Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media during a press conference at parliament on April 2  (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media during a press conference at parliament on April 2 (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

BusinessApril 2, 2020

Covid-19 live updates, April 2: PM says Bauer should have taken up subsidy; GPs worry about testing criteria

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media during a press conference at parliament on April 2  (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media during a press conference at parliament on April 2 (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

For all The Spinoff’s latest coverage of Covid-19 see here. Read Siouxsie Wiles’s work hereNew Zealand is currently in alert level four. The country is shut down, apart from essential services. For updated official government advice, see here.

The Spinoff’s coverage of the Covid-19 outbreak is funded by The Spinoff Members. To support this work, join The Spinoff Members here.

6.55pm: The day in sum

  • Director-general of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, announced 89 new cases of Covid-19.
  • Bauer Media NZ announced it was closing in response to the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The prime minister said the German-owned company should have signed up for the wage subsidy scheme and remained open.
  • Police commissioner Mike Bush faced questions around the recent returnees from overseas, saying he believed police were texting recent arrivals, who had to give consent to be monitored via location services on their phones.
  • Prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced a leave scheme for essential workers and an exit plan for foreign nationals.
  • Concerns were raised around the safety of video conferencing platform Zoom, which the government has used for cabinet meetings.
  • DHBs and doctors worried about the widening of testing criteria resulting in testing centres being overwhelmed.
  • Wimbledon was cancelled for the first time since World War II.

6.30pm: On The Spinoff today

Heaps of cracking coronavirus-related content, including:

6.10pm: HRC says rights of those being held in quarantine must be respected

The Human Rights Commission has called on the government to respect the rights of those being detained by authorities in its response to Covid-19, including those being quarantined.

“The government has obligations to limit the spread of Covid-19, but restrictions placed on people in detention must be necessary, proportionate and respectful of human dignity,” said chief human rights commissioner Paul Hunt in a media release.

“People being held under the Health Act for quarantine or quarantine-related purposes must be able to communicate with their friends and family. They must also have access to independent medical and legal advice, and other basic needs,” said Hunt. 

Meanwhile, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner is adapting how it monitors the welfare of children and young people in the care of Oranga Tamariki in response to the Covid-19 restrictions. In a media release, children’s commissioner Andrew Becroft said “secure online communication tools like video conferencing” were being used. “These residences present particular challenges in this environment, given children and young people are in close proximity with each other and with adult staff members who have regular contact with the outside world,” said Becroft.

“We’re working with Oranga Tamariki to engage with children and young people who are currently living in these residences as soon as we can, using technology in whatever flexible ways work best for them. We want to find out what forms of virtual monitoring work best from the perspective of children and young people and will learn from their feedback and advice to refine our approach over the coming weeks.”

5.30pm: GPs say assessment centres at risk of being overwhelmed

Royal New Zealand College of Practitioners medical director Bryan Betty has told RNZ the new case definition for Covid-19 puts assessment centres at risk of being overwhelmed. As reported in The Spinoff’s daily updates yesterday, the testing criteria was widened to remove any requirement for a link to overseas or a known case. Betty said he supports wider testing but believes the Ministry of Health should refine the case definition, as many people now believed they had a right to be tested.

Meanwhile, RNZ also reports that health staff and other essential workers say they are increasingly being spat at by angry members of the public while trying to work during the lockdown. Nurses Organisation kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku said the union was getting more reports of nurses being spat at by people trying to infect them – or at least frighten them. “This really shows the need for nurses to have enough PPE [personal protective equipment] on hand at all times,” she told RNZ.

5.15pm Suva in lockdown from tomorrow; world soon to have 1 million Covid-19 cases

RNZ journalist Jamie Tahana has tweeted that Fiji capital Suva will be in lockdown from tomorrow after two cases of Covid-19 were confirmed.

Meanwhile, the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has expressed deep concern over the rapid escalation in Covid-19 cases around the world, adding that in the next few days, one million cases and 50,000 deaths will be reached.

