2 Apr 2020

Epidemic Response Committee holds third meeting

1:19 pm on 2 April 2020

The Epidemic Response Committee held its third meeting today.

Civil Defence national director Sarah Stuart-Black and Police Commissioner Mike Bush.

Civil Defence national director Sarah Stuart-Black and Police Commissioner Mike Bush. Photo: NZME/Dom Thomas for RNZ

Yesterday, unemployment, rent freezes for commercial property tenants and why butchers and bakers are not considered essential businesses was discussed.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush, Civil Defence national director Sarah Stuart-Black, Minister of Customs Jenny Salesa and Comptroller of NZ Customs Service Christine Stevenson were in today's hot seat, taking questions on New Zealand's Covid-19 response.

The committee was set up to ensure the government's response to Covid-19 is still scrutinised while Parliament is adjourned.

Professor John Hopkins from Canterbury University Law School, an expert in disaster law and multi-level governance, is also taking questions from the committee.

Prof Hopkins says the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act is a problematic one to rely upon because it relies on police officers and Civil Defence guidelines and can lead to confusion. He says guidelines should be made public and debated so they can be scrutinised.

Prof Hopkins said the State of Emergency should only last as long as needs to, and not be a long-term situation.

"We're settling into the long haul and to get everybody on board we need to move away from the state of emergency rules".

He said we need a single point of authority, however he said the Christchurch earthquake body CERA was an example of what not to do and hopes we'll learn from those mistakes.

National Party leader and committee chair Simon Bridges asked Commissioner Bush if police could provide guidelines about what constitutes staying in your neighbourhood.

Commissioner Bush says it's certainly a grey zone but no one will be prosecuted for being in doubt about whether they are or not.

National MP Mark Mitchell said it's a big problem for New Zealanders and it needs more clarity.

"We have it as an action point to do that," Commissioner Bush said. "We absolutely need clarity."

National MP Nikki Kaye asked Civil Defence Director Sarah Stuart-Black whether there should more transparency about the stock levels of things like PPE so that private industries might be able to assist in the case of shortages.

Stuart-Black said it's a complex situation over a number of different workstreams but they are aiming to provide more clarity on stock levels and there had been several offers coming in over a range of things.

"There's a massive response from the private sector," she says.

National MP Michael Woodhouse asked Christine Stevenson from NZ Customs why Auckland Domestic Airport had a PA announcement that passengers should remain one metre apart rather than the recommended two metres.

Stevenson said she would be calling the airport immediately after the committee meeting.

Minister of Customs Jenny Salesa said the organisation has been able to keep on top of its normal operations, such as keeping drugs out of the country, while dealing with Covid-19.

Stevenson said Customs was holding up well and those who can work from home are.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs)