Royal Commission of Inquiry into COVID-19 Lessons

About the Royal Commission of Inquiry

Focus of the Inquiry

The matter of public importance that is the subject of the inquiry is the lessons learned from Aotearoa New Zealand’s response to COVID-19 that should be applied in preparation for any future pandemic.

Terms of Reference

Members of the Royal Commission

The three members are Professor Tony Blakely (Chair), Hon. Hekia Parata, and John Whitehead.

Professor Tony Blakely

Professor Tony Blakely, of Melbourne, specialises in epidemiology and public health medicine. Most of his career was at the University of Otago, Wellington.  His understanding of public health is extensive, and he has published over 300 peer reviewed journal articles, including on the management of COVID-19.

Hon. Hekia Parata (Ngati Porou and Ngāi Tahu)

Hekia Parata, is a former Member of Parliament, whose Ministerial experience spanned numerous portfolios, including Education, Energy and Resources, ACC, Women’s Affairs, Pacific Island Affairs, and Ethnic Affairs. She has substantial public sector experience and a successful track record of understanding and engaging with Iwi and Māori interests. Her international OECD work reflects her capability.

John Whitehead

John Whitehead, CNZM, KStJ, of Wellington, is an economist who has extensive public sector experience that includes serving as Minister (economic) at the New Zealand High Commission in London, Economic Advisor to the Prime Minister, Secretary and Chief Executive of the New Zealand Treasury, and as an Executive Director and member of the Board of the World Bank. He has been appointed to multiple government committees and has previous experience in government inquiries. In 2020 he was appointed Chancellor and Board Chair of the Order of St. John in New Zealand and has served as Chair or Board member of various other charitable and religious organisations. 

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Progress Updates from the Royal Commission

4 May 2023

Additional requests for information, and follow-up meetings with key organisations, will be a particular focus for the Royal Commission of Inquiry into COVID-19 Lessons from May.

Work is also continuing on identifying and examining information from a wide range of publicly available sources about the COVID-19 response, such as published reports or reviews.

There is a great deal of information to consider, says Commission Chair, Professor Tony Blakely, and it’s important for the Inquiry to first use this publicly available information to inform both its thinking on lessons learned, and any engagements it then undertakes.

“We’re getting to a point where we’d like to connect soon with key organisations to better understand what additional information they might be able to share with us, some of which may not be public.

“Access to this information, and to key people, will help the Commission to capture lessons to be learnt from COVID-19, which can then be applied to strengthen the response to future pandemics,” says Professor Blakely.

Over the coming months, the Commission will be progressively contacting a wide range of organisations and institutions including community organisations and NGOs, Iwi and Māori organisations, business associations, academics and researchers, international organisations, and other government agencies not previously contacted, such as Commissions.

“We’d like to better understand what studies or other information these organisations might have that would be of benefit to the Inquiry, and potentially to engage with them more generally about the Commission’s work.”

There will be opportunities, likely later this year, for other organisations and for members of the wider public to input into the Inquiry, says Professor Blakely.

“We know the COVID-19 pandemic has had significant effects for all New Zealanders, and that will remain front of mind for us as the Inquiry progresses.”

Further information and details will be available later in May or early June.

31 March 2023

The work of the Royal Commission of inquiry into COVID-19 lessons is progressing, with the focus currently on identifying and sourcing publicly available information.

This has included an initial communication to Government agencies about reports, reviews and information that can help inform the Commission’s work.

The Commission will also look at other information from a wide range of sources about the COVID-19 response, such as existing websites for example, in this early phase.

A key consideration for the Commission, as per its Terms of Reference, is to ensure that it initially uses publicly available information where possible to inform its work, such as previously completed COVID-19 reports or reviews, of which there are a large number.

Using this approach, the Commission can ensure it doesn’t repeat work that has already been undertaken. The approach will also help guide the next stages of the Commission’s work, including identifying key information gaps, and its broader engagement.

For these reasons the Commission is not seeking additional information outside this process, at this stage.

Timeframes for the Commission's work programme are still being developed, including how the wider community can contribute to the Commission’s overall mission.

The Commissioners know the pandemic has had significant effects for all New Zealanders, and that will remain front of mind as the Inquiry progresses.

