“I do not take this moment in our history lightly nor the powers that come with it,” Ardern said.
“But every decision that we are taking [is] with the best interests of New Zealanders’ public health in mind.
“Unlike so many other gravely inundated countries, we have a window of opportunity to stay home, break the chain of transmission, and save lives.
“We must take this period of self-isolation deadly seriously.”
The consolidation of power comes with the blessing of the opposition, and with support from Kiwi citizens eager to see the containment of the spiralling pandemic.
A fresh 50 cases in the 24 hours to Wednesday morning has the country’s overall tally at 205.
As of Wednesday night, New Zealanders will largely be confined to their own homes in a lockdown far more severe than Australian restrictions.
Director of Civil Defence Emergency Management Sarah Stuart-Black said Kiwis would pull through by calling on memories of varied tragedies and emergencies over the next month.
“Over recent years … we’ve had a range of emergencies where New Zealanders have listened to that advice and taken the right action to take themselves and their families safe,” she said.
“We’ve seen it in earthquakes and tsunami risk and fires and the mosque shootings. This is another challenge for us.
“We’re hoping that people have heard the messages and understand how horrendous this could get.”
Of New Zealand’s 205 cases to date, just six require hospital treatment and none are in intensive care.
Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said numbers would continue to rise as households began mandatory self-isolation under tough new government restrictions.
“From midnight tonight, we bunker down for four weeks to try and stop the virus in its tracks, to break the chain,” Ardern told Parliament.
‘If you have any questions about what you can or can’t do, apply a simple principle: act like you have COVID-19.’
Jacinda Ardern, NZ PM
“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.”
At a press conference in the afternoon, she said the country could expect to have “several thousand” more cases before the lockdown begins to slow the rate of transmission.
Ardern told Parliament the lockdown was triggered by early evidence of community transmission of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
“If you have any questions about what you can or can’t do, apply a simple principle: act like you have COVID-19,” Ardern said.
“Every move you then make is a risk to someone else. That is how we must all collectively think. That’s why the joy of physically visiting other family, children, grandchildren, friends, neighbours is on hold. Because we’re all now putting each other first. And that is what we as a nation do so well.”
All non-essential services, bars, restaurants, cafes, gyms, cinemas, pools, museums, libraries, playgrounds and any other place where the public congregates will be closed.
Supermarkets, doctors, pharmacies, service stations and access to essential banking services will all be available.
Ardern warned the restrictions will be strictly enforced. Kiwis who show coronavirus symptoms or cannot appropriately travel to an approved place of self-isolation will be quarantined in airport hotels and motels.
The government would pay to rent rooms from the hotels and motels used, Ardern said.
This is only the second time in the country’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.