KEY POINTS
• NZ is in coronavirus lockdown for next four weeks after PM lifts alert status.
• Our coronavirus alert level will move up to 3 immediately and to 4 within 48 hours.
• Alert Level 4 will take effect from 11.59pm on Wednesday.
• Schools, childcare centres and universities will be closed from tomorrow.
• All non-essential businesses or services must shut in the next 48 hours.
• Kiwis should stay at home unless visiting an essential service, PM says.
• This will save tens of thousands of lives.
• Finance Minister announces new economic plan to help struggling companies and workers.
What it means for schools, universities and other education facilities.
What alert level 3 and 4 means for businesses and staff
What the lockdown means for parents with shared custody

Schools and non-essential services across New Zealand will be closed for at least the next four weeks after the Government put the country in nationwide lockdown to try to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern acknowledged the magnitude of the measures as she announced them today, but said they could save the lives of tens of thousands of New Zealanders.

The country's coronavirus alert level would be raised to level 3 immediately.

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In 48 hours the alert level would be raised to level 4 - "stay at home" instruction, schools and businesses closed except essential services, severely limited travel - and will remain in place for a minimum of four weeks.

The Prime Minister's Office has confirmed that Alert Level 4 will take effect from 11.59pm on Wednesday.

Essential services would still be open at both alert levels, she said.

"Kiwis - go home ... If in doubt, don't go out," Ardern said of level 4.

"I have a very keen sense of the magnitude of this moment in New Zealand's history and we did not take this decision lightly.

"But we all absolutely believe this is the right thing to do. If community transmission takes off in New Zealand the number of cases will double every five days.

"If that happens unchecked, our health system will be inundated, and thousands of New Zealanders will die."

She said the new measures will be enforced, and John Ombler, who is leading the Covid-19 National Response Team, is set to give a press conference about what enforcement will look like.

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Police Commissioner Mike Bush, who is part of the team, told the Herald this morning that the military could be used, but he did not expect any armed police or armed military personnel in the streets.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said all rents would be frozen, and the Government's wage subsidy programme, announced last week with a $150,000 cap, would now be extended to all businesses so as many workers as possible would keep an income.

It would now cost $9.3b, up from $5.1b, and further urgent work was being looked at.

New Zealand had been at alert level 2, but the call for a lockdown had been mounting, with the Teaching Council and former chief science advisor to the PM Sir Peter Gluckman adding their voices this morning.

Ardern said the rapid spread of Covid-19 cases in Italy - where more than 5000 people have died - and the confirmation of community transmission in two of the country's 102 confirmed cases compelled the Government to act.

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.

WHAT LEVEL 3 MEANS

From tomorrow, all bars, restaurants, cafes, gyms, cinemas, pools, museums, libraries and other places where people gather together should be closed.

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"Gatherings, indoors or out, and of any shape or size, must be cancelled. This means weddings, birthday celebrations and other gatherings," Ardern said.

Essential services will remain open, such as supermarkets, banks, GPs, pharmacies, service stations, couriers and other important frontline service providers.

"Workplaces should have everyone working from home," she said.

Schools would close from tomorrow except those attended by the children of people working in essential services, so they wouldn't have to make emergency childcare arrangements.

All schools will close entirely from midnight Wednesday.

WHAT LEVEL 4 MEANS

Once level 4 is in place, all New Zealanders not in essential services will be asked to stay at home.

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"I understand that self isolation is a daunting prospect," Ardern said.

"You can leave your home for fresh air, a walk, exercise. To take your children outside. But remember the simple principle. It must be solitary.

"We are asking that you only spend time with those you are in self isolation with. And if you are outside, keep your distance from others. That means 2 meters at all times. This is the single most important thing we can do right now to stop further community transmission."

Public transport will only be open to those working in essential services, for medical reasons, or to move essential goods – including ferry services between the North and South Island.

The modelling presented to Cabinet today showed that Covid-19 could see the greatest loss of life in a single event in New Zealand's history.

"The worst-case scenario is simply intolerable," Ardern said.

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"The situation here is moving at pace, and so must we.

"Get your neighbour's phone number, set up a community group chat, get your gear to work from home, cancel social gatherings of any size or shape, prepare to walk around the block while keeping a two-metre distance between you.

"These measures will be in place for four weeks at this point."

Ardern said regions could then have alert level 4 eased, depending on how Covid-19 was present in those areas.

"If you hang out with that friend at a park or see that family member for lunch, you risk spreading Covid-19 and extending everyone's time in level 4."

She said the number of Covid-19 cases would go up in the short-term, given the infection lag time, and testing would continue to give a better sense of community transmission.

