Covid-19 live updates, March 25: Prince Charles tests positive; emergency alert goes out

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. As of 11.59pm tonight we go to level four: the country shuts 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.

See 8pm for a roundup of the day.

11.40pm: Prince Charles tests positive

No less than the heir to the throne of the United Kingdom is the latest to test positive for Covid-19. The 71-year-old has displayed “mild symptoms” but “otherwise remains in good health”, according to a statement from the Prince of Wales, Sky News UK reports.

“He has been displaying mild symptoms but otherwise remains in good health and has been working from home throughout the last few days as usual.

“The Duchess of Cornwall has also been tested but does not have the virus. In accordance with government and medical advice, the Prince and the Duchess are now self-isolating at home in Scotland.

9.10pm: Hoax messages circulating

Never underestimate some people’s ability in times of crisis to be total dicks. A number of hoax alerts have been knocking around this evening, containing false (and sometimes “funny”) misinformation. They’re not true. They’re false. They’re misinformation. They’re bullshit.

The text of the Civil Defence alert sent this evening is this:

This message is for all of New Zealand. We are depending on you. Follow the rules and STAY HOME. Act as if you have Covid-19. This will save lives.

Remember: Where you stay tonight is where YOU MUST stay from now on

You must only be in physical contact with those you are living with

It is likely level 4 measures will stay in place for a number of weeks.

Let’s all do our bit to unite against Covid-19. Kia Kaha.

Anything else is made up.

Meanwhile Jacinda Ardern has been answering questions on Facebook Live, mostly about what the lockdown means in practice. You can watch it here. How long a day/week/fortnight has it been? Put it this way: at one point she told viewers not to worry: “You can walk your car.”

8.50pm: Air NZ reveals new international schedule

Air New Zealand has announced its new, dramatically reduced, international schedule. As posted by the airline’s chief revenue officer Cam Wallace, all trans-Tasman flights from Wellington and Christchurch are suspended. From Auckland there will be three flights to Sydney a week, and two each to Melbourne and Brisbane. There will be one return flight to Fiji, Rarotonga and Niue per week; flights to Samoa and Tonga are suspended. Long haul, it’s down to Hong Kong (two a week) and Los Angeles (three a week).

It represents a drop of around 90% in international capacity. Flights won’t be full. Koru lounges close from tonight.

8.00pm: The day in sum

  • An emergency alert notifying people that the country was moving to alert level four tonight at 11.59pm was sent to phones nationwide. 
  • The prime minister announced tough new quarantine rules for arrivals – every New Zealander will be screened, those showing symptoms tested, and those symptomatic, testing positive or without suitable self-isolation plans will be quarantined. 
  • A state of national emergency was declared.
  • Ashley Bloomfield, the director-general of health, announced 50 new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand (47 confirmed and three “probable”), bringing the total to 205.
  • Chief human rights commissioner Paul Hunt has tested positive for Covid-19.
  • Covid-19 dream team Toby Morris and Siouxsie Wiles collaborated on a must-read edition of The Side Eye, explaining how the virus spreads. 
  • The Tokyo Olympics were postponed until next year.
  • Schools sent out directives to parents that all grounds will be closed over the shutdown period.

7.30pm: Countries agree to keep trade lines open for essential supplies

Canada, Australia, Chile, Brunei and Myanmar have joined New Zealand and Singapore in committing to keep supply chains open and remove any existing trade-restrictive measures on essential goods, especially medical supplies, in the face of the Covid-19 crisis.

Welcoming the announcement, trade and export growth minister David Parker said, “It is important we have assurance from some of our key partners that trade lines between us will remain open, including via air and sea freight, to facilitate the flow of goods including essential supplies.”

6.31pm: Emergency alert sent to phones nationwide

An emergency mobile alert was sent to people around the country at 6.30pm stating that the country was moving to Covid-19 Alert Level 4 from tonight at 11.59pm. “This message is for all of New Zealand. We are depending on you,” said the alert. “Follow the rules and stay home. Act as if you have Covid-19. This will save lives.

“Remember: Where you stay tonight is where YOU MUST stay from now on. You must only be in physical contact with those you are living with.

