New Zealand prepares to enter lockdown as coronavirus cases surge

New Zealand said on Monday it will move to its highest alert level imposing self-isolation, with all-non-essential services, schools and offices to be shut over the next 48 hours as the number of coronavirus cases more than double, Reuters has reported.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the decisions will place the most significant restriction on New Zealanders' movements in modern history, but it was needed to save lives and slow the virus.

"We are all now preparing to go into self isolation as a nation," Ardern said in a news conference, adding that tens of thousands of New Zealanders could die without these measures.

People lined up outside supermarkets shortly after the announcement to stack up essentials, despite assurances from the government that there were sufficient supplies and stores will remain open.

Crowds were also expected at domestic airports as New Zealanders return home before complete lockdown takes effect for the next four weeks.

Police Chief Mike Bush said more officers will be seen across the country to make sure instructions are followed and order is maintained.

The number of coronavirus cases in New Zealand shot up to 102, more than double since Friday, as the country reported 36 new infections. New Zealand has had no deaths.

Ardern said the cabinet agreed that effective immediately, the country of five million people would move into alert 'level 3' nationwide, and after 48 hours it will be at the highest 'level 4'. New Zealand has already closed its borders to foreigners.

Ardern said all bars, restaurants, cafes, gyms, cinemas, pools, museums, libraries, playgrounds and any other place where the public congregate must close their face-to-face function.

She said supermarkets, doctors, pharmacies, service stations, access to essential banking services will all be available throughout New Zealand at every alert level.

The move comes after neighbouring Australia, which has thousands of COVID-19 cases, started lockdown measures on Monday, but has stopped short of self-isolation.

Schools will be closed from Tuesday, except for children of essential workers such as our doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and police. Schools will close entirely from midnight Wednesday.

Workplaces were asked to implement alternative ways of working.

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