The government is giving itself the legal power to do whatever it takes to control the spread of COVID-19.
Civil Defence Minister Peeni Henare declared a State of National Emergency at 12.21pm, Wednesday.
This is only the second time in New Zealand’s history a State of National Emergency has been declared - the first time was following the February 2011 Canterbury earthquakes.
Speaking in the House at Parliament before it shuts down until April 28, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said this is being done to “preserve our way of life” in New Zealand.
Under the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act 2002, the Civil Defence Emergency Management Director can direct, coordinate and use the resources made available to manage the response to COVID-19.
The director, Sarah Stuart-Black, can also control the exercise and performance of functions, duties, and powers of Civil Defence Emergency Management Groups and Group Controllers across the country.
Civil Defence Emergency Management Controllers will be able to provide for the:
- conservation and supply of food, fuel and other essential supplies
- regulate land, water and air traffic
- close roads and public places
- evacuate any premises, including any public place,
- exclude people or vehicles from any premises or place.
The State of National Emergency will be in place for a week and can be renewed.
“This declaration helps us limit our exposure, and the exposure of the most vulnerable members of our community, to COVID-19. In short, it will help save lives,” Ardern said.
There were 47 new cases of COVID-19 and three probable cases confirmed on Wednesday. This brings the total number of confirmed and probable cases up to 205.
"We will see a rise in cases for the next ten days, from people infected before today," the Ministry of Health said.
"The numbers will continue to increase before they turn around. That turnaround will happen if we all do what is asked of us."
Ardern went on to say an Epidemic Notice, which was issued yesterday (Tuesday) and has taken effect today (Wednesday), further helps authorities “manage effectively shutting down the country for the first time”.
“It does a number of things including allowing for special powers of medical officers of health - and immediately unlocks powers under the Corrections, Health and Electoral Acts,” she said.
“But importantly an Epidemic Notice sits as an umbrella over further notices that can now be issued, and which have now been issued, to change and modify specific parts of legislation in a common-sense and pragmatic way to keep our systems working in a time of lockdown - and get rid of particular requirements that are impractical to comply with in a time of an epidemic and when in lockdown…
“The restrictions in place on New Zealanders’ movements are the most significant in our modern history. I do not underestimate the gravity of what is being asked of you. But we have a limited window of opportunity and we must use every weapon we have.
“New Zealanders want to see that these measures are being complied with but in a way that we’re used to seeing as New Zealanders.
“As Police Commissioner Mike Bush said, the Police and the Military will be working together and there is assistance at the ready as required. If people do not follow the message here today, then the police will remind people of their obligations. They have the ability to escalate if required. They can arrest if needed, they can detain if needed.
“But these are tools of last resort, in a time when I know New Zealanders will rally. Because that is what we do.”
A special select committee, chaired by Opposition Leader Simon Bridges, will be meet remotely a few times a week while Parliament is shut down.
Government ministers and public servants will appear before the committee of MPs and be scrutinised. See more on this here.
Ardern ended her speech saying: “And so, as we enter into a stage that none of us have experienced before, I want to share a few final messages.
“Firstly, you are not alone. You will hear us, and see us, daily as we guide New Zealand through this period. It won’t always be perfect. But the principle of what we are trying to do is the right one.
“Secondly, success won’t be instant. The benefit of what we do today, won’t be felt for many days to come. Expect our numbers to keep rising, because they will. But over time, we will see change if we all stick to the rules.
“Thirdly, you may not be at work, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a job. Your job is to save lives, and you can do that by staying home, and breaking the chain.
“And finally, if you have any questions about what you can or can’t do, apply a simple principle. Act like you have COVID-19. Every move you then make is a risk to someone else. That is how we must all collectively think.”