“It is likely Level 4 measures will stay in place for a number of weeks. Lets [sic] all do our bit to unite against Covid-19. Kia kaha.”

One Spinoff staff member described the alert as sounding “like a demon possessed my phone”, while another said multiple devices sounded, describing it as “deep guttural alarm like end of world – cat ran straight out of house”. Some phones vibrated only, with no sound. At least one of us did not receive the alert.

6.00pm: Up to 10,000 NZers expected to return by end of month; educational TV channel could be coming for school kids

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern says up to 10,000 people are expected to return to New Zealand from overseas over the next week, though 30% of those may be no-shows as transport options dwindle. This afternoon, Ardern announced that every New Zealander arriving at the border would be screened, and those showing symptoms would be tested and placed into an “approved facility”, as would those who were asymptomatic but had no plan or ability to self-isolate. Last week, Ardern closed the borders to all non-citizens or residents, with very limited exceptions.

Speaking on RNZ’s Checkpoint this evening, Ardern said “approved facilities” were essentially quarantines such as the facility at Whangaparāoa where returnees from Wuhan were housed last month, as well as hotels and campervans.

She said “several thousand” places had been secured: “sufficient to meet our needs for those coming through the border”. The government would be covering the bill for those quarantined and they would stay for 14 days.

Asked why not all returnees were being quarantined, Ardern, speaking on Newstalk ZB’s Drive this evening, said it wasn’t the best use of government resources to house everyone in hotels, particularly in terms of those who were not showing symptoms and had a firm plan in place to self-isolate. “We’ve risk-assessed the best way to deal with all those thousands of people and come up with a plan.”

She also referenced the Diamond Princess cruise ship, on which more than 700 people were infected, suggesting it may not always be the best move to house people together. Those who are quarantining at home will be checked up on by police. “If they’re not in self-isolation, they’ll be quarantined and fined,” she told Checkpoint’s Lisa Owen.

Ardern also told Owen the government had been in talks with broadcasters about using free-to-air television stations to educate children home from school. Ardern said the government was “acutely aware” that not all students had access to online learning. Rather than being a case of requisitioning a channel, they were trying to “work together on a solution”. “A dedicated education channel is an option to help us get over the digital divide.”

5.05pm: Chief human rights commissioner Paul Hunt has Covid-19

The Human Rights Commission (HRC) has confirmed chief human rights commissioner Paul Hunt has tested positive for Covid-19 after travelling to Europe. Hunt returned to Wellington from a business trip to London and Geneva on Sunday, March 15. He immediately went into self-isolation. During the week, he began experiencing Covid-19 like symptoms and was tested on Friday, March 20. He received a positive test result on Sunday, March 22.

“Experiencing Covid-19 symptoms, I enjoyed the human right to medical care, but I also had a duty to the community to self-isolate, take the swab-test and now studiously follow the advice of the health professionals. Others have the same duty,” he said in a statement. “I report on my health status because there is nothing to hide. There is no stigma. I work from home. I feel solidarity with past, present and future patients.”

He’s not alone among the Wellington public sector. The New Zealand Film Commission has confirmed its CEO Annabelle Sheehan has also tested positive, and worked in the Wellington office for three days while she was asymptomatic. She’s also recovering at home.

3.50pm Details of rental protections announced

Details of the residential rental protections announced by finance minister Grant Robertson on Monday have been announced by housing minister Megan Woods. They include an immediate residential rent increase freeze for the next six months and a ban on tenancy terminations by landlords for the next three months, except in cases where the tenant agrees. Tenants who had previously given notice can now stay if they need to remain in the tenancy during the shutdown period.

While the tenancy termination rules will protect tenants who experience a drop in income because of the pandemic, Woods said they were not a get out of jail free card.

“It is not acceptable for tenants to abuse the current situation by refusing to pay rent when they have the capacity to do so, causing significant property damage, or significant anti-social behaviour.”

A tenant having symptoms of Covid-19, or being confirmed as positive, is not grounds for a landlord to terminate a tenancy, Woods said. Nor must a tenant notify their landlord if they test positive for Covid-19.

However, she encouraged tenants to advise their landlord of their Covid-19 status should they pose a risk – if the landlord needs to undertake urgent repairs to the property while the tenant is self-isolating, for example.

