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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says everyday Kiwis are "breaking the chain of transmission", but is warning the fight against Covid-19 will be a marathon and has introduced tough new quarantine measures for people coming to NZ from overseas.
Only 29 new Covid-19 cases were announced today, which was the lowest number of cases since March 23, before the lockdown began, Ardern said.
Halfway through the lockdown, Ardern said that Kiwis had saved lives.
"What New Zealanders have done over the last two weeks is huge. In the face of the greatest threat to human health we have seen in over a century, Kiwis have quietly and collectively implemented a nationwide wall of defence," she said.
"We are turning a corner and your commitment means our plan is working.
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"But to succeed we need it to keep working."
Removing the restrictions would see New Zealand returning to the "starting line", which was why the Government would continue to enforce the rules and fighting the virus would be a "marathon".
"What New Zealanders have done over the last two weeks is huge."
The lockdown would not be ended early, and Cabinet would make a decision on a possible move out of alert level 4 on April 20.
Ardern said reports about frontline workers, including police officers, was "appalling".
"I have other words, but I probably can't use them here."
29 new cases, Bluff wedding now largest cluster
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the 29 cases are comprised of 23 confirmed cases and six probable cases, bringing the total number of cases to 1239.
The Bluff wedding cluster is now connected to the largest number of Covid-19 cases, climbing by six to 87, followed by Marist College (84) and the Matamata cluster (64).
There are no additional deaths to report, but there are 14 people in hospital and four people in ICU.
One of those in ICU is in Dunedin Hospital and the Southern District Health Board yesterday said one patient in Dunedin was in a critical condition.
There are now 317 recovered cases – an increase of 35 on yesterday, higher than the number of new cases.
In an update on Thursday evening the Southern District Health Board said the Bluff cluster had been confirmed as having a link with international travel.
The SDHB said it had been able to reach out to the close contacts of all confirmed cases through its contact tracing teams, and was asking those people to remain in self-isolation.
He said it was important to keep testing widely anyone with flu-like symptoms.
Quarantine of all overseas arrivals
On day 15 of the lockdown, Ardern told Kiwis that it was working and announced a tough new quarantine of people arriving from overseas.
"No-one goes home, everyone goes into a managed facility," she said of Kiwis returning to the country.
She said from midnight tonight every New Zealander boarding a flight to return home will be required to undergo quarantine or managed isolation in an approved facility for a minimum of 14 days.
Ardern said those who have symptoms will be in quarantine and will not be allowed to leave their hotel room, but those in assisted isolation are able to leave their rooms for fresh air.
Police will monitor the facilities, she said. The military could also be used for quarantine enforcement.
Ardern said there was no endpoint for the border controls, and the borders will continue to be a high-risk element.
"I am also signalling that the requirement for 14 days of quarantine or managed self-isolation in a government-approved facility will be a prerequisite for anyone entering the country in order to keep the virus out."
"Even one person slipping through the cracks and bringing the virus in can see an explosion in cases as we have observed with some of our bigger clusters."
She said ongoing quarantine was a huge task, and it could not have been done "from the beginning".
"A network of up to 18 hotels will be used to implement this approach, of which one to two will be specifically set aside for those under strict quarantine conditions."
She said campervans will also be used for quarantine, should they be needed.
Contact-tracing would also be enhanced by technology, she said.
"The Ministry of Health is already working on a locally developed app that will assist with contact tracing."
She said the Government was looking at the Singaporean Government's Bluetooth-based app TraceTogether, which relies on voluntary uptake.
"We have made initial contact with the Singaporean Government and registered our interest, and I have a phone call with Prime Minister Lee of Singapore this evening where I will be discussing this technology further."
She also cited the need to continue a high rate of testing.
"With these three pillars, border controls, rigorous testing and contact tracing, we have what we need to win this marathon."
Details on possible move to alert level 3
She said next week she would outline what life would look like at alert level 3.
"On the 20th of April, two days before the lockdown is due to finish, Cabinet will make a decision on our next steps. That's because we need to use the most up to date data that we have to make that decision."
"If we are ready to move to alert level 3, business we will have two days to implement arrangements.
"But let me say again, we will not be moving out of level 4 early. If we move to early, we will go backwards."
Businesses should start thinking about how to have physical distancing and to be able to contact trace customers.
Ardern said businesses should prepare now for the move but warned New Zealand needed to ensure it didn't make the change too early.
Asked about the election, Ardern said the current plan was to hold it on September 19, but would continue to be reviewed. "It is too soon to make a determination of where we will be, even in a month's time from now."
There had been no decision yet whether Parliament could sit under alert level 3.
She said it would not be life as it used to be when the lockdown is eventually lifted. Life will still be different at alert level 3, and moving too quickly risked putting the country back into lockdown.
Different alert levels might apply to different educational levels such as ECE, and there would be more detail next week when she outlined what alert level 3 life will be like.
School won't reopen as soon as alert level 4 ends
It comes as Education Minister Chris Hipkins today warned parents it would be wrong for them to assume that all schools will reopen as soon as the lockdown ends.
"That's not going to happen," he told the Epidemic Response Committee this morning.
Hipkins said parents would need to prepare to have their kids at home for longer than the four-week lockdown period.
"It's going to be a progressive reopening of the system, rather than a big bang all at once."
The same went for tertiary institutions and early childhood centres as well.
Although Hipkins said that at level three there would be more flexibility, it would take a while for most schools to reopen.
New Zealand is just past the halfway point in the four-week lockdown period – however the Government has always maintained that the lockdown can be extended.
Ardern has so far provided no confirmation as to whether level four would be extended.
NZ Herald and ODT