Grim realities of bird flu hit politicians

By Mike Houlahan

Politicians were confronted with the unpleasant realities of a bird flu pandemic yesterday, with local government representatives asking for special powers to allow them to bury the dead.

Hastings District Council mayor Lawrence Yule, speaking on behalf of Local Government New Zealand, told the Government administration select committee that local authorities would need many laws relaxed in the event of a bird flu pandemic.

Among them would be regulations governing the establishment and maintenance of cemeteries, registration of funeral directors, certification of mortuaries and provision for the handling and transportation of dead bodies - all of which are administered by local authorities.

Mr Yule told the committee, which is hearing submissions on the Law Reform Epidemic Preparedness Bill, it could take local authorities up to a year to acquire land under the Public Works Act for a cemetery.

Similarly, the Health Act and burial regulations meant funeral directors and mortuaries needed certification - a process that would need fast-tracking if a worst-case-scenario disease outbreak stuck New Zealand.

It has been predicted that if a bird flu pandemic struck the country it could infect about 1.6 million people and kill 33,000 in eight weeks.

Mr Yule said councils also wanted to see rules governing quorums, public access to meetings, and public consultation relaxed.

The northern branch of the Employers and Manufacturers Association also made a submission yesterday. It called for labour laws to be relaxed so businesses were not obliged to suspend workers if they were barred from going to work.

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