New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Wednesday said to the country to behave as if they had the coronavirus and cut all physical contact outside their household when it heads into a one-month lockdown at midnight.

Jacinda Ardern declared a national state of emergency as the number of cases of COVID-19, the disease associated with the coronavirus, surged by a record 50 cases to take the national tally to 205.

The government has imposed self-isolation for everyone, with all non-essential services, schools and offices to be shut for a month from midnight.

Addressing to the parliament, PM Ardern said, “From midnight tonight, we bunker down for four weeks to try and stop the virus in its tracks, to break the chain,”

“Make no mistake this will get worse before it gets better. We will have a lag and cases will increase for the next week or so. Then we’ll begin to know how successful we have been”, she added,

During a press briefing later in the day, Jacinda said modelling suggested New Zealand could have several thousands of cases of COVID-19 before the numbers start coming down.

New Zealand, with about 5 million people, has fewer infections than many other countries, but Jacinda Ardern’s government wants to move fast to halt the spread. It was one of the first to force all arriving travellers into self-isolation and to ban large gatherings.

Major cities like Auckland and Wellington wore a deserted look on Wednesday as businesses shut down, cafes closed and all offices locked their doors.

The disruptions are expected to have a deep impact on businesses and lead to thousands of job losses. Some firms have already announced job cuts.

Earlier, the government has announced billions of dollars in support for small businesses, workers and families, and promised more in the coming days.
On Wednesday, it announced a six-month freeze on residential rent increases and increased protection from having tenancies terminated.

The novel Coronavirus pandemic seriously has claimed 18,901 lives globally.

Earlier on Tuesday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson also called for a three-week shutdown in the country.

This is only the second time in New Zealand’s history that a national emergency has been declared, with the first one on 23 February 2011, after a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck the South Island city of Christchurch, killing almost 200.

Cases in neighbouring Australia have soared past 2,250 and officials have warned infections could overwhelm medical services.

(With inputs from agency)