3.10pm: Tough new quarantine rules for arrivals

The prime minister has announced new quarantine measures for people returning home from overseas over the coming weeks. Every New Zealander arriving at the border will be screened, and those showing symptoms will be tested. If returning positive, they will be placed in an “approved facility” for isolation. If they’re not symptomatic but have no plan or ability to self-isolate, they will be placed in an approved facility. Anyone not showing symptoms but without a place to self-isolate will also be placed in an approved facility, as would anyone who did not have a way to travel to their home without abiding by physical isolation rules.

Recent arrivals who have an appropriate self-isolation plan will be checked on by police in the days that follow and if not adequately complying, will be fined and quarantined.

The “approved facilities” will include hotels and the previously used Whangaparāoa defence base.

The measures are tough, said Ardern. “But they reflect the higher risk these New Zealanders pose, through no fault of their own.”

There are currently an estimated 100,000-110,000 New Zealand residents travelling overseas.

On her own personal “bubble” – the people she will be isolating with for the lockdown – Ardern said it consisted of her family and a small number of key staff. The point was that it was a consistent and included “no one else”, she said, emphasising that keeping to the same small group for the duration of the lockdown is key.

2.35pm: What does it mean for visa holders?

This afternoon in the house Ardern outline the following, enabled under the provisions of the Epidemic Notice:

Temporary visas are automatically extended to late September.

This comes into effect from Thursday April 2. Travellers with a temporary work, student, visitor, interim and limited, visa expiring before April 1 who are unable to leave New Zealand must apply online for a new visa. An interim visa will be issued.

Travellers with a temporary visa due to expire between 1 April and 9 July 2020 will have their visas extended to late September. Confirmation of extensions will be emailed directly to all visa holders.

More information is at official Covid-19 NZ website. Anyone with concerns is advised to contact Immigration NZ directly.

2.30pm: What does the national emergency mean?

As outlined by Ardern in parliament today the State of National Emergency will allow the director of Civil Defence and local controllers, as needed, to provide for the:

  • conservation and supply of food, fuel and other essential supplies
  • regulate land, water and air traffic
  • to close roads and public places
  • to evacuate any premises, including any public place
  • and if necessary to exclude people or vehicles from any premises or place.

2.25pm: Ardern addresses parliament

Parliament has resumed sitting, in exceptional circumstances, and with the scattering of MPs present at physical distance.

Jacinda Ardern has formally noted the declaration of national emergency (see 1.20pm) and an epidemic notice.

“In this fight against a virus, we have some things on our side,” said Ardern.

“We are moving into this next phase of our response early. Ahead of any potential over-run of our hospitals, and ahead of any deaths on New Zealand soil. But that doesn’t mean we should be complacent. And that’s why we must take this period of self-isolation deadly seriously.

“We could have waited to plan every intricate detail … but every hour we wait is one more person, two more people, three more people exposed to Covid-19. That is why we did not wait.” The demands “will be enforced, and we will be the enforcer.”

Invoking the Christchurch earthquake response, Ardern said this is “a national emergency to preserve our way of life”.

On enforcement, Ardern said police and military “will be working together and there is assistance at the ready as required. If people do not follow the message here today, then the police will remind people of their obligations. They have the ability to escalate if required. They can arrest if needed, they can detain if needed. But these are tools of last resort, in a time when I know New Zealanders will rally. Because that is what we do.”

Concluding her address, Ardern said: “As we enter into a stage that none of us have experienced before, I want to share a few final messages. Firstly, you are not alone. You will hear us, and see us, daily as we guide New Zealand through this period. It won’t always be perfect. But the principle of what we are trying to do is the right one.

“Secondly, success won’t be instant. The benefit of what we do today, won’t be felt for many days to come. Expect our numbers to keep rising, because they will. But over time, we will see change if we all stick to the rules.

“Thirdly, you may not be at work, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a job. Your job is to save lives, and you can do that by staying home, and breaking the chain.

“And finally, if you have any questions about what you can or can’t do, apply a simple principle. Act like you have Covid-19. Every move you then make is a risk to someone else. That is how we must all collectively think. That’s why the joy of physically visiting other family, children, grandchildren, friends, neighbours is on hold.

