New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has appealed for calm from Aucklanders heading back into lockdown after the identification of a clutch of new COVID-19 cases.
Four south Auckland family members tested positive to the deadly virus on Tuesday, prompting the return of emergency measures in NZ’s biggest city.
As of midday on Wednesday, Aucklanders will be required to stay home unless they are conducting essential work or essential personal movement such as supermarket shopping, health care or exercise.
Pointing to surges around the world, including in Melbourne, Ms Ardern said she was compelled to act swiftly in response to the positive tests.
“I know it’s frustrating,” she said.
“But if we get our immediate response right in this critical phase, we have the opportunity to lessen the time that we have those severe restrictions.
“In line with our precautionary approach, we will be asking Aucklanders to take swift action with us.”
That rapid response testing and isolation will spread to two large Auckland workplaces and Rotorua, after one of the positive tests travelled there on Saturday while symptomatic.
Five million masks will be handed out in Auckland, though there is still no government mandate to wear face coverings at all times.
Air NZ has asked passengers on flights leaving Auckland to wear masks.
The NZX 50 Index dropped two per cent on opening on Wednesday morning.
Auckland’s level three lockdown will initially last for 60 hours – from midday on Wednesday to midnight on Friday – to allow health officials to contact trace, isolate potential cases and conduct mass testing.
Kiwis have been asked to stay home from work and school, and all gatherings have been capped at 10.
Ms Ardern also announced that all aged care facilities would return to the highest level four lockdown as a precautionary measure as more than half of NZ’s 22 COVID-related deaths have been linked to rest homes.
The rest of New Zealand will return to level two restrictions, which includes social distancing and gathering caps of 100.
The measures have prompted panic-buying and alarm in the community.
Kiwis headed to supermarkets in the hours after Ms Ardern’s late-night address, with huge lines returning on Wednesday morning – even though they will remain open during lockdown.
Healthline has received more than 2000 calls in the past 12 hours, resulting in long wait times.
Psychologist Jacqui Maguire said Kiwis would be experiencing a range of emotions, including “anxiety, fear, anger and disappointment”.
“Take that disappointment and use it as motivation to stick to the rules,” she said.
“Turning away from or suppressing your emotional reactions will only intensify them.
“Hold compassion and kindness for yourself and others as you adjust, reach out and offer support to those around you.
“Take one day at a time, practise your wellbeing strategies and hold the hope that we will get through this together.”
Despite the panic-buying, there appears to be goodwill for the decision and towards the infected family.
New Zealand’s most-liked tweet on Tuesday night came from author Tracey Barnett, who wrote “A big, fat thank you to that South Auckland family for taking the initiative to get tested. You may have saved our bacon, thank you”.