Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield check in with the hand sanitiser on their way into a briefing (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Covid-19 live updates, May 3: Two new cases in New Zealand, Bloomfield issues warning

For all The Spinoff’s latest coverage of Covid-19 see here. Read Siouxsie Wiles’s work here. New Zealand is currently in alert level three – read The Spinoff’s giant explainer about what that means here. For 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

Two new cases were announced, both linked to the St Margaret’s cluster in Auckland. There were no new deaths.

The director general of health warned that “concerning” public behaviour could slow the country’s move to level two

New legislation will fast-track consent for a suite of “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects under new legislation, the environment minister announced

Leading epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker called for the government to look at making mask-wearing mandatory.

The prime minister defended the level of Māori health input the government has sought during the Covid-19 response.

Both the Ministry of Health and the Mental Health Foundation repudiated an online rumour that suicides have spiked as a result of the lockdown

The Vodafone Warriors flew out to Australia in preparation for the resumption of the NRL season. About 50 players and staff headed to Tamworth in New South Wales, where they will serve a 14-day quarantine.

6.30pm: On The Spinoff today

Our books editor spoke to a clinical psychologist about why our attention spans are all so…. sorry, what was the question again?

Ben Thomas reported from Te Urewera on how Nāi Tūhoe is utilising resources, and its community networks, to respond to the Covid-19 crisis.

Former MediaWorks head of news Hal Crawford explained why Australia’s plan to make tech giants pay for news won’t work

Chris McDowall shared today’s collection of maps, charts and data visualisations on Covid-19 in New Zealand

5.00pm: No truth to suicide rumour, Health Ministry says

The Ministry of Health has tweeted a repudiation of yesterday’s online rumour that there’s been a sharp jump in suicides as a result of the lockdown.

Earlier today the Mental Health Foundation called the same rumour “irresponsible, dangerous and untrue” (see 11.30am update).

Asked on April 23 whether the police were seeing an increase in callouts related to mental health crises, including suicide, police commissioner Andrew Coster said that calls had stayed steady over the past four weeks, “with no significant spike or decline”.

“That doesn’t mean people aren’t struggling,” he said.

However police callouts may not tell the full story. On April 30, mental health helpline Youthline told RNZ it had seen a 50% increase in the number of “suicide related contacts it receives from young New Zealanders” over the past six weeks.

New Zealand as a whole has the highest youth suicide rate in the OECD, and rates are even higher among Māori youth.

4.10pm: Banks warn against popular online payment system

ANZ and Kiwibank are warning against the use of online retail transaction system POLi, reports 1News. A similar warning appears on ASB’s website. POLi is popular with online shoppers who don’t have a credit card or online-enabled debit card and according to distributor Merco Limited, it experienced a 450% increase in use during April while bricks-and-mortar retailers were closed. But banks warn it’s an insecure method of payment because it requires consumers’ bank usernames and passwords, and say people should change their banking password if they’ve used it in the past. Merco insists it’s safe to use, pointing out that any bank data required to facilitate payments isn’t stored by the system. In the 11 years it’s been operating in New Zealand there hasn’t been a single data breach of the POLi system, Merco says.

3.00pm: Newshub’s Tova O’Brien on her Twitter critics

Members of the political press gallery regularly comes in for criticism for their line of questioning at the daily briefings, but none have experienced a drubbing like Newshub political editor Tova O’Brien. She’s consistently criticised for her aggressive tone, her “stupid” questions, and for repeating questions others have already asked (in fact a common technique in broadcast journalism, as explained here). In a very good profile in today’s Sunday Star-Times by Kelly Dennett, O’Brien says she tries to tune out the complaints “but I can tell … it’s reached peak troll”.

O’Brien faced especially fierce public hostility after asking the prime minister about Donald Trump’s “bleach” comments, to which the PM gave a somewhat baffled response. But Patrick Gower, O’Brien’s predecessor, says he can’t understand what all the fuss is about. The president of the United States’ comments would go down in history, he said. “If that’s not a question that should be asked, what is?”

1.45pm: Today’s active and recovered graph

Here’s today’s graph, courtesy of Chris McDowall. There are 201 active cases, and 1,266 recovered. See McDowall’s data visualisations for yesterday’s numbers here, and check back later this afternoon for today’s full suite of graphs.

