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.
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7.00pm: The day in sum
Two new cases of Covid-19 were announced – one confirmed and one probable.
One further death of a woman in her 60s was reported. She was a resident of Rosewood rest home and was considered a probable case of Covid-19.
The total number of cases recorded in New Zealand is now 1,488, with 88% considered recovered.
Microsoft’s plans to open its first datacentre region in New Zealand were welcomed by the government as a signal to the world New Zealand was “open for business”.
The Epidemic Response Committee focused on the pressures put on other parts of the healthcare system due to the lockdown, including deferred procedures for cancer patients and restrictions around births.
Support services such as Lifeline reported a 25% surge in demand due to Covid-19.
Ngāi Tahu Tourism, one of the country’s largest tourist operators, announced it was cutting 300 jobs.
6.30pm: Law firms repay millions in wage subsidies
Two of the biggest law firms in New Zealand have announced they have paid back the money that was claimed through the wage subsidy scheme, NZ Herald reports.
MinterEllisonRuddWatts and Simpson Grierson both claimed more than $2 million from the government based on a forecast decline in revenue. However, both firms have now revised their forecasts stating that revenue would not be as badly impacted as they thought.
Law firm Meredith Connell has also indicated it’s likely to repay the subsidy it applied for. It was paid $1.6 million in subsidies for 236 staff.
Earlier this week, National leader Simon Bridges criticised the scheme for its lack of targeted assistance.
“Big law firms, like I used to work for, don’t need this money. Small shopkeepers, tourist operators, some of those players who are not only struggling, but could well go out of business, they need it,” he said.
6.00pm: Today on The Spinoff
Remember Policy and Policy Local? Now there’s Covid-19 Policy Watch which tracks government responses to the virus around the world in one handy site
Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris outlines what we still don’t know about Covid-19
A global survey of the public relations industry ranks New Zealand first for Covid-19 response communication
Is a mortgage holiday as fun as it sounds? (Short answer: no)
Nursing historian Pamela Wood looks at the near-impossible task nurses faced at the height of the Spanish flu pandemic.
The Christchurch rebuild should act as a cautionary lesson as we contemplate the upcoming post-Covid recovery, writes James Dann.
Planning expert Hamish Rennie warns major projects will need to balance the short-term gains with long-term effects on the climate
Troy Kingi, the 2020 winner of the Taite Music Prize, talks to Josie Adams about his award-winning album.
And lastly, tune out from the news for a bit with the latest track from local hitmaker Benee
5.20pm: Tourist operator cuts 300 jobs
One of the country’s largest tourist operators Ngāi Tahu Tourism has announced it’s slashing its workforce from 348 to 39 “for the time being”, reports RNZ.
Most of its businesses will be put into hibernation, including the Agrodome, Dark Sky Project, Franz Josef Glacier Guides, and Shotover Jet.
Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters will operate at a reduced capacity, while completion of the All Blacks Experience in Auckland will continue following the move to alert level three.
“This has been an extremely difficult decision, but unfortunately the impacts of Covid-19 are devastatingly deep and far-reaching,” Ngāi Tahu Tourism said in a statement. “As a result, we expect to write off the equivalent of the last five years of Ngāi Tahu Tourism profits. Even if the domestic market soon picks up, it will not be enough to sustain our current operations or staffing.”
3.50pm: Hundreds of women at risk from breast cancer
According to Breast Cancer Foundation NZ, 200 women who have no idea they have breast cancer missed out on the mammogram that would have found it during the six weeks that breast screening was put on hold.
Nearly 200 women would have also found a breast lump while in lockdown that will turn out to be cancer.
“We need to return to full-on screening and get through the backlog urgently so that everyone gets a timely diagnosis,” said Adele Gautier, research and advocacy manager at Breast Cancer Foundation NZ.
“Many will be consumed with worry but may have struggled to see their GP or be facing delays in diagnosis because they’re not a priority just now. Others will be afraid of going out to the GP or hospital, so will put off doing something about the lump until later.”
On average, BreastScreen Aotearoa performs around 22,500 mammograms a month nationwide for women who have no symptoms. Early detection is a huge factor in breast cancer survival and Gautier urged women to get their regular mammograms and any symptoms checked out.
