Confusing lockdown message clarified - no, you can't go to the beach

Anna Leask, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 29 Mar 2020, 11:28AM

Confusing lockdown message clarified - no, you can't go to the beach

Anna Leask, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 29 Mar 2020, 11:28AM

Four days into the national lockdown Kiwis are still confused about the rules and how strict the "stay at home " message is.

But a new update has made it patently clear what the expectation is.

Since the lockdown came into effect at 11.59pm on Wednesday there have been mixed messages from authorities about when and why people can leave their houses and "bubbles".

Advice on the official Covid-19 website is even contradictory.

But a daily newsletter for media and community leaders seems to have spelled out the law very clearly.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the nationwide lockdown on Monday in response to the ongoing spread of Covid-19.

The lockdown is in place for four weeks at least and means everyone must stay home and self-isolate - apart from people considered part of the "essential services central

Exercise is permitted but the messaging around what is allowed and what is not has been puzzling and extremely open to individual interpretation.

Can we drive to the beach for a walk? And once there can we swim, paddleboard?

Can we bike? And if we can, what's stopping us driving to the other side of town to tracks, forests, parks?

On the Covid-19 official website the rules are unclear and contradictory.

Under "can I leave my house" the advice is:

"You should stay at home as much as possible, except for going for a walk or picking up essentials," it says.

But directly under that in the "can I use my car" section it states:

"Using private vehicles for transport is allowed.

"You can only use travel if you're accessing essential services, if you're an essential worker, or if you're driving to a local area for a walk or to exercise.

"Personal walks and other active travel like cycling or scootering is fine … stick to simple outdoor exercise and avoid areas where you can get injured or lost."

Despite that, the answer to the question on everyone's mind seems to have been answered clearly in a daily update from the "Unite against Covid-19 team".

"It's crucial you don't leave the house this weekend, don't return to normal life," the
newsletter said.

"Stay home. Save lives.

"Stop the movement: don't travel to and from baches or second homes, avoid driving out of your neighbourhood and keep exercise local by staying close to home.

"Help our emergency services by only doing safe activities.

"Avoid swimming, surfing, hunting or tramping.

"Avoid public spaces and don't touch surfaces others may have touched such as park benches or playgrounds."

Radio announcements by the Covid-19 team on air today and regularly update are equally as clear.

The ads say that to "walk, run or bike ride" in your neighbourhood is okay.

But "don't do anything that could lead to you getting lost or hurt" which will take first responders away from their pandemic work.

Under the lockdown police have the power to stop people in the street and question why they are outside their home.

If they are not complying with the rules, action can be taken.

"If people don't comply, then we'll be using the authority that we have, either under our own legislation or under other law to ensure that people do comply," Commissioner Mike Bush said earlier this week.

The Herald sought specific comment from Bush today on the situation and what direction was being given to his frontline staff on how to handle members of the public out and about.

The request was declined.

"All we can really do is keep reiterating the all-of-Government key messages around this - the FAQs on the Covid-19 website are a good place to start," said a police spokesperson.

"Police's focus remains on ensuring people are complying with the Government's Alert Level 4 restrictions.

"We are doing this by being visible in our communities and having conversations with people reinforcing the guidelines around what New Zealanders should be doing.

"We don't want to have to arrest people. Our goal is to ensure people understand the importance of staying at home."

The number of people arrested, charged or warned was not available yet.

"Our first step is to educate," said the spokesperson.

"We will speak to people, ask them what they are doing, talk to them on how to stay safe, and if they continue to break the rules, police will use their discretion to give them a warning, or if necessary they could be arrested."

• The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

The spokesperson said there was one message people needed to understand.

"Stay at home – save lives.

"It's that simple."

There seems to be a lot of uncertainty - legal expert

AUT legal expert Professor Warren Brookbanks said the messaging around the lockdown had been "difficult" and "mixed".

"Clearly the Government does have the power in an emergency to make extraordinary measures for public protection purposes," he said.

"As the lockdown suggests, these can be quite extensive and may significantly affect
some fundamental rights and freedoms - like freedom of movement and freedom of association.

"The problem is that we seem to be getting a lot of mixed messages."

Brookbanks said a "strict lockdown" would mean no movement beyond one's domestic bubble.

"Meaning you would be prohibited go anywhere outside of your immediate living environment," he said.

"But this is evidently not what is intended because the Government has signalled that there are qualifications to a complete lockdown, including the right to visit a doctor or pharmacy, the right to go to the supermarket, the right to exercise and the right to transport kids in custody arrangements.

"Beyond those published examples, there seems to be a lot of uncertainty."

He said for example, while officials have said people may go for a bike ride, they have not said how far, or for how long.

"The only guidelines seem to be 'it's a judgment call' and 'don't go anywhere where you might need rescue services'," Brookbanks told the Herald.

"The problem is that without the publication of clear, enforceable guidelines people will always have an excuse for breaching the lockdown on the basis that they thought they were exercising reasonable discretion in the circumstances."