Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced today New Zealand was at Covid-19 alert level 3 rising to alert level 4 on Wednesday, lasting at least four weeks.

It comes as the number of confirmed cases in the country rose to 102, with 36 new cases since Sunday and two previous cases being treated as community transmission.

Schools and non-essential services across New Zealand will be closed as part of the measures as the Government today put the country in lockdown to try to stop the spread of coronavirus.

More than 300,000 cases of COVID-19 reported to the World Health Organisation. Video / AP

Ardern said these moves would save the lives of tens of thousands of New Zealanders.

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Alert level 3, effective immediately, means there is a risk of the potentially deadly virus not being contained, with either community transmission of the virus or multiple clusters breaking out.

Alert level 4 - which will come into force at 11.59pm on Wednesday - means the disease is not contained and there is a risk of widespread outbreaks.

Alert level 4 restrictions mean people need to stay at home, schools and universities will be closed, as well as non-essential businesses, major reprioritisation of health services, and air travel and public transport will only be for essential services.

Essential services will be open at all alert levels, but alert level 3 means limited travel in areas with clusters of Covid-19 cases, affected educational facilities closed, mass gatherings cancelled, public venues closed (such as libraries, museums, cinemas, food courts, gyms, pools, amusement parks), some non-essential businesses closed, and non face-to-face primary care consultations, with non-elective services and procedures in hospitals deferred.

"All indoor and outdoor events cannot proceed," Ardern said.

"In short, we are all now preparing as a nation to go into self-isolation in the same way we have seen other countries do. Staying at home is essential."

That would give the health system a chance to cope, she said.

New Zealand's coronavirus lockdown will be managed by a leadership team of some of the country's top officials. That team is Dr Ashley Bloomfield, Director-General of Health, Sarah Stuart-Black, Director of Civil Defence Emergency Management, Mike Bush, Commissioner of Police, and Dr Peter Crabtree.

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While in alert level 4, Ardern said contact tracing would continue and testing would go on "at pace" to find out where cases are.

If we flush out cases we already have, and slow down transmission, areas could move out of level 4, she said.

Community transmission had a lag time, and these measures would be in place for at least four weeks, she said.

She repeated that pharmacy products will still be available, and supermarkets would stay open.

Workplaces now had to change, while essential services had to ensure a 2m physical distance between people. Schools would close from tomorrow, except for those people who work in essential services with kids at schools.

All schools would close from Wednesday, she said.

All New Zealanders not in essential services are now being asked to stay at home, but leaving the house for exercise or for a walk was still allowed.

"It must be solitary," she said, and being outside meant to keep a 2m distance from others.

Until Wednesday, New Zealand will be at alert level 3.

Public venues will be closed under level 3, with alternative ways of working to be found and some non-essential businesses should close.

There will be no face-to-face primary care consultations and elective surgeries and procedures deferred and healthcare staff reprioritised.

Health services, emergency services, utilities and goods transport, and other essential services are expected to remain up and running at all stages.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced today New Zealand's Covid-19 alert level was at level 3 and rising to level 4 on Wednesday. Photo / Getty
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced today New Zealand's Covid-19 alert level was at level 3 and rising to level 4 on Wednesday. Photo / Getty

People will still be able to go to the supermarket, fill their car at fuel stations and collect medicine from pharmacies.

Seeing a family member for lunch or hanging out with friends would risk keeping New Zealand at level 4 for longer, she said.

"I do not underestimate what I am asking New Zealanders to do. It is huge. And I know it will feel daunting."

Without these measures, up to tens of thousands of people could die, according to medical modelling considered by Cabinet today.

"The worst case scenario is simply intolerable," she said.

It would be the greatest loss of life to a single event in New Zealand's history.

"I hope that you are all with me on that decision," the Prime Minister said today.

She said the Government had done all it could to prevent the spread of Covid-19, and now the Government was asking the New Zealand public to do the same.

The measures would hit the economy hard, but they were necessary, she said.

University of Auckland's Professor Shaun Hendy said it was now likely community transmission had taken place and today's announcement was a "good decision" to reduce contact and slow the spread down.

"This will give the testing regime and our Ministry of Health contact tracing teams a good chance of containing and stamping out the disease. By moving early, we have a chance of minimising the length of time we spend at Level 4."

Hendy said the stepped manner had also given people a chance to prepare for what could be a "long struggle with the disease".

"If we had gone to alert level 4 on Saturday, I suspect we would have seen scenes at our supermarkets like those we have become familiar with from overseas: long queues, crowded supermarkets, and empty shelves."

The number of cases would likely continue to rise over the next few weeks but once they began to fall the Government would be able to consider dropping the alert levels.

