New Zealand, Australia close borders to all but citizens, residents

Sydney, Australia, Mar 19 (efe-epa).- The prime ministers of New Zealand and Australia on Thursday announced that all non-citizens and non-residents would be barred from entry in order to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

New Zealand’s border shutdown will be effective from midnight Thursday, and for Australia, from 9 am Friday. Both governments had already prohibited their citizens from traveling abroad and imposed a mandatory 14-day self-isolation for all those entering.

“In no time in New Zealand’s history has a power like this been used, and I recognize how extraordinary it is,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a live broadcast after a late afternoon Cabinet meeting in Wellington. “But we have to make decisions in the best interests of the health of those who live here.”

New Zealand citizens and permanent residents, including their children and partners, will be able to return. However, the move does not apply to Pacific nations, which had been exempted from previous measures.

Ardern said there were currently no known cases of community transmission in the country, and that cases already confirmed related to people “traveling here and bringing the virus with them.”

“While the majority has been returning New Zealanders, that has not always been the case,” she said.

Spot checks by police were showing that locals were following self-isolation instructions but that there were cases of tourists refusing to abide by rules.

“I’ve been increasingly concerned that visitors to New Zealand have not necessarily adequately self-isolated for 14 days or are choosing not to, and that is an unacceptable risk that we must end,” Ardern said.

Two tourists from Southeast Asia who this week refused the self-isolation rules will be deported, local media reported Thursday.

The move to shut the borders “applies to people, not products,” Ardern said, adding that the restrictions will be reviewed every 16 days.

Ardern had informed her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison of the decision after the Cabinet meeting, and soon after her announcement, Morrison did the same in Canberra.

“We believe it is essential to take a further step to ensure we are now no longer allowing anyone, unless they are a citizen or resident or direct family member in those cases, as is applied, to all the other travel bans put in place previously,” Morrison said.

“The reason for this decision is… about 80 percent of the cases we have in Australia that are either the results of someone who has contracted the virus overseas or someone who has had direct contact with someone who has returned from overseas,” he added. “So, the overwhelming proportion of cases in Australia have been imported.”

Australians returning would still be required to self-isolate.

Travel restrictions in Australia and New Zealand, which have each announced huge economic stimulus packages to mitigate coronavirus impacts, have wreaked havoc on their flagship airlines with their international flights either being clashed or suspended entirely.

Earlier in the day, Australia’s Qantas and Jetstar announced they were suspending all international flights and that two-thirds of their 30,000 employees will be temporarily stood down from late March until at least the end of May.

Both countries have told their citizens to return from overseas before the window of opportunity disappears amid travel restrictions and reductions of airline services.

In Australia, almost 600 people have been infected with COVID-19, of which six have died, while New Zealand has 28 infections, eight announced on Thursday. EFE-EPA


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