4.55pm: Funding for GPs, pharmacies announced

The government this afternoon announced a $30 million funding package to support GPs and pharmacies. “We heard sector concerns that they needed support to work differently and sustainably at this very testing time,” said health minister David Clark in a media release. “This support package goes some way towards the immediate needs, but we know there’ll be more to be done.”

The funding consists of $15 million to support general practices “with workload from testing patients and the costs incurred moving to virtual consultations”, and $15 million for community pharmacies, also to recognise workload and the move towards a virtual working environment.

There will be an additional payment to district health boards to to support the running costs of community-based assessment centres (CBACs), and funding will be available to general practices that are part of the CBACs network, said the release.

The announcement came as the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners said GPs were at breaking point, with a survey indicating many had lost their jobs, were struggling to keep businesses afloat, or didn’t know how they could continue under current conditions.

3.30pm: Ardern ‘gutted’ by Bauer Media closure; says company refused to take up wage subsidy scheme

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she’s “extraordinarily disappointed and frankly gutted” to see the closure of Bauer Media, whose titles she described as “a part of New Zealand history”.

“What I want to make really clear is the government sought to assist Bauer – Minister Kris Faafoi spoke to them and asked if they would take up the wage subsidy; they refused.

“This appears to have been a decision made at the same time as Covid-19, not because of it… The wage subsidy could have made a difference to those writers, to those journalists, and we were very keen that Bauer take it up.

“We would have liked Bauer to keep their doors open, keep operating, keep an online offering and move through the other side of Covid-19 once we’re all able to.”

In response to a question from a reporter, she continued, “No one wanted to see the loss of these magazines – these have all been a part of New Zealand history, they’ve been part of people’s lives. 

“Within a couple of days of the New Zealand government announcing the lockdown, Bauer contacted the minister and told him they weren’t interested in subsidies. They didn’t enter a conversation about becoming an essential service, they didn’t seek to continue to operate in lockdown and they didn’t want to use the government support to keep their doors open, so I reject any suggestion that Covid-19 and our response to it has caused them to shut their printing press but I deeply regret that they have. In my view, they should have taken it up and they should have kept going.”

Meanwhile, on safety concerns around the use of the video conferencing platform Zoom (see 8.30am update), Ardern said she would check in with the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB). “If the GCSB tells us not to use Zoom, we won’t use Zoom.” She added that cabinet had been cautious around what they’d been discussing in Zoom meetings. 

3.15pm: Essential worker leave scheme announced; new exit plan for foreign nationals

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced a new leave scheme for essential workers. At her daily media update, Ardern said the scheme was for essential workers who were “experiencing significant loss of business and similar hardship”. 

“There are people working iin our essential services who are more vulnerable to Covid-19, such as over-70s or those with compromised immunity ,or workers who have vulnerable people at home.

“We need to ensure they have the ability to take leave and are not feeling pressure to come to work if they’re vulnerable, sick or otherwise unable to work.”

The scheme will allows businesses to pay workers who need to take leave at same rate as the wage subsidy scheme: $585.80 per week for full-time and $350 for part-time workers. Ardern said the same conditions as relate to the wage subsidy scheme would apply – the employer should pay the employee’s usual income if it is less than the relevant subsidy, and if the usual wage is more than the subsidy, the employer should attempt to pay at least 80% of that wage. It will come into effect from Monday next week.

Ardern also said that the government had drawn up a “managed exit plan” for foreign nationals to leave New Zealand that would allow them to travel domestically whether by air or land when they have a confirmed or scheduled international flight out of New Zealand. Governments could arrange charter flights to repatriate their citizens as long as they met New Zealand health requirements, she said.

3.00pm: Government launches WhatsApp channel for public

The government has launched a WhatsApp channel “to help make information more easily accessible and shareable in the fight against Covid-19”. Accessible via, it will “carry information and news for the public, businesses, healthcare providers, not for profits and local government”, including the latest case information, Covid-19 symptoms, and financial support available.

2.30pm: PM to announce leave scheme for essential workers

Jacinda Ardern is expected to announce a leave scheme for essential workers at her 3pm media update, reports Stuff’s Henry Cooke. “This will be to cover a gap that’s existed for essential workers who are in the high-risk groups and so should stay home,” he writes. “The government has been talking about working out this problem for a few days now.” We’ll bring you all the details as we get them.

