Jacinda Ardern orders four-week lockdown for New Zealand to battle coronavirus outbreak

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Source: AAP

A spike in coronavirus cases has prompted the New Zealand government to lift its coronavirus alert level setting from two to four.

New Zealand is moving to a near-complete societal lockdown within 48 hours as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern aims to seize on a "window of opportunity" to contain COVID-19.

Military personnel will join with police in enforcing nationwide self-isolation under the unprecedented restrictions.

Schools and non-essential businesses will close as the government ramps up its public coronavirus advisory to the maximum level from Thursday.

"Now is the time to put our plans into action," Ms Ardern said.

"We need to act now, or risk the virus taking hold as it has elsewhere.

"We currently have 102 cases, but so did Italy once."

Ms Ardern's announcement came as New Zealand confirmed a jump of 36 positive tests for the virus in the past 24 hours, including the first two cases of community transmission.

New Zealand has recorded 102 cases, and no deaths, of COVID-19.

By comparison, Australia has recorded at least 1600 cases.

The draconian measures, championed by public health experts and supported by all of New Zealand's political parties, will change life as Kiwis know it.

Everyday interactions will be limited to within households.

Kiwis will be allowed outside to walk the dog, or exercise, or to visit supermarkets or health services.

But outside of industries deemed "essential" - including health and emergency services workers, police, some public servants and media - citizens will be asked to stay home.

Fears of inundated health system

Ms Ardern said fresh advice and modelling in the case of widespread transmission made the lockdown essential.

"If community transmission takes off in New Zealand the number of cases will double every five days," she said.

"If that happens unchecked, our health system will be inundated, and tens of thousands of New Zealanders will die.

Parliament will also be recalled for an emergency session on Wednesday, in which Ms Ardern will table an epidemic notice to enforce the lockdown.

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