Jacinda Ardern gives her post-cabinet media update on April 6, 2020 (Photo: Mark Mitchell/Getty Images)

Covid-19 live updates, April 16: 15 new cases, level three rule changes announced

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.

7.00pm: The day in sum

There were 15 new cases of Covid-19 and no new deaths. New Zealand’s case total stands at 1,401.

The prime minister gave details on the rule changes we can expect when the country moves to level three. It is thought that an announcement on the alert level change will be made on Monday.

Staff of media company Stuff who earn over $50,000 were asked to take a 15% pay cut for 12 weeks.

Air NZ international cabin crew were told that almost 1,000 of them will lose their jobs, including all who work on the Boeing 777 fleet.

Winston Peters announced a mercy flight to bring New Zealanders home from the Philippines this weekend.

Countdown opened its first e-store, a supermarket in Penrose that has been converted to fulfil up to 7,500 online grocery orders a week across the Auckland region.

6.30pm: On The Spinoff today

We answered the most pressing questions about what life under level three will look like.

The president of the NZ University Students Association argued that the government’s tertiary support package will do little more than raise student debt.

Now we’ve had a taste of what people-friendly streets look like, we should make them permanent after lockdown, wrote Emma McInnes.

Our daily collection of graphs, charts and data visualisations by Chris McDowall showed the state of the Covid-19 outbreak in New Zealand.

Two scientific advisers told RNZ’s Phil Pennington they were concerned about critical gaps in Covid-19 data.

Privacy commissioner John Edwards considered how we should think about the right to privacy during a pandemic.

Dame Anne Salmond argued that rebuilding New Zealand’s infrastructure means more than just throwing cash at ‘shovel-ready’ projects.

On our Business is Boring podcast, the founder of a remote-first business shared some tips for running a successful remote working company

5.10pm: Details of Air NZ cabin crew job cuts announced

Cabin crew on Air New Zealand’s international fleet this afternoon learned details of where job losses would occur, Newshub reports. The airline had earlier announced that it would cut staff by 30% company-wide, and today international cabin crew learned via video address that nearly 1,000 of them will lose their jobs.

The biggest hit is to cabin crew on Boeing 777 aircraft: all will lose their jobs due to the airline’s decision to ground the 777 fleet until April next year. Air NZ operated 777 aircraft on a number of routes including Auckland to Los Angeles. Cabin crew roles on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet will also be significantly reduced.

4.35pm: The psychological impact of moving to level three

Dr Dougal Sutherland, a clinical psychologist at Victoria University of Wellington and Umbrella Health, has sounded a note of caution regarding next week’s anticipated move to level three. While for many of us a drop in the alert level will also mean a reduction of stress, particularly financial stress, there could be negative mental health impacts for some, he says

“Although level four restrictions were tight the limits were, for the most part, relatively clear. But with increased flexibility comes increased uncertainty and potentially a sense of feeling unjustly treated,” Sutherland says.

“Households may have some kids at school and others not. They may have some adults at work and others not. Less certainty can promote more anxiety and more potential for people looking for gaps or loopholes in the rules, particularly as businesses rush to meet requirements that they can operate safely. Seeing others being treated differently can lead to feelings of anger, resentment, and unfairness.

“The government has noted that they are still refining the limits of the different levels. The sooner this can be done, the more certainty it will give all of us.”

3.15pm: Details of alert level three food delivery plan revealed

Public-facing bars, cafes and restaurants will remain closed under level three restrictions, but some restricted takeaway services will be allowed. “The key principle here is simple – you cannot engage in face-to-face transactions,” said the prime minister at this afternoon’s update. 

The Restaurant Association of New Zealand has been working with the government on what this will look like in practice, resulting in a contactless delivery and pick-up plan that will allow the hospitality industry to generate some much-needed revenue. 

Restaurant Association CEO Marisa Bidois presented the plan to the Epidemic Response Committee and once details have been finalised, it will be made available to all 2,300 of its members, according to a press release. 

