Tough travel conditions as risk of COVID-19 escalates

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Venkat Raman

All persons arriving in New Zealand must undergo self-isolation for 14 days as the global risk of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) escalates to pandemic level.

The restrictions will apply to New Zealand citizens and residents but exclude people from Pacific countries (Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Caledonia, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu & Wallis and Futuna).

The new measures came into effect at midnight tomorrow (Sunday, March 15, 2020) and will be reviewed after 16 days.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that the existing travel ban for China and Iran will continue and that Cruise ships will be banned until at least June 30, 2020.

Unrealistic for New Zealand

Following a meeting of the full cabinet today, she said that to date, New Zealand has had a small number of cases (only six) but termed it ‘unrealistic.’

“The Pacific are exempted from this measure, though anyone from these countries will be required to automatically self–isolate should they exhibit any COVID-19 symptoms upon arrival in New Zealand. Alongside Israel, and a small number of Pacific Islands who have effectively closed their border, this decision will mean New Zealand will have the widest ranging and toughest border restrictions of any country in the world,” she said.

Advising people to avoid all non-essential travel, she asked New Zealanders currently overseas needing consular assistance to contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

No panic buying please

Ms Ardern said that the restrictions would not apply to cargo ships and cargo planes, marine or air crew and that the government would be working to ensure we keep sea and air freight routes open for imports and exports.

“No one needs to conduct a run on their supermarket. It is worth remembering that we have had travel restrictions on China for over a month, and those supply routes continue. We are mindful that some items that come into New Zealand travel via passenger flights. That is why support, where needed, will be provided to ensure that essential air freight like pharmaceuticals continue to be shipped into New Zealand,” she said.

Spot checks in force

The government has instructed officials to step up enforcement of self isolation through measures such as spot checks. To date, more than 10,500 people are or have been successfully self-isolated in New Zealand.

“People know that it is in the best interest of their community and they’re pulling together to look after one another. After all, the combination of restricting the virus coming here and isolating it when it does are two of the most important steps we can take to avoid community outbreak. Since

self-isolation is very important, we want to make it as easy as possible,” Ms Ardern said.

She promised to increase community support to those unable to support themselves in isolation.

Next week, Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Health Minister Dr David Clark will announce respectively a business continuity package and a suite of additional health measures to scale up the responsiveness of New Zealand’s health system to the virus.

Financial relief

A public information campaign will also be launched.

“Ultimately though, the best protection for the economy is containing the virus. A widespread outbreak will hurt our economy far more in the long run than short term measures to prevent a mass outbreak occurring. These measures, while disruptive, are needed to make the space we need as a nation to prepare and manage the spread of COVID-19,” Ms Ardern said.

Major government-sponsored events such as the Pasifika Festival in Auckland and the memorial meetings of the first anniversary of the Christchurch massacre (in March 15) in Auckland and Christchurch have been cancelled.

Holi, the Festival of Colours planned by private organisations over the weekend, have also been cancelled, as a measure of prevention.

The government is expected to announce restrictions on large public gatherings.

“We have two choices as a nation. One is to let COVID-19 roll on, and brace. The second is to go hard on measures to keep it out, and stamp it out – not because we can stop a global pandemic from reaching us, but because it is in our power to slow it down,” Ms Ardern said.

The full Statement of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern can be read here.

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