Simon Bridges: Giving Kiwis a voice in the Covid-19 debate

Opinion 15/04/2020

OPINION: I’ve been flooded with questions from all over the country since the Covid-19 lockdown began, and it has felt good to get New Zealanders some answers.

We learned a lot from the first few weeks of Parliament’s Epidemic Response Committee. It’s clear there are several aspects of the Covid-19 response where we could be doing better.

The experts were adamant we need to go harder and faster if we want to squash this virus.

The Opposition has long supported making Covid-19 tests available to anyone with symptoms and quarantining people still crossing our borders rather than having them self-isolate in the community.

It was reassuring to hear epidemiologist Sir David Skegg tell the Epidemic Response Committee early on that he shares that view. It was even more reassuring when the Government finally agreed to start quarantining and ‘test, test, test’ more for Covid-19 after data presented to the committee showed actual testing numbers were trending ‘down, down, down’.

This is why the committee is so important. Identifying flaws in the Government’s response may seem like nit-picking to some but it’s actually a healthy and necessary part of making sure decisions are being made in the best interest of all New Zealanders.

Parliament can fix many of these problems, but we can’t fix what we don’t know is broken.

We had the Police Commissioner reveal to us that his officers weren’t carrying out enough compliance checks on people who recently returned from overseas, and admit police may not have the powers they need to properly enforce this lockdown.

The committee’s questioning of ministers and Treasury officials also highlighted the Government’s lack of transparency around providing key economic data on the impact of Covid-19. After weeks of asking we’ve now started to see weekly unemployment data and other key information that is important for understanding the state of our economy.

On a more community level, thousands of New Zealand will be able to keep reading their local newspapers during lockdown because of the committee’s scrutiny around essential services.

We will continue to ask the questions that Kiwis want answered in the days and weeks ahead. As Professor Skegg told us, if we go hard and get on top of Covid-19 now then we have a decent chance of getting back to normal after this lockdown ends.

The committee stands ready to aid the Government in achieving this success.

Simon Bridges is Leader of the Opposition and Chairman of the Epidemic Response Committee.