'Country needs clarity' - Police Commissioner admits lockdown confusion

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 2 Apr 2020, 2:02PM

'Country needs clarity' - Police Commissioner admits lockdown confusion

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 2 Apr 2020, 2:02PM

Police Commissioner Mike Bush has admitted the advice given to Kiwis about what they're able to do during the lockdown hasn't been clear enough.

He's also revealed that people in non-managed self-isolation are now being asked to allow police to see their location on their phones to ensure compliance.

Bush, Civil Defence and Customs ministers and officials are being grilled by the Epidemic Response Committee.

The committee is chaired by Opposition leader Simon Bridges and made up of a majority of National MPs.

Bush was questioned about who made the guidelines and exactly when people would find themselves on the wrong side of the police.

"Absolutely agree - the country needs clarity," Bush said.

Opposition leader Simon Bridges said it felt a bit like the "undies, undies, togs" television ad as people didn't know how far they could go before it was inappropriate.

As an example, he asked if he could drive from his home in Tauranga to Mt Maunganui beach about 17km away.

"Sorry to say, no," replied Bush.

Bridges asked if the guidelines for what was and wasn't allowed would be made publically available.

Bush replied that it was a "good idea" and said he'd take it away as an action point and consult Crown Law for advice.

Bush said officers had been told to have a graduated response in their interactions.

"No one will be prosecuted for being in doubt."

Police would first educate people if they were found to be breaking the rules, then would get a warning, then would be arrested and released without charge if the breaches were persistent and only in the most serious instances would someone be prosecuted.

"Our sole purpose is to work with the public to ensure people comply," Bush said.

"But we must stay within the law."

The Committee has also heard from Canterbury University professor John Hopkins, who specialises in disaster management law, who said there needed to be more clarity about the rules and who enforced them.

Hopkins said the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act is a problematic one to rely on because it didn't have clear guidelines and shouldn't be used long-term.

"We're settling into the long haul and to get everybody on board we need to move away from the state of emergency rules".

Enforcing self-isolation

As of yesterday morning, there were:
• 116 in quarantine and symptomatic
• 1,573 in managed self isolation in hotels with a 24/7 police presence
• 4,068 under non-managed self-isolation at their homes

Previously, the Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said people in self-isolation would be visited by police within three days.

Bush said they were unable to do that so in the last 48 hours had built a technological solution.

Anyone in self-isolation, with their consent, would get a text from police and they would then be able to track where it was received.

Police wouldn't be able to see anything else on the person's phone, Bush said.

He also said there had been a "systems issue" with getting information from Healthline and customs to frontline police officers but that was being worked on.

Quarantine at the border?

Minister for Customs Jenny Salesa said she expected police to audit people coming back into the country, but she couldn't speak to how it was enforced.

Yesterday, 108 people came into New Zealand while over 1,000 left through Auckland Airport.

When asked about why everyone wasn't tested at the border, Salesa customs took their advice from Public Health and the concern was if someone had a negative test they would be relaxed about self-isolating.

A customs officer and a police officer now met travellers at the aircraft door, escorted them in small groups and followed markings on the floor to ensure 2m distancing as they came to the health screening area.

Health staff then further questioned travellers who should be in quarantine or self-isolation.
Anyone who is symptomatic, they're escorted into quarantine in a hotel or hospital if required.

Comptroller of NZ Customs Service Christine Stevenson said everyone coming into the country had their arrival cards scanned and that was sent to Healthline and police immediately.

National MP Michael Woodhouse asked why so many people had come into the country and expressed surprise and frustration at the apparent lack of stringent checks and procedures.

Salesa said she visited Auckland Airport "a few times" to ensure there were improvements.

She said there seemed to be fewer stories from concerned passengers in the media and that was likely because those measures were now in place.

Bridges asked whether she could say with a straight face that the Government went "hard and early" on Covid-19.

"Oh absolutely, Mr Chair," Salesa replied.

"I'm very very very confident we have acted fast enough."

The only other country which went earlier on domestic travel was China, she said.

Salesa said an information breakdown to police hadn't come from customs.

Stevenson said they had a "flexible deployment model" for customs staff so they could continue normal operations like exports, imports and drugs checks.

Local solutions for national problems

Director of Civil Defence, Sarah Stuart-Black, said they were working with local government, NGOs, iwi, the private sector and other organisations to make sure there was local support available.

"We're trying to find local solutions to national issues."

As part of that effort, 2,000 people over 70 were called to see whether they would need specific additional support and only 17 said they needed more.

Stuart-Black said while she knew that was "just a slither" she found that reassuring.

Civil Defence was working with supermarkets to ensure vulnerable communities' needs were being met.

This comes as New Zealand enters its eighth day of lockdown.

This is the third day the committee has sat. Members join via video link and ask questions to those appearing before them.

Yesterday Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Treasury Secretary Caralee McLiesh appeared before the committee.

Robertson said the impact of Covid-19 would be a "quantum" more than the Global Financial Crisis and that he expected "many many more" New Zealanders will need access to welfare.

McLiesh said Covid-19 would lead to a "very severe" impact on the economy and that the Treasury was looking at a "very significant increase" in unemployment.

That could be between 5 per cent and "somewhere in the double digits".
And on Monday, Otago University Professor Sir David Skegg called on the Government to quarantine all people arriving in New Zealand from overseas and for a much wider testing and contact-tracing regime to prevent needless deaths from Covid-19.

He also said it was make or break time for the Government to eliminate Covid-19.

"We've got the opportunity now. Every day counts," Skegg told the committee.

"If we don't eliminate it in the next few weeks, the shutdown will continue for many months, or we will have a series of shutdowns that will paralyse our society for a year or 18 months, and it will never be the same again."