1.40pm: Bloomfield on lifting lockdown

Pressed on when we might see the peak number of cases, Bloomfield said: “The more data points we get in terms of the number of cases, especially as our testing increases, the more confident we’ll be in being able to say when the peak might be, but there will always be uncertainty around it. From the start we’ve said it would be at least seven to 10 days after the alert level four came in before we might see a turnaround.”

Alert level four came into action as of the end of Wednesday last week. “We’ve just seen today our biggest number of daily cases so we’re clearly not there yet,” he said.

Could we expect, therefore, an update in a few days on the chances of, or criteria for, lifting the lockdown at the end of the four weeks planned?

“That’s a piece of work that’s happening right across government,” said Bloomfield. “And it may be that Saturday we can update you. In fact I’m going next to a meeting to discuss the first bit of work being done on what are the criteria and how might we know what we should be looking for coming out of our scenario forecasting to help us determine when we might be able to come out of alert level four.”

He added: “Our goal is to get the number of cases right down again. As soon as we can we will want to be able to step down from alert level four to alert level three. It may well be we will not be able to do that in every part of the country at the same time.”

1.20pm: Police monitoring of overseas arrivals

Outgoing police commissioner Mike Bush has also been speaking to media today, about the monitoring system being used by police to keep track of recent arrivals to the country.

Bush said while he didn’t “have a deep understanding of technology”, he believed people were being texted by police, who were asking for consent for monitoring via location services. “They must accept it.”

He added, “We’re working it through with the privacy commissioner as we speak.”

If consent wasn’t granted, they could check on people via phone calls or random visits, all of which police were “ramping up”.

Asked if people who turned on the location services were monitored at all times or needed to text information, Bush said: “That’s a very good question. It would be dangerous for me to answer it in certainty.”

Bush said more police staff had been deployed to the far north in response to Dr Lance O’Sullivan’s report from Kaitāia to “engage, educate and encourage people to do the right thing”.

Regarding crime, he said there had been a significant drop-off in quite a few areas, and there hadn’t been a significant increase in family harm through official reports. “But I am aware through those working on the ground, NGOs in areas like Counties Manukau, that there has been an increase in family violence – it’s an absolute priority for us to attend and respond to these incidents.”

Bush also said there had not been any evidence of opportunistic crime taking place over the period of the lockdown.

He said there had now been a total of “four, possibly five arrests” relating to the lockdown. Most received a warning, but those being prosecuted were being sought on other matters.

1.00pm: 89 new cases, more work needed to determine community transmission

There are 76 new confirmed cases and 13 new probable cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, said Dr Ashley Bloomfield at today’s government update. Ninety-two patients have recovered. Today marks the biggest single increase in new daily cases.

There are 13 people in hospital with Covid-19, including two in ICU. All patients are stable.

Bloomfield said the Ministry of Health is still seeing a strong link to overseas travel, at 51% of cases, as well as links to confirmed cases within New Zealand at 31%. “At the moment, we only categorising a 1% as community transmission, but I do want to point out that a further 17% of cases are still being investigated and we fully expect that many of those will transpire to be community transmission.

“Community transmission is essentially categorisation by exclusion, so we have to exclude any tie to international travel or to an existing probable or confirmed case.”

Over the last seven days, there has been an average of 1835 tests per day.

Bloomfield said he was unable to provide even a ballpark figure on the number of Māori people that had been tested. He said officials were working to confirm the accurate collection of ethnicity data.

He said they were collecting detailed lab testing information from the most affected DHB areas, information which may help decide on future adjustments to the alert level. The implication here is that some parts of the country will exit the lockdown before others.

The current DHBs with the most cases are Southern (particularly around the Queenstown area), Waikato, Auckland and Waitematā, said Bloomfield.

He said 1.8 million face masks had been distributed in the last seven days, and an order of 41 million more will start to arrive from next Monday.

He added that there were 21 million pairs of gloves in stock, and more than a million additional pairs on order, plus 850,000 pairs of safety glasses and 640,000 face shields.

