4 Mar 2020

Coronavirus: Govt moves to remove income support stand-down period

4:15 pm on 4 March 2020

Government ministers have agreed "in principle" to remove the stand-down period from people seeking income support from MSD due to Covid-19, the Prime Minister has announced.

Jacinda Ardern has briefed media on the Covid-19 coronavirus response.

Watch the latest briefing here:

She said ministers would be meeting regularly as a Cabinet committee on Wednesdays specifically to discuss the response to Covid-19.

"At any point that health officials have advice that they need to extend our border restrictions or self-isolation requirements, they are to bring ministers with power together immediately at any time of day. As I said before, we've done that once already."

She there were more details on removing the stand-down for assistance from Work and Income to be worked out before the Cabinet meeting on Monday.

Ardern said MSD was estimating people fiscally affected was in the low hundreds, but she suspected the true number was far more than that.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the government is working through the possibility of direct support to businesses region by region, and sector by sector

There are now two confirmed cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand; a woman in her 30s who recently returned from a trip to Italy, and a woman in her 60s who tested positive after travelling from Iran.

The woman's partner was also showing symptoms and was being tested this afternoon.

There are also concerns about stocks of protective gear for medical staff, which are normally supplied by factories based in Wuhan, the city where the disease originated.

Read more about the Covid-19 coronavirus:

Ardern earlier sought to reassure the public about New Zealand's preparedness.

"What I want to provide reassurance around is that New Zealand has experienced these situations before, last was in 2009.

"We are equipped to deal with these situations, we have a plan that has been operationalised", she said.

Ardern said New Zealanders had a role to play too.

"Good hygiene, staying home when they're unwell, making sure they wash their hands, catch their cough, those are all things that do make a difference", she said.

She said the case showed that not all Covid-19 cases would require hospital treatment.

"Self-isolation in these cases is of course one of the most effective things we can do to stop the spread of influenza-style illnesses ... there will be cases that will be mild-to-moderate and can be appropriately dealt with at home."

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters defended the government's decision to only put travel restrictions in place for people returning from northern Italy on Monday.

"We've done as much as we could with the greatest speed that we could alongside the fastest reactions from other countries as well, all on the same timetable.

"We've made all the preparations and precautions possible at this point in time, but you know, we're all internationally sharing information to see how much more we need to know before we react", Peters said.

A Cabinet committee of senior ministers covering relevant portfolios is having its first meeting today.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said that was so decisions could be made more quickly.

"It gives us two decision points in a week, both the Cabinet meeting on the Monday and the committee meeting on the Wednesday, allows us to respond quickly, take on board any new information", he said.

The committee would keep a close eye on the changing situation and any necessary response, Robertson said, including any further restrictions at the border.

Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford visited the East Coast yesterday; the forestry industry is being hit hard by export restrictions.

The minister met with families and workers at breaking point, the situation for many forestry workers in Tairawhiti.

Today at Parliament when asked about their pleas for help, Twyford told reporters the government was working as fast as it could "to see what of the ideas that were pitched" to him during his visit.

"We know it's urgent, the social consequences of people being without jobs, often facing debts, are pretty dramatic - we're on the job".

But the ministers were not considering direct cash injections, he said, other than what was already on offer from the Ministry of Social Development in the form of jobseeker and hardship grants.

Total infections worldwide have topped 93,000, with deaths now over 3100. Nearly all cases and deaths have been in China but the numbers in Iran, Italy and South Korea have continued to grow.

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