Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the new rules, which begin from midnight Sunday local time, will mean New Zealand will have the world’s toughest restrictions yet.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addresses a press conference in Christchurch, New Zealand.
“Cabinet made far-reaching and unprecedented decisions today because these are unprecedented circumstances,” Ardern said, according to Radio NZ.
The countries exempt from the restrictions are a handful of Pacific islands that haven’t yet had any cases of COVID-19.
New Zealand has had only six confirmed cases of the illness. All of those have been connected with international travelers and there have been no signs of any local outbreaks.
“This decision will mean New Zealand will have the widest-ranging and toughest border restrictions of any country in the world,” Ardern added, adding they are encouraging Kiwis to avoid non-essential travel overseas to “reduce the risk of a New Zealander bringing COVID-19 in.”
She continued: “We do not take these decisions lightly, we know these travel restrictions will place a significant strain on the aviation industry and we anticipate some routes will reduce or cease for a period of time.”
The measures will be reviewed in 16 days.
Officials acknowledged the new measures will have a big impact on the country’s tourism industry, which provides New Zealand’s largest single source of foreign income.
Countries around the world are grappling with the widespread epidemic of coronavirus, which has seen more than 140,000 cases in 123 countries since it first emerged in late December in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Outside of China, the two most-affected countries were Italy and Iran.
On Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Europe was the new epicenter of the pandemic “with more reported cases and deaths than the rest of (the) world combined apart from China.”
“More cases are now being reported every day than were reported in China at the height of its epidemic,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, said Friday night.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.