Government reveals full list of COVID-19 powers it's ditching - and what it's keeping

The Government is significantly narrowing the COVID-19 powers available to it, including removing the ability to impose lockdowns, vaccine mandates, and gathering limits.

But it's keeping the seven-day isolation period for cases and mask-wearing requirements in some healthcare settings.

Acting COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said New Zealand is now "through the emergency response" so it is appropriate to roll back the public health measures it can use.

"What were once justified and served our country well should now be removed. With these changes, the legal framework matches the risk."

Newshub first reported on Tuesday morning that the Government would be tearing up its extraordinary powers and that it is still gettings its ducks in a row on the shape of a COVID-19 inquiry.

The COVID-19 Public Health Response Act - the legislation that underpins the Government's response and allows it to impose measures like lockdowns - has a sunset clause. That means it would self-repeal in May 2023 unless ended sooner or extended.

The Government is planning to get rid of most of its significant powers by the end of the year. But it's keeping a small number of powers to support the ongoing management of COVID-19. 

These will be in place while the Government consults with the public and stakeholders on the design of future legislation. The future framework will also draw on findings from the inquiry into the Government's response to COVID-19.

"Keeping a basic legal framework in place provides sufficient time to consult on and design a replacement general pandemic piece of legislation that would set New Zealand in good stead for any future events, rather than having to start from scratch as we had to in 2020," said Hipkins.

"When COVID arrived we had limited legislative tools to respond and new ones had to be created. It is critical that a legacy of this pandemic is a fit-for-purpose piece of pandemic legislation like we have for civil defence and natural disasters."

The list of public health measures to be removed from the Act:

  • Movement restrictions beyond self-isolation requirements e.g. localised or national "lockdowns"
  • Managed isolation and quarantine
  • Worker vaccine mandates
  • Capacity/Gathering limits
  • My Vaccine Pass
  • Requirement to display QR codes
  • Record keeping for contact tracing purposes
  • New Zealand Traveller Declaration System
  • Entry restrictions at the border
  • Vaccination requirements for travellers
  • Testing – for people in self-isolation or who would otherwise be required to self-isolate

The list of public health measures being retained in the legislation for current or future use:

  • Self-isolation (for cases, household contacts, close contacts)
  • Mask use

The Government's also keeping the ability to impose some measures on people travelling into New Zealand:

  • Mask use on inbound flights to New Zealand
  • Pre-departure and/or post-arrival testing requirements
  • Requirement for airline/ship operator to prevent passengers who have not complied with pre-departure travel requirements
  • Not boarding a flight to New Zealand while exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms or if under a public health order in another country or if currently positive for COVID-19
  • Self-isolation and self-quarantine for people arriving from at risk countries (or potentially from anywhere),
  • Provision of travel history and contact information to support contact tracing.

However, it stresses that just because the Government is keeping the powers in the Act, doesn't mean they will be used. They are there if the Government requires them in the future. 

The only measures the Government is currently utilising is self-isolation and mask-use requirements. They will next be reviewed by the end of November.

"These core measures remain important, with indications of an upward trend in cases and growing concern about new Omicron subvariants that are driving waves of infection overseas," said Hipkins.

"We have seen a slight uptick in cases and hospitalisations in the last couple of weeks. This was to be expected, and for now, these tools continue to prove effective in dampening the impact of the virus on the health system and in protecting the most vulnerable."

The powers to enforce the measures are mostly being kept, but the power of warrantless entry to private dwelling houses and marae, and power to close roads and public places is being removed. Maximum penalties are being reduced.

If the COVID-19 risk was to escalate and the Government needed to bring back some powers, emergency legislation would need to be passed through Parliament. The Health Act could be used while legislation was passed to impose movement restrictions if the situation was considered an urgent public health crisis.

The Government's also ending the requirement for people flying into New Zealand to complete an online New Zealand Traveller Declaration.

"The NZTD is an integral part of modernising Aotearoa’s border experience and the New Zealand Customs Service is working with border agencies to replace the paper arrival card with the online NZTD system by June 2023," said Customs Minister Meka Whaitiri.