Government sets aside $14 billion in case New Zealand 'experiences second wave' of COVID-19

Government sets aside $14 billion in case New Zealand 'experiences second wave' of COVID-19

The Government is setting aside $14 billion in case New Zealand "experiences a second wave" of COVID-19 and to "fight whatever COVID-19 throws at the economy".

The $14 billion comes from the Government's $50 billion COVID Response and Recovery Fund announced in Budget 2020, and Finance Minister Grant Robertson said what remains of it will be set aside for a rainy day.

"When we set up the COVID Response and Recovery Fund, the Government was clear that it was to be used for our response to keep New Zealanders safe and for immediate support to help the economic recovery," he said on Monday.

"We are sticking to our word on this. We are investing money where it is needed to respond to COVID-19, and we are setting aside a significant sum of money to be used as needed in the future. This is the fiscally and socially responsible thing to do."

He said the unused funding will be kept in case New Zealand experiences a second wave of COVID-19. 

"We are doing everything we can to keep COVID-19 at our border - nobody wants a second wave. The responsible course of action is to make sure we are prepared for the worst - to give confidence to New Zealanders that we will be able to continue to act swiftly and decisively in our ongoing fight against this virus."

The National Party wants to use the remaining funds to pay for infrastructure projects - but Robertson said that's not what it's for and made a dig at the National Party's planned use of it if they win the election.

"The fund is not there to be used for any old project in the never-never," Robertson said. "It is to provide support and stimulus to recover and rebuild from COVID-19."

Why is there only $14 billion left?

The $50 billion fund unveiled in Budget 2020 included spending on COVID-19 related spending that had already been announced, so at the time there was $20.2 billion left.

The Government has since announced a number of investments using the remaining funding, including $570 million for the COVID Income Relief Payment, and an extra $700 million for the wage subsidy extension.

More than $300 million has been spent the ongoing health response, including $150 million for personal protective equipment (PPE) announced at the end of June. 

There was just more than $17 billion in the fund at the start of July, but the Government is set to make further announcements in the coming weeks at a cost of about $3.2 billion.

"This will leave $14 billion in the COVID Response and Recovery Fund, which is now being set aside in the event, for example, New Zealand experiences a second wave," Robertson said.

"As we look around the world, it is clear that this global pandemic is continuing to grow. In the face of this, and on-going uncertainty, now is the time to be cautious and keep our powder dry," he added.

"Keeping debt under control, and supporting jobs and businesses are both important. We are committed to getting the balance right, to give New Zealand options."