Key points of the plan include: online or phone contactless ordering; restricted menus and minimal staff in kitchens to prepare orders; descriptions of safe spots to leave packages; delivery drivers to be wearing gloves and face masks; and delivery drivers to knock on door and send text when food has arrived and ensure food is taken inside the property, but watch from a two-metre distance.

“Hospitality businesses are used to working to strict food control plans and we do not anticipate that the additional guidelines will cause our members any issues, many of whom are anxious to get back into the establishments,” said Bidois, adding that the easing of restrictions will allow them to play a valuable role in feeding their communities. Bidois had earlier spoken of the devastating impact the lockdown was having on hospitality businesses. By some predictions, half of all hospitality venues in certain regions may never reopen. 

2.35pm: What life under level three restrictions will be like

On The Spinoff, Alex Braae looks at what today’s announcements will mean for day to day life under level three, including the effect on schooling, businesses and travel. But when will all this happen? The cautiously optimistic reading of Jacinda Ardern’s comments today is that we are on track to leave level four on April 23, four weeks after level four lockdown began, Braae says. All will be revealed on Monday, but in the meantime find out what we have to look forward to in the not too distant future here.

2.05pm An at-a-glance summary of the rule changes

The government has released a summary of what to expect from level three, when it is announced. For more details see our 1pm update below.

2.00pm: The latest numbers

Here are the top-line numbers from today – and it’s more good news, with the downward trend that started around April 8 continuing. See Chris McDowall’s data visualisations of the situation yesterday here and check back later today to see today’s data graphed and charted in full.

1pm: 15 new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand

There are 15 new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, the director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, has just announced. That includes six confirmed and nine probable cases.

That means the 22 days since lockdown began look like this, in terms of new cases: 78, 85, 83, 63, 76, 58, 61, 89, 71, 82, 89, 67, 54, 50, 29, 44, 29, 18, 19, 17, 20, and today 15.

Today’s announcement takes the total cases to 1,401. There are 12 people in hospital, including three in ICU. Two of those are in critical condition. There have been no further deaths.

There are 770 reported cases that have now recovered, an increase of 42 on yesterday. There are still 16 significant clusters, with 11 of the new cases are connected to those clusters.

Twenty-three cases that were categorised as being under investigation have now been resolved, with five now confirmed as linked to overseas travel, and 13 as contacts of confirmed cases. Four have been classed as community acquired, and just one is under investigation – a new case from yesterday.

Queenstown is one area of concern for community transmission and 300 people connected to a supermarket there were being swabbed, Bloomfield said.

A total of 3,661 tests were processed, a big jump from yesterday’s figure. The total tests completed is now 70,160.

There are 1,189 people quarantined in hotels, and several of the most recent positive tests are of people already in quarantine, Bloomfield said.

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern said she was not yet in a position to announce a change in the alert level, but would today give information on what to expect from level three. She began by congratulating the public on what they have achieved so far.

“We should not confuse the success of our actions with overreaction … New Zealanders’ collective actions and unity at level four has put us in the rare position where we can make choices about our next steps.

“Our fight hasn’t just been about health impacts. It’s been about stopping Covid from taking people’s livelihoods, too. Our best economic strategy is still to win the fight against the virus – eliminate it. That means we get out of prolonged restrictions on the way we live our lives sooner and move business into recovery sooner.”

She gave details of what to expect at level three, when it is announced. The message for New Zealand would remain the same, she said: Stay home, save lives.

These are the main changes to rules when we move to level three:

Minor extensions to bubbles

Sticking to existing bubbles is recommended but some expansion is allowed if, for example, you have a caregiver that you need, children in shared care, a de facto partner who is caring for others, or you’re a single person who wants the company of a sibling, for example. Keep it exclusive and keep it small.

Some people can return to work, and some businesses can reopen if safe

People must work from home if they can. Where that is not possible businesses may re-open but must comply with health and safety requirements around physical distancing and contactless engagement with customers.

Businesses only accessed by the staff, and without a customer-facing function, such as building and construction or forestry, can open under strict health and safety and physical distancing rules.

