A delay and hope Covid decision

Any decisions dealing with Covid are difficult for the Government. They are committed to keeping Covid case numbers as low as possible, but also have to consider the social and economic implications of any decisions. With wage subsidies due to end soon there are increasing warnings a business and job crunch coming.

And being politicians the election, recently delayed until October 19, is an important factor for them.

The Government committed themselves to making a decision on the current outbreak and lockdowns by yesterday, and they sort of made a decision – delaying reducing the level 3 lockdown in Auckland until the end of the week.

With new community cases every day still this looks to me like a wait and hope decision – they will be hoping that things improve enough over the next few days to justify dropping Auckland to the significantly less restrictive level 2. If community cases continue to increase through this week the Government will have to seriously consider extending the current lockdown levels.

And the decision to not lower the level 2 lockdown in the rest of the country, despite no cases outside Auckland, appears to reflect the practical difficulties in having regional differences in lockdown levels. Lowering Auckland to level 2 will mean the roadblocks enclosing the city will no longer be needed there, but having a different lockdown level beyond the city would be difficult to manage.

Some people are happy to see the Government tend towards caution to minimise the chances of community transmission spreading beyond Auckland.

Health at any cost is preferred by some, especially those who are older, or are medically more vulnerable, and also those who don’t rely on working for a living or who have secure jobs.

But a growing number of people will be disappointed or annoyed at ongoing limits to their lifestyles.

The Government has to try to balance these conflicting situations.

They also continue to tweak the lockdown rules. After months of pressure they have introduced mandatory mask wearing for anyone using public transport. This change is in response to people catching Covid while using buses.

There is already further pressure to also require mask wearing in other situations of public gatherings, especially in bars and cafes, but there are obvious issues with requiring the wearing of masks where people eat and drink.

There are indications from the Director-General of Health that face mask wearing may be required more to try to avoid going to higher lockdown levels.

There are no easy decisions with Covid.

For the rest of the week we basically have to wait and see whether the current plan to reduce Auckland to level 2 next Monday can go ahead or not.

This means we continue to live with significant uncertainties. That is something we are likely to have to contend with for months, if not a year or two.

Covid lockdown levels to remain for 12 more days

The official announcement:

14 August 2020

Help stop the spread.

Auckland remains at Level 3,
rest of the country at Level 2

The Government has announced that current alert levels will remain in place until at least 26 August.

The Prime Minister said the decision was based on a range of considerations, including the results of contract tracing, testing rates and results, genome sequencing, and other information gathering since the resurgence of the virus.

The Government is also making changes to the wage subsidy scheme, the leave support scheme and the mortgage deferral scheme

The details will be finalised next week, but the changes will be nationwide and will cover the period of time that level 3 restrictions are in place.

You can watch the livestream of the media conference here.

Travelling to and from Auckland is still restricted

It’s important we limit non-essential travel to restrict the spread of Covid-19. You can travel into, out of, or through Auckland if you are returning to your primary residence. Not to go to a bach or holiday home.

There are limited exemptions for some people to travel. This includes people are who are moving freight, and a range of government workers.

Police are enforcing this at road checkpoints around Auckland.

The restrictions on flying into and out of Auckland are the same as driving in our out.

Outside Auckland, people can still travel so long as they do it safely and contact trace.

Getting the right information matters

Beware of misinformation on social media and other sources. Only share information from official sources. Misinformation works against us at a time when we need to work together to beat the virus. Here’s where you can go to find accurate and timely information:

https://covid19.govt.nz/

Try and wear a face covering when out of the house

The Ministry of Health is encouraging the use of face coverings as an additional tool to help stop the spread of COVID-19, as well as maintaining those other very important hygiene measures like physical distancing and handwashing.

A face covering is most important in closed public spaces where it’s difficult to keep physical distancing, such as supermarkets and public transport. 

Remember, face coverings can be homemade. You can also use a bandana or scarf that fully covers your mouth and nose.

Over one million New Zealanders have the NZ COVID Tracer app

The latest surge in New Zealanders downloading the NZ COVID Tracer app has taken it over the 1 million mark of registered users.

Well done New Zealand. Do your bit. Start using it today.

The NZ COVID Tracer app gives us a strong head start in responding. It is not enough to rely on your memory or personal records.

All businesses will need to display a QR code for the NZ COVID Trader app by 11:59am on 19 August. It is easy for businesses to download a QR code for their business using a fast new process.

If you need help generating your QR code posters or have questions or feedback about NZ COVID Tracer:

Catching the virus by food is unlikely

The risk of Covid-19 transmission via food packaging is very unlikely and New Zealand Food Safety do not recommend disinfecting food products. 

Coronaviruses cannot grow in food. They need a host (animal or human) to grow in. Cooking for at least 30 minutes at 60°C will kill the virus.

Coronaviruses are most commonly passed between animals and people and from person-to-person contact.

Resources

Information for Pacific peoples.

Useful posters for your workplace or community.

Information in sign language and easy read formats.

Find out what support is available for individuals, whānau, foreign nationals, and businesses

Translations of essential information are available in 16 different languages on the COVID-19 website.

Up-to-date Alert Level information is on the COVID-19 website.