1.35pm: ‘Concerning’ behaviour could slow move to alert level two – Bloomfield

The director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, says he’s happy to see only two new Covid-19 cases announced. However, he’s concerned to see people continuing to break the government’s rules for alert level three.

“We’re now nearly a week into Level 3, and while there could be some excuses early on, everyone should now be more familiar with the rules, both around increased retail activity and our own social interactions. It’s been concerning to see some behaviours continue into the weekend and ultimately, this could slow a move to level two,” Bloomfield said in a statement.

Newshub today reported that police have broken up “hundreds” of parties during the level three lockdown. Police told the outlet they had received 1200 reports of mass gatherings since alert level three began. More than 680 of those came between Friday night and Saturday afternoon, it reported.

Jacinda Ardern expressed concern on Thursday after seeing photos of large crowds gathered outside BurgerFuel outlets in Auckland on the day New Zealand transitioned to level three.

Bloomfield reiterated the government’s “stay home, save lives” message, and urged businesses to keep at least a metre between workers, and tewo metres distance from the public. “Continuing to be vigilant will be key in supporting a move down to level two as soon as possible.”

1.00pm: Two new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand

There are two new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, the Ministry of Health has announced.

Both are confirmed cases of Covid-19, with links to the St Margaret’s Hospital & Rest Home cluster in Auckland. The two new cases are household contacts of a rest home employee.

This equals the previous record low increase in daily cases recorded on April 29. It marks the 15th day in a row of single-digit increases in case numbers.

The combined total of confirmed and probable Covid-19 cases in New Zealand is now 1487.

The number of recovered cases of Covid-19 now sits at 1266, or 85% of the number of people who have contracted the virus. That number is an increase of three on yesterday.

The number of “active cases” is New Zealand is now 201.

A total of 4,634 tests were completed yesterday, with a combined total to date of 150,223.

Eight people are in hospital with Covid-19. None are in ICU. 

There are still 16 significant clusters of Covid-19 around the country, though three of those are considered closed because 28 days have passed without a new infection linked to a reported case. 

The three closed clusters are the Wellington wedding cluster and two clusters linked with group travel to the United States – one in Wellington and the other in Auckland.

In the days since New Zealand went into alert level four, the new cases each day have numbered as follows:: 78, 85, 83, 63, 76, 58, 61, 89, 71, 82, 89, 67, 54, 50, 29, 44, 29, 18, 19, 17, 20, 15, 8, 13, 9, 9, 5, 6, 3, 5, 5, 9, 5, 3, 2, 3, 3, 6, and today, 2.

12.26pm: Māori media make case for bigger voice in post-Covid landscape

Māori media representatives have made an appeal for better funding and resources to help them serve communities with reliable information as New Zealand recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic. Commercial media outlets recently received a $50 million bailout package from the government, with a second funding package still to be announced. Tūranga FM general manager Matai Rangi Smith told The Hui that his station operates on the “smell of an oily rag” compared to other stations. “We get treated like the pōtiki – even the funding is not quite up with the other mātāmua,” he said.

The Hui host Mihingarangi Forbes pointed out on Twitter that Māori TV, radio and print survive annually on roughly the same amount of money as the recently announced media bailout package. The Spinoff’s Ātea editor Leonie Hayden criticised finance minister Grant Robertson for saying he doesn’t want to “prop up failing businesses” with the bailout, saying it shows he has the wrong priorities. “It should be a concerted effort by our ministers to make sure that Māori voices are heard, that immigrant voices are heard, that diverse voices are heard and it shouldn’t be a matter of money and who’s a failing business and who’s not a failing business.”

Smith said iwi radio was often the first port of call for kaumatua, and an important source of information during the Covid-19 crisis. He said video diaries they’d put together during the pandemic had been hugely popular with Tairāwhiti residents. Despite that, iwi radio is in the midst of a funding crisis. For more on that issue, read this report by Alice Webb-Liddall.

12.02pm: Warriors flying out to Australia to prep for NRL restart

The Vodafone Warriors are set to fly out to Australia today to get ready for the NRL season to resume. About 50 players and staff from the team are scheduled to fly to Tamworth in New South Wales , where they will serve a 14-day quarantine. Australia’s borders are still closed, and the team had to attain a travel exception from the Australian and New South Wales governments for the trip.

