How does Australia's COVID-19 response compare to New Zealand?

Staff wearing face masks outside the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPA) in Camperdown, Sydney. Source: AAP

New Zealand has moved into four weeks of lockdown which the country's prime minister has described as "the most significant restriction on New Zealanders' movements in modern history". How does Australia compare?

Australia has roughly five times the population of New Zealand and more than 10 times the number of COVID-19 cases - with at least 2,398 people confirmed to have the virus and eight deaths.

But despite the larger population size and a greater number of cases, the Australian government is currently taking a far less extreme approach.

Customers queue to enter a supermarket in Christchurch.
Customers queue to enter a supermarket in Christchurch.

New Zealand has moved into its highest alert level as citizens are ordered into self-isolation for the next month.

Under the measures, police will be patrolling the streets demanding citizens stay home. Only a few essential services will remain open.

"We know that this is a big ask. Eradicating the disease is vital to protect people's health and ensure our health system can cope and look after New Zealanders who become sick," the New Zealand government's page on COVID-19 says.

A doubling in the country's coronavirus cases prompted New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to act. 

"I ask that New Zealanders do their part. Stay home, break the chain, save lives."

Although there have been no deaths in the country, the number of cases has jumped to 205. 

To bring the measures into effect, an Epidemic Notice was issued and the country's second-ever state of emergency declared. The 2011 Christchurch earthquake was the last time a state of emergency was declared. 

People are being told to stay at home - excluding those working in essential services - with contact to be limited to household members. While outdoors, a  two metre distance must be maintained. 

Law Professor Andrew Geddis from the University of Otago said the combination of measures gives powers to the government that "haven't been seen since the 1951 waterfront dispute".

"The police [and the army, if needed to support the police] are empowered to order any person to stop any activity that contributes to the current emergency - essentially, spreading COVID-19 in the community.

"Government ministers may set aside virtually any legislative provision that becomes impracticable to apply while the epidemic is in force.

"These give the state extraordinary reach into our lives, and transfer extraordinary power to the executive branch. They are a marker of just how severe the threat that this virus poses to us all."

In contrast, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced social distancing measures have been stepped up, but stopped short of a strict lockdown like those rolled out in Britain and New Zealand in recent days. 

A number of so-called non-essential businesses have closed but exceptions have been made; and so far there is no ban on the opening of primary and high schools.

Mr Morrison acknowledged there were some in the community calling for a full lockdown.

Scott Morrison tells Australians to stay home unless 'absolutely necessary' to go out
Scott Morrison tells Australians to stay home unless 'absolutely necessary' to go out

"Be careful what you wish for on something like that. Be very careful. Because that would need to be sustained for a very long time," he said on Tuesday evening as he announced the stepped-up measures.

"And that could have a very significant and even more onerous impact on life in Australia."

Self-isolation rules

Australia: House visits to be kept to a minimum with very small numbers of guests.

New Zealand: No interaction with other people outside households, except immediate family (partner, children).


Australia: Work from home encouraged if feasible.

New Zealand: Work from home mandatory where possible with only essential workers to leave their house.

Restaurants and food delivery  

Australia: Takeaway only for restaurants. Food delivery services allowed.

New Zealand: Restaurants completely shut. Food delivery services banned.


Australia: Open for haircuts under 30 minutes.

New Zealand: Closed.


Australia: Gyms closed, personal training limited to groups under 10.

New Zealand: Solo runs or dog-walking allowed.


Australia: Allowed for the couple, the celebrant and two witnesses.

New Zealand: Banned.


Australia: Up to states. Largely open or on school holidays.

New Zealand: Closed.

Cases (as of Wednesday 6pm AEDT)

Australia: 2,398 cases (up from 1,091 on Saturday) and eight deaths.

New Zealand: 205 cases (up from 52 on Saturday) and zero deaths.

Australians must stay at least 1.5 metres away from other people. Indoors, there must be a density of no more than one person per four square metres of floor space.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor, don’t visit, or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

Additional reporting: AAP

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