Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is asking people over 70-years-old and those with compromised immunity to stay at home.
She is urging people to limit non-essential domestic travel and workplaces to implement plans to reduce person-to-person contact, including working from home where possible.
The call comes as a four-stage COVID-19 alert system has been announced.
Ardern said people need to be prepared to take different measures as authorities change alert levels - up or down. They can do this either nationally or regionally.
The whole country is currently at “Alert Level 2 - Reduce Contact” - Level 4 being the most severe.
Level 2 is where the disease is contained, but risks of community transmission are growing.
Only schools affected by cases of COVID-19 will be closed at this level.
Ardern urged people not to panic buy, saying supermarkets, pharmacies and essential services will remain open at all alert levels.
Community outbreak or multiple clusters of cases will take New Zealand to Alert Level 3.
At this level, travel in areas with clusters or community transmission will be limited, some non-essential businesses should close, and non-acute (elective) services and procedures in hospitals will be deferred and healthcare staff reprioritised.
We are very close to this level, as there are at least two cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand, which authorities can't confirm are linked to overseas travel.
See this Ministry of Health document for a detailed break-down of the measures that need to be taken at the different risk levels.
Ardern said COVID-19, and the measures that need to be taken in response, will be with us for "some time", not simply a matter of weeks.
14 new cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand were confirmed on Saturday.
There are now 53 confirmed and four probable cases of COVID-19.
“Most of these cases are travel-related but as yet, in at least two instances, no link to overseas travel has been ascertained and we are continuing to investigate,” the Ministry of Health said.
“At this point we cannot rule out a risk of community transmission on these cases.”
The locations of the new confirmed cases are: Wellington region 4, Taranaki 1, Auckland 3, Waikato 1, Taupo 1, Manawatu 2, Nelson 2.
Ardern said it was important to remember the vast majority of people who have COVID-19 will only experience mild to moderate symptoms. But there will be some who need more care.
"That’s why we have to focus on one simple goal – to slow down COVID-19," she said.
"Slowing it down, means not having one big tidal wave of cases, but instead, smaller waves - groups of cases that we can manage properly as they arise. That means we reduce the impact on health, on jobs and on our economy.
"Some countries have successfully managed to do this – but it does mean we have to be ready to step up our action when we need to."
Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, who is over 70-years-old, won't stay home.
Here's a transcript of the live address Ardern made to the country from her office at midday Saturday:
Kia ora koutou katoa
I’m speaking directly to all New Zealanders today to give you as much certainty and clarity as we can as we fight Covid-19.
Over the past few weeks, the world has changed. And it has changed very quickly. In February it would have seemed unimaginable to close New Zealand’s borders to the world, and now it has been an obvious step as we fight COVID-19.
This is because we are experiencing an unprecedented event – a global pandemic that in New Zealand, we have moved to fight by going hard, and going early.
I understand that all of this rapid change creates anxiety, and uncertainty. Especially when it means changing how we live. That’s why today I am going to set out for you as clearly as possible, what you can expect as we continue to fight the virus together.
The first really important thing to remember, is that the vast majority of people who will ever have COVID 19 will only experience mild to moderate symptoms. But there will be some who need more care.
That’s why we have to focus on one simple goal – to slow down Covid 19.
Slowing it down, means not having one big tidal wave of cases, but instead, smaller waves - groups of cases that we can manage properly as they arise. That means we reduce the impact on health, on jobs and on our economy. Some countries have successfully managed to do this –but it does mean we have to be ready to step up our action when we need to.
Here’s how we will know what to do and when.
Already in New Zealand we have warning systems to try and get ahead of problems and hazards. We all know and recognise signs that tell us when we have fire risk Or when to reduce our water use.
Today I am announcing an alert system for COVID-19. That alert system can apply to the whole country, but sometimes, it may only apply to certain towns or cities.
There are four levels to the alert system. At each level there are things we need you to do, to keep you safe. And there are things the government will do too.
Alert Level One is where COVID-19 is here, but contained. In this phase we prepare. The basics, like border measures, contact tracing, and cancelling mass gatherings are activated. You’ll see that this is where we have been when COVID first arrived in New Zealand.
Alert Level Two is where the disease is contained but the risks are growing because we have more cases. This is when we move to reduce our contact with one another. We increase our border measures, and we cancel events. This is also the level where we ask people to work differently if they can, and cancel unnecessary travel.
Alert Level Three is where the disease is increasingly difficult to contain. This is where we restrict our contact by stepping things up again. We close public venues and ask non-essential businesses to close.
Alert Level Four is where we have sustained transmission. This is where we eliminate contact with each other altogether. We keep essential services going but ask everyone to stay at home until COVID-19 is back under control.
It’s important to note, that at every alert level supermarkets and essential services, like access to pharmaceuticals will continue. Shop normally. If we do that, our supermarkets will have time to restock their shelves.
We will use this alert system every time we update our cases, so you’ll know if the status in your area has gone up, or down, or stayed the same. And what you’ll need to do.
Today I am confirming that New Zealand is at alert level two.
That means the risk of community transmission is growing, and so to stay ahead and reduce the chances of the wave growing, we need to step things up.
We already have many of the measures for level two in place. But there are some that are new.
Here are the things that we need from you:
Today we are asking people over 70 years of age, or people who have compromised immunity or have underlying respiratory conditions to stay at home as much as they can.
That means we need friends, family and neighbours to support our older New Zealanders and people who may be in this group by doing simple things like keeping in contact and dropping off food or other supplies. And when you do, make sure you are not sick, that you are using good handwashing practices, and keeping your distance.
We also need everyone to start working differently. Many offices have plans for workers to work from home. Others have staggered meal breaks or shift based working. We are now asking you to implement these plans.
We know not everyone can do this. We need and will continue to have health and emergency professionals, transport and delivery staff, supermarket and food production workers, and other essential people continuing on at their place of work. And there are some sectors where work from home is impossible. There are steps these workplaces should take all the same, like additional cleaning, and physical distancing as much as possible.
And finally, we are asking that you limit your movement around the country. This will help us track and contain any spread of COVID-19. That means cutting non-essential domestic travel.
Every unnecessary movement gives COVID-19 a chance to spread.
For those of you who are parents or caregivers, you will have questions about schools and education facilities. At alert level two, schools will be closed if there is a case that effects a school, as we have been doing to date. That may change if we move into higher alert levels. Sending children home at this stage though, doesn’t necessarily reduce transmission in the community, but I can assure you we are constantly monitoring these settings to keep children safe. As a mum, I can assure you that is my key consideration.
Finally, this is a time when I know people will want as much information as possible. It’s also a time when there is plenty of mis-information. All the advice from the government about COVID-19 and how it affects you is available at www.covid19.govt.nz including more detailed guidance on this announcement.
Till then, I know this current situations is causing huge disruption and uncertainty. And right now I cannot tell you when that will end. This alert system is designed to help us through that – so please do stay tuned as we share daily updates – especially as alert levels can move from one level to the next in a short space of time, as we have seen elsewhere in the world.
For now, I ask that New Zealand does what we do so well. We are a country that is creative, practical, and community minded. We may not have experienced anything like this in our lifetimes, but we know how to rally and we know how to look after one another, and right now what could be more important than that. So thank you for all that you’re about to do.
Please be strong, be kind, and unite against COVID-19.