Warriors chief executive Cameron George said the team would use its isolation time to train for the season, which is set to resume on May 28. “We have never wavered in our commitment to be involved in supporting the resumption of the season. We’re now ready to go and couldn’t be happier about the prospect of being back on the field at the end of the month,” he said.

11.30am: Suicide increase claims ‘dangerous and untrue’

Prompted by speculation that there has been a surge in suicide in lockdown – claims issued by an anonymous rightwing troll account on Twitter and credulously amplified by a handful of commentators and at least one member of parliament – the Mental Health Foundation has issued a statement. “There is no evidence New Zealand’s suicide rates have increased over lockdown. There is no truth to this rumour. It is irresponsible, dangerous and untrue,” it said.

“We are worried about the level of credibility given to such claims, which it has seen popping up with increasing frequency. Very few people in NZ can accurately assess numbers of suicide at a national level. Do not contribute to misunderstandings and false information about suicide in New Zealand by sharing this rumour even if it is to deny or critique it. Sharing misinformation, even with the best of intentions, ultimately causes more harm.”

It added: “We are worried about the impact these rumours will have on people who are currently vulnerable to suicide. Whenever we have a public discussion about suicide, people who are currently suicidal or who are vulnerable to suicide are always listening.”

For more information from the Mental Health Foundation see here, or text/call 1737 for more advice.

11.15am: Boris Johnson names son after doctors who treated him

UK prime minister Boris Johnson and his fiancée Carrie Symonds have given their newborn son a middle name which pays tribute to two of the doctors who treated Johnson for Covid-19. Wilfred Lawrie Nicholas Johnson was born on Thursday (NZ time). The name Nicholas pays tribute to Dr Nick Price and Dr Nick Hart, who treated Johnson at London’s St. Thomas’ Hospital, according to Symonds’ announcement on Instagram. Though the name decision has been praised in some quarters, some New Zealanders have noted the slight to Jenny from Invercargill.

10.20am: Baker talks up evidence for ‘mass masking’

Otago University epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker has called for the government to look at making mask-wearing mandatory, saying there’s growing international evidence the move could help stop the spread of Covid-19. Speaking on Radio NZ this morning, Baker said widespread mask use could help New Zealand transition more safely into alert level two, where more contact can take place in enclosed spaces. “Many countries are adopting mass masking,” he said. “I think that’s a policy New Zealand really needs to look at.” 

Baker also argued for New Zealand to transition to a more sustainable economy as it emerges from the pandemic. Climate change is a far bigger long-term threat to human health than Covid-19, Baker said. “Covid-19 is a terrible shock but it’s a temporary shock. Climate change effects, many will be irreversible and they’ll be locked in for generations.” Baker called for the government to listen to scientists on what policy measures it needs to introduce to stop climate change, as it has for Covid-19.

10.08am: Ardern defends the government’s Māori health response

Jacinda Ardern has stood by the level of Māori health input the government has sought during the Covid-19 response, saying there has been a lot of work behind the scenes to ensure Māori communities aren’t being treated with a one-size-fits-all approach. She told Mihingarangi Forbes on The Hui this morning that the response to Covid-19 has always included Māori health strategies, and a real effort had been made since the beginning of the process to embed Māori advice into the response.

“I have to make sure that we’re learning as we go, and a real effort has been made that we were engaging with Māori as early as possible… as well as getting that advice, on the ground we were supporting Māori to be part of our solutions.”

Ardern said Māori weren’t being ignored by the Ministry of Health or DHBs. There had been “very proactive responses from those DHBs that do have significant Māori populations”, she said. “It has been localised, and Māori have had a seat at the table.”

She also addressed the concerns about rising rates of unemployment, specifically concerning Māori who have always been disproportionately represented in unemployment statistics.

“Pre-Covid we achieved some of the highest employment rates for Māori in a long time. What I think is important for us to think about is the concepts of mana and mahi, we’re actively supporting rangatahi into apprenticeships… the Provincial Growth Fund was designed to focus on the regions and places with high levels of deprivation and a higher proportion of Māori population.”

Ardern acknowledged that “Māori have been disproportionately affected by crises like this”, and that meant “we need a disproportionate positive impact”.

