, fever, and labored breathing. Pneumonia can be contagious and can be transmitted from human to human. The influenza virus, or the flu, is a common cause of viral pneumonia.

Advice

Measures adopted by local authorities evolve quickly, and are usually effective immediately. Depending on the evolution of the outbreak in other countries, authorities are likely to modify, at very short notice, the list of countries whose travelers are subject to border control measures or entry restrictions upon their arrival to the territory in question. It is advised to postpone nonessential travel due to the risk that travelers may be refused entry or be subject to quarantine upon their arrival or during their stay.

To reduce the risk of transmission, travelers are advised to abide by the following measures:

  • Frequently clean hands by applying an alcohol-based hand rub or washing with soap and water.
  • When coughing and sneezing, cover mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue; if used, throw the tissue away immediately and wash hands.
  • If experiencing a fever, cough, difficulty breathing, or any other symptoms suggestive of respiratory illness, including pneumonia, call emergency services before going to the doctor or hospital to prevent the potential spread of the disease.