“Because we’re all now putting each other first. And that is what we as a nation do so well. So New Zealand, be calm, be kind, stay at home. And break the chain.”

Simon Bridges followed Ardern with a speech pledging support from the opposition for the government measures. “We are all in this together, united against Covid-19.”

The National Party, he said, would strive to improve the response where necessary. “Our MPs will be the eyes and the ears and advocates for our communities,” he said.

1.40pm: More from the briefing: eight positive on arrival at Auckland airport, employers pressuring on annual leave

In other details that emerged from the briefing, Ashley Bloomfield said that more than 100 people were assessed on arrival at Auckland Airport yesterday, with 35 tested and eight of those returning positive. “We will expect to see the infections that people have brought back from overseas will continue to increase. Alert level four allows us to prevent further community transmission.”

He said he expected the prime minister to speak more on a boost in quarantine measures this afternoon.

Asked about concerns there may not be enough face masks for healthcare staff, Bloomfield said, “We have a lot of masks in the country and they’re in all our hospitals and other parts of our healthcare system. We have a lot in stock. Healthcare staff don’t routinely need to wear masks, particularly if there’s no risk of them coming into contact with someone who has a Covid-19 infection.”

Bloomfield said the ministry was working to coordinate distribution of protective equipment nationally, where typically each DHB would manage it. “Separately there will be a process for distributing masks to essential workers who have contact with other people, in supermarkets for example.”

MBIE deputy chief executive Paul Stocks said the ministry was monitoring employers to make sure wage subsidies were being passed on to employees. He said it was unacceptable if employers were making employees take annual leave during the lockdown.

Asked why Tiwai Point aluminium shelter was staying open, he said turning off and restarting the smelter pots was a long and complicated process, and it was decided that the cost of turning them off exceeded the benefits of the shutdown.

On delivery of online purchases during the lockdown, he said the ministry this afternoon would work through what would be allowed. Only items that supported safe and effective self-isolation would be permitted – giving the example of essential whiteware, such as a fridge. Contactless delivery would be prioritised if possible. Books were not likely to be considered essential.

1.20pm: State of emergency declared

As of 12.21pm a state of national emergency has been declared. The declaration was made by Peeni Henare, the minster responsible for Civil Defence. “The state of national emergency has been declared because of the unprecedented nature of this global pandemic and to ensure the government has all the powers it needs to slow the spread of Covid-19 and reduce its impact,” said Sarah Stuart-Black, the director of Civil Defence emergency management.

She said an emergency mobile alert will be sent to all New Zealanders tonight at some point between 6pm and 7pm.

For more on how the various powers work, see this from Andrew Geddis.

Asked whether she envisaged the introduction of, for example, roadblocks, Stuart-Black said: “We’re really hoping that people have heard the messages and understand how horrendous this could get. We don’t want thousands of people to die, it is that plain and simple. So we’re asking for people to stay home and really pleading that message … but there will equally be no tolerance for people who do not comply with the requirement to self-isolate.”

What about the risk of vigilantism? “We would hope not to see anything like that. But the police would have the powers to make sure people comply.”

Responding to questions about how those ignoring the lockdown will be dealt with, Stuart-Black said, “In the first instance it’s helping people understand why this is important. You should be deliberate about any trips away from home – it’s not just going out for a bit of a mooch. Stay home unless you’ve got a specific reason to go out.”

She said a police statement on the details of how that would be enforced could be expected soon.

1.10pm: 50 new cases of Covid-19 in NZ

There have been 47 new positive tests for Covid-19 in New Zealand and three new “probable cases”, Ashley Bloomfield, the director-general of health, has announced at the daily media briefing. It brings the total to 205.

Six people are in hospital with Covid-19. Three are in Wellington, one in Rotorua and two in Waikato. All are stable and none in Intensive Care. Three were discharged yesterday.

There are 22 people who have recovered from Covid-19 infection.

There are now five cases linked to Marist College in Auckland. The school is closed and all students and staff are being managed as close contacts, Bloomfield confirmed. A number of staff with symptoms were being tested.

Four cases are now categorised as community transmission, “and a number of cases we are investigating are also suspected to be community transmission”, said Bloomfield.