The comments follow the Cancer Society’s appearance on the Epidemic Response Committee today. It’s spokesperson Dr Chris Jackson told the committee the health system would be under immense pressure to catch up with procedures that were deferred due to the lockdown. (See update at 10.15am.)
3.10pm: Calls to Lifeline up 25%
Lifeline has reported a 25% increase in the number of calls this past month, largely due to fears and concerns around the virus and from being in isolation.
Last week, Youthline also reported a 50% increase in texts from young people reaching out for help.
Both organisations, which offer their services for free and therefore rely on public donations, are on a fundraising drive in order to be able to continue their work. Lifeline today announced that it would be partnering with Kleenex which will match all public donations up to $50,000 made on Lifeline’s website until May 19.
Meanwhile, Youthline is running a Givealittle campaign as the group projects a $300,000 shortfall in funding. More than $16,000 has so far been raised.
1.55pm: The latest graph on deaths, cases and recoveries
Here’s our data whiz Chris Mcdowall’s latest graph which now includes Covid-19 related deaths. As of today, there are 151 active cases, 21 deaths, and 1,316 people recovered.
Check out the rest of today’s maps and charts here.
1.15pm: Welcome to NZ, Ardern says to Microsoft
Today, Microsoft announced plans to open its first datacentre region in New Zealand.
Jacinda Ardern said it was a “hugely welcome development” that would provide short term benefits for the construction industry and longer term benefits for the local ICT industry.
She said the development was a signal to the world New Zealand was “open for business”, and that international investors could see both the NZ economy and New Zealand itself as a “safe haven.”
“Our decision to go hard and go early on the health front for Covid-19 has been our best economic response. Now it’s about positioning New Zealand to recover and building on investment opportunities such as this one.”
“We’ve positioned our economy to be able to rebuild ahead of many others globally, that is our safe haven strategic advantage.”
Ardern also noted that the project would still be subject to a standard regulatory approval process.
1.05pm: Two new cases
There are two more cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, with one confirmed and one probable.
There has been one further death, which is attached to the Rosewood cluster. She was a resident in her 60s who was considered a probable case. She was not one of the residents who had been transferred to Burwood Hospital.
The confirmed case is related to the Marist school cluster. It related to a student at the school, and the positive test was described as ‘weak’.
Dr Ashley Bloomfield discussed the meaning of this, suggesting that it was the result of someone who had been infected a long time previously. It was the sole positive test among several hundred undertaken by those connected to the school.
The total number of cases recorded in New Zealand is now 1,488, with 88% considered recovered.
Two people are currently in hospital, but neither is in ICU.
Bloomfield said 4,772 tests were processed yesterday, bringing the overall total to 160,700.
Personal stories at ERC
Many of the opening questions at the press conference related to the personal stories shared at today’s sitting of the Epidemic Response Committee, from people who had struggled with birth, a cancer diagnosis and a miscarriage under lockdown.
In each case, the submitters outlined how the lockdown had made their experience more difficult. PM Ardern said “some of the stories I heard today [from the ERC] don’t fit with our expectations. No one should birth alone. Everyone should’ve been able to have a support person with them through that experience.”
While contact tracing is seen as a crucial step in moving down to level two, the PM today confirmed that moving down a level was not contingent on an app being developed.
She also noted that a lot of the apps used overseas had experienced functionality issues, which meant it was difficult to expect everyone to download them.
“Anything that acts as a barrier to making it as simple as possible to interact with that is a problem,” said Ardern, explaining why she was somewhat sceptical of contact tracing apps.
She and Dr Bloomfield did, however, reiterate their commitment to expanding and improving the current contact tracing system.
For more on contact tracing apps, we highly encourage you to read this piece by Dr Andrew Chen, who says that decision making in this area needs to be guiding by much more than just what is possible.
Māori voices at the ERC
Ardern was also asked today about the lack of representation among Māori organisations at the Epidemic Response Committee.
She said she was told by government members that a general message around greater diversity was sent, but added that ultimately, the committee was chaired by the leader of the opposition and the government didn’t hold a majority so couldn’t choose who appeared.