The COVID-19 Public Health Response (Alert Levels 3 and 2) Order 2020 outlines current restrictions and requirements.

Contact information

Call Healthline if you have symptoms 0800 358 5453

Need to talk? Call or text 1737

Report breaches of self-isolation 105.police.govt.nz

Get the latest information on our website or Facebook


Govt to protect jobs and businesses with extra support

  • In-principle decision to extend wage subsidy to support businesses and protect jobs
  • Support will be nationwide in recognition of Auckland’s position in NZ economy and the impact of Level 2
  • Mortgage deferral scheme to be extended to support households

Announcement at 5:30 pm on Covid lockdowns

Cabinet will meet at 3 pm today to consider the latest information regarding this week’s Covid outbreak and will make a decision on whether lockdowns will continue or be lifted.

Then at 5:30 pm the prime Minister will make an announcement advising us what we will be allowed to do this weekend and in the weeks ahead.

Currently Auckland is in level 3 lockdown, and the rest of the country is in level 2 lockdown.

Yesterday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said:

After 102 days we have our first cases of Covid-19 outside of a Managed Isolation or Quarantine facility in New Zealand.

Actually that’s inaccurate. It is obvious we had community cases before the 100 days was up, it just wasn’t detected and announced until 102 days.

While we have all worked incredibly hard to prevent this scenario, we have also planned and prepared for it.

We have a resurgence plan that we will now activate.

At this stage, we have not yet been able to determine the source of the case. There is no immediate link to an MIQ facility that we are yet aware of, or to border staff.

Therefore we need to take a much more precautionary approach until we can find the source and access the risk of wider spread.

One of the most important lessons we’ve learned from overseas is the need to go hard and go early to stamp out flare ups to avoid the risk of wider outbreak.

As disruptive as it is, a strong and rapid health response remains the best long term economic response.

Ardern also said that she expects case numbers to rise before things improve.

This all suggests that extending the lockdowns if not increasing the lockdown levels looks likely, in Auckland at least.

On 15 July Ardern announced Next steps in COVID response

Experts tell us that even with the best precautions possible, the chances of the virus passing from a surface, or contact with someone who is a carrier are high.

We must prepare now for that eventuality and have a plan at the ready in the event that it does.

The first thing we need to do is continue to ensure our border and our managed isolation facilities stay as tight as they can be.

Not tight enough as this week has shown.

The first thing to note is that the Government’s strategy for responding to the COVID-19 pandemic remains elimination. That has not and will not change.

…So in the event of new community cases we would move immediately to implement our “Stamp it Out” approach again.

So drastic lockdowns can be expected.

But this time it could be on a regional basis.

Let me run through what each scenario might look like.

First a contained case or cases within a community.

We would be looking at applying strong restrictions but only applied locally in a neighbourhood, town or city to contain the virus and stopping it spread.

We would likely remain at Alert Level 1 nationally.

The local measures to contain the case would involve rapid contact tracing and isolation of cases and their contacts, scaled up and targeted testing of people connected to the case, such as workmates, those they live with or those in their neighbourhood.

The point with this scenario is we would look at act hard and fast, but local in an attempt to ring fence the virus. 

The second scenario is a large cluster within a region.

Here, a significant increase in testing would be the priority. We would look to undertake much wider community testing, on top of testing any contacts or potential contact of those with the virus. This could look like it did in Victoria where health staff went door to door to test people in affected areas.

We would also take steps to stop the spread to other parts of the country so a regional shift in Alert Level would likely be applied that restricted travel. This would mean travel in or out of the city, town or region could be stopped, people in that place asked to work from home, and local restrictions on gatherings implemented.

The aim here is to contain the spread away from other areas to avoid the whole country having to put in place restrictions so we can remain at Alert Level 1 nationally, depending on the evidence of risk of spread outside the region.

The final scenario is if multiple clusters, spread nationally.

In this scenario we would most likely apply a nationwide increase in Alert Level to stop transmission.

With the news this morning of cases around Auckland I think we will be at the second scenario unless there are positive cases found outside Auckland.

From yesterday’s media conference:

Dr Bloomfield says at this stage it is not thought necessary to expand restrictions, despite the movements of positive cases to Waikato, Rotorua and Taupō.

“At this point in time it seems very very clear that the focus of the outbreak is in Auckland.”

So currently (before today’s news becomes known) it looks likely Auckland will stay at level 3 lockdown at least, probably for weeks.

If no cases are found outside Auckland the rest of the country may be able to remain in level 2, or possible drop back to level 1 but I suspect that is unlikely.

If cases are found in Waikato, Taupo or Rotorua where people now tested positive have visited in the weekend than the Auckland lockdown may me widened to central North island or even the North Island.

And there is a possibility that people exposed to Covid have travelled around the country and spread it more widely.

We will find out later today what we can do in the weekend, but things are changing quickly so that could be reviewed again soon.

Uncertain times are back.


From The Bulletin (The Spinoff):

Could a full-blown level four lockdown happen? It exists as an option that can be used if necessary, but at this stage seems unlikely. That’s based on comments from finance minister Grant Robertson, who last night told Three show The Project “we’ve got no plans to go to level 4 at this stage. As long as everyone does the right thing in Auckland, at level 3 and around the rest of the country in level 2, then we should be able to get on top of this outbreak.”