Hospital staff had been working hard over the last couple of weeks to free up capacity, and occupancy rates are currently around 50%, which is much lower than usual.

Addressing concerns that stocks of influenza vaccines weren’t being distributed properly, Bloomfield said “there is still plenty of vaccine out in the sector, but I’m aware of some areas where redistribution needs to happen”. He cited the NZ Defence Force releasing 500 vaccinations to be used by Māori primary health providers as an example.

12.35pm: Border measures defended

The last politician before the scrutiny committee is Jenny Salesa, customs minister. She has defended the approach on border screening and acknowledged that some of the communication has been lacking over, for example, guidance on physical distancing. Asked whether the government could say “with a straight face” that measures had been strong and swift at the border, Salesa said: “Yes … When I look by comparison to our international neighbours, we have by a significant margin acted fast across the board.”

12.25pm: Closure ‘a serious blow to New Zealand journalism and culture’ – Helen Clark

The closure of the magazines represented “a serious blow to New Zealand journalism and culture”, Helen Clark, has told The Spinoff. “I am a long time reader of The Listener, which has a venerable history, and for which one hopes there might be a committed New Zealand buyer.”

In her comments, which you can read in full in our story here, the former prime minister questioned whether the German-based Bauer Media may have been looking for an “excuse … to quit the New Zealand market”, adding that there may need to an extension to the role of New Zealand on Air, or an equivalent agency, “to support quality print journalism and media from New Zealand perspectives. That would not be easy to design, and no doubt the usual derision from the pure market forces lobby would respond, but without such a move New Zealand will struggle to be a supplier of news, opinion and other original media.”

12.05pm: Air NZ slashes routes

As of tomorrow, Air New Zealand’s domestic operations will shrink to a handful of routes, with only five airports in use: Auckland, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch and Dunedin. It represents a 95% reduction on their normal operations before the Covid-19 crisis, said the airline’s Cam Wallace. With the country in lockdown, demands has dropped by “about 99%”.

The new routes:

Auckland-Christchurch: 3 return services Monday-Friday; 1 return service Saturday & Sunday

Auckland-Wellington: 1 return service seven days a week

Wellington-Christchurch: 2 return services Monday-Friday; 1 return service Saturday & Sunday

Wellington-Nelson: 1 return service Monday-Friday

Christchurch-Dunedin: 1 return service Monday; 1 return service Friday

12.00pm: Bauer not interested in government assistance – minister

We’ve just updated our story on the decision by Bauer to close its New Zealand operations. Kris Faafoi, minister for broadcasting, communications and digital media, has told The Spinoff the publisher had not sought financial assistance from the government: “I need to make clear that in conversations I’ve had with Bauer recently they indicated that they were not interested in looking at what assistance they might be able to call on from the government’s Covid assistance initiatives and that is entirely their commercial decision.

He added: “I note that Bauer is looking for buyers for its New Zealand assets and I don’t want to interfere in that process … I also note that Bauer had indicated for some time that they were facing challenges around viability of their operations here in New Zealand.”

Read more here.

11.50am: Civil Defence minister and head at committee

It’s the turn of Peeni Henare, the minister for Civil Defence, at the special select committee, alongside the Civil Defence director of emergency management, Sarah Stuart Black.

And they kick off with the really important question: How come everyone calls her Norm?

“Sarah Norman was my family name and there were always a lot of Sarahs,” she says. “I think it was the most common name in my year. So for ease, I used Norm. Not always in the public domain, but I’m happy to go with that.”

Quizzed on whether they were scrutinising the advice from public health officials, Stuart Black said the response leadership team was “asking the questions in this complex matrix” of a range of workstreams. They were meeting daily to “test and probe how things are really tracking”, she said.

Nikki Kaye, spokesperson for Civil Defence, said that the testing was a “clear example of failure”, with insufficient testing capacity leading to “in effect, rationing”. That “cuts to the heart of whether Health and Civil Defence have done their job”, said Kaye. Was there sufficient scrutiny and transparency? Stuart Black: “I’m going to leave questions on testing to the director general of health. But I absolutely take your point. I think this is part of this combined approach that does mean we get robustness. The ability to ask questions.”