A rise in cases could be expected for the coming week to 10 days. “The numbers will continue to increase before they turn around. That turnaround will happen if all New Zealanders do what is being asked of them. That is, to stay at home, to break the chain, and save lives.”

Yesterday 1,421 tests were processed, bringing the total tests completed to 9,780.

The ministry explanation on probable cases is those in which “the person has returned a negative laboratory result but the clinician treating the person has diagnosed them as a probable case due to their exposure history and clinical symptoms”. There have been 16 probable cases to date.

12.10pm: Extension to domestic travel deadline

An important reminder that if you’re still grappling with getting home from another part of the country in time for lockdown-hour tonight (11.59pm), the government has provided 48 hours’ grace to get there. Long queues for Cook Strait ferries and pressure on domestic flights are exacerbated by requirements for passengers to physically distance along the way.

The transport minister, Phil Twyford, said in a statement: “The government recognises New Zealanders are trying to do the right thing by returning home ahead of the country moving to level four the Cabinet Covid Committee agreed to extend the deadline for non-essential workers and international tourists to keep using domestic passenger services until midnight Friday. After this time, services will only be provided to essential services and workers, including freight services.”

More here.

Meanwhile, a worrying news line out of New Caledonia. RNZ International reports that the French territory in the South Pacific with a population of around 300,000 now has 10 confirmed cases of Covid-19.

11.50am: Uber Eats suspended

The Uber Eats app will be turned off at 10pm tonight, the company has announced in a statement. The main Uber ridesharing platform will remain operational, however, having been classified as an essential service, though strictly only for people needing to travel within the requirements of the lockdown. Passengers should sit in the back seat to ensure physical distancing. “We will be rolling out messages in the app to remind riders only to travel if they really need and to exercise caution for their safety and the safety of our community,” said an Uber spokesperson.

11.35am: Enforcing the shutdown, explained

For the people of New Zealand, the lockdown will be highly unusual in the way that police – and potentially even the military – will be able to tell people what they are and aren’t allowed to do. On what authority, you might ask? Otago University law professor Andrew Geddis has set out the basis for how authority operates at Covid-19 alert level four. Read the full article here.

11.20am: Further announcements coming today

As is becoming a daily ritual, more announcements and updates will be made today at 1.00pm. The lineup includes:

· Sarah Stuart-Black, director of civil defence emergency management – update on Covid-19 national response

· Dr Ashley Bloomfield, director-general of health – health update

· Peter Elms, Immigration NZ national manager – border issues update

· Paul Stocks, deputy chief executive MBIE – essential services update

10.50am: Schools issue warnings about grounds

Schools are currently sending out directives to parents that all grounds will be closed over the shutdown period, including playground facilities. One such email was passed on to a staff member at The Spinoff, along with this stark warning that staff would be monitoring CCTV cameras from home, and passing on footage to police if there was any breach. Parents were also being asked to inform others in the community who might not be aware of the restrictions.

9.30am: New articles on The Spinoff

Jack Goldingham Newsom is a New Zealander who has just returned from Paris in time for another national lowdown. Over there, the institution of a lockdown triggered a great deal of scoffing and appeals to liberty. Now it’s New Zealand’s turn, and he writes that we have to decide whether we’re going to give it the seriousness it demands. Read the full article here.

And with the world suddenly shifting into disruption and uncertainty, children’s lives are shifting with it. Julie Spray spent a year in an Auckland school listening to children about the rheumatic fever (RF) epidemic, for her doctoral research. She writes about what their perspectives can tell us about how to support children now. Read the full article here.

9.15am: Stuff poll shows broad public support for lockdown

A poll released by Stuff shows broad support for shutdown measures. However, the picture is mixed.

More than 90% of respondents said they supported the lockdown, and just under 90% of respondents said they supported travel being banned from countries that had experienced deaths from Covid-19. However, the support dropped to 58% on the question of shutting schools, and 60% of respondents believe the economy will be hit “very badly” by measures aimed at stopping outbreaks.

The Utting Research/Stuff poll was conducted on Sunday, and surveyed 3133 adults.