Questions on Covid announcement and lockdowns

So we are back in Covid-19 level 3 lockdown in Auckland and level 2 everywhere else.

I get that the Government and Ministry of Health are committed to try to stop any community spread of Covid and are erring on the side of caution, but there are questions I think we deserve answers to.

Jacinda Ardern said we must take a “precautionary” approach as no origin had been found, or link to isolation facilities or people who work at the border.

But how much caution is appropriate, given the substantial disruption the alert level increases impose?

An ‘urgent’ media conference was called last night at 9:15 pm, but when was the positive Covid test first known about? One person was tested twice, and then their family was tested. the first test result at least must have been known by yesterday’s daily report at 1 pm.

The first case was a person is in their 50s who lives in South Auckland. They have returned two positive results. They have no history of international travel.

Six family members who reside in the same household have been tested. Three returned positive results, three negative.

Ardern says she was first notified at 4pm yesterday. The first positive test result at least must have been known well before then. So why was she only notified then (if she is being honest with us)?

It looks like the public testing of Ashley Bloomfield at 1 pm may have been priming the population for an increase in testing. I suspect he must have known at that stage that there were new cases, or at least one new case.

if urgent action was justified why was the urgent announcement not until 9:15 (actually about 9:25) last night?

if urgent action was justified why have the lockdowns been delayed until midday today? The horse could have already bolted by then.

Auckland going to level 3 for two and a half days may be fair enough. But why does the rest of the country have to be affected? I wonder if this is being used as a sort of a drill.

Pretty much no one wants Covcid spreading here again, so drastic action may be justified to try to contain it, but I think the Government may find it harder to get public support and compliance if the announcements look to be too PR staged.

Overreactions and claiming urgency when news has been delayed to suit packaged announcements run the risk of annoying people.

I don’t want Covid to spread here, but I don’t want to be played by the authorities.

And Ardern will have to be very careful with how she manages this through the election campaign. her first priority is to keep the country as safe as reasonably possible but also as unrestricted as possible.

It would suit Labour if Ardern keeps in the media spotlight with Covid announcements while other parties are restricted from campaigning. She isn’t the only one involved in decision making, the non-political Ministry of Health are presumably making recommendations at least.

It will be challenging for Ardern to manage perceptions. If she oversteps there could be a public and voter backlashes.

But there are also challenges for her political opponents.

There have been a range of reactions to that. During what has been labelled ‘the Covid campaign’ this is also very political.

Why is the Auckland lockdown only for two and a half days? A 14 day minimum has been standard until now to make sure that Covid has been detected.

Level 3 laxness

I think that most people were genuinely concerned about Covid-19 and complied fairly well with the restrictions dictated by the Level 4 lockdown. But with a low number of new cases detected for two weeks, the move to Level 3 lockdown seems be treated with a more relaxed attitude by many people.

1 News:  Police report disappointing number of parties, almost 700 Level 3 breaches in just 24 hours

Police issued a strong warning to lockdown rule-breakers today after receiving almost 700 reports of Alert Level 3 breaches within 24 hours.

A huge influx in party-hungry Kiwis resulted in 112 prosecutions from 6pm on Friday to the same time yesterday, authortities said.

Acting assistant police commissioner Scott Fraser called on New Zealanders not to be “complacent”, saying the risky behaviour could “waste all the sacrifices made by our team of five million over the last five weeks”.
Since the beginning of Level 3, around 1200 breaches have been reported around the country, with police acting against almost half the complaints.

So far, 135 people have been prosecuted for breaching Alert Level 3 conditions and a further 342 people received warnings.

1 News: Beachgoers and builders in the firing line amid warning of ‘concerning’ Level 3 breaches

Today Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield issued a warning about the number of “concerning” Level 3 breaches, saying ultimately it could “slow a move to Level 2”.

Police have received 1200 reports about parties and mass gatherings this week, with more than half of those over a 24-hour period this weekend.

At Sumner today, police officers were sweeping the beach in an attempt to move along hundreds of people flocking to soak up the Sunday sun.

While many felt they were obeying Level 3 rules, police today were clear: if you’re not exercising. clear out.
Given the sheer volume of people, social distancing was near impossible.

And even though police set up checkpoints ahead of the teeming suburb, cars kept pouring past.
It follows several days of rule breaking nationwide.

Maybe we can get away with this and Covid will not start to spread again. If it does it may be more localised because travel beyond regions is still quite restricted.

But if too many people get used to ignoring the rules a resurgence in Covid may be harder to contain that the first time if lockdown laxness becomes normalised.

Level 3 is demanding for businesses who have to maintain social distancing, but it’s good practice for hopefully a just a couple of weeks as it may be required again.


Doubts about the legality of restrictions and enforcement, and a light handed approach by the police, may have contributed to the more lax attitudes that seem to be prevailing.

NZ Herald: Legality of police action during covid 19 coronavirus lockdown questioned in legal quarters

Commissioner Andy Coster show a Crown Law opinion warning the police they had little or no power to enforce the lockdown.

