While Horizons Regional Council sent most of their staff to work from home yesterday, essential services such as emergency response, passenger transport and emergency consents continue to operate.

Horizons chief executive Michael McCartney says while Horizons is 'closed' three priorities remain in place.

"The health and welfare of our staff, our ability to respond to an emergency event such as a flood or earthquake, and operating our Manawatū-Whanganui Civil Defence and Emergency Management Emergency Coordination Centre (ECC) are our critical areas of focus," says Mr McCartney.

"Our ECC has been up and operational in Te Ao Nui for over a week, in anticipation of today's declaration of a state of national emergency. Horizons are ensuring we are resourced efficiently to deliver on local needs, support our District Health Boards and region's city and district councils, as well as assist nationally as the weeks progress.

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"As the Covid-19 pandemic response escalates and our business continuity plans kick into place, further essential services have remained online.

"Our bus services are operating with extra hygiene and physical distancing measures put in place. This includes free fares to eliminate cash handling.

"However, from Thursday 26 March all public transport services will be focused on allowing essential workers to travel between their homes and workplaces, and to allow those without private transport to access supermarkets and medical care.

"Horizons will be reducing services from Thursday in order to provide a sustainable and consistent bus service for these people. This will involve changing frequency of some services and cancelling others. An update on these changes will be available on our website and social media accounts once they are confirmed.

"We are also ensuring emergency consent processing, and pollution and incident response is available to investigate serious environmental incidents."

Horizons chairwoman Rachel Keedwell says council met briefly yesterday, where a decision was made to put all council meetings on hold for a few weeks.

"We have some flexibility to call emergency council meetings should the need arise," says Ms Keedwell.

"Our 2020-21 Annual Plan has also been put on hold.

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"We acknowledge that there are tough times ahead for the people of our region. If any of our ratepayers have direct debits or automatic payments they wish to put on hold, they are asked to contact our rates team who will happily action this. No penalties will be incurred as a result.

"As the country moves into alert level 4, we know many members of our community will feel isolated and anxious. While Horizons will continue their regional coordination of emergency agencies throughout the response, everyone has their part to play.

"Stay at home, check on the welfare of others, and be kind."