8.15am: Bridges, supportive of recent moves, to lead special committee while parliament shut

Parliament will be adjourned for at least five weeks after today, but the government response to the Covid-19 pandemic will still have oversight through a new special committee. This will be chaired by National leader Simon Bridges, who was interviewed by Morning Report’s Susie Ferguson about the new arrangement. “This sort of constructive scrutiny makes our nation’s response better,” said Bridges, who said that he would be joined on the committee by other National MPs including Paul Goldsmith, Michael Woodhouse and Nikki Kaye, with more MPs, including those from other parties, to be announced.

He was broadly supportive of the government’s recent actions, particularly the move to level four, and the enormous multi-pronged stimulus for workers and businesses, and said the fact the response has been broadly bi-partisan will “help New Zealand come out sooner and stronger”. In a sign of just how wide the Overton window is open, Bridges did not dismiss the idea of universal basic income, saying only that he “would want to see the detail”. The UBI has been discussed by a number of prominent voices as a potential part of a Covid-19 stimulus, including economist Shamubeel Eaqub and Dr Siouxsie Wiles, and finance minister Grant Robertson did not rule it out when asked about it at a press conference yesterday. Meanwhile the Herald reports that Robertson is not done with the bailout yet, and is working through options to help very large businesses, with turnover of more than $80m.

7.45am: NZOC welcomes certainty of Olympics postponement

The head of the NZ Olympic Committee Kereyn Smith has welcomed the certainty given by the one-year postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, in an interview with Morning Report.

“From an athlete’s point of view, it has been an extraordinarily difficult time for them,” said Smith. She said that while it would be hard for those athletes to reset themselves to be ready a year later in their cycle, it was a decision that needed to be made.

Details are still being worked out around whether existing qualification times will stand. Smith also confirmed that there would be significant financial costs attached to the postponement, which would now need to be quantified.

7.30am: From today’s Bulletin – overseas NZers encouraged to shelter in place

From our daily NZ news digest The Bulletin – sign up here

As of yesterday, the message to New Zealanders overseas has changed. Last week, foreign minister Winston Peters warned those who wanted to return that they needed to do so immediately, because the window for international travel would close rapidly. Now, reports Interest, that window has basically closed completely, says Peters. “We are reaching a point where the best option for most New Zealanders offshore is to shelter in place, by preparing to safely stay where they are. This includes following the instructions of the local authorities and the advice of the World Health Organisation.” Consular advice will be provided wherever possible, said Peters.

The major problem with returning is that many flights back require transit, and many hubs aren’t allowing air traffic through any more. A tipping point for this was the closure of borders to non-citizens by Singapore – because of New Zealand’s distance to the rest of the world, many journeys had to go through there. Compounding it, airline companies have dramatically slashed back their programmes of international flights, meaning that the seats simply aren’t available to those wanting to return. Peters wouldn’t rule out mercy flights assisted by the government, “but there are no guarantees these will be possible in the extremely complex and rapidly changing global situation.”

It’s a nightmare scenario for many New Zealanders right now, who didn’t necessarily do anything they shouldn’t have, and just got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Radio NZ reported on some of them, with one woman in this story spending thousands of dollars on flights that kept getting cancelled, and in one instance being told 10 minutes before boarding an Etihad flight that only residents of the UAE would be able to transit through Dubai. Conversely, there are many people from overseas in New Zealand right now who can’t get out. PM Jacinda Ardern addressed this situation in her press conference yesterday, saying New Zealand would offer these people a high standard of care, and expected that other governments would offer New Zealanders in their countries the same.

Domestically, people trying to get across the Cook Strait have been given something of a lifeline. After large crowds of people – many trying to book last minute tickets – gathered yesterday morning, a decision was made to extend the deadline on Interislander sailings being open to the public until Friday 27 March. After midnight on Friday, the ferries will only be open to essential service workers and freight – until that time, passengers will be given priority over freight.

Parliament is going into an adjournment today, until about the end of April, as a measure against the spread of Covid-19. But as Stuff reports, there will still be a scrutiny process for government decisions. National leader Simon Bridges will chair a new Select Committee, with representatives from all parliamentary parties, that will meet via video conferencing around three times a week. The idea is that they’ll provide a necessary check on the government, while parliament as a whole is shut down. It is expected that meetings will also be live-streamed to the public.

