New Zealand moves into uncharted territory with Covid-19 coronavirus

NZ PMJacinda Ardern
NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ... strong message calms concerns over the unknown. Image" RNZ News

By Jane Patterson, political editor of RNZ News

New Zealanders now have an alert system for Covid-19, giving people more certainty and clarity as the country moves into uncharted territory.

New Zealand is at Level Two on the scale of One to Four, meaning Covid-19 is still contained but the risk of community transmission is growing.

Although there have been regular and comprehensive public briefings, uncertainty about what people are supposed to do, how long this all might last and what it means for daily life is still rampant.

READ MORE: Al Jazeera’s live updates – World death toll surges past 11,000

Concern about the unknown also fuels behaviour like panic buying, putting pressure on the retailers and supply chains but also stripping shelves of essential goods, causing alarm among those who do not have the means or resources to stock up.

A strong message from the Prime Minister to encourage calm – even if New Zealand goes to the highest alert (Level Four), supermarkets and pharmacies will remain open.

The new directives are all about limiting containment as community transmission now seems increasingly likely, protecting the most vulnerable and making sure people are not moving around the country too much as it makes it harder to track them down if there is been possible contact with someone carrying the virus.

Those aged over 70 and anyone with underlying health problems, including respiratory conditions, have been told to effectively self-isolate – to stay at home and away from other people where possible.

Own households
That includes people even in their own households who could pass on the virus, particularly children.

RNZ is working to give specific information to people with questions about which health conditions qualify and who is at greatest risk.

Whether schools should continue to be open is another major question, for parents and those worried about the risk of the virus spreading further.

The main reason given so far for keeping them open is that the disruption caused by mass closures would have such a severe economic and social impact it would hamper efforts to fight the outbreak.

There has already been one case in Dunedin where a local high school, Logan Park, was shut down for 48 hours after a suspected case, given a deep clean and 150 tests carried out – all of which came back negative.

This is the approach the government has signalled for now, a localised and targeted approach – however that could change rapidly depending on whether community transmission is confirmed, and the rate of spread.

There were 13 new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand today, and the Ministry of Health cannot rule out community transmission.

The new cases bring the total to 52 confirmed, and four probable.

This article is republished by the Pacific Media Centre under a partnership agreement with RNZ.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs)
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