SYDNEY (Reuters) - New Zealand will begin moving citizens to compulsory quarantine from Friday as they return from overseas, stepping up its efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus halfway through a four-week nationwide lockdown.
The shutdown began in late March in the Pacific nation of about 5 million, and a state of national emergency was declared to stifle local transmissions of the respiratory disease.
“No one goes home, everyone goes into a managed facility,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, adding that 14 days spent in a government-approved facility would be a prerequisite for all foreign travellers.
“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 told a media briefing in Wellington on Thursday.
Ardern added that her cabinet would decide whether to extend the nationwide curbs on April 20, two days before the lockdown is set to end.
The lockdown has reduced domestic transmissions, authorities said, with a steady fall this week in the daily rise in infections.
The tally of infections rose by 29 to stand at 1,239 on Thursday, for the lowest daily rise since March 21, a sign the epidemic could be on the retreat since the lockdown began 15 days ago. Overnight, 35 people were declared to have recovered.
New Zealand, like neighbouring Australia, has fewer infections than many countries and the pace of infections in both nations has slowed dramatically in the past week.
Despite some signs of a plateau in infections, the government said it had no plans to relax the curbs over the Easter weekend and warned of hefty fines for non-essential travel then.
Police will step up activity around holiday spots during the Easter holidays, authorities said, with some roadblocks planned.
Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.
Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Clarence Fernandez