Businesses that are accessed by the public or customers such as retail, hardware stores and restaurants can open but only for online or phone purchases and contactless delivery or click and collect.

Public-facing bars, restaurants and cafes will remain closed, and so will malls and retail stores, but food delivery, drive through, online shopping and click-and-collect shopping can begin.

There will be a partial reopening of education

Early childhood centres and schools will be available up to Year 10 only, but attendance is purely voluntary. For children who are able, distance learning is still the best option. Tertiary education will mostly be through distance learning.

Travel restrictions remain, but move from local to regional

This recognises that more people will travel to work, or to take children to school. But to avoid taking potential Covid-19 cases to other parts of the country, restricting movement to what is necessary remains the goal.

Small funerals and weddings allowed

Funerals and weddings will be able to go ahead, but limited to 10 people. But they can only be services. No meals, food or receptions can take place.

 

While the public could look forward to a degree more freedom in the near future, Ardern said that “the same level of discipline to keeping to the rules at level three [will] continue to apply, if not more.”

The ability to move more freely meant people would need to track their own movement, she said. “Keep a note of where you have been, when you have been there and who with. It will help if we ever find ourselves contacting you because of a potential Covid case. Small changes like this will make the world of difference.”

Ardern was asked about the changes to education rules. “For children who are able to, we still encourage them to remain home and be part of distance learning,” she said. “Our intention here is to create a place for children to go to learn if their parents need to return to work.

“We will not be applying a check or a test for the reason a child is in school but we are asking that if parents are able to, they keep their kids home.”

In terms of recreation, Ardern said the guidance was simple: Keep it alone or in your bubble, keep it low risk, and keep it non-motorised – “we’re still excluding boating and jet-skis”. You can swim, surf or fish from shore, however.

Travel restrictions remain, she said. “Previously we have talked about keeping it local. At level three we will ask that you keep it regional. Restricting movement to only what is necessary is still the goal here.”

Asked how long we’re likely to spend in level three, Arden said she would give an indication of the duration when the alert level was announced.

“But you will have seen what we’ve tended to use are the cycles of transmission, so one cycle is two weeks, two cycles is a month, and so we’ll tend to look in blocks that are around cycles of transmission. There’s an evidence base behind why we do that and it can tell us how we’re doing as a nation.”

12.40pm: Today’s briefing

We will be hearing from both director general of health Ashley Bloomfield and prime minister Jacinda Ardern at today’s one o’clock briefing. In addition to the usual numbers, the prime minister is expected to release details around the rules and restrictions of alert level three. As always, we’ll have all the updates, and you can watch the live stream of the briefing here:

12.30pm: South Korean election delivers landslide victory for government

South Korea has not only managed to hold an election in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, it has recorded the biggest voter turnout since 1992. Voters had to follow social distancing rules, wear masks, disinfect their hands and have their temperatures taken before casting their votes in the parliamentary election held yesterday, the BBC reported. The result was a landslide victory for the incumbent Democratic Party, with the BBC’s Seoul correspondent calling it the biggest win by any party since 1987.

11.30am: Ministers questioned over exports

Economic development minister Phil Twyford told the Epidemic Response Committee that around 70% of manufacturing exporters were shut down under level four lockdown, with small businesses having been hit especially hard. Twyford indicated that a number of industries have lobbied over the past few weeks to be included as essential services, but refused to give specific details and deferred to the prime minister’s upcoming statement when asked if construction, logging and manufactured exports would be able to operate under level three restrictions.

Trade minister David Parker said that although the services sector is likely to suffer, especially tourism and international education, the country was fortunate enough to have a large food producing industry. Parker declined to discuss whether the government would consider the forestry industry’s suggestion of a levy on log exports, and instead said that the government were focused ensuring that the local processing industry had supply.

