Gatherings of more than 500 people should be cancelled to help stop the spread of coronavirus, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

Within the next month, Ardern said there were 107 events with more than 1000 attendees expected to take place in New Zealand's major centres - but the Government had to protect the public from Covid-19.

"To slow the spread and reduce the number of people infected ... Cabinet agreed that gatherings of 500 or more people held outdoors or indoors should be cancelled."

This applied to non-essential events including sporting and religious events, but excluded school or university events.


Today's announcement would give certainty to event organisers, but further guidance on public gatherings would be announced further in the week, she said.

"Ultimately I know this decision is hugely disappointing. I know it will have an impact on a number of communities ... but we are making this decision in the best interest of New Zealanders."

The Government was not shutting schools or universities because "that is not where New Zealand is at".

Ardern said there was no plan at this stage to cancel any school holidays.

She said people should reduce close contact in places like movie theatres, but that was impossible for music festivals and they should be cancelled.

The guidelines, out before the end of the week, should give certainty for events like large weddings.

Gatherings of people under 500 could be allowed "under certain circumstances", she said, such as where close contact can be avoided.

She said she knew people whose weddings had already been affected by the strict border controls, and more would be affected by the guidelines on mass gatherings - but they were important measures for the good of the whole country.


She said she spoke to her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison at the weekend before she announced new travel restrictions, but there was no scientific basis to allow trans-Tasman travel because there was community transmission in Australia.

Social distancing was the "new normal" and should apply to everyone's actions, including visiting bars and restaurants.

She said the tourism sector were "craving" certainty around travel restrictions, but those would be reviewed in a fortnight and an extension was likely, given the current spread of the virus.

She said everyone needed to be mindful of social distancing: "If you're close enough for someone to spit on you when you talk, you're too close."

"We're asking you to work together, but just with a little bit of distance between you."

She also asked New Zealanders to look out for the elderly, who were most at risk of catching Covid-19.


Zero tolerance for those refusing to self-isolate

She said there would be "zero-tolerance" for travelers who did not self-isolate.

Ministers would use the Immigration Act to deport people on visitors visas, and deportation was a serious blight on someone's record.

Anyone refusing to self-isolate was "not welcome" in New Zealand, she said.

New Zealanders who didn't self-isolate voluntarily could be placed in a medical facility, and a police officer could be placed on the door to prevent them escaping, but Ardern said most people will want to look after each other and make sure requirements are being followed.

People signing forms about self-isolation could be turned into statutory declarations, where violating the terms could lead to a fine, she said.

She said she knew people whose weddings had already been affected by the strict border controls, and more would be affected by the guidelines on mass gatherings - but they were important measures for the good of the whole country.


Election still planned for September 19

Ardern said she had no plans to change the election date of September 19 at this stage.

She also confirmed that she would not attend the Asean trip to Vietnam scheduled for April.

She said Ministers were giving government departments space to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak, as this was an "all of government" response.

"We are putting huge pressure on our public servants and they are responding magnificently."

She said NZ First MP and Minister Tracey Martin tuned in to Cabinet today, and all Ministers should follow the same rules as everyone else. Martin has not been tested, and Ardern said testing was up to clinicians.

Last week Martin had sat next to Australian Minister Peter Dutton, who has tested positive for Covid-19, but Ardern said that Martin had followed all the right steps and didn't need to be tested.


Martin has not showed any symptoms.

Data-driven decisions

The new travel restrictions announced at the weekend was a decision based on data, Ardern said. "Covid-19 will be with the world for a long time to come. We need to do everything we can to flatten (the curve)."

She said data around different hot spots drove the decision to impose the new travel restrictions.

Economic response

Ardern said the first phase of the Government's coronavirus response, to be announced tomorrow, would focus on keeping Kiwis in work.

A mass public awareness campaign to unite against Covid-19 would be launched on Wednesday, she said in her weekly post-Cabinet press conference.

She said most Kiwis were able to go to work today, but in Italy or Spain that is not the case, countries whose economies are essentially shutting down.


That emphasised the importance of New Zealand's new travel restrictions, she said.

Slowing the transmission of Covid-19 was the best way to secure the economy in the long run, she said.

"We are working around the clock to ensure our economic package will focus relentlessly on jobs."

It would also give the health system the resources it needs.

She said preliminary advice from Treasury this weekend was that the impact could be greater than the impact of the GFC.

"There is no existing playbook for the economic response here."


The Government was prepared for "this rainy day".

She wouldn't comment on Air NZ's financial position or its decision to cut staff to stay viable, but there would be "ongoing dialogue".

The airline could cut its workforce by as much as 3750, the New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association says.

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It comes after the Reserve Bank of New Zealand delivered a shock 0.75 per cent cut to the official cash rate (OCR) this morning, citing Covid-19 as the reason.

It now sits at 0.25 per cent – the lowest it has ever been.


In welcoming the Reserve Bank's news, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the Government's "multi-billion dollar package" would help stimulate the economy and help Covid-19 hit businesses.

"Government surpluses and low debt put us in good shape to invest in the economy to support businesses and workers."

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield this morning confirmed there have been no extra cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand.

He said the prospect of fines for people who refuse to self-isolate were being discussed at Government level and the issue had been raised with the Attorney General's office.

"We are doing this to ensure New Zealand and New Zealanders are protected from having a severe impact from Covid-19."

Earlier in the day, Ardern told Newstalk ZB that people could be deported if they refuse to self-isolate.


She said more than 10,000 New Zealanders have self-isolated so far and have been compliant; international visitors, she said, should do the same.

"If they do not self-isolate, I will have them quarantined. And I am looking at my deportation powers."