Coronavirus: What emergency powers the government will get

The government has revealed the powers it has under a state of emergency to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

New Zealand is now under a level 3 alert, and will go into alert level 4 at 11:59pm on Wednesday.

"We are now utilizing the Public Health Act and I will be issuing an epidemic notice, which gives us a range of additional powers to move into the status we're talking about - level 4 - and of course we are in a national civil defence emergency," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Monday afternoon during her stand-up.

Also speaking at the stand-up, Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) director Sarah Stuart-Black says they're likely to use their powers under the Civil Defence Act to maintain safety and stability.

These powers include:

  • the ability to restrict access to roads and public places
  • remove or secure dangerous structures or materials
  • provide rescue, first aid, food and shelter 
  • regulate traffic
  • conserve essential supplies
  • dispose of fatalities, including people or animals who have died
  • enter or evacuate premises to rescue and save people
  • remove vehicles
  • requisition equipment and materials

She anticipates the powers they will use soon are the ability to requisition supplies, close roads, stop people from activities that may contribute to the emergency, exclude people from places and prohibit or regulate traffic.

These would be carried out and enforced by several agencies, including emergency services and the Defence Force.

All of Government Controller John Ombler says he wouldn't rule out the Defence Force being called on to the streets.

"For a level of comfort, I'd be happy to see them there. If it got to the enforcement side, I'd be disappointed, but I wouldn't rule it out."

This morning outgoing Police Commissioner Mike Bush, who is leading the all-of-government response to COVID-19, warned police will detain and arrest anyone failing to comply with the public health requirements.

"The way I put it is, you're better to stay on the comfort of your own couch of your own home than be cooling yourself on a very cool bench in a police cell," he said.

"If people don't do as they're directed, we'll be out there, and we'll be ensuring that people are complying, because they need to be. This is about saving lives."

The measures will be in place for four weeks at this stage. 


Coronavirus: What emergency powers the government will get

Prime Minister Ardern said on Saturday, regardless of the alert level, supermarkets and essential services, like access to pharmaceuticals, will continue to operate. That means people shouldn't panic-buy, but shop normally.

"I ask that New Zealand does what we do so well. We are a country that is creative, practical, and community-minded," she said.

"We may not have experienced anything like this in our lifetimes, but we know how to rally and we know how to look after one another, and right now what could be more important than that. So thank you for all that you’re about to do."

What we know about coronavirus:

Coronavirus is primarily spread through droplets in the air after someone sneezes or coughs. However, it can also be contracted by touching surfaces where the illness is present, according to the World Health Organization. The length of time the virus stays alive on surfaces is unknown at this stage, but some viruses can remain active for days. 

The WHO was first informed of cases of the virus in Wuhan on December 31. It was identified as a coronavirus on January 7 and can spread through human-to-human transmission. 

"Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death," the WHO says.

"Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing."

There is currently no vaccine for the sickness.

How can I protect myself? 

  • avoid touching the mouth, nose and eyes with unwashed hands
  • washing your hands before eating
  • carrying a hand sanitiser at all times
  • being particularly mindful of touching your face after using public transport or going to the airport
  • carry tissues at all times to cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing (then dispose of it)
  • not eating shared or communal food
  • avoiding shaking hands, kissing cheeks
  • regularly cleaning and sanitise commonly used surfaces and items, such as phones and keys
  • avoiding close contact with people suffering from or showing symptoms of acute respiratory infection
  • seeking medical attention if you feel unwell.

A full explainer on protecting yourself from coronavirus can be found here.