Royal Commission? Chris Hipkins hints at COVID inquiry on horizon

It's official: say goodbye to the harshest COVID-19 restrictions. The Government is set to strip itself of the powers to implement lockdowns, managed isolation and mandates.

The entire country locked down, staying home to save lives - don't even mention the idea of another lockdown to these Kiwis.

"Terrible, no don't do it, can't do it," said one Kiwi.

"It wouldn't be something I'd be keen on," said another. 

"Yeah, not too happy. Not happy at all. I think we've come too far to go backwards."

Though, never fear, lockdowns will disappear. The most extraordinary of times are now over and now the most extraordinary of powers are gone. 

"Yeah, awesome - that's good, that's good," one person Newshub spoke to said.

"I'm really pleased about it," another said. 

The Government is tearing up the COVID laws, stripping itself of the powers to use managed isolation, vaccine mandates, QR codes, vaccine passes and lockdowns.

"I think New Zealanders will be feeling good and reassured there aren't any for the foreseeable future," said acting COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins. 

But it's keeping self-isolation and mask use.

"We're leaving the door open for next winter when we could see a significant resurgence in cases but we're taking most things off the table."

National leader Christopher Luxon said "common sense has prevailed". 

"We are supportive of having protection around isolation and mask-wearing in health settings," he said.

Newshub can reveal despite the axing of COVID powers, since May, when Kiwis were meant to be contact tracing themselves, the Government has spent millions on contact tracing and isolating cases who couldn't isolate at home.

The amount was provided to the ACT Party in Written Parliamentary Question answers, totalling more than $58 million. 

"There may be examples where contact tracing are being used to protect particularly vulnerable people and particularly vulnerable communities," Hipkins said.

ACT leader David Seymour said: "$58 million would fund 191 cystic fibrosis patients with Trikafta for a year, 412,000 mental health counselling sessions, and is fifty eight times more than what Hospice NZ needs".

"But this Government seems to think it is better off spent on empty call centres that are providing no benefit to New Zealanders.  

"ACT says that any COVID restrictions or services that aren’t protecting our health system in any tangible way should just go. They’re a needless expense at a time when reckless Government spending is fuelling out of control domestic inflation."

However, a statement from COVID-19 Response Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall - who is currently overseas - said the Government is no longer contact tracing for COVID-19 and hasn't for some time. 

"The figure quoted is funding for a range of health supports such as telehealth services including 0800 lines and our public health units to undertake work across a range of health issues including COVID-19," said a spokesperson.

"It includes things such as carrying out welfare checks on people isolating and providing health and wellbeing information to clinicians and the public. As the figures show the amount being spent has decreased significantly from the winter COVID peak in May and June."

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 Response Act will tick over in the background until 2025 so it's there ready for an inquiry.

"The Government has been dragging its feet on an inquiry for a very long time," said Seymour. 

Could it be a Royal Commission?

"Royal Commissions have been triggered for smaller things than the COVID-19 Response," said Hipkins. 

That response is now in the rear vision mirror, but an inquiry is on the horizon.