COVID-19: State of emergency ends in New Zealand making way for 'transition' period

The state of national emergency in New Zealand in response to COVID-19 has come to an end after six extensions, making way for a "transition" period as the nation prepares for alert level 2. 

Civil Defence Minister Peeni Henare first issued a state of emergency on March 25 as the country entered the alert level 4 lockdown, but as the number of new coronavirus cases has dropped off, the rules are finally going to be eased. 

"With fewer restrictions in place as we move to alert level 2 on Thursday, and the decrease in the numbers of COVID-19 cases, it is now the appropriate time to lift the state of national emergency and move into a national transition period."

But that "transition period" will still allow authorities to "stop any activity that may cause, or substantially contribute to the consequences of, the spread of COVID-19" - or simply put, you will face consequences for breaking the level 2 rules. 

Henare is warning New Zealanders to continue to be vigilant in protecting themselves from the virus. He said it is "essential" everyone follows the alert level requirements to "ensure we do not lose the gains we have made". 

Health Minister David Clark said Henare did not make the decision to extend the state of emergency "lightly" and that it was the Government's "judgement that extraordinary measures were needed to support nation-wide efforts to combat the virus".  

Enforceability of alert levels to date has relied on the Epidemic Preparedness Act, the Health Act and the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act. 

The powers under the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act have allowed the Government to requisition car parks for COVID-19 testing and council land for emergency accommodation, as well as close some roads. 

A new legal framework is now being passed through Parliament in preparation for the move to level 2.  But it's proving to be controversial, with Opposition MPs concerned it puts "far too much power" in the hands of the Government. 

The Opposition believes that given two consecutive days with no new cases of COVID-19, New Zealanders should be trusted to go back to life as usual without the restrictions still written into alert level 2. 

For example, alert level 2 still allows for warrantless searches of private property if there is a reasonable belief that the alert level rules have been broken. That will allow police to break up parties of more than 10 people

The Government has now backed down on that rule, making an exception for funerals after pressure from families who have been waiting all this time, so groups of 50 will be allowed with permission. 

Henare said between April 16 and May 7, Civil Defence Emergency Management groups have provided more than $4.7 million worth of food and essential supplies to people who need support to access the basics.

As of May 7, he said they answered 6394 calls to their 0800 welfare lines, placed 283 people in emergency accommodation, and provided accommodation to 621 homeless people.