"We may also see alert levels drop in some parts of the country if the Government becomes confident that we are not seeing community transmission there and can restrict travel sufficiently from regions at higher levels."

What 'staying at home' means

New Zealanders who are outside of essential services must stay at home and stop all interactions with others outside of those in your households.

People can still go for a walk or exercise and enjoy nature, but must keep a 2m distance from people at all times.

Food will always be available – production will continue, distribution will continue, supermarkets will continue.

Medicines will always be available, healthcare for those that need it will be available, and usual financial support, like benefits, will continue as normal.

All actions must be solitary, and people should only spend time with those they are in self-isolation with, and keep distance from all others at all times.

Travel

Over the next 48 hours people will be able to travel home, and air transport providers will be ensuring social distancing for that period.

After 48 hours, air travel will only be allowed for transport of people undertaking essential services and the transport of freight.

Public transport will only be available for those working in essential services, for medical reasons, and to get to the supermarket.

Ferry services, road and rail will still be available for the transport of essential goods.

Driving in private vehicles is allowed.

Personal walks and other active travel is fine, provided you follow the 2m physical distancing requirement at all times.

Visitors and tourists can still use international air services to travel home.

Education

All schools and early childhood education (ECE) centres will be closed.

The children of essential workers – like doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and police – are still able to go to school or early childhood centres for the next 48 hours. For these families, schools will then be closed from the end of Wednesday.

The upcoming school term break will be brought forward to start on Monday, March 30. Schools will establish ways to deliver teaching online and remotely.

Gatherings

All indoor and outdoor events cannot proceed.

This does not include workplaces of people undertaking essential businesses.

These requirements apply to family and social gatherings such as birthdays, funerals, tangi or weddings. These gatherings cannot go ahead.

Health access

If you need to see a doctor or other medical professional, phone first.

Most consultations will happen over the phone (or by videoconference) to stop any risk of the disease spreading by person-to-person contact.

If you are concerned about any Covid-19 symptoms you are experiencing, please contact Healthline (for free) on 0800 358 5453, or contact your doctor.

What are essential/non-essential businesses?

Non-essential businesses must now close. All bars, restaurants, cafes, gyms, cinemas, pools, museums, libraries, playgrounds and any other place where the public congregate must close their face-to-face function.

Over the next 48 hours as the country moved to alert level 4, take-away services must also move to close their operations.

Physical distancing means staff and the public stay two metres apart, hand hygiene and cleaning must be maintained. Keeping full details of guests, and keeping people away if they are sick is required.

Essential businesses (see list below) and those that support them will continue to provide the necessities of life for everyone in New Zealand. This means food, healthcare, energy, internet, waste collection and financial support will always be available. They must have health measures and contact tracing in place.

These businesses will continue working, but will put in place alternative ways of working to keep employees safe, including shift-based working, staggered meal breaks, flexible leave arrangements and physical distancing.

The Government is setting up a call centre and free 0800 number to help answer questions about this.

For information on financial support visit the Work and Income website.

Accommodation:

• Accommodation services for essential workers and people who need to be isolated/quarantined

Border:

• Customs New Zealand, Immigration New Zealand and the Ministry for Primary Industries

Building and construction:

• Building and construction related to essential services, critical infrastructure, or immediately needed to maintain human health and safety at home/work

Courts, tribunals and the justice system:

• Courts of New Zealand and tribunals

• Critical Crown entities (eg Electoral Commission)

Fast-moving consumer goods:

• Businesses involved in the supply, delivery, distribution and sale of food, beverage and other key consumer goods (but not takeaway shops)

Education:

• Schools and educational facilities (e.g. early childhood centres)

Financial services:

• Banks, insurers and other financial institutions

Health:

• Hospitals, primary care clinics, pharmacies, medical laboratories, care facilities

• Ambulance services

• Mortuary services

Local and national government:

• Any entity involved in Covid-19 response or that has Civil Defence/emergency management functions

• Key public services

Primary industries, including food and beverage production and processing:

• Packaging, production and processing of food and beverage products

• Food safety and verification, inspection or associated laboratory services, food safety and biosecurity functions

• Veterinary and animal health/welfare services

Public safety and national security:

• Emergency services

• Security and intelligence services

• Justice system

• Public safety and national security roles

Science:

• Any entity (including research organisations) involved in Covid-19 response, hazard monitoring, resilience, diagnostics for essential services

Social services:

• Welfare and social services, including NGOs, which meet immediate needs (further guidance will be provided)

Transport and logistics:

• Transport services

• New Zealand Post and courier services

• Any small passenger service vehicle driver – including taxis and ride-share services

Utilities and communications, including supply chains:

• Electricity, gas, water, waste, fuel, telecommunication services, internet providers and media