By Praveen Menon
WELLINGTON, March 24 (Reuters) – Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appealed to New Zealanders to help fight the coronavirus pandemic, as the country prepared for a complete lockdown from Thursday to beat the spread of the virus.
Cases of COVID-19 crossed the 100 mark in New Zealand this week as the government imposed self-isolation for everyone, with all-non-essential services, schools and offices to be shut for one month. The action takes effect from midnight on Wednesday.
Infections are lower in New Zealand than many other nations, but Ardern’s government wants to move fast to stop the spread. It was one of the first to force all incoming travellers into self-isolation, and to ban indoor and outdoor gatherings.
Ardern said in an interview to state broadcaster TVNZ that the lockdown gives the country of about 5 million people a good chance of beating the virus.
“Yes we can … we have a window and we have used it,” Ardern said on TVNZ.
“But I’m asking all New Zealanders, this plan will only work if you help us. You may feel resilient and well, but it’s not just about you. It’s about everyone around you,” she said.
“If we all do this together then we can do this.”
New Zealand has 102 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease associated with the coronavirus, with two local transmission cases so far with the others related to overseas travel. There have been no deaths.
On Tuesday morning, New Zealanders were emptying offices in preparation for working from home, college students moved out of hostels and cafes were seen clearing stock in anticipation of the lockdown.
Domestic airports and other regional transport services were choked as people rushed to return home before the lockdown took effect. Air New Zealand ramped up its domestic flights to meet the demand.
In the capital Wellington, ferry services going from New Zealand’s North Island to the South Island were congested as people turned up without tickets to take the ferry home.
“Police in Picton are providing traffic management support at the ferry terminals in the town due to heavy congestion,” police said in a statement.
Media reports said supermarkets were still crowded as people stacked up food and other essentials despite assurances from the government that the country will be well supplied.
The Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) has also said it had enough cash to meet demand. (Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Mike Collett-White)