8.52am: Trump removes watchdog who wrote critical report

US President Donald Trump has removed a top official who wrote a report highlighting the country’s Covid-19 testing delays and shortages of medical supplies. Health and Human Services acting inspector general Christi Grimm last month issued a report revealing that hundreds of US health facilities were struggling to access testing kits and PPE as the country became the global epicentre for the Covid-19 outbreak. Trump appeared angry when Grimm’s report was raised at one of his daily media conferences, dismissing it as “wrong” and tweeting “Another Fake Dossier!” the day after it came out. The report was based on extensive interviews with hospitals.

The White House yesterday announced it had nominated assistant United States attorney Jason Weida to take over from Grimm. Weida will need to be confirmed by the US Senate. The US death toll from Covid-19 just passed 65,000. It has by far the highest number of Covid-19 cases and deaths in the world.

8.20am: One in 50 Moscow residents has Covid-19 – mayor

The map of countries most affected by Covid-19 appears to be changing, with Russia and Bali experiencing outbreaks as restrictions ease in several European countries. Several Russian politicians have tested positive for Covid-19, including the country’s prime minister. Moscow’s mayor has now warned that up to 2% of the city’s population could have the virus. His statement came as Russian health officials revealed a record daily rise in Covid-19 infections, with 9623 new cases announced on Saturday – up from 7933 on Friday.

In Bali, the Serokadan hamlet in Abuan village has been shut down after 1200 Covid-19 tests returned 400 positive results. Concerns have been raised over the health status of migrant workers returning to Bali. More than 10,000 workers have reportedly returned to the island since March, including many who were employed on cruise ships.

Meanwhile, Spain is easing some of its strict lockdown restrictions after experiencing the one of the worst Covid-19 outbreaks in the world. Spanish residents poured out of their homes to exercise yesterday, after getting permission to do so for the first time since the country’s lockdown began on March 14. Several people have raised concerns about the packed streets, and police have urged people to exercise “common sense”.

7.45am: Consent fast-tracked for shovel-ready projects

Resource consent is set to be fast tracked for a suite of “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects under new legislation being introduced by the government. Environment minister David Parker has announced that roading, walking, cycling, rail, and housing projects will be sped up under the law change approved by Cabinet last week. Environmental initiatives such as sediment removal for silted rivers, new wetland construction, and flood management will also be covered.

Under the new law, eligible projects will largely avoid having to be go through the consenting process mandated by the Resource Management Act . Instead, eligible projects selected by Parker will be approved by an expert consenting panel. According to government advice, the panel will issue decisions within 25 working days and projects referred to it will have a “high level of certainty” of being approved. “The consenting and approval processes that are used in normal circumstances don’t provide the speed and certainty we need now in response to the economic fallout from Covid-19. The new processes will get projects started sooner and people into jobs faster,” Parker says.

Legislation enabling the fast-tracked consenting process is set to pass in June. It is specific to the Covid-19 recovery and and will be repealed within two years, Parker says. Some large-scale government-led projects, including those in the NZTA’s Land Transport Program, will be affected. Projects identified by an Infrastructure Industry Reference Group appointed by the government last month will also be covered.  “Projects that help alleviate housing challenges, encourage active transport and enhance the environment are prioritised under the proposal,” Parker says.

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

There were two new confirmed cases of Covid-19 to report and four new probable cases.

The was one further death, George Hollings, a Rosewood resident who had been transferred to Burwood Hospital. There have now been 20 deaths from Covid-19 in New Zealand.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted emergency approval for the drug remdesivir to treat Covid-19 patients.

Winston Peters, appearing on Newshub Nation, said it’s possible for New Zealand to have a “shared border” with Australia in the not-too-distant future.

A $20 million fund was announced by the government to help tertiary students access digital devices and the internet to continue studies disrupted by Covid-19.

National’s finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith called the government’s interest-free loan scheme for small- and medium-sized businesses “half-baked”.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford announced that 56 extra weekly cargo flights are now running as part of the government’s  International Air Freight Capacity scheme.

Checkpoints run by Taranaki iwi reported that more than 50% of inter-regional travellers stopped were in breach of level three travel restrictions.

A joint statement by G20 trade and investment leaders outlined how those countries will maintain global supply chains, and ensure the flow of goods, services and people between them.

National Geographic reported that New Zealanders commonly refer to prime minister Jacinda Ardern as ‘Jaz’.

Catch up with yesterday’s updates here



The Spinoff is made possible by the generous support of the following organisations.
Please help us by supporting them.