New Zealand will go into lockdown for four weeks starting 25 March to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

“These decisions will place the most significant restriction on New Zealanders’ movements in modern history,” prime minister Jacinda Ardern stated in a public address today.

“This is not a decision taken lightly. But this is our best chance to slow the virus and to save lives.”

She said people will have to get home over the next 48h and that air transport providers have been asked to ensure social distancing on planes.

“After 48h we will be moving to air travel only applying to the transport of people undertaking essential services and the transport of freight.”

The lockdown will likely hit Air New Zealand’s capacity further.

“The team [at Air New Zealand] are working through the implications of this afternoon’s announcement,” chief revenue officer Cam Wallace said on Twitter after the prime minister’s announcement today.

On 20 March, the carrier announced that the government has granted it a NZ$900 million ($510 million) standby loan facility.

In a same-day media briefing, chief executive Greg Foran said that Air New Zealand’s flight operations had already dropped from about 3,600 per week to 1,500.

The carrier’s website says that it has implemented social distancing measures on its planes. For those travelling on regional ATR or Bombardier Q300 aircraft, it will seat people in window seats while leaving the adjacent aisle seat vacant. For domestic jet aircraft, it will keep the middle seats free.