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World PM not ruling out changing election date amid COVID-19 pandemic

16:47  16 march  2020
16:47  16 march  2020 Source:   msn.com

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The Prime Minister is not ruling out changing the date of the 2020 general election amid the coronavirus COVID-19 global pandemic.

It comes as six Members of Parliament are now in self-isolation and the Speaker of the House has told Newshub it's a matter of when, not if, the virus spreads into Parliament.

September 19 is marked for the 2020 general election, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday there are no plans at this stage to change the date.

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But when Newshub asked if she was ruling out changing it, Ardern responded: "No, I'm saying at this point there is no basis for us to do that... we are some distance from the general election."

Jacinda Ardern et al. that are standing in front of a flag © Newshub A delay is not the only option available. The Electoral Commission is investigating emergency measures to ensure the country can vote if they can't physically get to the polls.

"One of the things that we are considering is expanding our upload-download service," Alicia Wright, Chief Electoral Officer, told Newshub. "We do that now for our overseas voters."

Coronavirus outbreak in pictures

That would have to be limited, though.

"We could expand that out to maybe 10,000 more people, but we wouldn't be able to use it across the country," Wright added.

The Prime Minister says we already have about 10,000 people in self-isolation, and Newshub has learned that includes six MPs: Cabinet ministers Nanaia Mahuta and Tracey Martin, National's Chris Bishop, Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick and Labour's Anahila Suisuiki, as well as National MP Kanwaljit Bakshi who will enter self-isolation upon his return from India. 

Martin came into contact with Australian MP and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton who has tested positive for coronavirus, but the New Zealand First MP won't be getting tested herself as that's the health advice she's been given. 

The advice was based on the time between her meeting with Dutton and his diagnosis - about five days apart. 

Parliament has also clamped down on public access. 

No tours will operate from Tuesday, school visits have been cancelled from Monday next week, and the public is banned from eating at the Beehive café Copperfield's.

"It's inevitable that it will come into Parliament at some stage," House Speaker Trevor Mallard told Newshub. "What we want to do is minimize the impact when it does."

Mallard said public tours are likely to bring in people who haven't been tested for COVID-19 and could be carrying it.

He said there is "no excuse whatsoever" for an MP to go to Parliament if they think they could be infected.

Press Gallery reporters have plans to practice social distancing too - the daily media scrums with the Prime Minister will now be held as a more formal press conference to avoid contact.

And the Speaker is investigating plans to have the majority of the 1000 people who work on the precinct work from home.

"We've been informed very much by earthquake and by terrorism planning… we have worked out what a minimum viable staff number is," Mallard said.

"It's actually quite a small number necessary to get this place going… Realistically, I think about a dozen [MPs] could debate Bills."

The bustle of the Beehive could soon come to a grinding halt during a time of crisis.

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