When asked about the legality of the lockdown, Ardern said she was “consistently advised that there was no gap in our enforcement powers throughout our response.”
“What we have acknowledged is that actually some of the legislation we’ve had to utilise… actually could be more fit for purpose going forward because they tend to be designed for individuals rather than when you’re dealing with a global pandemic.”
On payday lenders setting debt collectors on people during lockdown, Ardern said the government had expedited work to put more rigour around the way payday lenders and loan sharks are able to operate.
“I think it’s probably in keeping with the kind of behaviour we’ve seen from these people in the past, and it shouldn’t be tolerated,” she said.
“Basic humanity is what I think they should show but we don’t always see that from that sector.”
12.40pm: Today’s 1pm press conference
It’s the old classic combo at today’s 1pm press conference: PM Jacinda Ardern and the health ministry’s Dr Ashley Bloomfield.
You can watch it live here:
12.15: Trade to flow, Microsoft to set up datacentre
A pair of positive press releases from government ministers have been fired out:
In the first, trade minister David Parker said that 21 APEC ministers have agreed to a commitment to keep trade flowing, to counter Covid-19.
“This new commitment will promote a more stable trading environment for our food exporters. It will also help provide reliable access to the critical medical supplies we need.”
And government digital services minister Kris Faafoi has lauded a decision from computing giant Microsoft, to set up a datacentre for cloud services in New Zealand.
“This means job opportunities in the near term for our construction industry and, in the longer term, for our ICT industry and local innovators. This also serves as a signal to the world that New Zealand is open for business and quality investment,” said Faafoi.
Unfortunately, it comes off the back of a Stats NZ release that shows unemployment for the first quarter of the year hit 4.2%. That doesn’t sound like a lot – until you consider the fact that it’s a snapshot of where things were at on March 31, rather than where we’re at now in May.
In the interim, tens of thousands of people have applied for the Jobseeker benefit, suggesting that unemployment rate is going to increase sharply.
11.20am: Personal stories shared at ERC
At today’s sitting of the ERC, two women have shared their personal stories of horrible battles through the health system since the lockdown began.
Rebekah Burgess, who gave birth during the lockdown, has criticised the decisions made during the lockdown that made life more difficult for recent mothers.
She heavily criticised the decision to not allow support people to be in the room with mothers who had just given birth, saying her partner was “ripped away”, and was denied “precious time to bond as a father” with his child.
Burgess also said that the lockdown heavily affected the continuity of care available to her, with two midwives pulling out because of the various conditions imposed, and plans having to be changed at very late notice.
The committee has also heard from Jennifer Rouse, a 66 year old pensioner from Whangārei, who was diagnosed with breast cancer during the lockdown.
She says the lack of support and facilities available in Northland has been “distressing”, and was offered an “interim measure” of a prescription to slow down tumour growth while she waited for surgery.
“It was suggested that I could get a spot on the list for elective surgery,” she said, but there was little clarity on how long she’d be waiting – and it could be six months at least.
She said at level three she was eventually able to get an appointment in Auckland, and was told that the prescription she had been offered wasn’t an appropriate treatment for her situation, and that the best option for her was urgent surgery.
10.15am: Cancer Society calls for more capacity
The Cancer Society says that the health system will be under immense pressure to catch up with procedures that were deferred due to the lockdown.
Spokesperson Dr Chris Jackson says cancer patients have had to put up with a range of additional challenges due to the Covid-19 lockdown, but additionally, there is an elevated risk at the moment that people unknowingly living with cancer will not have been diagnosed.
“Prior to Covid the health system was already stretched. If we have to catch up, who will miss out? Or will there be extra capacity?”
Dr Jackson said that without extra capacity, the sorts of screens, colonoscopies and biopsies that are needed now will not happen in time, which will dramatically reduce the survival chances of people who need them.
“Now is the opportunity to act to make sure the lives saved from Covid-19 are not lost to cancer.”
The Funeral Directors of New Zealand has also been represented on the committee today by organisation president Gary Taylor, who says the lockdown has been exceptionally difficult on families who have lost a loved one, and have not been able to be there for their final moments, or hold a normal funeral.
