At speed and scale: NZDF steps up to support the COVID-19 response

Line of Defence Magazine - Spring 2020

COVID-19 road checkpoint
NZDF assists the New Zealand Police at COVID-19 road checkpoints in Auckland. Image: NZDF.

Where security, wellbeing and logistic stresses change, writes Defence Minister Hon Ron Mark, the NZDF continues to maintain its unique capability to provide appropriate support at speed and on a large scale.  

Over the past seven months the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has been providing support to New Zealand’s COVID-19 response through Operation PROTECT. 

During this period NZDF’s assistance to other government agencies has been varied; they’ve provided advice and assistance with Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) supply chain planning, completed P-3K2 aerial surveillance flights of recreational craft for New Zealand Police, manned check points, and our HMNZS Canterbury retrieved Department of Conservation staff from Raoul Island. 

Defence Estate in Whangaparaoa has been utilised as a quarantine site, and our Defence Technology Agency scientists have sat on working groups with our security partners to further our understanding of COVID-19 and share scientific developments. 

All this while maintaining additional personnel at a heightened state of readiness. 

As I’ve continued to state throughout my term as Minister of Defence, it is the highly skilled women and men of our Defence Force that are our greatest asset. The discipline, rigour and operational expertise the NZDF provides has clearly been needed and they have proved their effectiveness. I have been highly supportive of the military’s strong role as part of the COVID-19 response, as have many of my colleagues.

Last month, the Coalition Government announced a significant increase in the number of NZDF personnel supporting the COVID-19 response. In total, there are now approximately 1,260 personnel supporting tasks as part of this operation.

This represents the largest military contingent since the Timor-Leste deployment.

Through the provision of disciplined, well-trained and professional personnel, the NZDF is now making a difference through support of Managed Isolation and Quarantine Facilities (MIQF) and assisting at the maritime border.

The increase in Defence Force personnel deployed to the facilities will increase security of higher risk areas, such as entry and exit points and public areas, and reduces the reliance on private security guards. Air Commodore Darryn Webb continues in his role of Head of Managed Isolation and Quarantine within the Government response.

Defence Force MIQF staff have duty lengths between seven days and four weeks, depending on their role, and are accommodated on site during this time. They do not return to their home or regular NZDF workplace each day as other Agency staff may. This is an NZDF requirement for their people as an additional precaution to protect the force.  

In addition, 80 NZDF personnel are assisting New Zealand Customs at the maritime border by maintaining the security of entry and exit points in relation to ports and ships that have arrived in New Zealand; providing information and engaging with people to ensure they understand the relevant isolation and quarantine rules; monitoring and, if necessary, directing the movement of persons at ports and on ships; and monitoring compliance at ports and on ships in relation to people disembarking, physical distancing rules, and rules in relation to wearing PPE.

The Director-General of Health has authorised members of the Armed Forces working in MIQFs and at the maritime border with specific enforcement officer powers under the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020.

These enforcement officer powers are not a deputation of New Zealand Police powers, and are specific in scope. At the MIQFs, Defence Force personnel are able to give legally enforceable directions, and to request a person to provide identifying information. At the maritime border, Defence Force personnel now have the authority to enter areas, buildings, vehicles, to give directions, and to request a person to provide identifying information.

While the NZDF continues to play a pivotal role in the response to COVID-19, they also continue to work alongside our partners and friends in our neighbourhood and further afield.  

Throughout this period, the NZDF continued to assist our neighbours and friends in the Pacific in response to Tropical Cyclone Harold, with our C-130 Hercules delivering essential equipment and supplies. The Royal New Zealand Airforce was also called upon to repatriate New Zealand citizens from the Pacific as a result of the combined impact of COIVD-19 and Tropical Cyclone Harold.  

New Zealanders can rightly be proud of how their Defence Force has stepped up to support our country in this challenging time. Where security, wellbeing and logistic stresses to the response change, the NZDF continues to maintain the unique capability to provide appropriate support at speed and on a large scale.  

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