Key border health/ quarantine provisions in the Health Act 1956

The core border health provisions in New Zealand legislation are contained in Parts 3, 3A, and 4 of the Health Act 1956 (plus some regulations made under the Act).

Some of the key provisions are also described below.

COVID-19

This section does not cover specific legislation and Orders introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. More information about such legislation is available at COVID-19: Epidemic notice and Orders. The following information is more generic in nature and not specific to the COVID-19 response.

Routine powers

Routine powers are those available to medical officers of health and health protection officers without prior approval, as long as they follow the requirements of the Health Act. Key routine powers in Parts 3 or 3A include the following.

  • The power to enter premises (including boarding an aircraft or ship). This may be exercised at any reasonable time if a health officers has reason to believe that there is, or recently has been, any person with or recently exposed to a notifiable infectious disease (section 77 of the Health Act).
  • The power to examine. This allows a health officers to medically examine any person on a premises – including on an aircraft or ship – where someone is believed to have or recently have had the disease, in order to determine whether that person has the disease (section 77 of the Health Act).
  • The power to detain for isolation purposes. This allows a medical officer of health to issue a written direction to a person or contact whom the officer believes on reasonable grounds poses a public health risk arising from an infectious disease (section 92I to section 92L of the Health Act). Such a direction can have conditions such as the person staying at all or specified times at a specified place of residence, subject to specified conditions.
  • Direction to educational institutions. A medical officer of health can also issue directions to the head of educational institution where staff or students pose a public health risk because of infectious disease (eg, a student or staff member could be directed to stay away from the institution for a specified period, until the infection risk has passed (section 92L of the of the Health Act).
  • Contact tracing. The Health Act provides for formal contact tracing. This is most useful in the situation when voluntary contact tracing is not working, or the case is not cooperating. A medical officer of health, health protection officer or other person authorised to contact trace can require the case to provide specified information about the contact. This includes each of the contacts’ identifying and contact details, in order for the contact tracer to identify the disease’s source, make contacts aware that they too may be infected and may require testing and treatment, and to limit the transmission of the disease (sections 92ZY – 92ZZH of the Health Act).

Quarantine powers

There are a range of powers in Part 4 of the Health Act that are specifically focused on quarantine (see sections 94-112AA). These cover:

  • the craft and people liable to quarantine
  • powers to require information or give directions
  • powers around boarding or detaining ships/aircraft or taking things from such craft
  • powers covering inspection of craft
  • powers around examining people or requiring bodily samples
  • powers around placing people liable to quarantine under observation or surveillance
  • contact tracing
  • detention, isolation, or quarantine
  • measures to cleanse, fumigate, or disinfect craft infected baggage and other cargo.

Special powers

Special powers (for a medical officer of health) generally need prior authorisation before they can be used. Such authorisation must come from one of:

  • the Minister of Health
  • an epidemic notice having been used by the Prime Minister under the Epidemic Preparedness Act 2006
  • a state of emergency having been declared under the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act 2002

Examples of some of these special powers in the Health Act 1956 (once ‘activated’) include the folllowing.

  • The power to examine. This allows a medical officer of health to require people to report for or submit to medical examination, or if the spread of the disease would be a significant risk to the public, require people to report, or submit themselves for medical testing (sections 70(1)(e) and (ea).
  • The power to detain, isolate or quarantine. This allows a medical officer of health to require people and objects such as ships, aircraft or cargo to be isolated, quarantined, or disinfected (section 70(1)(f)).
  • The power to prescribe preventive treatment. This allows a medical officer of health to require any person who has been isolated or quarantined to remain where they are until they have been medically examined and found to be free from infectious disease, and until they have undergone such preventive treatment as the officer prescribes (section 70(1)(h)).
  • The power to requisition premises. This allows a medical officer of health to requisition premises and vehicles for the accommodation, treatment, and transport of patients (section 71(1)).
  • The power to close premises such as schools (sections 70(1)(1a) and 70(1)(m)).

Compulsory health measures

Some border health measures may involve an element of compulsion (ie, an action being undertaken even if against a person’s will). Such measures need to be authorised by statute or else they are likely to be unlawful and contrary to the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. Compulsory measures could include:

  • requirements for people to be tested and screened
  • quarantining or isolating people
  • restricting the movement of people into or out of an area
  • restricting travel of people (within or out of New Zealand)
  • imposing a duty to supply information (eg, future travel plans or past travel history)
  • placing requirements on people to undergo preventive treatment
  • placing requirements on people not to go to work or other public places, or to do so only under certain conditions
  • commandeering of resources (eg, land, buildings, or vehicles).

Other infectious disease management powers

Part 3A of Health Act 1956 contains a range of infectious disease controls. These measures are not specific ‘border’ controls like those in Part 4 (Quarantine) of the Health Act. However, in some cases they may be of use in managing public health risks at the border.

The measures include the following.

  • Contact tracing provisions (sections 92ZY – 92ZZH, mentioned above).
  • The ability for medical officers of health to issue written directions, when an individual poses a public health risk, provided the statutory preconditions for each are met (sections 92I – 92U). These could include:
    • public health directions to individuals, such as to refrain from work, attend counselling, restricting travel or activities, or to take preventive steps against disease transmission
    • directions to contacts – these include conditions similar to public health directions to individuals
    • medical examination directions – to undertake a medical examination/s with a specified health provider/s within a specified time/s
    • educational institution directions to the person in charge to close all or part of the institution, or to direct a person to remain at home.
  • The ability for medical officers of health to apply to the District Court for three kinds of orders –public health orders, orders for contacts of cases, and medical examination orders (sections 92Z-92ZS).
  • The ability for medical officers of health to issue urgent public health orders in limited circumstances (sections 92ZF-92ZG).

Ministry guidance on such of Part 3A infectious disease management provisions is available here:

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