This is an essential piece to read if you haven’t got your head around the rules of the next four weeks yet. Sam Brooks has outlined exactly what is allowed and what isn’t under level four, and what the underlying principles are if you’ve got a specific situation that isn’t necessarily clear. There has also been an outline of what is permitted with shared custody arrangements, which a few of you got in touch to ask about. It is essential that everyone sticks to these rules, there’s not really any other way of putting it. If people don’t stick to them, we’ll all get to enjoy many more weeks of shutdown.

It was a pretty big day of drama for retailer The Warehouse yesterday. At the start of the day, they announced to the NZX that as a supplier of key consumer goods, they’d be staying open for the shutdown. Within hours that had been slapped down by government spokespeople, who said that no decision had been made. The Warehouse Group was subsequently placed in a trading halt, after the shares had earlier shot up. As of late last night, it was confirmed to be closing for the shutdown, among a wider clarification of the essential services list.

Speaking of firms trying to stay open, that sort of attitude has prompted fury from one union leader. Stuff reported comments from Unite boss Gerard Hehir, who said that those who try and cash in on everyone else being closed should basically be shut down for good. “It’s putting workers at risk to make a profit.” I reckon this quote from yesterday’s government spokespeople press conference sums it up best: “If you’re in doubt about whether you’re an essential service, you’re probably not,” said Paul Stocks of MBIE. “I would caution firms about leaping to judgement about what their status will be.”

You might have heard recently about roadblocks up the East Coast, to protect predominantly Māori communities from outbreaks of Covid-19. The word from this Gisborne Herald article is that they’ll be more like checkpoints – which have the crucial distinction of not being illegal. The checkpoints are aimed at protecting communities which are much more likely to be vulnerable to illness, and helping ensure that people do not travel outside of their own region during a time when restrictions are in place.

What does a Covid-19 test actually involve? Anthony Costello for Re: News has followed someone through their test, and presented it in video form. The ‘up the nose’ bit was described as “a bit uncomfortable, but nothing too bad,” so if you have to get one that will hopefully set your mind at ease a bit. One really important point about the tests – if you’ve got symptoms, do not just show up at the GP’s office. Make sure you call ahead. And while you wait for the results to come back, you must isolate yourself.

Image: Johns Hopkins (screengrab)

6.55am: US markets surge as $2tn deal nears – so does NYC’s outbreak

The New York Times, whose coverage of the US Covid-19 outbreak has been superb, even by its usual lofty standards (and has been made free), is reporting three seemingly contradictory stories. Firstly, that markets are surging as deal for a massive an economic stimulus nears. Second, that infections are doubling in New York City every three days. And lastly, that US vice president Mike Pence, speaking in a town hall on Fox News alongside president Trump, has said that his administration has never considered a nationwide lockdown in response to the pandemic. “I can tell you that at no point has the White House Coronavirus Task Force discussed a nationwide lockdown.”

There are reports of flights from NYC to Florida surging, as residents try to escape the city’s shutdown, a troubling development as the population of Florida has a high concentration of retirees. But Trump remains fixated on the immediate-term economic impact. “I gave it two weeks,” he said, saying he wanted to “open this country” again. “We can socially distance ourselves and go to work,” he said. Cases in the US are now just under 50,000, and the World Health Organisation is warning that it could become the centre of the pandemic.

Meanwhile in tragic news out of California, the Los Angeles Times has reported on the country’s first death of a child from Covid-19.

Elsewhere in the world, the global number of infections has risen by around 50,000 since yesterday, to top 400,000. Boris Johnson has finally put the UK into full lockdown, as its death toll rises to 422, while Spain has seen 514 deaths in a single day, its highest number yet. Australia has tightened its lockdown, but it still allows bootcamps of up to 10 people, and haircut appointments of up to 30 minutes. Chillingly, Covid-19 is starting to extend into some of the places in the world least able to cope with it, including a refugee camp in Mogadishu. Finally, China remains the brightest spot, indicating that extreme lockdowns can produce relatively swift recovery, as Hubei province (with the exception of Wuhan, where the virus originated) has reopened its public transport.

