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New Zealand falls silent on day one of coronavirus lockdown

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand started a one-month compulsory lockdown on Thursday to slow the spread of the coronavirus, with warnings from authorities to stay at home or face big fines and even jail.

Motorways, train stations and streets in downtown Auckland and Wellington were eerily silent in the morning as people stayed indoors. Office towers and shopping arcades were shuttered.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said most things were going according to plan.

“The streets are essentially empty … that’s a remarkable feat and I want to thank New Zealanders for that,” Ardern said at a news conference.

The government has allowed people in essential services to go to work. But schools, offices, restaurants, bars, places of worship and even playgrounds have been shut as part of the unprecedented lockdown.

Ardern declared a national state of emergency on Wednesday as the number of cases of COVID-19, the disease associated with the coronavirus, surged by 50 to take the national tally to 205.

“Breaking the rules could kill someone close to you,” Ardern warned on Wednesday.

The number of cases rose by 79 on Thursday, taking the tally to 283.

Police Chief Mike Bush said there were some people ignoring the lockdown and they could face serious consequences, including jail of up to six months.

“There were people driving around, flouting these rules, claiming that they had no knowledge about this. For those people, if they are seen again … there will be a consequence of those actions,” Bush said in an interview with state broadcaster TVNZ.

(Open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 interactive graphic in external browser.)

This is only the second time in New Zealand’s history that a national emergency has been declared, with the first in February 2011, after a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck the South Island city of Christchurch, killing almost 200.

But the lockdown and disruption have raised alarm over the health of the economy. The finance minister said the impact of the coronavirus on jobs would be “significantly worse” than the global financial crisis.

The government has frozen rent and mortgages and announced a NZ$12.1 billion fiscal stimulus package to support the economy.

New Zealand, with about 5 million people, has fewer infections than many other countries, but Ardern’s government wants to move fast to halt the spread.

Countries that have locked down their populations to prevent the spread need to put a premium on finding new cases and doing everything they can “to suppress and control” the virus, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.

India, the world’s second most populous country, put its 1.3 billion citizens in lockdown from midnight on Tuesday.

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New Zealand confirms 40 new coronavirus cases

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand on Tuesday confirmed that it has 40 new cases of coronavirus, taking the number of confirmed and probable cases infected with the virus to 155.

Six people are now in hospital and in stable condition, the Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said in a news conference.

Four of the total number of cases have been treated as community transmission, he said. There have been no deaths in the country so far.

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New Zealand prepares to enter lockdown as coronavirus cases surge

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand said on Monday it will move to its highest alert level imposing self-isolation, with all-non-essential services, schools and offices to be shut over the next 48 hours as the number of coronavirus cases more than double.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the decisions will place the most significant restriction on New Zealanders’ movements in modern history, but it was needed to save lives and slow the virus.

“We are all now preparing to go into self isolation as a nation,” Ardern said in a news conference, adding that tens of thousands of New Zealanders could die without these measures.

People lined up outside supermarkets shortly after the announcement to stack up essentials, despite assurances from the government that there were sufficient supplies and stores will remain open.

Crowds were also expected at domestic airports as New Zealanders return home before complete lockdown takes effect for the next four weeks.

Police Chief Mike Bush said more officers will be seen across the country to make sure instructions are followed and order is maintained.

“We don’t want to get to a place where we need to enforce these instructions, but we will if required,” Bush told reporters.

The number of coronavirus cases in New Zealand shot up to 102, more than double since Friday, as the country reported 36 new infections. New Zealand has had no deaths.

Ardern said the cabinet agreed that effective immediately, the country of 5 million people would move into alert level 3 nationwide, and after 48 hours it will be at the highest level 4. New Zealand has already closed its borders to foreigners.

Ardern said all bars, restaurants, cafes, gyms, cinemas, pools, museums, libraries, playgrounds and any other place where the public congregate must close their face-to-face function.

She said supermarkets, doctors, pharmacies, service stations, access to essential banking services will all be available throughout New Zealand at every alert level.

The move comes after neighboring Australia, which has thousands of COVID-19 cases, started lockdown measures on Monday, but has stopped short of self-isolation.

Schools will be closed from Tuesday, except for children of essential workers such as our doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and police. Schools will close entirely from midnight Wednesday.

Workplaces were asked to implement alternative ways of working.

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New Zealand’s stock market reacted immediately to the announcement plunging 10% to biggest intraday percentage drop ever.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) announced quantitative easing earlier on Monday as it decided to buy up NZ$30 billion ($17 billion) worth of government bonds to offset the impact of the coronavirus.

Last week, the RBNZ slashed rates by 75 basis points and the government rolled out a NZ$12.1 billion fiscal stimulus package to support businesses and citizens.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said further support will come soon, including removing the cap on the wage subsidy scheme, which will inject a further NZ$4 billion into the economy over the next eleven weeks.

He announced temporary support for mortgage holders, a business finance guarantee scheme and a freeze on all rent increases.

“We cannot guarantee to stop all job losses, but we are doing our best to cushion the blow,” Robertson said.

New Zealand’s opposition National Party said it had put on hold its campaign for a general election on Sept 19. Ardern said there was no impact on the election for now.

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