10.45am: Stuff workers asked to take 15% pay cut

Staff of media company Stuff who earn over $50,000 have this morning been asked to take a 15% pay cut for 12 weeks in response to the Covid-19 crisis. The move follows a similar request made by NZME to its staff on Tuesday, but while NZME also announced 200 redundancies, Stuff is yet to lay anyone off. Stuff CEO Sinead Boucher informed staff of the request at a company-wide video meeting this morning, and said she and the executive team would be taking larger pay cuts (25%, and Boucher 40%). RNZ’s Mediawatch reports that the voluntary 15% pay cut will be capped so that staff who take it don’t end up earning less than $50,000.

10.30am: Business expert outlines 10 steps for economy

Trade consultant Charles Finny has outlined to the Epidemic Response Committee a 10-point plan he believes the government needs to follow in order to salvage the economy in the aftermath of Covid-19. His recommendations include restarting export manufacturing immediately, restarting the log trade as soon as possible, pursuing an active market diversification policy in “less traditional markets” like Africa and Turkey and getting a range of free trade agreements across the line as quickly as possible. He also wants the government to start working now on rules and protocols for reopening quarantine-free travel to certain countries (for example Australia, Singapore, Taiwan) as soon it becomes safe to do so. Rethinking ‘brand New Zealand’ for a post-Covid world would also be important, he said.

10.00am: ‘Significant restrictions’ on interactions

Speaking on NewstalkZB this morning, prime minister Jacinda Ardern signalled that while more businesses would be able to operate in some capacity under alert level three, “there will still be significant restrictions on your interactions with other people.” Ardern will reveal further details about how things will work under level three this afternoon, including “what it means for education, workplaces, commerce, retail and travel.”

9.30am: Today’s Zoom select committee

It’s business time for the Epidemic Response Committee today. Kicking off at the usual time of 10 o’clock, the Zoom meeting will hear from independent witness Charles Finny (10.00), trade minister David Parker, economic development minister Phil Twyford (10.10), and Reserve Bank governor Adrian Orr (11.30), along with representatives from NZ Trade and Enterprise and the Council of Trade Unions. We’ll have some updates here, or here’s the stream if you’d like to watch the whole thing live:

9.15am: Cruising on the Interislander still an option, but only for essential workers

The Interislander ferry service between Wellington and Picton has still been operating during alert level four, but you have to be a freight item or an essential worker to get on board. This has mostly meant truck drivers, as well as health workers and primary industries workers like seafood harvesters and fruit pickers. “We’ve introduced a booking and identifications register to identify essential services and to help with contact tracing, if required,” KiwiRail chief executive Greg Miller said in a media release this morning. Strict hygiene and physical distancing rules are also in place on board, he said. For any boatspotters out there: the Aratere is sailing with freight-only service and no passengers, while the Kaiarahi and Kaitaki are available to carry commercial vehicles, drivers and passengers who meet the requirements for essential travel.

8.45am: West Coast keen to reopen early

There are calls for the West Coast to be allowed to ease lockdown restrictions sooner than other parts of the country because of the region’s low rate of Covid-19 cases. Buller mayor Jamie Cleine told RNZ the region had only five recorded cases and said he believed the Coast was uniquely positioned to move to level two before other parts of the country, so long as there were strict controls for people coming in from other regions. This was possible because “the West Coast geographically really only has four main highway entry points,” he said.

8.15am: New Zealand’s first online supermarket opens

Countdown has opened its first e-store to fulfil online shopping orders, RNZ reports. The 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week supermarket in Penrose is not open to the public, but instead will fulfil up to 7,500 online grocery orders a week across the Auckland region. The facility was already scheduled to open before the Covid-19 pandemic led to an increased uptake of online supermarket shopping. It will employ 200 staff, including 106 new jobs. If you’d like to see what it looks like inside, the NZ Herald report has some pics.

8.00am: China’s six-day lag in warning public of pandemic

Chinese officials failed to warn the public of the pending coronavirus pandemic for six days, The Associated Press is reporting, a delay during which Wuhan hosted a mass banquet for tens of thousands of people and millions began travelling for lunar new year. It’s not the longest lag the world has seen, with certain governments failing to address the crisis for weeks and even months, but came at a critical time, says AP – the beginning of the outbreak. The news agency is basing the claim on internal documents and estimates based on retrospective infection data.