That was the case for the first two weeks of the Government orders before the director general of health Ashley Bloomfield used the outdated Health Act to issue specific regulations.

Three days after the lockdown and before the regulations were enacted by Bloomfield, Clement emailed his officers telling them police powers did not extend to road blocks or pulling people over for the purpose of seeing whether they were complying with the lockdown.

The powers only come into play when a breach is obvious.

Clement said they “cannot direct anyone to do anything unless it is quite extreme in its nature and with direct and significant impacts for the health of others”.

While it is good that legal powers are being questioned there is a risk that this will lead to more laxness.

I’d like to drop to Level 2 in a week. I’d be annoyed if that is delayed because to many people decided to do as they please.

Is New Zealand’s COVID-19 lockdown lawful?

University of Otago Law Professor Andrew Geddis and Victoria University Law Professor Claudia Geiringer via the UK Constitutional Law Association website:  Is New Zealand’s COVID-19 lockdown lawful?

The New Zealand Government’s “go hard, go early” response to the COVID-19 pandemic has garnered widespread praise – both in New Zealand and internationally. On March 25, less than four weeks after New Zealand’s first COVID case was diagnosed, the country was put into a state of “Level 4 Lockdown”, reducing social and economic life to a bare minimum. Everyone was instructed to stay at home, except for limited “essential” purposes (in short, supermarket shopping, essential medical treatment, and brief localised exercise such as a walk or a run). All businesses were closed, except for those providing “essential” services. Physical proximity to those not in a person’s residential “bubble” was prohibited.

These measures undoubtedly have been effective, with the country now on a path to eliminate the virus. For that reason, it is perhaps not surprising that discussion of their legal status has been muted.

I’ve seen some questions raised over the last few weeks, for example:

Dr Dean Knight joins Kathryn to talk about the remarkable suit of legal powers the government has deployed during the coronavirus crisis. What are some of the rule-of-law implications?

Over the weekend – Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield used the Public Health Act to give police the power to arrest people who flout lockdown rules.

But University of Canterbury disaster law expert John Hopkins told Heather du Plessis-Allan that’s not what the act is for.

“We should welcome the fact that they introduced new laws at the weekend to make it more clear, but they’ve relied more on the Health Act, which is not really designed for the kind of lockdown that we’ve currently got.”

But he says that doesn’t mean it won’t be legally enforced.

“The courts would be very unlikely to take that given to the reality that we’re in. We’re under a state of emergency and the police powers are extensive under that legislation as well. They’re very broad.”

The second important thing that this new Health Act notice does is give these level four rules a much firmer legal footing. No one really has wanted to say it out loud for fear of undermining what needs to be a collective exercise, but it’s pretty apparent that the police actually couldn’t enforce many of the prohibitions we were being told were in place. And once that fact became common knowledge, via media stories like this one, there was a risk that general compliance with the level four lockdown requirements could suffer.

And so, this new notice is to be welcomed. It not only tells us with some greater clarity just what are “the rules”, it also provides a clear legal basis to enable the police to hold us to them. If they catch you launching a boat, or setting off for a 20km hike into the hills, or riding in a car with someone from outside of your bubble, or just loitering in the street because you are bored, they now have the lawful power to do something about it through arrest and charges.

Nathan Batts, a senior associate at Haigh Lyon, argues such restrictions on activity, along with the power to lock New Zealand into isolation and quarantine, may not be backed by legislative authority. And the police, he says, cannot enforce the will of ministers unless that will is expressed in law.

I don’t  remember seeing the National Opposition raising it but that could have been lost in the noise of Covid coverage.

A couple of legal lightweights took it to court, this was covered by media and also here Failures with habeas corpus writ against Ardern et al over lockdown ‘detention’.

The Geddis/Geiringer post addresses this:

Nevertheless, questions surrounding the legality of the lockdown received their first outing in the High Court this week, when Peters J dismissed an application by two litigants in person for habeas corpus (A v Ardern [2020] NZHC 796B v Ardern [2020] NZHC 814). Her Honour held in both cases that the conditions of the lockdown did not amount to “detention”, that the lockdown was in any event lawful, and that many of the issues raised by the applicant were not suitable for determination by way of habeas corpus.

These applications were doomed to fail. They were poorly argued, framed in large part as a personal attack against the Prime Minister and Director-General of Health. In A’s case, the applicant was already serving a sentence of home detention.

Both the judge and the lawyer representing the Crown said that a habeas corpus writ was the wrong approach and that it should have been done via a judicial review.

Nevertheless, we argue here that the formal legal status of the lockdown is far from secure. Given the significance of the threat to which the Government is responding, the New Zealand courts may well be reluctant to uphold a legal challenge. But the tenuous legal foundation of the lockdown regime represents a significant constitutional problem that needs to be addressed.

Unlike in the United Kingdom, the Government has, to date, located its lockdown powers entirely under the pre-existing legal regime relating to civil and public health emergencies.

Moving into the Level 4 Lockdown, the New Zealand Government issued an “epidemic notice” under the Epidemic Preparedness Act 2006 and declared a state of national emergency under the Civil Defence and Emergency Management Act 2002. These two steps triggered a range of executive government powers. Most significantly for our purposes, they unlocked a set of coercive powers reposed in medical officers of health under s 70 of the Health Act 1956. In practice, the s 70 powers have been exercised by New Zealand’s chief public health officer, the Director-General of Health.

