Coronavirus: Government extends New Zealand's state of national emergency during COVID-19 crisis

The Government has extended New Zealand's State of National Emergency for a further seven days as the country's COVID-19 death toll climbs to nine. 

The announcement was made via the Civil Defence National Emergency Management Agency's Twitter on Tuesday.

"The State of National Emergency to support the COVID-19 response will be extended a third time, for a further seven days," the agency said. "This extension to the State of National Emergency does not change the length of the alert level 4 lockdown."

In a statement issued on Tuesday afternoon, Civil Defence Minister Peeni Henare said the decision to extend the State of National Emergency will "support the COVID-19 response".

"While the recent COVID-19 case numbers have shown that we are turning a corner, it is essential that we continue to have the powers activated by the State of National Emergency available to maintain the level 4 restrictions and ensure we do not squander New Zealanders' good work," Henare said.

"The powers activated by the State of National Emergency enable civil defence emergency management professionals to carry out critical work during this time including managing roads, traffic and public places and providing first aid, food, shelter and accommodation.

"These powers have been used to direct non-essential businesses to close, direct freedom campers to relocate, requisition a carpark for COVID-19 testing and close some roads to boost the enforcement of alert level 4 rules.

"As we enter the fourth week under a State of National Emergency I would like to thank all New Zealanders for their commitment to helping us break the chain of transmission of the virus. The plan is working and now is the time to stay the course and stay home. Stay home and stay strong - kia kaha Aotearoa."

The Government first announced a State of National Emergency in response to the COVID-19 crisis on March 25. Although the declaration expires after seven days, it can be extended as many times as the Government deems necessary. It provides authorities with increased power, to be used "when necessary", in the fight against the virus.

State of National Emergency vs COVID-19 Alert Levels

The COVID-19 alert level system is a separate entity to the declaration or extension of the State of National Emergency.

The alert levels outline the range of measures the Government can take against New Zealand's COVID-19 outbreak. A State of National Emergency allows the authorities managing the COVID-19 response access to powers they would not normally have. Enforcing or implementing these measures can aid the fight against the virus.

Henare and the Director of Civil Defence Emergency Management, Sarah Stuart-Black, declared the State of National Emergency under the Civil Defence Emergency Act 2002. 

"The State of National Emergency has been declared because of the unprecedented nature of this global pandemic and to ensure the Government has the powers it needs to slow the spread of COVID-19 and reduce its impact," Stuart-Black said at the time. 

The declaration allows Stuart-Black to direct and coordinate personnel, material and other resources to ensure they can be made available during the crisis.

"It also provides access to powers that would not normally be available, but would be needed to support the delivery and timely response to COVID-19," she said. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern issued an epidemic notice in late March, which will remain valid for three months with ongoing review. The notice enables the use of numerous 'special powers' in legislation to combat the virus.

The powers under New Zealand's emergency legislation did not require new Bills to be passed. The existence of several statutes that make up the country's legislative framework were already in place and were simply enacted.

Each week, Stuart-Black will provide Henare with advice on whether the State of National Emergency should be extended. The decision takes into account the current alert level, which has remained at level 4 since 11:59pm, March 25. The country's level 4 lockdown has been tentatively set for a four-week period, meaning it could be lifted as soon as April 23. Whether or not the lockdown will be extended is set to be announced on April 20.

On Monday, Ardern announced that more information regarding alert levels 2 and 3 will be released on Thursday. The new details will aim to prepare businesses, schools and communities for what New Zealand may look like under a lowered alert level. 

Ardern reiterated that New Zealand is not in a position to move out of alert level 4 early. She confirmed that "significant restrictions" will still apply under level 3 to ensure the results from the lockdown are not undone.

As of Tuesday, 1349 people have contracted COVID-19 in New Zealand. There have been nine virus-related deaths, six of which were residents of the Rosewood Rest Home in Christchurch. The patients had been receiving care at Burwood Hospital.