With the move down in alert level, Taylor says funeral directors do not want to see limits placed on the number of people who can attend funerals – they would prefer to see a move to processes that allow “permissive, rather than restrictive” practices.
9.30am: Bridges calls in Solicitor-General to ERC
The Epidemic Response Committee will be putting the legal basis for the lockdown under the microscope, with summonses issued to the Solicitor-General, the Director-General of Health and Police Commissioner.
Committee chair Simon Bridges says all legal advice on the legality of lockdown and ongoing restrictions has been sought.
“It’s inexplicable that the advice hasn’t been made public when New Zealanders have made so many sacrifices complying with the strict lockdown rules,” said Bridges, pointing to the concerns raised by legal academics over the matter.
“The people of New Zealand have given up their freedoms for this lockdown. We all deserve to know what the legal basis was for that. New Zealanders should be proud of the efforts they’ve made during this lockdown but they also deserve to know whether the lockdown was legal.”
As for the programme of the ERC today, the main focus will be on health.
Groups with speaking time today include the Cancer Society, Funeral Directors of NZ, and Hospice NZ. There will also be submissions given by two members of the public, and a half hour slot before midday with Dr Ashley Bloomfield.
You can watch it all here:
9.20am: Police boss – Checkpoints will be gone by level two
New police commissioner Andrew Coster has set out the complex position of the organisation on iwi-led checkpoints on roads, in an interview with Nine to Noon.
Coster said the organisation was aware that there have been a wide range of views in the community about the checkpoints, with some controversy over members of the public being seen to be preventing other members of the public from going about their lawful business. On the other hand, others have pointed out that many people stopped at checkpoints have been doing clearly non-essential travel, and are risking spreading the virus into highly vulnerable communities.
He said there were currently five checkpoints continuing to operate around the country with police involvement, and that they will be wrapped up when the country moves to level two – the date for that is yet to be announced.
8.45am: Council cleaners making less than minimum wage after Covid-cut
A contract cleaner for Auckland Council has told Stuff that they’re making less than minimum wage after taking a Covid-related pay cut.
They’re not directly employed by the Council, but rather a company that has instituted a 20% pay cut which fulfils Council contracts. But the worker says it contradicts an election promise made by Auckland mayor Phil Goff to put all Council-contracted staff on a living wage.
In turn, Phil Goff says the payment of contractors is a matter for the company that employs them, and the Council is not currently in a financial position to meet the shortfall.
8.15am: New on The Spinoff: What we don’t know about Covid-19
In a new piece, Dr Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris explore what we don’t yet know about Covid-19, particularly around how infections spread, and whether asymptomatic cases are better described as ‘pre-symptomatic’. It’s well worth reading in full, and you can do that here.
Also, we’re delighted to introduce a brand new site from the team at Policy – the people behind the acclaimed policy comparison tools from the 2017 general election and 2019 local elections. Policy responses around the world are massive in scale and constantly changing. Covid-19 Policy Watch captures it in simple, easy-to-compare form. Read more about it here.
7.50am: Bridges says more Māori leaders will be invited to the ERC
National leader and chair of the Epidemic Response Committee Simon Bridges has defended his record in inviting Māori leaders to speak before ‘zoom parliament’, while admitting that he needs to do more. “We have had some Māori leaders,” he told host Giles Beckford. “I don’t think it’s right to say we haven’t, we have, but we can always do better… I fully accept that we want to see more Māori leaders.”
The interview comes against a growing chorus of dissatisfaction that the Māori health sector has been left out of the committee’s discussions. Bridges, as chair, ultimately decides who appears before the ERC, which was set up to act as a way of scrutinising government decision-making during the level four lockdown, during which time parliament was suspended.
Yesterday RNZ reported that Māori pandemic group Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā – which includes more than 50 Māori health experts, policy specialists and academics – has not been approached by the committee.
“Unless we maximise this opportunity to re-imagine what the new normal could look like, we will go back to Māori occupying the same social position that they had, or probably be at a worse level post-Covid-19,” said the group’s co-leader Teresa Wall “This select committee has that power to recommend to government what it needs to do to change the social trajectory for Māori coming out of Covid-19.”
When pressed about whether he would take action today, Bridges said “I’m not going to decide the committee agenda in a radio interview… but I agree we should have more.”
