WELLINGTON, New Zealand, March 26 ------ New Zealand has declared a state of emergency as it prepares to go into an unprecedented lockdown late Wednesday for about a month. The declaration temporarily gives police and the military extra powers. And Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says any New Zealanders returning home from overseas who show symptoms of COVID-19 will be put in isolation at an approved facility.
“I have one simple message for New Zealanders today as we head into the next four weeks: ‘stay at home,'” Ardern said. “It will break the chain of transmission and it will save lives.” Ardern said exceptions include people working crucial jobs, those leaving to pick up essentials like groceries, and those engaging in solitary exercise. The country has 205 reported cases of the virus, although Ardern said that number could rise into the thousands before it begins to recede even with the strict measures being taken.
Meanwhile in Australia, its prime minister has announced a national COVID-19 coordination commission to manage private and public sector cooperation on the health and economic crisis. Prime Minister Scott Morrison named former iron ore mining executive Neville Power as executive chairman of the commission that will work with all levels of government on issues including maintaining supermarket supply chains and rising unemployment.
Morrison has also announced Australia has stepped up testing for the new coronavirus to one of the highest rates in the world. Australia’s 162,747 tests to date is a rate 4.7 times higher than Britain and 25 times higher than the United States.