New Zealand PM bans mass gatherings, says impact of coronavirus on economy will be significant

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand banned gatherings of 500 people or more on Monday to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warned of tough action against anyone who violates new self-isolation rules for people arriving in the country.

New Zealand has had eight cases of the coronavirus and no deaths.

Ardern also warned that the economic impact of the coronavirus could be “greater than the global financial crisis” but promised that a proposed fiscal package would help ease some of the burden on businesses and individuals.

Ardern said the ban on mass gatherings applied to festivals, fairs and sporting events but schools and universities would be exempt for now.

Ardern announced on Saturday that everyone entering the country must isolate themselves for 14 days.

“There will be zero tolerance for people who do not follow rules of self-isolation,” the prime minister told a news conference.

People who do not comply with the rules could be detained and deported, she said. More than 10,500 people had self-isolated, she said.

New Zealand’s central bank slashed interest rates by 75 basis points to a record low on Monday following an emergency meeting, as it prepared for a hit to the economy from the coronavirus.

The first phase of the business continuity package is to be announced on Tuesday.

“At this point, we cannot be sure of the impact but we can be sure it will be significant,” Ardern said, referring to the effect of the outbreak on New Zealand’s economy.

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