COVID-19 in Epsom
The COVID-19 virus has already created significant disruption and looks set to bring more in the coming months. Members of Parliament were recently briefed by the Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, on the virus and the public health efforts being made to manage it. This page will share the information provided at that briefing and by other government sources. You can also see the Government's official advice.
Thursday April 2
Alert Level 4 Continues
The full national lockdown continues. Workers not in essential industries must not go to work, but may work from home if possible. Travel is limited to 'local areas'. Guidelines on the meaning of 'local' have not yet been provided and police are exercising discretion in determining what is 'reasonable' when enforced the requirements. Essential businesses are those listed on the Government's COVID-19 website. If you would like clarification about whether those guidelines apply to you, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also contact my office, with the contact details available here, if you require further assistance.
The Government's economic assistance package has been expanded. It now includes mortgage holidays and business financing, provided by the trading banks and supported by Crown guarantees, for affected people and firms. You can find out more from the Government's official COVID-19 website.
Parliament has been suspended, but I remain active as the MP for Epsom. I have challenged the Government's overzealous regulation in the areas of non-daily print media and non-supermarket food retailers. I also continue to voice the concerns of Epsom electors and others as one of the 11 members of the Epidemic Response Committee. The Committee sits in place of Parliament to scrutinise the Government's response and meets via teleconferencing. It meets at 10am each Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. You can follow its proceedings live on Parliament's website, on Facebook, and on Parliament TV. You can also submit questions for me to ask at the Committee to this crowd-sourcing site.
Directives from the Speaker of the House mean my office's physical presence has been closed. However, my staff and I continue to work from home and remain available to help you and to receive your feedback for me and the Government. You can email me and my constituency office team at email@example.com or call us on 09 522 7464.
Monday March 23
Government announces Alert Level 3 immediately, Level 4 in 48 hours
The Prime Minister, at her post-Cabinet press briefing, has announced a significant increase in Government-ordered isolation. Please see the official advice for details.
What do these changes mean for education?
All schools and early childhood education centres are closed for most children from Tuesday, 24 March. Your children's school/s should provide you with information directly about their response. Universities and other tertiary education facilities will also close immediately.
The children of essential workers (including those from the emergency services and health sector) can attend school or early childhood education on Tuesday and Wednesday. Schools will then be closed to every child from the end of Wednesday.
What do these changes mean for employment?
All non-essential businesses must close. Government has significantly expanded financial support - including wage support - available to firms, including removing the $150,000 maximum amount of support available. The Crown has also begun a programme of loan guarantees, to allow firms access to bank credit to relieve liquidity pressures. Information about the financial assistance package is available on the Government's official website.
What is an 'essential sector'?
Workers and firms in the health, emergency, utilities, food supply, logistics and transport, and financial services sectors, among others, may be exempted from requirements to close. The Government has released a list of essential industries, which may be updated regularly.
Saturday March 21
What the Alert System Announcement Means
Today's alert-level announcement is significant. It is helpful because it shows clearly the Government's strategy. The Prime Minister has announced that New Zealand is going to have a four-level alert system for COVID-19. We are currently at level II. The key take out is that the Government believes it cannot eradicate COVID, hence the Prime Minister talked about 'slowing' a lot in her midday address.
The alert level will likely go up and down over the coming weeks and months, up when there appear to be more cases of COVID-19 and down when it appears to be under control. I say 'appears' because I don't think anyone in the world has perfect detection of how many cases are out there. They are trying to strike a balance between stopping economic activity and stopping the virus. The goal is to ensure the speed of the viruses spread does not overwhelm the healthcare system, so people can be treated through it.
Level II does not mean school closures, it does mean over 70s should stay home unless it is absolutely necessary to go out. We should all seek to support the over 70s in our community. The Prime Minister is encouraging people to use their resourcefulness and initiative. Many businesses are already doing things such as working double shifts or working from home, having lunch breaks in shifts so there is less opportunity for it to congregate.
Over the coming weeks we will all have to be mindful of the alert level and attempt to support the Government's strategy. It's like playing in a sports team, even if you don't like the coach's strategy you should still follow it. Otherwise, the team has no strategy and will lose for sure.
There are people who believe fervently that the Government has done too little, too late, and the schools should have been closed weeks ago. There are others who believe we should simply face the reality that people will die and ride it out. The Government is halfway between those levels. It has not taken a total shutdown approach but reserved the ability to seriously reduce transmission if necessary. Hindsight may one day tell us they got it wrong, but they are making tough decisions with limited information in a very fluid situation.
Official Health Advice
If you are concerned about the virus, your first point of call should be the Ministry of Health. For general information, you can visit their website (www.health.govt.nz).
The Ministry advise that a cough, a high temperature (of at least 38°C), and shortness of breath are the symptoms of COVID-19. Having those symptoms does not necessarily mean you have COVID-19. However, if you have recently been abroad or in contact with someone with a confirmed COVID-19 case and have those symptoms, call Healthline (0800 358 5453) or your GP immediately. You should not visit your GP without calling ahead first.
Please take personal precautions to keep yourself healthy. The Ministry recommend regular handwashing and avoiding unnecessary physical contact: Handshakes can be replaced by non-physical acknowledgements. Small modifications to daily life can keep you and your neighbours safe.
The Government and public health authorities have already taken significant action to reduce and manage the spread of the virus in New Zealand. This includes a requirement that those entering New Zealand from abroad self-isolate at home for 14 days after their arrival. If you have been abroad, your compliance with self-isolation is crucially important for public health. The requirement applies to everyone, including New Zealand citizens, who have arrived from any foreign country except the Pacific Islands after Sunday, 15 March 2020. It includes those who arrive from Australia.
The Economic Implications
I also understand the economic implications of the virus may be very worrying. The Reserve Bank has cut the Official Cash Rate to its lowest-ever level and all parties in Parliament are committed to supporting the economy. Despite those actions, the economy is facing significant headwinds. Export-dependent sectors, like agriculture, hospitality, and tourism, are likely to bear much of the brunt. Many businesses and residents may seek government support during this time. As your local MP, I may be able help you if are facing issues dealing with government agencies. Please do not hesitate to contact my office (via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 09 522 7464) if you believe I can help you. We have both English and Mandarin speakers in the office.
Work and Income may be able to assist you if you are put out of work. Their website (www.winz.govt.nz) includes information on the types of relief they can provide.
Managing this public health threat will require a concerted and coherent response, both from government and the community. It will likely cause significant disruption to our daily lives. However, I commit to remaining active in both Parliament and the community as your local MP so we can weather this storm together.
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