Jail among bird-flu measures
By Ainsley Thomson
Police will be able to use force to detain people suspected of suffering from bird flu under legislation to prepare New Zealand for a future pandemic.
The Law Reform Epidemic Preparedness Bill, introduced to Parliament yesterday, adds pandemic influenza to the list of quarantinable diseases. At present, quarantine powers apply only to yellow fever, cholera and the plague.
Health Minister Pete Hodgson said there was no current pandemic threat to New Zealand, but the Government had to be prepared.
The 1918-19 Spanish flu infected 40 per cent of New Zealand’s population and killed about 8000 people.
It has been predicted that if a bird flu pandemic, equally virulent and novel to the human immune system, struck the country it could infect about 1.6 million people – 40 per cent of the population – and kill 33,000 in eight weeks.
The bill gives medical officers of health the power to detain people suffering from pandemic flu and keep them under surveillance for up to 28 days.
People suspected of suffering from the disease will be put under “surveillance at large”, meaning they will stay in the community but have to report, usually daily, to a doctor.
People who refuse to follow medical officers’ orders could be arrested and imprisoned for six months or fined up to $4000.
Ministry of Health chief legal adviser Grant Adam said police would be given the power to use force to back up orders from medical officers.
“In the unlikely event of resistance to medical officers in exercising their duties to manage the disease, the police will be able to assist. This hasn’t been possible in the past.”
Mr Adam said the bill tried to balanced an infected person’s rights to freedom against a person’s right not to be infected.
Medical officers of health will be able to commandeer land, buildings and vehicles to deal with a pandemic outbreak.
Mr Hodgson said the legislation fixed the gaps in current laws and improved the Government’s ability to respond to an outbreak of pandemic flu or a similar disease.
“If a pandemic reaches New Zealand we have to be ready to deal with some of the most serious social and economic challenges we’ve faced in over a generation.”
The bill mainly makes amendments to the 50-year-old Health Act, but also updates about nine non-health acts including the Parole Act and Immigration Act.
Mr Hodgson said the bill should be passed into law by August but would be fast-tracked if necessary.
The Law Reform Epidemic Preparedness Bill:
* Makes pandemic flu a quarantinable disease.
* Allows people to be detained for up to 28 days if they are infected.
* Gives the police powers to use force to assist medical officers of health.
* Makes people who refuse to follow medical officers’ orders liable to be jailed for six months or fined up to $4000.