11.00am: Police commissioner Mike Bush faces questions

Police commissioner Mike Bush says most New Zealanders are complying with the conditions of the ongoing lockdown, and says that not all of the calls coming in from the public of rule-breaking require police attention.

“We know and recognise that what we’re asking New Zealanders to do is challenging,” said Bush, saying the some of the breaches he’s seen have been caused by continued ignorance of the rules, rather than people actively trying to flout them.

He confirmed that police did currently have the powers under legislation to implement the conditions of the lockdown, and that police had been engaging with Crown Law as to how to interpret the rules.

Bush also stressed that staff have been instructed to take a graduated response to offences. He said the use of the significant powers available to police now would be used with discretion, and sparingly, but they would be used if necessary.

“Anyone who persistently fails to comply, and that is a serious breach, will be arrested and prosecuted.”

He said that there would be a “high threshold” for entering homes without a warrant, one of the emergency powers currently available to police.

Bush also addressed concerns from MP Kiritapu Allan that different groups would experience different outcomes based on police discretion. “We track our application of discretion. We’ve moved a very long way, and we’re now in a position to say we apply that discretion evenly,” said Bush. He acknowledged that police had historically not done so. “That’s been a long journey for us,” he said, but today “We maintain an absolute focus on being fair and equal”.

He said the armed response team trial in South Auckland would come to an end, as scheduled, this month.

It’s Mike Bush’s last day as commissioner today. He will be replaced by Andrew Coster. He said the job has become more difficult over time.

“Never in my 42 years in policing have I ever experienced a period like the last 12 months, and we all know what I’m talking about,” said Bush.

10.15am: Civil Defence, policing in focus at Epidemic Response Committee

The Epidemic Response Committee is today focusing on issues of policing and civil defence amid the Level Four restrictions. Watch it live here:

9.20am: Magazine group Bauer NZ closing permanently

Bauer Media NZ is closing its doors permanently, staff have just been told in a company-wide Zoom meeting.

CEO Brendon Hill was emotional as he told staff, according to reports.

The New Zealand wing of the German-owned media company publishes titles including The Listener, North & South, Metro, Kia Ora, Home NZ, Next, Your Home & Garden, NZ Woman’s Day, New Zealand Woman’s Weekly and The Australian Women’s Weekly NZ.

Full story here.

8.45am: Testing capacity concerns

Criteria on testing is being relaxed, in an effort to ensure that community transmission of Covid-19 isn’t taking place in silence. However, because of that some DHBs are worried that they’re about to see a flood of applicants that they don’t have the capacity to deal with. Radio NZ has reported on comments from a few medical professionals, who say the government’s drive to get more testing going doesn’t square with what they’re seeing.

“There’s definitely discrepancies between the prime minister’s message and then the message that we get on the ground,” said one Palmerston North GP.

And an urgent advisory sent out by the MidCentral District Health Board is also raising concerns.

“Our capacity to test is pressured and there are risks that our capacity will be exceeded. That includes the testing centres ability to process requests when the numbers staffing these are limited and cannot be easily expanded through primary care resource alone.”

8.30am: National calls for Zoom replacement as security concerns mount

It has become the defining online platform of the pandemic, but an increasing number of security concerns are being raised around Zoom. Now the National Party’s Gerry Brownlee has joined the chorus, calling on the government to abandon the platform for cabinet meetings.

“Cabinet needs to be able to have robust discussions in a protected environment. It’s where decisions at the highest level are made for New Zealanders.

“It’s unbelievable to think the prime minister was advised there were security issues with the platform and then went ahead with using it anyway.”

A note here – the security classification for cabinet meetings is ‘restricted’ – so it’s still important that such discussions can be kept confidential, but subjects with Top Secret classification are not discussed at cabinet.

7.55am: Sign up for FluTracking now

We published a new piece by Dr Siouxsie Wiles today, about the FluTracking project. You should sign up for it right now, but if you need more convincing, here’s what Dr Wiles says about what it is, and why it matters:

The project aims to track flu and flu-like symptoms across both countries every year. In essence, as the people behind the site explain, it’s about “harnessing the power of the internet and community spirit for monitoring influenza”. It normally starts around April or May when our flu season kicks off. As part of an early warning system for Covid-19, this year the FluTracking project has started early.