28 February 2023

Section 14 of the Inquiries Act 2013 allows the Royal Commission to conduct its inquiry as it considers appropriate, subject to certain considerations as set out in that section and to the Terms of Reference. Clause 7 of the Terms of Reference guides the Royal Commission of Inquiry as to the way it will operate and the procedure it will follow. Broadly, the inquiry must not take a legalistic approach and must use the most efficient and least formal procedures to gather information in addition to that which is already publicly available. It is currently focussed on identifying publicly available information.

The Royal Commission is mindful of the impact of Cyclone Gabrielle on New Zealand, and those it may wish to speak to, and of the need for its procedures and processes to be flexible over time. At this stage it has determined that no person is expected to be designated as a core participant under section 17 of the Inquiries Act 2013. It will develop further procedures and processes in due course, including how it might engage with the public. As noted below, it will outline its approach once further planning and research has been undertaken.

1 February 2023

On 8 December 2022 the Government announced the appointment of a Royal Commission of Inquiry to look at the lessons learned from Aotearoa New Zealand’s response to COVID-19 that should be applied in preparation for any future pandemic.  The three members of the Royal Commission are Professor Tony Blakely (Chair), Hon. Hekia Parata, and John Whitehead.

The Secretariat for the Royal Commission of Inquiry is currently being established and the Royal Commission is planning its approach to its work.  Anita West has been appointed as the Executive Director to head the Royal Commission’s Secretariat.  Following a request from the Royal Commission, the Solictor-General has appointed Jane Meares as Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission.

The Royal Commission of Inquiry’s Terms of Reference provide that from 1 February 2023 the inquiry may begin considering evidence.  The Royal Commission’s current focus is on identifying and considering the significant amount of information that is already publicly available.

Over the coming months the Royal Commission of Inquiry will share more information on how it plans to operate.  The Inquiry’s final report is due 26 June 2024.

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Sign up for Regular Updates

To subscribe to the Royal Commission’s email updates, please sign up here.

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Cabinet papers - establishment of the Royal Commission into COVID-19 lessons

Released Cabinet papers that relate to the establishment of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into lessons learned from Aotearoa New Zealand’s response to COVID-19. 

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Official Information Act guidance for agencies

The Inquiry has developed some guidance for agencies who are subject to the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA) to inform them of the best approach to take when responding to Inquiry related OIA requests. The guidance is available here (PDF, 204KB). For any further advice, please contact the Commission directly at:

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Meeting procedures

The Royal Commission has developed guidance for individuals and organisations who meet with us during the Inquiry. The meeting procedures are available here (PDF, 146B). For any further advice, please contact the Commission directly at:

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Questions and Answers

Why is the Government establishing a Royal Commission of Inquiry?

A Royal Commission of Inquiry is being established to prepare New Zealand for future pandemics, by providing recommendations based on the key lessons learnt from our COVID-19 experience. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has had, and continues to have, significant, complex, and far-reaching impacts on people, whānau and communities. 

The Government recognises the opportunity and duty to carry out a review of our response to the pandemic, as part of our commitment to laying the foundations for a better future.

A Royal Commission of Inquiry is the highest form of public inquiry for the most serious issues of public importance, so it is the most appropriate type of inquiry for this purpose.

Why is the Royal Commission being established now? 

It is timely to strengthen New Zealand’s preparedness for future pandemics following the retirement of the COVID-19 Protection Framework (the traffic light system). While COVID-19 is still in our communities, most public health restrictions have been lifted, signalling the end of the emergency phase of the pandemic. It is important we review and learn from our recent experience while institutional knowledge is fresh in our minds and readily available.

What will the Royal Commission do? 

The purpose of the Royal Commission is to strengthen New Zealand’s preparedness for, and response to, potential future pandemics. The unprecedented and evolving nature of COVID-19 meant that uncertainty was a constant feature throughout the pandemic. A future pandemic will also bring with it uncertainty, along with a unique set of challenges. It will not replicate our experience of COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic was caused by a coronavirus – the next pandemic might be an influenza or another infectious agent.  New Zealand’s preparation for future pandemics needs to be flexible enough to respond effectively to a broad range of potential infectious agents and events.