Although this seemed to be the primary legal basis for the lockdown restrictions at the time, official Government statements, as well as Police enforcement action, purported to impose far greater limits on civil liberties. New Zealanders were directed to stay home in their bubbles, to receive no visitors, and to venture out only for the limited purposes set out in the opening paragraph above.

In the main, the Police have preferred not to rely on a parallel coercive powers regime to be found in the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act. That regime has its own problems, which are not discussed here.

On April 3, the Director-General moved to address this discrepancy. He issued a new notice – this time under the Health Act, s 70(1)(f), which empowers a medical officer of health to require persons to be isolated or quarantined. On this basis, the Director-General ordered that all persons in New Zealand remain in their residences and only leave for the purpose of “essential personal movement” as defined in the order (“the s 70(1)(f) notice”).

Police operational guidelines confirmed that these twin Health Act notices provided the primary basis for legal enforcement of the Level 4 Lockdown restrictions.

I haven’t seen any sign of the Police abusing their powers. They seem to have been much easier on enforcement that in Australia, who have had a less restrictive lockdown.

It has been effective but has it been legal?

It is clear that the Level 4 Lockdown rules have been very successful in their intended aim of eliminating the virus from the country. Furthermore, the New Zealand public’s support for (and voluntary compliance with) their requirements has been very high. From an effectiveness and social-licence perspective, there is little to criticise in them. However, the legal status of the Level 4 Lockdown rules is far more tenuous.

A first and critical question concerns whether Cabinet has overstepped the mark in purporting to direct the country into lockdown. Throughout the crisis, decisions as to whether and when to go into lockdown, and exactly how civil liberties are to be restricted, have been presented as residing in Cabinet. But that is not so. As set out above (and as acknowledged internally within Government in a Cabinet paper that has just been released), the only relevant coercive powers lie with medical officers of health under s 70. This raises a question as to whether any of Cabinet’s statements (especially, those backed up by coercive Police action) amount to a purported suspending of the law without consent of Parliament contrary to the Bill of Rights 1688. It also raises the possibility that the Director-General might be accused of acting under dictation in the making of his various orders.

Secondly, there is a real question as to whether the s 70 notices are ultra vires. Section 70(1)(m) permits a medical officer of health, by way of public notice, to “require to be closed … all premises … of any stated kind or description”. It is by no means clear that permits the Director-General to close all premises, subject to an express exemption – as he did in the order.

The s 70(1)(f) notice is arguably even more vulnerable. An initial question is whether the Level 4 Lockdown rules actually are a form of “isolation” or “quarantine”, given the broad exceptions for essential workers and essential activities that attach. Even if they are, it is highly debatable whether the Director-General’s power to “require persons … to be isolated or quarantined” empowers an order isolating or quarantining all persons throughout the country rather than specifically identified individuals. It is a power exercisable by a single public health official, with no requirement to consult anyone else in the making of the decision.

It appears to give the Director general of health extraordinary powers.

To be clear, Peters J in A v Ardern specifically rejected the argument that the s 70(1)(f) order was ultra vires (albeit in a brief obiter paragraph). In context, that outcome was unsurprising. Nevertheless, we think the point deserved fuller consideration.

Perhaps it will get fuller consideration if taken to appeal, but the particular applicant involved could not be relied on to present cogent arguments.

A third set of questions concerns the consistency of these notices with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (NZBORA). The effect of that Act is that the Health Act notices can only impose limits on a range of civil and political rights (including the freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly and movement) if those limits are “demonstrably justified”. Combating COVID-19 clearly provides an exceptionally strong justification for limiting rights, and any court would be likely to accord the Government considerable latitude. Nevertheless, it can certainly be argued that some of the limits imposed by the notices go beyond what is necessary.

…We have identified above some specific deficiencies in New Zealand’s legal regime. Underlying these specific problems lie broader questions about where power should reside to limit civil liberties on such a significant scale. The instinct of the New Zealand’s government that at least some of these powers ought to reside with Cabinet is probably the correct one. But it finds no current basis in New Zealand law.

This post is written as New Zealand transitions from Level 4 Lockdown into Level 3, at which the country will see some (limited) loosening of restrictions on civil liberties but the essence of the lockdown regime will remain in place. The timing and details of the move to Level 3 have, again, been presented as a decision of Cabinet and will, again, be effected through further section 70 notices described as “orders”. Thus, the legal difficulties attending the Level 4 Lockdown have not, in our view, been resolved.

Although these legal deficiencies expose New Zealand’s COVID-19 response to a degree of on-going legal risk, A v Ardern and B v Ardern demonstrate how reluctant New Zealand courts may be to uphold a legal challenge.

But that was a very poor challenge which seemed more personal and political than based on sound legal reasoning.

Beyond the potential for judicial challenge, however, lie deeper rule of law considerations. The Level 4 (and upcoming Level 3) lockdowns impose the most extensive restrictions on New Zealanders’ lives seen for at least seventy years; perhaps ever. No matter how “necessary” these may be, we should expect such restrictions to have a clear, certain basis in law and be imposed through a transparent and accountable process.

