Responsibility shifts to people as most Covid-19 regulations exit

Removed: Gathering limitations, Travel Declaration, My Vaccine Pass and a lot more
Retained: Self-Isolation, Restrictions on Covid-Positive cases and others

Covid-19 stays but the restrictions ease: Acting Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins on October 17, 2022
(RNZ Photo by Samuel Rillstone)

Venkat Raman

Auckland October 18, 2022

In a move that is significant and reflective of trends in most parts of the world, the New Zealand government has decided to wind down its rigid health measures relating to the management of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In effect, there will be no more widespread lockdowns, restrictions on gathering and other measures that upset many New Zealanders over the past two years, making their ire known in Opinion Polls and the public domain.

Epidemic Notice revoked

Acting Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said that the government has decided to restrict the use of the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act 2020, which in effect makes individuals responsible for looking after themselves.

Describing the move as a ‘significant milestone,’ he said that most provisions of the Act will be removed from Thursday, October 20, 2022.

Effectively, the government will be revoking the Epidemic Notice.

“The Government has been clear that the measures used to contain the spread of Covid-19 need to be proportionate to the risk of the virus and therefore, it is appropriate to wind down many of the extraordinary powers that are no longer needed. What was once justified and served our country well should now be removed. With these changes, the legal framework matches the risk,” Mr Hipkins said in a Statement.

A majority of New Zealanders have said that the Jacinda Ardern government did ‘a magnificent job’  of controlling the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic at its advent in late February 2020 but went beyond reason with draconian measures in August 2020 and especially after its landslide victory in the October 17, 2022, general election.

“The government’s plan before the end of the year is to remove the most restrictive powers from the Act that are no longer required for the response, while still ensuring we can practically manage the ongoing impact of Covid-19. Under the new plan, if other measures, beyond isolation periods, mask-wearing and traveller requirements, are needed, we would need to pass new legislation to enable these. Keeping a basic legal framework in place provides sufficient time to consult on and design a replacement general pandemic piece of legislation that would set New Zealand in good stead for any future events, rather than having to start from scratch as we had to in 2020,” Mr Hipkins said.

Measured removed

The government is removing the following health measures from the Act allowing for almost unrestricted movement of people. The measures that will vanish are (1) Localised or National lockdowns (2) Managed Isolation and Quarantine (3) Worker Vaccine Mandates (4) Limits to public gatherings (5) My Vaccine Pass (6) QR Codes Display (7) Maintenance of Records for Contact Tracing (8) Traveller Declaration System (9) Entry restrictions at the border (10) Vaccination requirement for travellers (11) Testing for people in self-isolation or those who would otherwise be required to self-isolate

Measures retained

However, some measures will remain in place.

These include (1) Self-isolation for cases, household contacts and close contacts (2) Use of Masks in public places and for people travelling to New Zealand (3) Pre-departure and post-arrival tests (4) Powers to airline and ship operators to prevent non-compliant people from travelling, people showing Covid-19 symptoms or people from countries where Covid-19 health orders are in force (5) Self-isolation and self-quarantine for people arriving from at-risk countries or potentially from anywhere (6) Provision of travel history and contact information to support contact tracing.

The State Cabinet, at its meeting held on October 17, 2022, agreed to follow the health advice and retain the seven-day isolation period for cases and mask-wearing requirements for visitors in certain healthcare settings for the time being.

“These core measures remain important, with indications of an upward trend in cases and growing concern about new Omicron subvariants that are driving waves of infection overseas. We have seen a slight uptick in cases and hospitalisations in the last couple of weeks. This was to be expected, and for now, these tools continue to prove effective in dampening the impact of the virus on the health system and in protecting the most vulnerable,” he said.

Mr Hipkins said that the government will review the measures at end of November 2022.

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