Jacinda Ardern says she's focused on a model that works to beat Covid-19 for New Zealand after one of the world's leading newspapers lauded her leadership under the headline: 'New Zealand isn't just flattening the curve. It's squashing it'.

In response to a question about the Post article, the Prime Minister told reporters today that New Zealand was "stamping it out", but the Government was not focused on creating a model for anyone but this country.

"We are trying to do what is right for New Zealand, for New Zealand's economy and for New Zealand's people."

While our plan was different to those in other countries, she stood by it.

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Ardern said the number of new cases reported today, 50, was the lowest in two weeks. "We may yet see bumps along the way ... but I remain cautiously optimistic that we are starting to turn a corner."

That cautious optimism became front and centre of the world with the influential Post reporting "a triumph of science and leadership".

Under the headline, "New Zealand isn't just flattening the curve. It's squashing it", Post journalist and Kiwi Anna Fifield has outlined the political, social and health measures taken by the Government over the past month - including the level 4 lockdown and the early success indicators.

Fifield, the newspaper's Beijing bureau chief who is back in New Zealand for a time, reported a "group of influential New Zealanders" had urged Ardern to move to alert level 4 soon after the Government announced the new alert system.

"We were hugely worried about what was happening in Italy and Spain," one of them, Warehouse founder Stephen Tindall, said.

"If we didn't shut down quickly enough, the pain was going to go on for a very long time," he told Fifield. "It's inevitable that we will have to shut down anyway, so we would rather it be sharp and short."

The Post piece comes as New Zealand's biggest bank reveals it has already received 12,000 applications for a mortgage holiday under the join Government-banks scheme announced before the lockdown started.

"We have never seen anything like it at this sort of scale," ANZ CEO Antonia Watson told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking.

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The bank was working through options with applicants - some needed urgent cashflow relief, others were of the view they needed to ease a little pressure for a couple of months. The bank was careful to point out the mortgage would still need to be repaid in the future.

With two weeks down and two weeks to go in a nationwide lockdown, the number of people who recovered from the highly contagious Covid-19 virus - 65 - was higher than confirmed and probable new cases reported yesterday - 54.

There were also no new significant clusters reported by the Ministry of Health, which is when 10 or more confirmed or probably cases are identified with the same source event or place.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said it was a good sign and Ardern described herself as "quietly confident and cautiously optimistic".

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The Washington Post piece reports on the "collective purpose" of New Zealand, as it tackles the pandemic - from the halls of power, where National has said it won't be campaigning on the Government's response, to the person on the street who is able to dob in any breaches of the lockdown.

It also praises Ardern's approach and reports on incidents such as Health Minister David Clark's lockdown breaches.

"From the earliest stages, Ardern and her team have spoken in simple language: Stay home. Don't have contact without anyone outside your household 'bubble.' Be kind. We're all in this together," wrote Fifield.

Otago University Professor Michael Baker told the Post the lockdown and response were "a triumph of science and leadership".

"Jacinda approached this decisively and unequivocally and faced the threat," Baker told the Post. "Other countries have had a gradual ramp-up, but our approach is exactly the opposite."

New Zealand had not only tried to flatten the curve but stamp it out entirely, he said.

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The total number of new and confirmed cases yesterday was 54 more than the previous day.

The total number of people who have recovered was 241, or 65 more than the previous day.

To be classed as recovered, it must be at least 10 days since an infected person first had symptoms and they must have gone for at least two days without symptoms.

There were 12 people in hospital, including four in intensive care, one of whom was in a critical condition.

Japan declares a state of emergency in Tokyo and six other prefectures. Video / CNN

Bloomfield told reporters yesterday that another good sign was that the number of close contacts that cases were reporting had gone down to two or three people – by dint of the fact that people were confined mainly to their homes under alert level 4.

At present there are 12 clusters including the largest three, Marist College in Auckland of 77, a Bluff wedding of 73 and a St Patrick's Day event in Matamata of 59.

Notably, just over half of yesterday's new confirmed cases were part of those existing clusters and had already been in self-isolation when they were tested.

The confirmed cases of the Bluff cluster increased by 11, the Marist cluster by five and the Matamata cluster by one.

"We are not seeing very many from people coming in across the border," Bloomfield said, "remembering that anyone who comes in symptomatic is immediately quarantined and tested."

The country went into lockdown at one minute to midnight on Wednesday, March 25.
All but non-essential work has been stopped or has been conducted from home. People are expected to stay home in a bid to break the chain of transmission and to exercise only locally.

As Bloomfield explains it, the aim is to eliminate it now and then to quickly stamp out any further cases that arise.

Epidemiologist Sir David Skegg. Photo / Otago Daily Times
Epidemiologist Sir David Skegg. Photo / Otago Daily Times

The World Health Organisation last night reported 1.2 million cases globally and 67,594 deaths, of which Italy has had 15,889, Spain 12,418, the United States 8358, Britain 4934 and China 3340.

Ardern has previously ruled out any prospect of New Zealand going under the four weeks of lockdown.

The level of risk at New Zealand's border continues to be a contentious issue.
Ardern said yesterday that advice on how to improve monitoring at the border would be ready soon.

"We need a water-tight system at our border and I think we can do better on that."

Epidemiologist Sir David Skegg told MPs on the Epidemic Response Committee that New Zealand was in a brilliant position and the only western country in a position to eliminate the virus.

But aside from improvements at the border and gaps in testing, contact tracing needed to improve urgently.

That would become more important after the lockdown was lifted because people would be wanting to interact with others.

Health Minister David Clark. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Health Minister David Clark. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The National Party launched an online petition yesterday for mandatory quarantining of 14 days for everyone coming into New Zealand.

Yesterday began with political drama however, with a confession by Health Minister David Clark that he had driven his family 20km in Dunedin for a walk on the beach at Doctor's Point, a clear violation of the rules for everyone else to "keep it local".

Ardern demoted him to last ranked in Cabinet and had his coveted portfolio of Associate Finance removed but stopped short of sacking him.

"Disrupting our current plan to take on this global pandemic by removing the Minister of Health in my mind was not in the best interests of New Zealand."

She would not comment on whether he would be safe in his position after the Covid-19 crisis is over.

Ardern found some unlikely support from National leader Simon Bridges who said he could understand why she wouldn't sack him in the middle of a health and economic crisis the likes of which had not been seen in his lifetime.

Opposition leader Simon Bridges. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Opposition leader Simon Bridges. Photo / Mark Mitchell

"That said, I think his position more medium term is terminal," Bridges told reporters at Parliament.

"He has been demoted. He doesn't have her confidence and frankly, by the look of it, he's not up to it.

Bloomfield reported that there had been 291 breaches of lockdown rules, 263 warnings issued, 16 prosecutions and 10 youth referrals.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website