'Toughest Border Restrictions In The World': NZ Announces Mandatory Quarantine
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced the "toughest border restrictions of any country in the world", enforcing mandatory self-isolation on international arrivals, including Kiwi citizens.
After an emergency Cabinet meeting on Saturday afternoon, Ardern declared the unprecedented measure to fight the growing spread of the coronavirus.
"We do not take these decisions lightly," she said.
"We have two choices as a nation.
"One is to let COVID-19 roll on. The other is to go hard on measures to stamp it out. It is in our power to slow it down.
"That's why we must go hard, and go early, and do everything we can to protect New Zealanders' health."
The decision effectively kills the country's tourism sector and will deliver a hammer blow to the economy.
But given the global pandemic, unprecedented in modern times, the restriction was met with support from the opposition National party.
"It's good to see coronavirus being treated with more seriousness and urgency for the good of our country," National leader Simon Bridges said on Twitter.
The measure will take effect as of midnight Sunday, and apply to every arrival except from Pacific countries - a region that is largely devoid of COVID-19 cases.
There are also exemptions for cargo ships, marine and air crew to allow the free passage of goods in and out of New Zealand.
A ban on foreign travellers from mainland China and Iran will be maintained.
The mass quarantine protocol will be reviewed after 16 days.
Ardern has also placed a ban on foreign cruise ships docking at New Zealand ports until the end of June.
And next week, the government will announce a directive on public gatherings, expected to be similar to the Australian government's ban on gatherings of more than 500 people.
Until now, New Zealand has registered just six positive tests for the virus.
All six have been connected with overseas travel, allowing health officials to trace the contacts of every confirmed case, and place those contacts into self-isolation.
Ardern believes the border control will allow her nation to "flatten the curve", that is, reduce the rate of new cases to a manageable level for New Zealand's health system.
"New Zealand has to date, relative to other counties, a small number of cases (but) it is not realistic for New Zealand to have only a handful of cases," Ardern said.
"We must plan and prepare for more cases."
"But, the scale of how many cases we get and how fast we get them is something we should do as much as we can to slow."
"That is how we ensure health services are there for those who need them most."
Earlier on Saturday, the government announced the cancellation of a national remembrance service in honour of the Christchurch mosque attacks, which took place on March 15 last year.
With a touch of humour, Ardern also announced an eight-step guide to avoiding the spread of coronavirus in the community, three of which are "wash your hands".