He consistently attempted to steer the conversation toward the economy, saying that he was as concerned about Māori unemployment as Māori health, and that the government had failed to look at further expanding safe industries under level three. “My view is that just having low cases is not enough,” he said.
“If you look at what Australia’s done, and where there’s a difference between the prime minister and I, is what we should say each day is ‘what can we safely open up?’”
7.10am: The Bulletin – where will New Zealand work after lockdown?
It is increasingly becoming clear that one of the country’s biggest economic challenges over the rest of the year will be matching people with jobs.With food exports expected to continue thriving, there is going to be work there for people who want it. But because of the rural nature of food exports, these jobs aren’t necessarily going to be in places where the people actually are, nor paying at a level that would make relocation worthwhile. And rural employers will also be competing with big infrastructure projects in cities, which will create huge demand for workers.
There have been plenty of recent examples of rural employers crying out for workers. Radio NZ reports the horticulture industry is warning that labour shortages could even lead to food shortages, if they aren’t addressed. The dairy industry is also desperate right now. As Federated Farmers dairy spokesperson Chris Lewis told Mike Hosking on Tuesday, for some workers the switch has been relatively straightforward – former tourism workers in Southland are putting in applications to become sharemilkers. But he made a key point in mitigation, which was that “others are telling me they live in areas where no one lives, half an hour out of town, so they are still having the same struggles.”
When conversations about redeploying the unemployed comes up, it’s often framed as a case of simply telling a worker they need to go where the job is. That almost never takes into account that the worker is then taking on significant personal and financial risk, and will likely also be moving away from crucial support or family networks. Previously, this has been sidestepped by relying on migrant labour, which the primary industries do heavily. For an example of that, read this piece from the Marlborough Express about the recent harvest down there, which looked at a purpose-built facility to house about 100 people from Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu. While some migrant workers will likely stay longer in New Zealand now – and changes are being made to immigration laws to allow for easier visa extensions and alterations – the flow of new migrant workers is effectively going to stop for the foreseeable future.
Regardless of that, we are likely to see thousands – or even hundreds of thousands – of New Zealanders becoming unemployed this year. Leaked MSD documents reported on by Radio NZ show that the ministry is preparing for a wave of 300,000 benefit applications – a staggering figure, but one in line with recent Treasury scenarios about how bad unemployment could get. There are a host of negative economic and social outcomes that come with long-term unemployment. To avoid that coming to pass, much more will need to be done to not just tell people that there are jobs available, but to actually make it possible for them to do the jobs.
Just quickly, a message from our editor Toby Manhire:
“Here at The Spinoff, members’ support is more important than ever as the Covid-19 crisis lays waste to large chunks of our commercial work. It’s a tight time for everyone, of course, but if you’re able to, please consider joining Spinoff Members to help us stay afloat and keep producing work by the likes of Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris, whose collaborations have had a real impact in New Zealand and around the world.”
The trans-Tasman travel zone is going to happen – as soon as it is safe to do so. The NZ Herald reports the issue came up in discussions between PM Ardern, Australian PM Scott Morrison and other Australian political leaders yesterday, with an agreement being made in general terms that it will happen. But little indication has been given about how long that might actually take – as Politik reports, one date being thrown around as a possibility is to have the bubble open by the start of the school holidays in July. There was also some interesting comment from foreign minister Winston Peters at the back end of the Herald story, who talked up the need for Australasia to start thinking of itself as “one ANZAC nation.”
The Greens are pushing for Fair Pay Agreement laws to be passed urgently, as part of a package of measures to raise the pay of essential workers, reports Stuff. It comes after supermarket workers allowed the rest of the country to lock down, and prevent a widespread outbreak of Covid-19, by continuing to go into work for little more than a temporary 10% pay bump. However, the push from the Greens is likely to hit a roadblock in Labour – despite FPAs being a flagship policy for the latter, the legislation has stalled badly over the course of this parliamentary term.
An important one for the regulatory process nerds out there – Cabinet has suspended the need for regulatory impact analysis to accompany spending decisions, reports Stuff’s Thomas Coughlan. Those are reports undertaken by Treasury, who assess the potential outcomes of changes. They use precious civil service resources, at a time when everything needs to happen quickly. But there is a lot of concern that will mean decisions get rushed without proper scrutiny taking place. The suspension will be in place until the end of August.
