Coronavirus: Health Minister grilled over why strip clubs can open at alert level 2, but not churches

National MP Simon O'Connor has grilled the Health Minister over the Government's alert level 2 rules, asking why they allow more people to attend strip clubs than religious gatherings.

O'Connor put the question to Dr David Clark in Parliament on Wednesday, claiming the Government failed to consider New Zealanders' rights to freedom of religion when it drafted the COVID-19 Public Health Response Bill.

"Is the Minister aware that strip clubs are allowed to open during alert level 2 but churches are not, and if so, why is one deemed so much safer than the other?" he asked.

"Speaker, I think the Member will understand - both he and I are people that have interacted with churches, that I know - that people often attend services of worship for fellowship reasons," Dr Clark responded.

"They are there to worship, but they are also there to mix and mingle with others. The purpose of having rules around gatherings - places people gather to intermingle - is precisely to ensure we are keeping the space for people, the appropriate social distance, and keeping the virus out."

Dr Clark went on to explain that commercial premises such as strip clubs had their own requirements to ensure people did not intermingle.

Dr Clark says commercial premises such as strip clubs had their own requirements to ensure people don't intermingle.
Dr Clark says commercial premises such as strip clubs had their own requirements to ensure people don't intermingle. Photo credit: Getty

"I have no desire to keep people from engaging in their religious freedoms any longer than necessary, but I also know all New Zealanders do not want to see us go back to a previous level."

Earlier, O'Connor asked Dr Clark how much consideration it had given to faith communities when it drafted the COVID-19 Public Health Response Bill. He later wrote on Facebook that their back-and-forth had "exposed" the Government, after he revealed that it didn't mention freedom of religion once.

The Bill, which sets the legal framework for enforcing alert level 2 rules, was controversially passed on Wednesday - despite it being voted against by National MPs over concerns it gives too much power to the Prime Minister.

But there has also been scrutiny over other parts of the Bill - particularly the 10-person cap on attendees for funerals, tangihanga and religious gatherings.

While the caps on funerals and tangihanga were belatedly extended to 50 people on Wednesday, religious gatherings remain at 10.

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