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Nelson Mail - 2021-11-26

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Rush over new Covid rules

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Tim Newman tim.newman@stuff.co.nz

The Nelson City Council is ‘‘frantically’’ trying to figure out how its public services will work in time for the Government’s Covid traffic light system roll-out next Friday. The Government passed the Covid-19 Response (Vaccinations) Legislation Bill under urgency on Wednesday, in a manner condemned by Opposition MPs, legal experts and the Human Rights Commission as poor lawmaking. At a meeting of the Nelson City Council audit, risk and finance subcommittee, council health, safety and wellness adviser Malcolm Hughes outlined the issues the council was facing to implement rules to comply with the legislation by December 3. ‘‘There is a lot of work in progress frantically trying to address that, and I guess make the key decisions around services and how that fits in with the vaccine passport requirements.’’ Hughes said council policy, with regard to Covid controls, had been to stick as closely as possible to central Government and local government guidance, while also considering the local context. However, in this instance some decisions would have to be made on ‘‘very limited information’’, with guidance from the Local Government Response Group unlikely to be ready by next Thursday. Hughes said that with public services such as swimming pools, the rules were unclear. ‘‘The guidance we have at the moment has no mention on public swimming pools as public facilities. ‘‘[But] then there are gyms ... so we take the [definition] we think fits best and that is what we will be recommending for the decision.’’ Hughes said the settings under proposed red and green traffic light categories were clearer ‘‘but at orange it is a little harder to make those decisions in some areas’’. On the Government’s Covid-19 website the orange category says ‘‘public facilities will be open with capacity limits based on 1 metre distancing’’. Hughes said it was difficult to find the right balance. ‘‘The tighter we make the controls to protect us against Covid, the more backlash we get and the more angst we get from the public – that is why we take a position as close to the guidance as we can get.’’ Councillor Matt Lawrey asked whether there was also a risk the council could be perceived as being too lax on the restrictions. ‘‘The impression I am getting, and what polling shows, is that a lot of New Zealanders would like to see the Government going further than it is.’’ Hughes said while it was a valid point, and that a number of staff supported the view, going outside Government guidelines could create more problems, particularly with council’s legal obligations. ‘‘Can we actually require vaccination certificates at the customer service centre, when it is the only way some people can access those services?’’ He said if that happened, there could be a situation where the customer service desk was shut down – while at the same time thousands of people could be gathering for sporting events or concerts. ‘‘In some cases, and when we have got high vaccination rates in the region, these other risks may be greater than the risk of Covid if we get it wrong.’’ Deputy mayor Judene Edgar said Lawrey’s comments reinforced the need for clear communications with the public about how those risks were managed. ‘‘I know of an Allied Health provider who got yelled at twice yesterday – once for enforcing rules and then later in the day for not enforcing them strongly enough ... so it is very hard for people.’’ Mayor Rachel Reese said there was also confusion about the risk assessments for elected members, and how that would affect their ability to be out and about and available to the public. To address this, the subcommittee requested a report outlining the responsibilities of councillors under the Health and Safety Act.

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