The volume of equity trading on the sharemarket has skyrocketed, with first time and app-based investors piling in over the lockdown. Dan Brunskill at Business Desk (paywalled) reports that it is linked to the crashing of many prices, giving those with less starting capital a chance to get in. It’s seen as very useful for the market itself, and it potentially represents a shift in how people approach investing. Of course, there’s still likely to be a lot of volatility in the coming months, so be warned.
Another strong warning against being hasty in thinking we fully understand Covid-19. The latest piece from Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris looks at the significant uncertainty that remains about how the coronavirus spread, what early studies got wrong, and how our current understanding is constantly evolving as new information comes to light. In particular, it tackles the question of asymptomatic transmission – and whether that would be better described as pre-symptomatic transmission.
And for those who are doing country-by-country comparisons (which are probably still too soon for firm conclusions) this is an essential site to bookmark. Toby Manhire has written about Covid-19 Policy Watch, a new piece of work by the people who brought you both Policy, and Policy Local on The Spinoff. Basically Covid-19 Policy Watch will compare the key statistics and approaches of 26 roughly comparable countries, across a range of different areas including migration, business support and health policies. It’s an invaluable tool, and I expect I’ll be checking it a lot over the coming months.
A correction to the story about quarantine exemptions from yesterday: It was not actually true that more than a dozen exemptions had been granted, which was based on information originally given by the government. That was itself corrected – the actual number of exemptions before this one was zero – but if anyone’s keeping score, they had actually made their correction before I published it wrong, so sorry about that.
6.45am: UK now has Europe’s highest official Covid-19 death toll
The UK now trails only the United States for deaths linked to Covid-19, with 29,502 attributed to the virus, overtaking Italy’s 29,315, per Johns Hopkins. Such figures are significantly complicated by Italy having a smaller (and significantly older) population, but remain stark given that Italy was for so long the global centre of the outbreak.
“I don’t think we’ll get a real verdict on how countries have done until the pandemic is over, and particularly until we’ve got international comprehensive data on all-cause mortality,” the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab as saying in defense of his government’s record. But it’s clearly a sombre day for the UK, and will increase the already intense scrutiny of PM Boris Johnson’s government’s handling of the virus, particularly in its early stages.
Better news from elsewhere in Europe, where Austria has not seen a spike in cases, three weeks after it partially reopened the economy. “We can now examine and assess the effects of 14 April and the following days very, very well and they show that we managed this first opening step excellently,” health minister Rudolf Anschober told a news conference.
Meanwhile Israel and the Netherlands have claimed progress in antibody trials, which have promise as a treatment before a vaccine becomes available. Berend-Jan Bosch from Utrecht University said “such a neutralising antibody has potential to alter the course of infection in the infected host, support virus clearance or protect an uninfected individual that is exposed to the virus.”
The global tally of confirmed infections sits at 3.62m, with confirmed deaths linked to the virus at 254,430, both per Johns Hopkins.
6.00am: Yesterday’s key stories
For the second day running, there were no new confirmed cases of Covid-19.
Jacinda Ardern attended Australia’s ministerial cabinet meeting (the first New Zealand prime minister to do so since the 1940s).
Both prime ministers announced a commitment to a trans-Tasman bubble – a Covid-safe travel zone between the countries.
The government announced a review of all lockdown exemption applications made so far on the grounds of “compassion” after a man was granted exemption by the High Court to visit his dying father (overturning the initial decision by Ministry of Health officials).
The Epidemic Response Committee returned yesterday, with a focus on education. The committee heard from Early Childhood Council, New Zealand Principals Federation, school principals, and the vice-chancellor of Victoria University of Wellington. No one from the Māori medium education sector was invited to appear before the committee.
Leader of the opposition Simon Bridges announced the first part of the National Party’s plan for the post-Covid economic recovery, including a GST cash refund of up to $100,000 for affected businesses and a higher $150,000 threshold for firms to expense new capital investment.
Building materials manufacturer James Hardie announced it would close, with potential job losses for 120 people.