It is to be hoped that, when it resumes next week, New Zealand’s Parliament will take the opportunity to put the lockdown regime on a more secure legislative footing.

Parliament in New Zealand resumes today, with some limitations.

National leader Simon Bridges was a lawyer and Crown prosecutor, perhaps this is something he could get his Opposition teeth into.

I have had a browse back through National press releases and it was raised by Justice spokesperson Mark Mitchell: Government must release Crown Law advice but that’s all I can see over the past month.

New Level 3 rules for hunting announced

Some hunting on private land without using vehicles wil be allowed under Level 3.

Duck shooting opening (usually the first Saturday in May) has been delayed by 2 weeks and will also end 2 weeks later.

Level 3 rules for hunting confirmed

Hunters will be able to hunt on private land with special restrictions when New Zealand moves to COVID-19 Alert Level 3, but not on public conservation land, Sport and Recreation Minister Grant Robertson and Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage announced today.

“Cabinet has agreed hunting on private land will be allowed under Alert Level 3, so long as hunters stay within their region and stick to their bubble.

“Hunting is only permitted on foot and overnight trips are not allowed. The use of quad bikes, off-road bikes, helicopters and other motorised vehicles is prohibited.”

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage said hunting on public conservation land is not allowed until the time when there is a decision for New Zealand return to Alert Level 2.

“The start of the duck hunting season is being postponed from Saturday 2 May to start on the second weekend after that date that is decided for when New Zealand moves to Alert Level 2.  The season will also end later,” Eugenie Sage said.

“The two-week delay to the start of the season after a decision is made to move into Level 2 was determined in consultation with the New Zealand Fish and Game Council and I want to thank them for their constructive engagement with these decisions.

“All New Zealanders will still have an opportunity to hunt ducks, at the same time, once we return to Alert Level 2.

“We’re still encouraging New Zealanders to spend time in nature where possible if it’s local, but this is not the time to take up hunting as a new hobby or explore the back country and go on an overnight tramp. Use your common sense – stay local, stay safe,” Eugenie Sage said.

More at https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/level-3-rules-hunting-confirmed

All normal hunting can resume at level 2.

Warnings there isn’t enough data to make lockdown level decisions

Today the Government is going to describe in detail what a change to Level 3 and Level 2 lockdown levels will mean for us, and on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has committed to announcing a decision on whether to lower the alert level on Monday, two days before the initial 4 weeks on level 4 expires.

But experts are warning there isn’t enough data to make the decision.

RNZ: Data on contact tracing, tests, borders needed to inform lockdown level – scientists

Epidemiologist Michael Baker, who is on the Health Ministry’s Covid-19 technical advisory group, said some of the data he needed to see to be confident of going to alert level 3 may not exist yet.

“There’s a whole suite of data I would like to see, to make it really clear that we’re ready to … drop down our response level,” he said.

Prof Baker told RNZ he had been asking the ministry for weeks for certain key data about border control, contact tracing and testing but had not received it, nor had the advisory subgroup he was on with four other epidemiologists.

“I don’t think any of the epidemiologists I know have seen data covering all of these key measures.”

The public deserved to see that data before the Cabinet decision on Monday about changing the alert level, Baker said.

“Someone needs to see these data to say, yes, the system’s all performing adequately. I think that’s really vital.

“I’m hoping these data will appear very soon, because I think it is a critical input for making a decision of this magnitude.”

I would have thought that Prof. Baker would know if the data was going to be available soon or not.

Border control systems may be effective, and the data for them may exist, but it might not exist yet in the right form to be analysed properly, he said.

“It’s possible. I know getting the data into a robust form is a real challenge for our system because it has been under-resourced, progressively for many years. And this is really a massive increase in capability and expectations.”

He said clear data showing whether contact tracing was good enough to loosen restrictions should be available, but he had never seen it despite asking the ministry repeatedly for it.

It’s a bit alarming that a top Government adviser is not getting information and  data he requires to give informed advice.

Auckland University Professor Shaun Hendy is expected to submit to the government tomorrow his team’s modelling on the risks of an outbreak from easing the lockdown.

The team had about three-quarters of the data they needed, after improvements in how it was coming through in the past week, he said, but some of the contact tracing data was “really weak”.

He said the quality of data on testing was about eight or nine out of 10, but it was not easy to compile.

“Some of that information is still sent around by fax these days, so you can imagine that’s quite hard to transcribe. But we we are starting to get that information now”.

They send  data around by fax? Good grief. Not only is it ancient technology, it raises the risks if data has to be manually transcribed. I’m gobsmacked by this reliance on obsolete last century technology.

However, the team was struggling to get good data on contact tracing.

“We’re at the bottom end of the scale,” Prof Hendy said. “I understand the demands on the contact tracing operations at the moment, they’re working as fast as they can. But that’s a bit of a bit of a blind spot for us in our modelling.”

“We have some really weak idea of how much that capacity could be scaled. So let’s say we had another regional outbreak in a few weeks’ time, how much resource can be deployed to one of the regions to contain that outbreak.”

He was not confident they knew enough to make a call on going to alert level 3 region by region.

