As Aotearoa prepares to go on hold for at least a month, Jacinda Ardern has urged people not to flout the rules – and warned of the consequences if they do

All New Zealanders returning home after the country goes into lockdown will be screened at the border and could be quarantined into hotels and other approved facilities if necessary, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

Speaking on the eve of New Zealand shutting down almost all of its services for at least a month in a bid to avoid the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, Ardern offered a simple message for Kiwis.

“You may not be at work but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a job – your job is to save lives.”

If people did not stay at home unless visiting the supermarket, their GP or another essential service, they risked spreading the virus to others.

“Breaking the rules could kill someone close to you, and that is why it is so important.”

With the declaration of a state of national emergency and the signing of an epidemic notice, the Government has taken on sweeping powers to combat the spread of Covid-19.

The state of emergency allowed Civil Defence Emergency Management controllers to take all steps necessary to ensure the conservation and supply of food, fuel and other essential supplies, as well as closing roads and other public places if needed.

However, Ardern said she hoped most of those powers would not need to be used provided Kiwis followed the rules that had been outlined.

“These are all necessary [powers]: this is an extraordinary time, but of course we are very mindful of the way we exercise them.”

In an urgent sitting of Parliament, a number of pieces of legislation were passed to help with the coronavirus response, including a law change providing for rent increases to be frozen.

Ardern said the Government would further tighten its already stringent border restrictions, including mandatory screening for the limited numbers of people who are legally still allowed to enter.

Anybody who displayed symptoms of Covid-19, could not demonstrate a clear plan for self-isolation, or could not travel to their usual residence while maintaining physical distancing, would be put into “approved facilities” for a period of quarantine.

With up to 10,000 more New Zealanders arriving back in the country by the end of March, the Government had to change its scrutiny at the border to reflect the increased threat.

Ardern warned that the strict lockdown measures would not immediately stem the rise in confirmed cases, and modelling suggested the overall number could in fact reach several thousand before the tide started to turn.

Asked about what activities people could undertake and where they could travel, she said that New Zealanders should all act as if they had coronavirus when considering their movements outside of lockdown.

“You may not be at work but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a job – your job is to save lives.”

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

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