View the Country Report for New Zealand in the Oxford Compendium of National Legal Responses to Covid-19

New Zealand has, so far, successfully adopted an elimination strategy, after aggressive action was taken in March 2020 when the virus first infiltrated the country. The country has managed to keep the number of diagnosed cases at just over 2,000 and number of deaths to 25. A strict nationwide lockdown of seven weeks – where everyone was required to stay-at-home – broke the chain of community transmission. A border fortress was constructed, with mandatory state-managed quarantine for 14 days on entry, in order to catch, isolate and treat anyone arriving with the virus. Within this nationwide bubble, long virus-free periods have been achieved – interspersed with small outbreaks arising from border breaches. Short-sharp regional lockdowns, temporary elevation of other precautions, super-charged contact tracing and testing, and forensic examination of transmission have all been used to dampen down any flare-ups. As a result, other than the continuing border restrictions, day-to-day life has generally returned to normal. The Ministry of Health, headed by the Director-General of Health, leads public health protection throughout the country, in conjunction with district health boards. District health boards (20) are partly-elected by local residents and are responsible for delivering health services and running public hospitals within their districts, as funded by central government through the Ministry of Health. District health board-owned public health units (12) deliver many public health services, in conjunction with a range of non-government organizations; key statutory officials, including medical officers of health, are employed in these units.

New Zealand’s basic institutional framework and constitutional settings have avoided many complications in the response to the pandemic. Within New Zealand’s unitary state, executive government is led by Cabinet, drawn from a unicameral Parliament. There is no complete or supreme constitution but civic culture recognises constitutional norms in key statutes, such as a bill of rights. Under the direction of ministers, a central health ministry leads district health boards and regional public health units in the pandemic response, with the support of other departments, the police and armed forces. Health orders, issued by ministers and officials, have been the main legal tools used to impose public health precautions, close premises and mandate stay-at-home requirements. Statutes have been passed to provide welfare support, to address administrative problems and to update the legal framework for health orders.

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