“If you’re going to relax that region earlier than the rest of the country, then there’s things you’d like to know about the way that public health is being deployed in that region that would minimise those risks,” he said.

“I think that’s a difficult call to make.

This doesn’t encourage me that information is sufficient or robust.

It also doesn’t sound  promising for a relaxation of alert level next week.

Some academics suggest rapid relaxation back to Covid Level 2 restrictions

While the Government and the Ministry of Health seem to be still taking a cautious approach to relaxing Covid-19 Level 4 restrictions on movements, business and schools and universities, some academics are suggesting a quick return to Level 2 which would allow business and schools to start to return to as near normal as is possible in the current situation.

The official line could change as the situation keeps evolving quickly, more data is gathered and a better understanding of the risks emerges.

There are risks with seeing the success in limiting spread and deaths so far as meaning restrictions were too stringent and relaxing things too quickly. Whatever changes are made to restrictions things will need to be carefully monitored.

Looking at different expert views is important in informing the decision makers.

Stuff: Lockdown rules should be relaxed, health experts say

A group of public health experts has broken ranks on the Government’s lockdown strategy, calling for a return to near-normal life in two weeks.

As the number of new coronavirus cases continue to drop, the group of academics told Stuff the Government’s lockdown plan is out of proportion with the health risks posed by the virus.

The group said that from 22 April, when the current lockdown period is due to end, New Zealand should drop to “level two” alert.

This would leave Kiwis free to return to work, most schools and universities and businesses would re-open, and leisure activities and domestic travel would resume.

Restrictions on overseas travel restrictions and gathering on more than 100 people would remain under their plan, titled “plan b”.

Jacinda Ardern has advised the Government will be announcing a revision of Level 4 and Level 3 rules and guidelines on Thursday (sounds a bit like a revised plan ‘a’ at least if not Plan B), and will announce if we will drop from Level 4 next Monday. She and the MoH will be (or at least should be) informed by a range of expert opinions, so this is the time to be discussing the options.

In response to the the group’s proposed plan, a Government spokesman said “the Prime Minister has been clear the best way to protect New Zealanders’ health and economy is to stamp out the virus.

“Modelling undertaken in NZ and the evidence we see daily in the news from overseas tells us that significant loosening of restrictions before the virus is under control, as suggested by this group, can lead to our health system being completely overrun, many people dying and doing even greater damage to our economy.

“Those countries that have followed the sort of prescription set out by this group have generally seen surges in cases and enormous pressure placed on their health systems as well as a far greater number of deaths. In contrast our strategy is seeing a reduction in cases.

The early success of the lockdown should not be used as a reason to move too quickly.”

It sounds like a cautious approach is still favoured but Ardern said they were delaying decisions as long as possible to get as much information as possible to base their decisions on. This should include consideration of a variety of opinions.

The alternative plan was developed by Auckland University’s Senior Lecturer of Epidemiology Simon Thornley.

Others to back the plan include Grant Schofield, Professor of Public Health at AUT, Gerhard Sundborn, senior lecturer of population and pacific health at Victoria University, Grant Morris, Associate Professor of Law, Victoria University,  Ananish Chaudhuri, Professor of experimental economics, University of Auckland, and Michael Jackson, postdoctoral researcher in biostatistics and biodiscovery, Victoria University.

Thornley said the evidence thus far showed eradication of the virus in New Zealand, the Government’s stated aim, was not necessary.

“Lockdown was appropriate when there was so little data…but the data is now clear, this is not the disaster we feared and prepared for.

I don’t know how he can state that with any certainty. In part at least we haven’t suffered the disaster ‘we feared and planned for’ because of the level of actions taken. If nothing was done to prevent the spread of Covid-19 it almost certainly would have been a major disaster, as Italy, Spain, Belgium, New York and other places found the hard way.

Elimination of this virus is likely not achievable and is not necessary.”

Elimination probably isn’t achievable, especially as borders open again, but we should be able to stay near to no spread for some time.

I think it’s still debatable whether virtual elimination is a goal worth targeting or not.

Thornley said the risk to most working people was low and likened it, for most people, to a seasonal influenza virus.

That’s right, and fortunate for most people, although some younger (under 70) victims have become very sick here (and for example Boris Johnson who could easily have died without the best possible hospital care).

He said the plan was developed amid concern the Government’s strategy was over-the-top and likely to “substantially harm the nation’s long term health and well being, social fabric, economy and education”.

Thornley had already said it wasn’t over the top. The debate now is what to do from here, and obviously economic and social health are important considerations.

No deaths had occurred in New Zealanders under 70 and much of the modelling related to the mortality associated with Covid-19 was overestimated, the group said in a statement.

The real threat posed by the virus was it would overwhelm the health system but New Zealand’s risk was lower than in other countries with higher population density, and our health system currently has spare capacity.

That capacity is only due to cutting back on normal health care, and that will have to ramp back up again.

“Data shows a large majority of Covid-19 fatalities have occurred in people due to their comorbidities rather than directly from the virus. Even in Italy only 12 per cent of cases were directly due to Covid.

Many illnesses become more serious due to comorbidities, that’s normal.

