The Government moved yesterday to stiffen its pubic response to the covid-19 lockdown.
In a dramatic statement to a shrunken Parliament, the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced that for only the second time in history, New Zealand was in a State of National Emergency.
Unlike the other time, after the Christchurch earthquake, the current state directly affects every single New Zealander living in the country and even the Chatham Islands.
It came into full effect at midnight with the implementation of the four-week lockdown.
Its force was underlined by the Director of Civil Defence, Sarah Stuart-Black at a Beehive press conference half an hour before Ardern spoke.
Most notably, she said the declaration meant that the army could join the police in patrolling streets to check enforcement of the four-week lockdown that came into effect at midnight last night.
“There will be no tolerance for people who do not comply with the requirement to self-isolate, to keep New Zealand safe,” she said.
The Prime Minister was repeating the message in a relaxed Facebook Live session last night which appeared to have been shot in her apartment at Premier House. Asked by one viewer whether she could take her dog for a walk during the lockdown, Ardern said: “The police may time to time ask people where they’re going. So just be really to give them an explanation.”
What we saw yesterday from Ardern and Stuart-Black was a much tougher – and more coherent — official response than we have been getting, particularly from officials, this week.
And there is every reason for them to sound tense, as the Prime Minister did during her speech in Parliament.
The Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said there were another 50 confirmed and probable cases yesterday; that brings the total to 205 about the same as a country like Slovakia with a comparable population but well behind the 216 cases so far among the 23.8 million people of Taiwan.
There is now beginning o develop a clear regional pattern in the infections, and it appears that Auckland and Wellington are the two areas hardest hit. Auckland has 74 and Wellington 32 cases.
“What we continue to see is that the majority of cases still have a direct link to overseas travel, including being in the same household as someone who has returned from overseas or they have attended a known event or are part of a cluster where there are other cases,” said Bloomfield.
The Prime Minister has been under a lot of pressure to further tighten the borders because of the high incidence of cases coming from overseas.
She did so yesterday.
“Every New Zealander coming through our borders will be screened,” she said.
“If they are symptomatic, they will be tested, and they will be put in isolation in an approved facility.
“If they are not symptomatic but they have no plan or ability to self isolate, they will also be placed in an approved facility.
“If They live in a city outside of the one in which they have landed and have no ability to transport themselves home whilst maintaining isolation, they will also be placed in an approved facility.
“hose who are recent arrivals who do have an appropriate self-isolation plane will be checked on by police in the days that follow.
“If they are not following requirements, they will be fined, and they will be quarantined.”
And for the rest of New Zealand, in self-isolation, her message was clear. They would see both police and military on the streets enforcing the lockdown.
“The police will actually be asking a few questions and helping the public understand what they need to do,” she said.
“That will be the first approach, which is what we expect from the New Zealand police.
“They are, after all, still New Zealanders who are doing the job they always have, which is to keep us all safe and doing it in a way that we are used to.
“The same for our defence force.
“It might be unusual to see them out and about, but they are there just to look after us.”
Ardern’s announcement of the State of Emergency, which she wrote herself, was a Parliamentary speech that is bound to live in history. She directly addressed New Zealand, rather than the House itself.
”Firstly, you are not alone,” she said
“You will hear us—all of us—and see us daily as we guide New Zealand through this period.
“It won’t always be perfect, but the principle of what we are trying to do here is the right one.”
She warned against expecting an instant turn-around.
“The benefit of what we do today won’t be felt for many days to come.
“Expect our numbers (of cases) to keep rising, because they will, but don’t be discouraged.
Over time, we will see change if we all stick to the plan.”
And then a direct appeal.
“Thirdly, you may not be at work, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a job.
“Your job is to save lives, and you can do that by staying home and breaking the chain.”
Opposition Leader Simon Bridges, perhaps chastened by the reaction of many in his caucus to his speech last week when he criticised the Government’s economic package, was much more conciliatory.
“We could look backward at what’s been done well, perhaps not so well; it’s not a time for that,” he said.
“We are where we are, and we’re all in this together.
“And today on the big questions in this House and in New Zealand, we agree.
“There’s no National or Labour or Green, or ACT, or New Zealand First; just New Zealanders. “
And that sentiment was echoed by Finance Minister Grant Robertson who in a debate on an Imprest Supply Bill to authorise all the spending announced by the Government over the past week praised former finance ministers, Sir Michael Cullen and Sir Bill English.
“I’ve been asked quite a bit in the last few days: can New Zealand afford this?” he said.
“Of course we can, and we certainly can’t afford to do it.
“But here I pay tribute to Bill English and Sir Michael Cullen, in particular, as finance Ministers who ensured that we were ready for the rainy day.
“It’s arrived; it’s pouring,”
The Government was asking for around an additional $52 billion —- ACT’s David Seymour pointed out that was almost the entire tax take for one year.
The money will be borrowed.
But there are signs starting to emerge that the whole financial package may need to be regarded as a work in progress.
Trading banks are reporting increase customer questions to call centres and web sites asking questions about assistance, particularly the mortgage holiday announced on Monday.
The very title of the proposal may have provoked some of those calls; the proposal does not forgive the interest on the loan. It simply gets added to it to be repaid when the holiday is over.
And there are trans-Tasman issues over the refusal of the Australian Government to make any relief payments to Kiwis who have suddenly lost their job because of the virus.
A petition on change.org calling for the Australian Government to reverse this had last night attracted 170,000 signatures.
New Zealand already offers access to the full Work and Income range of benefits for Australians who have lived here for 30 days if they provide evidence that they intend to live and work in New Zealand going forward.
Ardern has said she has spoken to Morrison about his and asked for relief during the coronavirus crisis. POLITIK understands that there have been intense political discussions between Australian and New Zealand diplomats on the issue, but the Australians have been resolute that they will not relax their rules.
But yesterday the Prime Minister was focussed on New Zealand and the unprecedented lockdown.
This was how she ended her historic speech in Parliament.
“if you have any questions about what you can or cannot do during this period, apply a simple principle: act like you have Covid -19,” she said.
“Every move you then make is a risk to someone else.
“That is how we all must collectively think from now on.
“That’s why the joy of physically visiting other family, children, grandchildren, friends, neighbours—for many, that is on hold now, because we’re all now putting each other first, and that is what we do so well as a nation.
“So, New Zealand: be calm, be kind, stay at home, and break the chain.”