21 Apr 2020

Covid-19: Epidemic Response Committee to probe decision to extend level 4 lockdown

6:58 am on 21 April 2020

Cabinet ministers will face questions this morning over whether their decision to extend the level 4 lockdown will do more harm than good.

National leader Simon Bridges speaks to media during a press conference at Parliament on April 09, 2020 in Wellington, New Zealand.

Simon Bridges says he has significant questions to ask. Photo: Pool / Getty Images

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday announced New Zealand would shift to alert level 3 from Tuesday next week - five days later than originally planned.

The position was pitched as "a balanced approach", taking into account health, the economy, and public sentiment. Business voices had called for the lockdown to be lifted this week, while some health advocates had argued for a two-week extension.

"We considered that the longer we are in lockdown, the less likely it is we will need to go back," Ardern told media.

"Cabinet wanted to make sure we lock in our gains and give ourselves some additional certainty."

The caution contrasts with Opposition calls for a much looser lockdown like that in Australia where retail, construction, and manufacturing continues.

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National MPs will pursue the case on the Epidemic Response Committee this morning, putting questions to the Ministers for Finance, Small Business, and Employment.

National Party leader Simon Bridges said he had "very significant" questions about the extension's impact on the economy, warning that many thousands of businesses and their workers would struggle under the longer lockdown.

"Every day counts for small businesses," he said. "My worry is that a further week is a case of the medicine, potentially, being worse than the cure."

Bridges said even alert level 3 seemed too stringent, describing it as "Level 3-point-9".

New Zealand should look to its "cousins across the ditch" in Australia for a better model, he said.

"Fundamentally, they've got very similar [health] outcomes to here, and they have managed to keep businesses operating, from mines to construction to baristas."

What next?

New Zealand will move to level 3 from 28 April and stay there for at least a fortnight. Cabinet will consider the next move at its meeting on 11 May.

"We will move if we can and if we're ready," Ardern said. "But only when we're ready, and only when it's safe."

This week business owners would be permitted to return to their workplace to receive stock if necessary and to prepare to reopen.

Roughly half a million more people are expected to return to work under level 3, as businesses which can operate safely are allowed to get back underway. Workers will still be required to work from home if possible.

"Important industries like construction, manufacturing and forestry will be able to open, as will retail so long as it is contactless retail," Ardern said.

Restaurants will also be able to provide takeaways.

People can slightly expand their "bubble" to include close family, but are still directed to stay at home outside of essential activities and not to travel outside their region.

Schools and early learning centres would reopen for students up to Year 10 from 29 April, but parents would be encouraged to keep their children at home if possible.

"It may take a bit longer for some schools and early learning centres to be ready," Ardern said.

Ardern yesterday acknowledged level 3 was not a dramatic relaxation and said that was intentional.

"If we want to make sure that we are a health success story, and ensure our economy can start to operate again without the virus taking off, we need to get the next phase right.

"The worst thing we can do for our country is to yo-yo between levels, with all of the uncertainty that this would bring."

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