Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced during a news conference on Thursday, March 19, authorities will close the country's borders to all foreign nationals as of 00:01 (local time) on Friday, March 20, to limit the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Exceptions will only be made for freight and cargo imports.
Earlier in the day, the government updated its travel advisory to warn citizens "Do Not Travel." Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters also advised all New Zealanders traveling abroad to return home immediately. As of Sunday, March 15, all individuals arriving to New Zealand - except for travelers from the Pacific - will be required to self-isolate for 14 days. This measure is set to be reviewed on Tuesday, March 31.
Government officials amended a ban on public gatherings to restrict indoor gatherings of more than 100 people. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern previously announced on Monday, March 16, that gatherings of 500 people or more will be prohibited. 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.
As of March 19, health officials have confirmed 28 cases of COVID-19 nationwide, but no cases of community transmission. 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.
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.
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.