Coronavirus: COVID-19 law 'much better' than the first lockdown, Government has 'raft of power' - expert

Legislation which gives the Government authority to enforce alert level 3 restrictions in Auckland is "much better" than New Zealand's first lockdown, with decision-makers having a "raft of power" behind them, a prominent law expert says.

The Government on Wednesday placed Auckland into COVID-19 alert level 3 following renewed community transmission, while the rest of the country moved to alert level 2.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said on Thursday further cases were expected after four members of the family were diagnosed with the respiratory disease, which was acquired from an unknown source.

University of Waikato law professor Alexander Gillespie said the laws being rolled out of Parliament for this lockdown are "much better" than the first.

"Although the Government is talking with nice words, they have a raft of power behind them," he said on Thursday.

"This time, if it gets worse, I don't think you are going to see community road-blocks; while powers over issues such as mandatory testing are very clear."

With the nation's alert levels to be reassessed on Friday, the Government will take into account the extent of the Auckland outbreak and whether it has reached other parts of the country. Dr Bloomfield and other Ministry of Health officials will meet with the Cabinet before a decision is announced.

"We don't know yet the extent of the outbreak - that's our absolute priority - find the extent and ring-fence it," Dr Bloomfield told The AM Show on Thursday.

"By the middle of the day tomorrow [Friday] we will have a lot more information from the testing that's been happening both in Auckland and around the country, and that will be hugely helpful in terms of our advice to the Government on what to do next."

Under alert level 3, people are told to stay in their household bubbles. Gatherings of up are only permitted for wedding services, funerals, and tangihanga.

"If there's a gathering greater than the permitted size then, yes, we may enter and deal with the situation - using powers of entry is the last resort - normally we can go and knock at the front door and have a conversation and we sort it out, so I believe that power was used only once or twice in the previous lockdown," Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said on Thursday.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday night Auckland entering alert level 3 was a "precautionary measure". The word "precautionary" is being used in Government messages for a reason, Prof Gillespie said.

Prof Al Gillespie.
Prof Al Gillespie. Photo credit: File

"This is a legal term of art, which deals with the ability of decision-makers to make decisions when all of the evidence is not yet conclusive."

Dr Bloomfield said he's confident officials are doing a good job of containing the outbreak. 

New Zealand reported four new probable cases of COVID-19 in the community on Wednesday, and one in managed isolation. A positive case was also confirmed at Mt Albert Grammar School on Thursday.

Dr Bloomfield will hold a news briefing at 1pm to provide an official COVID-19 update.