Coronavirus: National will still hold Govt to account, Bridges 'supportive' of new measures

The Opposition will play an integral role in holding the Government to account throughout the country's worsening outbreak of COVID-19, with leader Simon Bridges showing support for the latest protocols, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday. 

New Zealand's COVID-19 alert system was raised to Level 3 on Monday following the announcement of 36 new cases, indicating that restricting the spread of the virus is now imperative. The country's case total has climbed to 102.

Yet 3 will rise to 4, the maximum level, in 48 hours - which is accompanied by new and stringent measures. Employees are required to work from home, schools and non-essential businesses will be closed, public transport will be restricted and all New Zealanders should isolate at home as much as possible. 

Ardern confirmed she will remain in Wellington throughout this period. Other ministers will carry out their duties remotely.

"My intention is to be based here. This enables me to be as close I can to those who are helping to run the operation from the central Government over the coming weeks," she announced during a press conference on Monday.

"My contact with others will be very limited. We're currently working through protocols for how I can continue to convey information and get questioned by the media, so we can keep up those accountabilities. These are things we'll work through over the next 48 hours. I anticipate I will only really be present here in this building and the building in which I live."

Ardern, 39, reiterated that other ministers will work from home "in the same way other New Zealanders are expected to".

The Opposition and accountability

Ardern acknowledged that Opposition Leader Simon Bridges is "supportive" of the new measures, the majority of which will be implemented nationwide as of midnight Wednesday.

The Opposition will remain involved in the Government's decisions, Ardern confirmed, to ensure accountability is held.

"I've mentioned to [Bridges] that there are some elements that require the scrutiny of Parliament - the epidemic notice, Civil Defence powers - and we will work through that in a way that is responsible and aligns with what we have said today," Ardern said.

"I've proposed a 'select committee' of some sort to allow a scrutiny function to the Government over this period of time... I want to give the public confidence that there will still be accountability and we will be enabling the Opposition to play that role [remotely]."

The Prime Minister dismissed the prospect of a grand coalition.

"We'll provide that role for the Opposition to be kept up to date, to make sure they're able to apply their role as those who are to hold us to account - through a different form while we're in this remote situation."

She reiterated that having a plan and moving quickly is imperative to containing the spread of the virus. 

National supports Govt's decision to extend economic package

In a statement on Monday, Bridges reiterated that National supports the Government's decision to move New Zealand towards level four of the alert system and to extend the economic package for all businesses.

"We will work in a supportive and constructive way with the Government in the interests of bringing New Zealand through this crisis together. I have offered the Government the services of our MPs and staff to assist where we can," Bridges said.

"We are pleased to see the cap lifted for all businesses to receive support. This is the right thing to do... the Opposition will continue to play an important role to ensure the best decisions are being made in the interests of all New Zealanders."