7.40am: NZ on track to lift lockdown next week – deputy PM

Winston Peters, the deputy prime minister, says “the evidence looks compelling” for the country to be able to ease level four restrictions next week. Speaking on Mike Hosking’s Breakfast show on Newstalk ZB, Peters said current data “points to the easing up of the situation”, but no decision would be made until cabinet meets on Monday.

The prime minister will today release guidance on alert levels two and three, which should give us a better idea of what post-lockdown life will look like. The four-week lockdown officially ends next Wednesday night at 11.59pm. Peters said he expected “a whole lot” of businesses would be able to reopen, provided they met requirements and guidelines. Yesterday, finance minister Grant Robertson said the focus for businesses will be to shift away from “essential” economic activity to “safe” economic activity. The NZ Herald says “expect to see pubs and food courts still closed but potentially takeaways allowed and more police on the roads”.

Meanwhile, government pandemic advisers Shaun Hendy and Michael Baker say the data around contact tracing is still weak, as they prepare to submit their team’s risk assessment to cabinet tomorrow. Hendy told RNZ they have have about three-quarters of the data they need – and at this point it would be difficult to make a call on lowering the alert level differently region by region. Baker said he had been asking for the data for weeks but was yet to receive it, attributing the delay to the Ministry of Health being strained rather than secretive.

7.00am: The Bulletin wrap of the morning’s NZ news

Taken from our essential daily 7am news roundup – sign up for The Spinoff’s newsletters here

Going back to school is always hard, but the start of term two has been something else entirely. With schools still closed because of Covid-19, and likely to be for some time to come, the children of the country will all be doing distance learning. As Stuff reports, the need to suddenly be up to speed with a lot of technology has left some parents throwing up their hands in despair. At the absolute earliest, schools may reopen on April 29 for the kids of essential workers – that is an optimistic scenario though, so expect this to be going on for a while.

The scale of this all is pretty enormous, with 800,000 kids now at home for their schooling. For some, it went pretty well – this Radio NZ story talked about a first class meeting over Zoom, and there’s no doubt things will improve from here. The education system has been working pretty hard to make this all possible – this Gisborne Herald story goes into some of the preparations, including packs being sent home, and teachers figuring out how to make online learning work. It’s all new for them too, after all.

But there is one problem that simply cannot be figured out on the fly, and that is the digital divide. The NZ Herald reports thousands of students still lack devices that would allow them to take part, even with kit being distributed for free by the Ministry of Education. Tens of thousands more devices have been ordered, but there’s a queue, because every other country is trying to do the same.

Parents should not be too hard on themselves about trying to get this exactly right. Emily Writes has covered the mixed messages that were sent to parents about the importance of continued schooling, and dire warnings that kids might “fall behind”. But really, the most important thing that a lot of younger kids can be doing right now is “learning to be a learner and a decent human being”. And if all else fails, there’s now many hours of educational programming on the telly during the day to park them up in front of.

The media industry was the focus of yesterday’s sitting of the Epidemic Response Committee, and the challenges facing the sector were laid bare. Yesterday’s live blog contains a report on the testimony given by expert and former NZ Herald editor Gavin Ellis, who told the committee that while there was an immediate cashflow crisis to be addressed, in the longer term structural changes to the industry would be needed. Among the suggestions he made was a change in the tax status of media entities, to reflect that they weren’t really profitable investments any more, but still served a public good. We’ve also gathered up the testimony from the wide range of newsroom bosses who appeared, including our very own Duncan Greive.

Newshub’s Michael Morrah’s latest story is about more PPE being rolled out for workers at Burwood Hospital, where six people have died of Covid-19 so far. Nurses had been complaining that they weren’t getting adequate protection, and felt like their calls were falling on deaf ears – until it started getting reported. PPE has been one of those areas in which there has sometimes been a gap between the message from the Ministry and what those on the ground are saying.

