Face masks included in Covid-19 law

Saturday 28 November 2020 | Written by Katrina Lintonbon | Published in Health, National

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Face masks included in Covid-19 law
Prime Minister Mark Brown, who is also Minister for Police, inspects the members of Cook Islands Police Service during his first official parade yesterday, before attending the final Parliament sitting for the year. Report on the parade on page 3. Photo: LOSIRENE LACANIVALU. 20112720

The country’s ongoing response to Covid-19 was front and centre at the last Parliament sitting for the year.

Changes to the Covid-19 Amendment Bill (2) 2020 will ensure that every possible measure is taken so the pandemic never enters the country, Minister of Health Vainetutai Rose Toki Brown said during her presentation of the amended bill.

It is not the first time the bill has been amended and probably won’t be the last, however there is a need to make changes due to the nature of coronavirus, Brown said.

This time round, amendments include extending the lifespan of the bill until July 2021.

Sections of the bill pertaining to stricter border controls from all ports of entry both air and sea, physical distancing and other preventative measures such as the wearing of face masks to keep people safe and stronger enforcement of disciplinary actions like fines and imprisonment for those who break the rules were also included.

“These are measures to ensure this pandemic never enters our country. We all understand the responsibility is on all of us to protect our country from Covid,” Brown said.

Before Parliament’s sitting, Solicitor General Stuart Baker held meetings with Cabinet Ministers and the Opposition Democratic Party MPs to explain the amendments that had been made.

The Covid-19 Amendment Bill (2) 2020 was passed unanimously, but not without questions being raised about the lifting of 14-day supervised quarantine.

Members of Parliament from the Pa Enua were particularly concerned.

MP for Ivirua Agnes Armstrong said while she supported the amendments to the bill, she was disappointed when the quarantine was lifted.

“Given the vulnerability of our health systems and limited resources in Mangaia and other Pa Enua, there is real concern,” she said. Terepai Maoate said the Aitutaki community shared the same concerns and he had discussions with staff members from Te Marae Ora who didn’t believe the Cook Islands is ready if there was a case of coronavirus.

MP for Matavera Vaitoti Tupa said he supported the amended bill and all its provisions.

“This will bring comfort to our people when this is passed.”

Prior to the reading of the bill, question time during Parliament’s sitting was also dominated by a number of queries from the Opposition party relating to the lifting of 14-day supervised quarantine. Ngatangiia MP Tamaiva Tuavera, posed a question to the Prime Minister and asked if the country’s precautions are in step with New Zealand’s, why do they still have mandatory quarantine.

“I understand that to mean we do what New Zealand does? Therefore, New Zealand still has 14-day quarantine in place. Why have we lifted the 14-day quarantine?” Tuavera said.

Prime Minister Mark Brown offered further clarification.

“When it comes to the assessment of the Cook Islands border, we look very closely at the situation in New Zealand,” he said. “New Zealand is the only port of entry to our country via Auckland, we have closed entry from Los Angeles, French Polynesia and Australia.”

At present, the status in New Zealand is level one, where there is no community transmission and Cabinet is “satisfied that the risk is low”.

When there was a community Covid-19 outbreak in Auckland in August, Cabinet immediately imposed quarantine, Brown said.

“During that time New Zealand proved to be one of the world’s foremost on how to contain and manage this virus.”

The Prime Minister said his Cabinet takes seriously the decisions they make in regards to lifting supervised quarantine.

“There is no way we would make a decision that puts our people at risk,” he said.

“That’s why with the passing of this particular bill, we can look forward to the next few months over the Christmas and New Year period with hope and optimism rather than fear and panic.”

The Parliament yesterday also granted an extension of six months to select committees responsible for Crimes Bill, To Tatou Vai Authority Bill and Agriculture Bill before the House was adjourned sine dine.