The Royal Commission will focus on identifying lessons from New Zealand’s COVID-19 pandemic response that can be applied to future pandemic planning.  This involves consideration of the lessons that can be learnt from the elimination, and minimisation and protection strategies. 

Will the public get an opportunity to participate?

The Royal Commission will need to gather information from a range of sources and people.  The Royal Commission will determine what type of engagement, including public engagement, it considers will enable it to gather the information and views that will inform its recommendations.  Once it has formed a plan for its inquiry, in the next few months the Royal Commission will outline how it will approach its work, and what its engagement plans and opportunities are.  

As it’s a Royal Commission, will there be public hearings?

Royal Commissions are not specifically required to hold public hearings. The Inquiries Act 2013 allows each Inquiry to set its own procedure. The Law Commission, in its report that led to the Inquiries Act, noted that Inquiries should be able to use a wide variety of means, such as informal meetings and interviews, with formal hearings akin to court processes only required in the minority of instances. The Royal Commission will decide on the forms of engagement it considers necessary, including whether any hearings are appropriate, to gather the information or views needed to inform its recommendations.  In the next few months, the Royal Commission will outline its approach once it has completed its initial planning.  

Will the Royal Commission assess how well the Government responded or where it could have done better?

Yes.  To identify lessons that should be applied in preparation for any future pandemic, the Royal Commission will comment on the effectiveness of New Zealand’s initial elimination strategy, and later minimisation and protection strategy. Considerations will include how effective were they in limiting the spread of the virus and its impact on vulnerable groups and the health system. The Royal Commission will look into this in the context of New Zealand’s circumstances, what was known at the time, and the strategies adopted by comparable jurisdictions.

What is the Royal Commission not permitted to look at? 

As with all inquiries, some things are excluded. Exclusions help avoid duplication of effort and help ensure the inquiry's task is manageable and can be done within a reasonable timeframe. Many of the exclusions for this inquiry reinforce the lesson-learned, future-focussed approach, and the preference to not duplicate the material already produced. They direct the Royal Commission away from a fault-finding process. For example, while the policy framework for the response is in scope, the individual decisions, such as whether certain individuals should or should not have been granted MIQ access, or on which days alert levels should have changed, are excluded from the Inquiry’s scope. These individual decisions are less likely to help inform future pandemic decision making. 

Given how critical the public health system is in a pandemic, will the Royal Commission be able to make recommendations about the recent health reforms?

No. The recent reforms to New Zealand’s health system, including the organisational arrangements for public health services are excluded from the Royal Commission’s scope. The Royal Commission is not invited to relitigate the health reforms in terms of a general examination or to provide recommendations on how health services generally should be organised. It is within scope, however, for the Royal Commission to identify lessons that can be learned about expectations of health services and how they need to be maintained during a pandemic.  The Royal Commission’s recommendations will be relevant regardless of the structure of the health system in Aotearoa-New Zealand.

Why are democratic accountability mechanisms like parliamentary processes and the general election out of scope? 

The Terms of Reference appropriately restricts the Royal Commission from examining matters that come within the purview of Parliament.  

The resilience of the electoral system, including conducting an election in a pandemic or other emergency, is included in the terms of reference for the Independent Electoral Law Review. Specifically, the terms of reference for that Review include the resilience of the electoral system, including flexibility to use emergency powers to conduct an election.

The Independent Electoral Law Review is also required to consider recommendations from the Justice and Electoral Select Committee. The Report of the Justice and Electoral Select Committee into the 2020 General Election recommended the legislative framework be reviewed to ensure to ensure that there is adequate resilience to emergencies. 

Will the response of the private sector be examined?

The operation of the private sector is excluded from the Royal Commission’s scope, except where the private sector delivers services integral to a pandemic response. 

How will this inquiry benefit New Zealanders?

There will be future pandemics, and it’s imperative Aotearoa is well prepared to respond a future pandemic. 

Learning from our COVID-19 experience will ensure New Zealand has appropriate and effective policies and practices in place for the future that will benefit New Zealanders across many aspects of their lives.

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Contact the Royal Commission

A secretariat is being established by the Department of Internal Affairs to support the Inquiry, and it is expected that the Commission will make announcements about their plans in the coming months.

In the interim, any enquiries should be directed to

Media queries can be directed to

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