The current lockdown is having a particularly brutal impact on people who were already living in overcrowded housingRadio NZ’s Eva Corlett has reported on the conditions being experienced by an estimated 400,000 New Zealanders, which are associated with a long list of health conditions and negative social outcomes.

A trio of scientists has called on the government to start funding domestic research and development for a vaccine against Covid-19, reports Stuff. It will likely be at least 18 months before any vaccine can be rolled out globally, and at this stage it is the clearest possible exit plan from the current physical distancing restrictions that are required. However, the scientists say that if New Zealand doesn’t at least participate in vaccine development, we run the risk of being at the back of the queue in a world full of demand.

PM Jacinda Ardern’s call to have ministers and the highest-ranking public servants take a 20% pay cut over the next six months was swiftly followed by pledges from National leader Simon Bridges, speaker Trevor Mallard, Act leader David Seymour and the Green caucus. As the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Claire Trevett puts it, MPs might not be on the breadline, but they do intimately understand job insecurity, so the move was a necessary one to show voters they were sharing in the struggle.

The Māori Party has announced who will lead it into the next election. Stuff reports its co-leadership team will be former MP, mayoral candidate and Waipareira Trust CEO John Tamihere, and Ngāti Ruanui iwi CEO Debbie Ngarewa-Packer. They’ll both be running in Māori electorates, and challenging sitting Labour MPs for a place in parliament.

Taken from our essential daily 7am news roundup – sign up for The Spinoff’s newsletters here

6.25am: Global cases pass 2 million; WHO responds to Trump’s funding cut

Another grim milestone in the Covid-19 pandemic has been reached as cases around the world pass 2 million, with the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University putting the number at 2,016,120. There have been 130,528 deaths. The United States remains the worst-hit country, with 613,187 cases and 24,429 deaths.

New York has revised its Covid-19 death toll sharply upwards, reports the Guardian, confirming the city as the epicentre of the crisis with more than 10,000 deaths. The toll increased by the addition of 3,778 people who were not tested for Covid-19 but are presumed to have died from it. The city’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, is issuing an executive order requiring people to wear face masks in public when they can’t maintain physical distancing.

Meanwhile, World Health Organisation director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has called for unity in the face of US president Donald Trump’s decision to halt funding. At the WHO’s daily press conference a few hours ago, Ghebreyesus said, “The United States of America has been a longstanding and generous friend to WHO and we hope it will continue to be so. We regret the decision of the president of the United States to order a halt in the funding to WHO. With support from the people and government of the United States, WHO works to improve the health of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

“This is a time for all of us to be united in our struggle against our common threat. When we are divided the virus exploits the cracks between us.”

The United States is the global public health body’s biggest donor, contributing more than $400 million a year, about 10% of the organisation’s budget. Trump announced he was pulling funding on Tuesday, accusing the WHO of “severely mismanaging and covering up” the spread of the coronavirus in China.

Ghebreyesus said the WHO would work with its other member states and partners to try to make up any shortfall in funding, but he would not be drawn in questioning into saying just how much the organisation would be left out of pocket, reports the Guardian. Leaders around the world have criticised Trump’s move.

Meanwhile, the G20 is suspending poorer countries’ debt payments from May 1 until the end of the year, reports the Guardian, as they prepare for increased spending on healthcare systems during the pandemic.

6.00am: Yesterday’s key NZ stories

There are 20 new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand – six confirmed and 14 probable. That brings the total number of cases to 1,386.

The curve has started to slope down as the statistics show more recovered than active cases for the first time.

A new cluster has emerged, taking the number of significant clusters to 16. The new one is in Auckland and is related to an aged care facility. More information on the new cluster will be provided later today.

There are 13 people in hospital including three in ICUs (Middlemore, Dunedin and the North Shore). Two of these – one in Dunedin, one at North Shore– are in critical condition.

Ministers and top public servants will take a 20% pay cut, a move the prime minister said “was about leadership”.

Businesses to move from “essential” to “safe” economic activity under alert level three. More guidance on this will be revealed later today.

Read more on yesterday’s live updates




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