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New Zealand court rules part of early coronavirus lockdown was illegal

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - A New Zealand court on Wednesday found the first nine days of a hard lockdown put in place by the government earlier this year requiring people to isolate at home was justified, but unlawful.

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The ruling comes after Wellington lawyer Andrew Borrowdale challenged the legality of steps taken in the early stages of the five-week lockdown, including calls by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and other officials between March 26 and April 3 telling New Zealanders to stay at home.

An order imposing stay at home restrictions was not passed until April 3, so New Zealanders rights and freedoms were unlawfully limited for those first nine days, the court said.

“While there is no question that the requirement was a necessary, reasonable and proportionate response to the COVID-19 crisis at that time, the requirement was not prescribed by law,” the court said.

All other challenges to the lockdown were dismissed.

The court said few, if any, prosecutions for lockdown breaches would be affected.

“The Government was trying to educate people about the health risks and transition them quickly to take actions that curtailed normal freedoms like staying at home to stop the spread of the virus,” Attorney General David Parker said after the ruling. “In the end the measures taken by the government worked to eliminate COVID-19, save lives and minimise damage to our economy.”

New Zealand fared far better than most countries during the pandemic, due to early action by the government to lock down the country, forcing most New Zealanders to stay at home and businesses to shut.

The measures were later lifted but an abrupt resurgence of COVID-19 last week in Auckland prompted the government to reimpose some lockdown restrictions on the city’s 1.7 million residents.

Ardern said on Wednesday she would increase the number of defence personnel at New Zealand’s quarantine facilities and borders to beat any further spread of COVID-19, as five new cases in the community were reported.

Around 500 more defence personnel will be deployed, taking the total defence force personnel supporting the COVID-19 response to around 1,200.

“There’s nothing to date that has tracked this particular cluster we are dealing with to the border, but nonetheless we want that to be as tight as possible,” Ardern said at a news conference.

Ardern however said the low number of new cases indicated the country was not seeing a surge of COVID-19 in the community.

Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Shri Navaratnam

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