Monday, February 26, 2024

COVID powers to be wound back

Acting Minister for COVID-19 Response, Chris Hipkins, has announced a winding back of the Government’s extraordinary powers used to fight COVID-19 through the emergency phase of the response.

“Today is a significant milestone. The Government has been clear that the measures used to contain the spread of COVID-19 need to be proportionate to the risk of the virus, so it’s appropriate to wind down many of the extraordinary powers that are no longer needed,” Mr Hipkins said.

“What were once justified and served our country well should now be removed. With these changes, the legal framework matches the risk.”

The Government is also revoking the Epidemic Notice, which represents a move away from emergency arrangements to long-term management of the virus.

“Now, we can manage the virus with tools such as widened availability of anti-virals, without having to resort to the most restrictive measures,” he said.

“Ministers have been reviewing the COVD-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 to ensure it is fit for purpose now that we’re through the emergency response.

The Minister said a small number of baseline measures will be retained to contain the spread of the virus.

“The Government’s plan before the end of the year is to remove the most restrictive powers from the Act that are no longer required for the response, while still ensuring we can practically manage the ongoing impact of COVID-19.”

“It will retain an ability to put in place case isolation periods and mask-wearing requirements and if necessary, requirements on travellers that can be called on if things change and we need to step up our response, but most other measures, including lockdowns, will be removed.  

“Under the new plan, if other measures – beyond isolation periods, mask-wearing and traveller requirements – were needed we would need to pass new legislation to enable these. 

“Keeping a basic legal framework in place provides sufficient time to consult on and design a replacement general pandemic piece of legislation that would set New Zealand in good stead for any future events, rather than having to start from scratch as we had to in 2020,” Mr Hipkins said.      

Ending on Thursday is the current requirement for travellers flying to New Zealand by air having to complete the online New Zealand Traveller Declaration.

Customs Minister, Meka Whaitiri said the New Zealand Traveller Declaration (NZTD) has been a vital tool in supporting the safe re-opening of our borders.

“The NZTD is an integral part of modernising Aotearoa’s border experience and the New Zealand Customs Service is working with border agencies to replace the paper arrival card with the online NZTD system by June 2023,” Minister Whaitiri said.

Cabinet agreed yesterday to follow health advice and retain the 7-day isolation period for cases and mask-wearing requirements for visitors in certain healthcare settings for the time being, Minister Hipkins said.

“These core measures remain important, with indications of an upward trend in cases and growing concern about new Omicron subvariants that are driving waves of infection overseas.”

“We have seen a slight uptick in cases and hospitalisations in the last couple of weeks. This was to be expected, and for now, these tools continue to prove effective in dampening the impact of the virus on the health system and in protecting the most vulnerable.

“The next review of these measures will be by the end of November 2022,” he said.

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