Illustration: Toby Morris

Covid-19 live updates, May 16: Zero new cases, poll offers hope for tourism industry

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 two – 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.

7.00pm: The day in review

There were no new cases of Covid-19 recorded in New Zealand today, and no further deaths. The number of active cases dropped below 50.

Australia has seen coronavirus cases spike as lockdown restrictions ease, with 30 cases reported on Friday, the highest in almost a month.

The US House of Representatives narrowly approved a $3 trillion Democrat-crafted bill to provide more aid for battling Covid-19 and stimulating the economy.

Auckland’s water restrictions kicked in, and 35 people were reported for breaching them.

For the first time in seven weeks, New Zealanders kicked off something approaching a normal weekend. People headed out to cafes, and even Jacinda Ardern got turned away from one to comply with distancing requirements.

Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro lost his second health minister within a month.

4.45pm: New poll offers hope for devastated tourism industry

In Stickybeak’s fourth nationally representative survey conducted exclusively for The Spinoff during the Covid-19 crisis, 42% of respondents said they intend to holiday in New Zealand outside the region they live in within the next quarter. More good news for the tourism sector came in the broad support for the trans-Tasman bubble.

The survey also showed widespread support for the move to alert level two, but for many, there was one lingering Covid-19-related worry. Most respondents were positive about the return to school and work – but did the enforced period at home convince many of the joys of home-working? Find out in our full story on The Spinoff.

Read the full story on The Spinoff

2.45pm: Alert level two rules not being strictly observed – reports

Alert level two rules on physical distancing aren’t being strictly observed by weekend shoppers, according to reports from people out and about today. Earlier, Newshub reporter Emma Cropper posted photos showing a crowded Sylvia Park mall. She told The Spinoff it was like “Christmas eve” at the huge Auckland shopping complex. Our Spinoff writers are also reporting a return to pre-pandemic levels of activity. This is what Sam Brooks had to say about Auckland’s city centre.

Auckland’s CBD feels like pre-Covid business as usual. Some stores have compulsory contact-tracing measures, such as checking QR codes and sign-ins, while others are operating on a capacity basis. Restaurants like the Fed Deli and Depot have altered their outdoor seating arrangements to adhere to social distancing. Foot traffic is as high as it always is, with people loosely adhering to the new markings on pavements telling them what side to walk on.

The Spinoff deputy editor Alice Neville said her hospitality experiences also left her feeling like some people are treating the step down to alert level two as a return to normality. “I had a coffee this morning where you could check in on an app or sign a register but no one was actually making sure people were doing it and I saw some people just walk straight past.” It also didn’t seem like there was always a metre separating people at different tables, she said.

2pm: Today’s data, charted

The latest zero increase in Covid-19 cases fits with an encouraging trend. New infections have slowed to a virtual standstill, and recovered cases continue to vastly outnumber active cases.

This map shows Waitematā continues to have the most Covid-19 cases in the country. It is home to the St Mary’s Hospital & Rest Home cluster, which includes seven healthcare workers at Waitākere Hospital.

1pm: No new cases, no further deaths

There are no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand and no further deaths as a result of the virus, the Ministry of Health has announced.  This means the combined total of confirmed and probable Covid-19 cases in New Zealand remains at 1498. 

The number of people who have recovered from Covid-19 is now 1428, or 95% of all cases. That’s an increase of seven from yesterday. There are now just 49 active cases of the virus in the country.

Health workers carried out 7150 tests yesterday, bringing the total number of tests completed to date to 223,937.

Three people are receiving hospital-level care for Covid-19. One is in Middlemore, one is in North Shore Hospital, and one is in Waikato Hospital. 

There are still 16 significant clusters of Covid-19 around the country.

In terms of numbers of new cases, the last seven days look like this: 2, 3, 0, 0, 0, 1 and today, 0.

12.55pm: New Covid-19 case numbers expected soon

The Ministry of Health is set to deliver an update on New Zealand’s Covid-19 case numbers at 1pm. There are no daily briefings now that the country has dropped down to alert level two.

12.10pm: Mall packed for first weekend of alert level two

Newshub reporter Emma Cropper is at Sylvia Park mall in Auckland and let’s just say it doesn’t look like people are strictly adhering to physical distancing rules. She’s posted worrying pictures from her trip out on Twitter. Malls are meant to operate in a similar manner to supermarkets during alert level two, with limits on the number of people allowed inside and distancing measures in place inside shops.

10.55am: Auckland’s water restrictions kick in

As the country sheds some of its Covid-19 restrictions, new limits on water use have come into force in Auckland. The city is facing a severe drought after experiencing its driest January and April on record. Its dams are at 45.5% of their maximum storage level, compared to a historical average of around 77% for this time of year. Councillors unanimously voted to institute water restrictions on May 7. From today, residents are no longer allowed to use outdoor hoses. Commercial car washes are banned unless they use recycled water. Anyone caught breaking the rules can be hit with fines of up to $20,000.

