It’s perhaps a measure of our priorities, here at Point of Order, but we hastened to digest the contents of a press statement yesterday from Commerce Minister Kri Faafoi. It let us know when the pubs will be open again and the constraints that will be applied to the service they provide.
This was one of several statements made in recent days about government decisions related to Covid-19 and the alert levels which are gradually being eased back from the extreme lockdown of Alert Level 4.
It so happens today is International Nurses Day, and Health Minister David Clark has risen to the occasion by announcing three initiatives to support the health and disability workforce through accommodation, mental health support and access to specialist clinical advice on COVID-19.
The Minister of Munificence, Shane Jones, has made an announcement, too, but it had nothing to do with Covid-19 – at least not directly. He was dishing out more money from the Provincial Growth Fund (to a Maori project in his home patch of Northland) and could argue it is intended to help with the economic recovery as the nation gradually gets back to work.
Then there was an announcement of the pre-Budget variety, signalling a $151.1 million funding boost over four years for early learning services to improve the pay of up to 17,000 qualified teachers working in education and care services.
But the most widely awaited (and welcomed) news to emanate from the Beehive yesterday was the PM’s announcement that we can start stepping down from Alert Level 3 from Thursday.
This was accompanied by a statement from Attorney-General David Parker about his intention to introduce legislation to Parliament today to make sure everything is above board legally.
We had to wait patiently for the announcement of the step-down in alert levels – until paragraph 25, some 750 words into Ardern’s speech – while our kindly PM delivered some touchy-feely stuff about the sacrifices New Zealanders have made during the six and a half weeks we have been in Alert Levels 4 and 3, and about the deaths of loved ones and people being unable to say goodbye and mourn properly, and about children who wrote to the PM about missing birthdays (“there were many of them), or cancelled weddings or anniversaries that weren’t commemorated.
We wonder what the PM was supposed to do in response to this correspondence.
Eventually she got around to saying that – at the time of her announcement – only 90 New Zealanders were recorded as having the virus, of whom only two were in hospital; the country is geared to undertake up to 12,000 tests a day; 3.5 per cent of the entire population has been tested; and we can now contact trace 185 cases a day and have capacity to contact 10,000 people a day through a new national call centre, established since the beginning of the outbreak.
And then (shouldn’t there have been a drum roll?) …
“ … today I am announcing that Cabinet agrees we are ready to move into Level 2, to open up the economy, but to do it as safely as possible.”
On Thursday this week retail, malls, cafes, restaurants, cinemas and other public spaces including playgrounds and gyms, can reopen. All will be required to have physical distancing and strict hygiene measures in place.
We can begin to move around New Zealand, but space ourselves out especially if we’re using public transport.
Prime ministerial permission to space ourselves out? That’s got to make this a momentous happening.
Bearing in mind the challenge to the legality of the way we have been constrained under Levels 4 and 3, the Attorney-General’s statement was important, too.
He said a new law providing a legal framework for Covid-19 Alert Level 2 will be introduced and dealt with under great urgency: the Government intends to pass the COVID-19 Public Health Response Bill through all stages today so it can be enacted by tomorrow.
Enforceability to date has relied on the Epidemic Notice, the Health Act and the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act.
“There will be fewer restrictions under Alert Level 2 but those remaining still need to be enforceable. We don’t want these narrower controls to rely on a National State of Emergency.
“We believe the vast majority of New Zealanders want to ‘do the right thing’,” David Parker said.
“However, the regulatory backup provided by the new law allows us to address behaviour at Alert Level 2 that is particularly harmful to the public health objective, and to demonstrate to those who are complying voluntarily that non-compliance will not be tolerated,” he said.
“We need the legislation in place before Level 2 starts.
“The Government has assessed there is not time for the usual select committee process but we do want a necessarily brief opportunity for comment on the bill. Therefore we have released a disclosure draft of the Bill to the Opposition and experts, and have invited comment on it by 10am, Tuesday 12 May.”
And lest anyone get the wrong idea …
“I reiterate there has been no gap in the legal underpinning or in the enforcement powers under the notices that have been issued under Level 3 and Level 4. This bill does not retrospectively change them.”
Here’s the latest from the Beehive at time of writing –
12 MAY 2020
Additional supports for frontline health and disability workers announced on International Nurses Day
- Temporary accommodation for health and disability workers living with a vulnerable person
Hon Dr David Clark
11 MAY 2020
Hospitality to open under ANZAC Day-style rules in COVID Alert Level 2
The Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Kris Faafoi, has confirmed that bars and pubs will be able to open once New Zealand moves to COVID Alert Level 2 so long as they make sure they seat pat
Hon Kris Faafoi
Commerce and Consumer Affairs
11 MAY 2020
Pay increases for lowest paid teachers
Budget 2020 provides a $151.1 million funding boost over four years for early learning services to improve the pay of up to 17,000 qualified teachers working in education and care services.
Hon Chris Hipkins Hon Tracey Martin
11 MAY 2020
Covid-19 response: New legal framework to be debated tomorrow ahead of Alert Level 2
A new law providing a legal framework for Covid-19 Alert Level 2 will be introduced and debated tomorrow.
Hon David Parker
11 MAY 2020
Level 2 announcement
I want to start today by acknowledging the sacrifices New Zealanders have made over the six and a half weeks we have been in Alert Levels 4 and 3 in order to beat COVID-19.
Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern
11 MAY 2020
PGF funding to improve Māori land
The Provincial Growth Fund is providing more than $1.5 million to two Whenua Māori farming operations in Northland so under-utilised land can be restored to higher productivity and profitability, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones says.
Hon Shane Jones
Regional Economic Development