The more people do the survey, the better FluTracking will be at tracking the appearance of potential clusters of Covid-19. Last week nearly 30,000 people in New Zealand did the survey. So please sign up.

7.45am: International updates: Spain suffers terrible day, Wimbledon cancelled

Spain suffered 864 deaths related to Covid-19 yesterday, which was their worst of the crisis so far, reports the BBC. It brings the total death toll in the country to more than 9000, though in a small sign for hope, the rate of new infections has been slowing. The latest Johns Hopkins University data shows that more than 870,000 people have been infected worldwide, with more than 43,000 deaths.

US VP Mike Pence has indicated that the country is now on a similar trajectory to that of Italy, a country which has had the worst death toll in the world. In an interview with CNN, Pence blamed both China and the US Centre for Disease Control for the situation – ignoring that his administration slashed funding for the CDC several years ago.

And the tennis tournament Wimbledon has been cancelled for the first time since World War II. It wasn’t scheduled to start until the end of June, but it’s a sign of how far away sports are now having to look into the future about events and competitions going ahead.

7.20am: Updates from today’s edition of The Bulletin:

Wage cuts are coming thick and fast for all sorts of industries right now, but it’s looking particularly bad in construction, where activity has basically stopped. It’s worrying for some of the biggest players too – Stuff’s Anuja Nadkarni reports that some Fletchers staff could be looking at losing a huge share of their income, as part of a 12 week plan to get the company through the uncertain lockdown and post-lockdown period. Fletchers executives are also taking a 15% cut over 12 weeks. The E tū union says the latter pledge is a bit disingenuous, as some staff could end up seeing their income fall by 70%.

Speaking of the construction industry, the government could be about to make a big move into trying to build things. Newsroom’s Dileepa Fonsecka reports that consideration is currently being made by senior ministers to reform Crown Infrastructure Partners so that it’s more like the old Ministry of Works. The aim would be to sidestep financing concerns in the industry to simply charge ahead with projects, to create employment and offset the likely large loss of jobs through other parts of the economy. There were two other measures announced yesterday aimed at bolstering the commercial infrastructure industry – a pledge to pick out some “shovel ready” projects that can start within six months, and advance payments for firms whose NZTA contracts are on hold.

Dire predictions are being made about the viability of hospitality businesses after the lockdown ends, reports the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Aimee Shaw. In tourists hotspots like Wanaka and Rotorua, the fear is that around half of businesses simply won’t be able to reopen, whereas in places like Christchurch and Wellington it will be more like 20-30% – so still pretty bad for an industry where margins can be very thin. A big problem is that the only way through for many will be through significant borrowing, which they’ll then have to spend years paying off – and in those tourist-heavy areas, will there even be customers?

If you’re working from home at the moment, you’ve almost certainly been recently introduced to the joys of Zoom calls. But as the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Chris Keall reports this morning, there are questions being raised about whether it is secure enough for the meetings of MPs and Cabinet. Zoom claims itself as an end-to-end encrypted service, but according to The Intercept’s reporting, that’s not actually true. The fear of one security expert spoken to by the Herald is that either the PM’s office wasn’t aware of security concerns around Zoom when discussing restricted and sensitive material, or they’ve relaxed their requirements because of the crisis. Incidentally, we’ve just published this guide to internet privacy and security by tech journalist Henry Burrell, which is particularly useful if you’re spending a lot more time online right now.

The stocks of flu vaccines are there, but they’re not getting to the people that need them, reports Newshub’s Michael Morrah. There’s really high demand for vaccines this year (for obvious reasons) and the government has instructed at-risk groups to be proactive about getting their jab. However, access has ended up being difficult for some people, and some are seeing their appointments get cancelled. Many GPs in particular are finding supplies are running short, but the story suggests pharmacies are doing a bit better. Speaking of the flu, Dr Siouxsie Wiles has written about the Flutracking project, and how mass participation in symptom tracking could save lives.

Keep going!