“If you catch Covid-19 your likelihood of dying is the same as your average likelihood of dying that year anyway. It has been described as squeezing your years mortality risk into two weeks.”

This looks a bit callous. The difference between dying some time in the next 12 months versus substantially raising the risk of dying within the next 2 weeks is going to be a big deal for nearly everyone of given the choice.

But it may be an indirect choice – what all of us do and are allowed to do can affect the risks for the most vulnerable age and comorbidity group.

The group’s plan would see the majority of schools and universities reopen, most businesses continue to operate, and allow domestic travel to resume.

Other parts of the plan would include people over 60 or with medical conditions continuing to self-isolate and receive state funded support and priority care.

There’s some merit in these suggestions but I don’t think it’s that simple. Freeing things up for people under 60 and accepting some persistence and ongoing spread of Covid-19  will be quite difficult to keep separate from those over 60, whose isolation from the virus would become even harder – and riskier – than it is now.

Thornley et al raise some important alternative considerations, but their proposals could be relaxing restrictions too quick too soon for the decision makers – and possible for people over 60 too. I wonder which way Winston Peters would want things to go?

New Zealand Covid-19 lockdown well timed, well executed and life saving

I think that a large number of New Zealanders were relieved yesterday when the Government announced a rapid planned transition to lockdown of all but essential services and businesses in the country, initially for a 4 week period, but likely to run for months if not the rest of the year and beyond to some degree (we may switch between levels).

Many parents were very relieved that schools will be closed –

Looking at practicalities here and experiences overseas the timing is probably close to the best that could be expected. In the future looking back there may be things that could be seen to have been done better, but this is an unprecedented situation with huge decisions having to be done to save lives – a study suggests potentially up to 100,000 lives if nothing was done to limit the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus. See ODT – Stark picture in worst-case scenario

Newsroom: We’re going into lockdown. Here’s why

Overseas estimates in a paper from the Imperial College London found that taking no action to fight the virus could leave 250,000 dead in the United Kingdom and 2.2 million in the United States. Taking “mitigation” measures – known cases self-isolate, as do their families and all people over 70 self-quarantine – would only halve the death toll. But “suppression” measures, which would involve reducing physical contact to the bare minimum, working from home and closing schools, can cut the toll by 90 percent.

The modelling for New Zealand is just as stark. Figures based on the Imperial College London paper and released this morning by the University of Otago show that 100,000 New Zealanders would be killed if no action was taken and 90 percent of the population was infected.

“In the worst-case scenario, the models are starkly clear: up to 90 percent of the population could end up getting infected and up to 100,000 people in New Zealand could die. Our health system would not be able to cope with demand and lots of people would not get the treatment they needed,” University of Canterbury Professor Michael Plank, who helped with the University of Otago’s modelling, told the Otago Daily Times.

In her address to the nation, Ardern said projections she had seen were equally compelling. “If community transmission takes off in New Zealand, the number of cases will double every five days. If that happens unchecked, our health system will be inundated, and tens of thousands New Zealanders will die,” she said.

So how long are we confined to our homes (and sections)? Four weeks initially, but that’s just a wait and see starter. It’s more likely to be months and quite possibly many – until a vaccine is available.

As this Newsroom analysis shows, these suppression measures would have to be in place more or less constantly until a vaccine is ready – approximately 18 months away. They could be relaxed slightly when cases dropped for a short period of time – roughly two months on lockdown, one month off – but this would have to be carefully monitored to avoid an outbreak that would overwhelm the health system and spiral out of control.

The phased lockdown plan here looks textbook.

Saturday’s announcement of a four level alert system, with an immediate move to level 2, This looked like it was just preparing the population for what was to come. On Monday we switched up to level 3, moving to alert level 4 at 11:59 pm on Wednesday.

We are fortunate that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is a very good communicator with experience dealing with crises, but this is much bigger than anything most of us have experienced in our lifetimes. Remember carless days? That seems quaint and trivial in comparison.

We are now in Covid-19 level 3, which means for most of us:

Staying at home – what it means

What you must do

We are currently at Level 3, but are preparing to move to Level 4.

We will move to COVID-19 alert level 4 at 11.59pm on Wednesday 25 March.

What that means for you is that New Zealanders who are outside of essential services must stay at home and stop all interactions with others outside of those in your households.

We know that this is a big ask. Eradicating the disease is vital to protect people’s health and ensure our health system can cope and look after New Zealanders who become sick.

You may go for a walk or exercise and enjoy nature, but keep a 2 metre distance from people at all times. You can take your children outside.

Food will always be available – production will continue, distribution will continue, supermarkets will continue. You will always have access to food.

Medicines will always be available.

Healthcare for those that need it will be available.

Your usual financial support, like benefits, will continue as normal.

Remember whatever you do must be solitary. We are asking that you only spend time with those who you are in self-isolation with, and keep your distance from all others at all times.

More details and a long list of ‘essential services’ here: Current COVID-19 alert level – but remember that this is just level 3, things will ramp up to level 4 after tomorrow.

Here at home we were already prepared for this so yesterday provided clarity and was a relief more than anything, with a large does of surreal.

Be strong, be kind and support anyone you can. If you need help hopefully you can find it close to you, many communities are rallying together to help each other.