As community transmission of coronavirus is all but confirmed, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces New Zealand must prepare to shut down for a month.

New Zealand has moved to Level 3 on the country’s coronavirus alert system in the wake of 36 new cases being identified, and will move to Level 4 – the highest on the scale – within 48 hours, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced.

Speaking to media at her post-Cabinet press conference, Ardern said the Government had concluded there was a need to lift the country’s alert level.

While New Zealand was still behind other countries in terms of the virus’ spread, the trajectory was clear and it needed to act before it was too late.

“We have always said we would act early, act decisively, and go hard – and we will.”

Supermarkets, pharmacies and other essential services would remain open, but non-essential businesses were required to close their face-to-face functions – including bars, restaurants, cafes, cinemas, libraries, playgrounds and other places of public congregation.

All indoor and outdoor events must also be cancelled, with the entire country going into self-isolation. Schools would all close from midnight on Wednesday.

Ardern said New Zealand would move to Level 4 on Wednesday and was expected to remain in full lockdown for at least four weeks to break the chain of transmission.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the Government was significantly expanding its wage subsidy scheme, removing the $150,000 cap and widening the eligibility criteria, which would increase the cost from $5.1 billion to $9.3b – although that was an estimate, rather than a cap or a floor.

It was also working urgently on new income support measures for all workers separate to the wage subsidy scheme.

The Government, Reserve Bank and retail banks had agreed in principle to provide “significant temporary support” for mortgage holders, as well as a finance guarantee scheme for businesses affected by Covid-19.

Rent increases have also been frozen to protect New Zealanders.

The news comes after Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield revealed there had been 36 new cases of Covid-19 confirmed in the last 24 hours – bringing the overall number of confirmed cases to 102.

The number of confirmed cases would double every five days without sufficiently early and aggressive intervention, Ardern said.

“Right now we have a window of opportunity to break the chain of community transmission, to contain the virus, to stop it multiplying and prevent New Zealanders from the worse.”

Bloomfield told media more than half of the new cases were directly related to overseas travel, with most of the remainder tied to close contacts of previously confirmed cases or events where there were confirmed cases.

However, there were two cases where there was no certainty of the source of infection – one in the Wairarapa, and the other in Auckland – which were being treated as instances of community transmission.

Bloomfield said more than 1100 lab tests were carried out on Sunday, bringing the total number of completed tests to over 7400.

Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom's national affairs editor, covering foreign affairs and trade, housing, and other issues of national significance.

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