She 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.

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SCHOOLS & UNIVERSITIES CLOSED

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said tertiary institutions would close as soon as possible.

Funding for educational institutes would continue.

All schools and ECE centres would be open for 48 hours so that essential workers did not have to make sudden arrangements for childcare.

They would all have to close by midnight Wednesday.

Hipkins said schools and ECEs should send any vulnerable workers sent home immediately.

Scaling up online learning was being looked at, he said.

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Dealing with equity issues, such as variations in access to broadband, was also being looked at.

Parents of children with learning disabilities should talk to their schools, he said.

NEW ECONOMIC RESCUE PACKAGE

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said that Cabinet decided to do more to cushion the impact of Covid-19.

The wage subsidy would have no cap, so all businesses will be eligible.

Businesses less than a year old were now also eligible, as were self-employed people, registered charities, NGOs, and incorporated societies.

The wage subsidy scheme would be reviewed and could be extended.

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The cost would now be $9.3b, up from $5.1b.

He said all options were still on the table when asked about further increases to benefit payments.

"What we've done today is cushion the blow ... but we can't save every job and we can't save every business."

Robertson said rents would also be frozen.

The Government had also agreed in principle to guarantee lending to businesses to help their survival. Details were being finalised.

"We are also making urgent preparations for further income support for all workers as we move into alert 4," Robertson said.

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He asked workers and firms to talk to each other, to talk to banks, and to make a plan.

"We are all in this together."

ENFORCEMENT OF CORONAVIRUS RULES

Ardern asked people not to self-police the measures. "People are afraid and they are anxious, We will play the role of enforcer."

Enforcement would be through police, she said.

Ardern said the military could work with police to enforce the measures.

She would issue an epidemic notice which, under the 1956 Health Act, gives the necessary powers. A Civil Defence emergency would also be declared, she said.

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ARDERN BASED IN WELLINGTON

Ardern said she would remain based in Wellington, and her contact with others would be "very limited".

"I will only really be present here in this building and the building where I live."

Other Ministers have been told to work from home, she said.

She said she had contacted National leader Simon Bridges, who expressed support for the measures announced today.

Parliament was working through how it would continue to work under alert level 4.

"There will still be accountability and we will be enabling the Opposition to play that role," she said, but those details were still being worked through.

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Ardern ruled out a "grand coalition" that would include the Opposition in decision-making. She said there were still no plans at this stage to move the September 19 election.

Hipkins, who is also Leader of the House, said that a small number of MPs would come to Parliament tomorrow, and MPs would be asked not to come to Parliament unless it was vital.

All parliamentary business before select committees would be suspended.

Parliament would adjourn and there was no fixed date for when it will be resumed.

CALLS FROM EXPERTS

This morning the Teaching Council and former chief science advisor to the PM Sir Peter Gluckman added their voices to concerns about whether level 2 was too low.

Simon Bridges this morning asked all National's MPs and candidates to put campaigning on hold, offered the party's resources to assist the Government, and called for the alert level to be moved to level 4.

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Last week the Government released its $12.1 billion package, the first phase of its economic rescue package.

READ MORE:
Covid 19 coronavirus: Front-line health workers and other medical staff want alert level 4 now
Coronavirus: Four Auckland schools linked to Covid-19 in one day
Covid 19 coronavirus: Top science adviser says there is mounting evidence NZ needs to go into 'extreme shutdown'
Covid 19 coronavirus: KFC stops dine-in service across New Zealand

Business NZ and the New Zealand Initiative this morning called for the Government to go further with economic support, noting the Australian Government had put the equivalent of 9 percent of Australian GDP towards its economic rescue package.

Robertson's package last week was equal to 4 per cent of New Zealand's GDP. He has previously said the Government was considering how to relieve the economic fallout for medium to large businesses.

The package included $5.1b in wage subsidies for Covid-19 affected businesses, $2.8b for increased welfare payments and the doubling of the Winter Energy Payment, $2.8 billion in business tax changes to free up cashflow and $500m for more health resources.

Almost half of the cash will be spent on a wage subsidy package for all Covid-19-impacted businesses - but the payment is only for up to 20 employees and tops out at $150,000.

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The National Party has called for the $150,000 cap to be lifted, but has not said where the cap, if any, should be.

The Flight Centre has just announced it will cut 250 jobs, while Air NZ is cutting a third of its workforce despite a $900m Government bailout.

Ardern put the country on alert level two on Saturday, but since then has come under pressure to move it higher to keep the spread of Covid-19 to a minimum.