Bangkok Desk, Mar 25 (efe-epa).- New Zealand declared a national state of emergency Wednesday as 50 new cases were announced and the country prepared to go into lockdown at midnight.
“A state of national emergency has been declared today due to COVID-19 at 12.21 pm by the Minister of Civil Defence, the honorable Peeni Henare,” director of Civil Defence Emergency Management Sarah Stuart-Black said in a press conference at parliament in Wellington.
“(It) has been declared because of the unprecedented nature of this global pandemic and to ensure the government has all the powers it needs to slow the spread of COVID-19 and reduce its impact.”
The decree will give the authorities emergency powers it may need to enforce the lockdown and free up resources, and applies to all of New Zealand, including all inhabited islands such as the Chatham Islands and Stewart Island.
Legislation permits the decree to be in place for seven days with the possibility of extension.
Out of the 50 new cases, 47 were confirmed and three were probable, bringing the total in the country to 205, with over 9,700 tests processed, said Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said at the press conference.
Six people remain in hospital in a stable condition, three were discharged Tuesday, and 22 people have recovered, he said, warning that cases would rise over the next 10 days.
Most cases were directly linked to overseas travel, but there are at least four cases of local transmission. There are currently five cases “within the community in one school” in Auckland, with that cluster and another linked to a cattle conference that could be considered local transmission.
Although the number of confirmed cases is relatively low, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been resolute in trying to stay ahead of the outbreak to avoid the situation of other countries around the world. New Zealand has a population of less than 5 million people.
Ardern in a later Tuesday press conference said New Zealanders returning home may be put into approved quarantine facilities due to the risk they pose to spreading the virus, and warned that the country may see several thousand more cases before the shutdown impact is seen.
The country heads into an alert level 4 – the highest – nationwide lockdown at midnight, which is set to last for at least four weeks. Only essential services such as food stores, medical centers and pharmacies will remain open. EFE-EPA