Urgent maintenance on deteriorating turf in schools and sports facilities around New Zealand has been given a lockdown exemption by the Government this afternoon.
Until today, school and sports facilities had been exempt from the essential businesses list that could operate under the Level 4 lockdown restrictions.
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It meant turf and plants in private facilities were rapidly deteriorating in the largely dry weather much of New Zealand has experienced during the two weeks of lockdown - potentially amounting to millions in damages.
Minister for Sport and Recreation Grant Robertson announced the exemption in a statement at 4pm today.
"The Government has agreed that urgent upkeep and maintenance of biological assets will be able to go ahead after the Easter Weekend. This includes non-plantation nurseries, stadia turf, and golf and bowling club turf maintenance," Robertson said.
"The criteria and conditions under which this maintenance can go ahead are being urgently developed by the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment.
"I understand the implications if the maintenance does not occur regularly, including for community organisations, which is why we have moved quickly on these decisions.
However Robertson said schools and sports facilities will have to wait to begin the maintenance until MBIE release the criteria after Easter Weekend.
"However I ask those wanting to undertake the maintenance to wait until the criteria has been published – we need to ensure there are clear guidelines for the health and safety of the community and turf management workers. There will be clear restrictions on any activity that is allowed," Robertson said.
Yesterday, NZ Golf chief executive Dean Murphy said courses across New Zealand face the "risk of catastrophic turf death" amounting to $10 million if they could not perform maintenance soon.
"There is a risk of catastrophic turf death on putting greens due to disease, insect activity and lack of water. If this occurs the consequences could be major for our golf facilities – the cost of repair plus loss of business could be well in excess of $10 million," Murphy said.
National's sport and recreation spokesperson, Nikki Kaye, has been pushing the Government to respond to the turf maintenance need for weeks.
An online petition she set up today rapidly generated over 2300 signatures to allow maintenance on golf courses.
"It is great news the Government has moved on this issue for golf clubs, bowling clubs and nurseries," Kaye said.
"We have prevented significant damage to turf enabling some clubs to get back on their feet faster. This is really important for people's health post lockdown."
Robertson however warned schools and sport facilities to not begin the maintenance until the MBIE guidelines had been issued.
"We have been making good progress in our fight against Covid-19, but we are still at alert level 4 and we cannot be complacent and risk undoing the excellent progress we have made so far," Robertson said.
"So I reiterate to all those who are wanting to undertake the maintenance – please do not do so until the guidance has been issued. Please stay home this long weekend but you can start to plan and prepare for urgent maintenance to get underway soon."