6.15am: An extraordinary new edition of The Side Eye

The latest edition of The Side Eye, Toby Morris’s superb comic series, was created in collaboration with Dr Siouxsie Wiles. The pair’s work has become some of the most admired communication produced anywhere during the pandemic, and this is the fullest expression of it yet. You’ll have seen a frame of it, showing the impact of obeying directives around lockdown and physical distancing, which has been viewed millions of times around the world, across dozens of languages and platforms, since it came out on Sunday. Now we’ve released (with help from NZ on Air) the full-length comic it was taken from, which is the very definition of a must-read at this moment.

A frame of March’s edition of The Side-Eye

6am: From late last night – ‘essential services’ guidelines clarified

The greatest puzzle of pre-shutdown New Zealand has been solved: the Warehouse must close its doors. Liquor stores will need to shut, too, with the exception of trust areas in which booze is not available in supermarkets. There it will be one in, one out. “Big box” retailers such as Mitre 10, Placemakers and Bunnings will be open for trade customers providing for essential services only, as a “key part of the supply chain”. Sausage sizzles are out.

Dairies can stay open as long as they adhere to strict physical distancing rules. Food box and bag companies are OK.

Dominos Pizza appears to be a no-go, despite their insistence they’ll be in business.

“Only the businesses absolutely essential to ensure the necessities of life, like supermarkets and pharmacies, can stay open. If in doubt, the business premises should be closed,” said Paul Stocks, deputy CEO at MBIE.

“Food delivery services like Uber Eats and Deliver Easy pose a risk to human health. We cannot guarantee every kitchen operates strict food preparation controls or that everyone who works in a kitchen is well. Evidence overseas suggests the virus has been spread via poor food hygiene practices, so it’s a real risk we have to eliminate,” he said

“For clarity, every restaurant, café and bar must close all aspects of their operation, including delivery. Delivery of food that is not pre-cooked will be allowed under strict health conditions. Many New Zealanders now receive their food via a delivery company and are in effect no different to a supermarket delivery option.”

On dairies he said: “Dairies provide basic food items like bread and milk to people close to where they live, especially the elderly who may not be able to get to a supermarket. However, they will need to operate a strict ‘one-in one-out’ policy and they won’t be allowed to sell food prepared on the premises.

“If any dairy breaks the rules, we will shut it down. If there is evidence of systemic abuse, we will remove them from the essential services list.”

On alcohol sales, this is the ruling: “Most people are able to purchase alcohol at supermarkets. On that basis liquor stores are being treated as other non-essential retail outlets and must close. The only exception to this are Licencing Trust Areas where there is nowhere else to purchase alcohol. These stores must operate a ‘one-in one-out’ policy.

“We are doing further work on online ordering of non-food products for home delivery to see if this type of retail can be conducted safely. We will update advice on this once further decisions are made.

“Covid-19 alert level four is not business as usual and means there will be significant restrictions on what New Zealanders are able to purchase. However, these changes are essential to stop the spread of the virus. We are ready to change the list if necessary. If we discover there are essential services that have not been made available we will react to that as we go.”

6.00am: Yesterday in sum

  • Director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield announced 40 new confirmed Covid-19 cases today and three probable, bringing the total to 155. Recent travel remained the “main driver” of newly reported cases. Four cases are being classified as community transmission, doubling from two (three in Auckland, one in Wairarapa).
  • The minister of foreign affairs, Winston Peters, advised New Zealanders overseas to consider staying where they are and “sheltering in place”.
  • Prime minister Jacinda Ardern emphasised the importance of reducing contact between people to the bare minimum.
  • The minister of finance, Grant Robertson, announced the government has agreed with retail banks a mortgage repayment holiday scheme for mortgage holders affected by the Covid-19 crisis.
  • Robertson also announced a business finance guarantee scheme that will provide short-term credit to cushion the financial distress on solvent SMEs affected.
  • The domestic travel deadline was extended to midnight on Friday after ferry services were inundated with people trying to get home before New Zealand enters alert level four tomorrow night.
  • Confusion persisted around which businesses will be allowed to continue operating during the lockdown, with the government suggesting it was unlikely The Warehouse would stay open, despite the company’s earlier claim its stores would be operating as “essential services”.
  • Three more cases from Auckland’s Marist College were confirmed, bringing the total to four.



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