10am: Freedom, sort of

For the first time in seven weeks, New Zealanders are heading out to enjoy something like a normal weekend. Many Covid-19 restrictions have been eased under alert level two, with cafes, restaurants, cinemas and malls allowed to open for weekend trading for the first time since the country entered alert level 4 lockdown at 11.59pm on March 25.

However the freedom is limited. The government is still urging people to stay 2m away from strangers in places like shops and 1m away from others in workplaces. Gatherings of more than 10 people are still banned, except for at funerals or tangihanga, where groups of 50 people are allowed. Restaurants and cafes can have more than 10 people inside, provided individual bookings are limited to no more than 10 people.

The full list of alert level two rules is here. If we all stick to them, there’s a good chance that we’ll be able to keep having KFC (and seeing our friends and family).

9.35am: Inside story of lead-up to lockdown detailed

The Herald’s Matt Nippert has drawn on 2540 pages of government documents and multiple insider interviews to stitch together the inside story of New Zealand’s leadup to lockdown. His story paints a picture of a disaster narrowly averted thanks to a mixture of luck and the frantic actions of politicians and public health officials. It conveys the head-spinning pace at which officials had to act to stave off widespread community transmission of Covid-19. “It was as if test-match cricketers suddenly found themselves playing a T20 super over,” the report says.

The feature, which is the lead in today’s Weekend Herald, is well worth the price of a paper or a sign-up to Herald Premium.

9.10am: Courier companies accused of rorting drivers, government

This story broke last night, but deserves extra attention: a courier company has been deducting the government’s wage subsidy from its payments to drivers, in a move unions are saying is illegal. RNZ’s Checkpoint reported that NZ Couriers has reduced its daily payments to drivers during the 12 weeks of the wage subsidy, telling them it will deduct an amount it assumes is being covered by the government.

Lawyer Garry Pollak told reporter Nita Blake-Persen the move was likely illegal. Jared Abbott of First Union said Freightways was employing a similar tactic. He described it as a rort aimed at redirecting all the benefit from the wage subsidy into the courier companies’ pockets, while still not reducing prices for consumers. “It’s really a three-way rip off of the customers, their workers and the government.”

Courier companies have received coverage from Checkpoint and other media for several years for labeling drivers as contractors when they function effectively as employees. Former driver Mika Leota won a case against Parcel Express last week after the Employment Court found the conditions he worked under made him an employee, not a contractor. That could open the way for similar cases, RNZ reported.

8.25am: Bolsonaro loses second health minister within a month

Brazil’s health minister has quit after less than a month in the job. Nelson Teich gave no reason for his resignation, but has disagreed with the country’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro on the country’s Covid-19 response. His predecessor, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, was sacked by Bolsonaro less than a month ago after clashing with him on issues including the need for social distancing measures.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly rubbished and undermined efforts to slow the spread of Covid-19, comparing the virus to “a little flu” and refusing to stay indoors. Teich’s resignation came after he disagreed with the president over the use of chloroquine to treat the virus, and criticised a move to allow beauty parlours and gyms to re-open, the BBC reported.

Brazil has become one of the world’s Covid-19 hotspots. It has more than 200,000 cases, and an official death toll just shy of 14,000.

8.05am: Tamaki, Bennett attend Leo Molloy’s 80-person bar party

Headquarters owner Leo Malloy went ahead with a much-discussed 80-person party at his Auckland bar last night, hosting guests including Brian and Hannah Tamaki, National deputy leader Paula Bennett, and Māori Party co-leader John Tamihere. The party at the Viaduct restaurant has been controversial, partly because it seemed to skirt alert level two rules limiting private gatherings to 10 people. Malloy also made a series of comments that were seen as homophobic in the lead-up to the event, posting on Facebook that a second wave of Covid-19 cases in South Korea was linked to “gay dungeon bars” and telling Newstalk ZB’s Heather du Plessis-Allan his clientele behaved with a “modicum of decorum”. “We’re not talking about a subterranean gay bar on K road where people swap DNA in the middle of the night and other materials,” he said.

Stuff went along to last night’s event, reporting that guests were seated at tables of six or seven, though some stretched to 10 people. Police attended the event, stood 30m away, and moved on, its report says. To read more on Molloy and his habit of saying offensive things, read Duncan Greive’s profile on him from last year.

8am: Yesterday’s key stories

There was one new case of Covid-19, ending the three-day streak of zero cases. The case was linked to the Marist cluster and was identified through “follow-up” testing of the school community.

Responses to yesterday’s budget continued to roll in. Read a full range of responses here on The Spinoff.

The controversial Public Health Response Act, which was rushed through parliament this week, has been sent back to select committee for review after being passed. This comes after widespread criticism of the powers of entry it would grant police.

It was the one-year anniversary of the Christchurch Call, where heads of state and members of the tech sector pledged to develop regulations for violent and extremist online content.

Finance minister Grant Robertson submitted to grillings by both Kim Hill and Katherine Ryan on RNZ, where he defended leaving $20 billion in unallocated funds in the Budget.

Law professor Jane Kelsey spoke out against the treatment of Māori in the rush to draft emergency legislation for the Public Response Health bill.

The global Covid-19 death toll passed 300,000. 

Read yesterday’s live updates here




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