NZ coronavirus cases jump again

Ben McKay
Jacinda Ardern has introduced a four-level guide to New Zealand's response to the coronavirus

New Zealand has introduced a four-level alert system to improve public communication as the COVID-19 outbreak reaches a critical point.

New Zealand may finally have recorded its first cases of community transmission of coronavirus, necessitating new public health measures.

Until Saturday, New Zealand had been one of the few developed countries not to experience local outbreaks of the virus.

That may have changed, with Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield confirming two of 13 new positive tests for the virus in the past 24 hours have no obvious links to overseas travel.

"We always knew cases apparently not linked to imported cases would happen and we are prepared," he said.

There are now 52 confirmed cases, three of which require hospital treatment, and four probable cases in New Zealand.

The South Pacific nation is yet to record a death, or even the need for treatment in intensive care, due to COVID-19.

That has allowed the government to focus on preventative measures, including an extensive self-isolation regime for people arriving from overseas, and new border controls that effectively close off New Zealand to non-residents.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gave a live address to the nation, announcing a four-stage alert level system, so Kiwis can more easily understand the virus' spread in the community and the corresponding public health measures.

New Zealand is presently at level two, requiring the cancellation of mass gatherings, physical distancing, and the protection of over-70s and those with existing medical conditions.

Like her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison, Ms Ardern appealed to Kiwis' sense of national pride to combat the virus' spread.

"We may not have experienced anything like this in our lifetimes," she said.

"But we know how to rally and we know how to look after one another and right now, what could be more important than that?

"Thank you for all that you're about to do. Please, be strong, be kind and unite against COVID-19."

On Tuesday, the government has announced a $NZ12.1 billion economic stimulus package which includes provisions to keep employers from laying off workers and to subsidise workers needing to self-isolate.

NEW ZEALAND'S CORONAVIRUS ALERT SYSTEM

New Zealand is currently at level two.

* LEVEL ONE - PREPARE

When: Minor transmission from imported cases

What: Border entry measures begin, contact tracing, self-isolation, testing, some gatherings cancelled

* LEVEL TWO - REDUCE

When: Transmission from imported cases

What: Borders effectively closed, mass gathering clampdown, limit non-essential travel, encourage work from home, high-risk groups urged to stay home

* LEVEL THREE - RESTRICT

When: Community transmission or cluster breakout

What: Affected educational facilities closed, travel limited in breakout zones, gyms, cinemas, food courts close, non-essential business recommended to close, elective hospital procedures deferred

* LEVEL FOUR - ELIMINATE

When: Widespread transmission

What: People instructed to stay home, educational facilities closed, non-essential business to close, travel limited, major re-prioritisation of health services