Auckland prepares for lockdown scenario

Mayor Phil Goff expects the limits on public gatherings to be lowered this afternoon to 100 as the Auckland Council prepares for a possible lockdown order

Auckland Council has plans for the city if a full-scale lockdown is ordered - aimed at keeping water, wastewater, rubbish, "a level of transport", cemeteries and animal services at the zoo and pounds running.

Councillors have been briefed on Thursday morning on implications of any further impacts from Government-ordered restrictions to limit the Covid-19 virus spread.

The council now has 6500 staff able to work from home, and can increase that to 10,000 within 24 hours if required.

It has split its staff at the council, Watercare and Auckland Transport to ensure any staff infections do not cripple the organisations' ability to provide essential services.

Officials said a business continuity plan was being finalised to keep the critical services functioning. The plan sets out actions under a wide lockdown scenario and a reduction of 20 percent in the council's capacity.

The director, executive services, Ian Maxwell, told the meeting current effects of social distancing and people working from home were around the fringes of council services. But in a more serious scenario Auckland would have to focus on required services such as water and waste water, refuse, transport and cemetery and "keeping our animals alive at the zoo, on the farms, and dog pounds".

"We've identified a range of services, which are nowhere near the extent of services we provide now, which are key and important and even though I might say transport services, it's probably not the transport service as we know it today. It will be some variation of it.

"So, we are under a legal obligation to provide services to a level that we can, so our teams are working hard to actually achieve that."

He said the plans for the two scenarios should be finished early next week.

The council also had to determine how the Governing Body - the full council - and its local boards could continue to meet "if we get to a really bad situation".

Mayor Phil Goff said there were two challenges: some people were not taking the Covid-19 crisis and measures seriously, including  the kind of behaviour exhibited on St Patrick's Day, while at the other extreme some people were panic-buying and over-reacting.

"It's a new thing for a whole generation of New Zealanders. We're faced with the biggest health threat we've faced since 1918 and faced with potentially the worst economic situation since the 1930s, but we've got to bring some positivity into that, and the positivity I'm seeing is coming out of China.

"I'm reasonably confident the Government is keeping ahead of the curve and we will get new advice this afternoon and I think the 500-person limit is too high and I think we will come back from that."

Officials were assessing possible costs to the council of Covid-19 related measures.  

But one upside revealed at the meeting was that Standard & Poors, the global ratings agency, had removed an explicit ceiling on the council's debt to income ratio of 270 percent, meaning it was possible for the council to borrow more than it had planned, if the need arose.

Earlier, the committee had a briefing from Eden Park Trust, under a requirement arising from the Council's $50m bailout of the stadium last year.

Trust chair Doug McKay said Eden Park stood to lose $7m in revenue between now and the end of its financial year on October 31 because of cancellations forced by the Covid-19 restrictions.

It will be empty instead of hosting Super Rugby matches, the daily tour groups including tourists and a range of smaller events. Eden Park hoped the two All Black test matches it was down to host this winter, against Wales and South Africa, could proceed and was working with sports and broadcast partners for possible events to be held without spectators.

The trust's chief executive Nick Sautner said the it had contacted the Government and Council to offer the facility for "any alternative use'"during the crisis.

In the meantime it would press ahead with its bid to win automatic planning rights for six rock concerts a year. So far, the application for consent had cost it $600,000 and it expected to spend between $300-$400,000 more on the bid.

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