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

Covid-19 live updates, May 4: Level two details coming this week; PM to discuss trans-Tasman bubble tomorrow

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

The Spinoff’s coverage of the Covid-19 outbreak is funded by The Spinoff Members. To support this work, join The Spinoff Members here.

On the afternoon shift: Hayden Donnell and Alice Neville

8.08pm: Six Waitākere patients now in isolation

Newshub has reported that six elderly patients who were in non-Covid-19 wards at Auckland’s Waitākere Hospital, where three nurses have tested positive for the virus, are now being treated in isolation on the presumption they have the virus. The news comes in the wake of revelations that no protocols were in place to prevent staff working with Covid-19 patients from also working with other patients, which has led to 57 staff being stood down. Waitematā DHB told Newshub it has apologised to families of patients on the ward and is planning to change its rosters for nursing staff.

*An earlier version of the Newshub story said the six patients were being treated as probable cases. The six patients are being treated on the presumption of having the virus but are “close contacts” and not probable cases. 

7.15pm: The day in review

PM Jacinda Ardern announced that details of what alert level two will look like will be revealed on Thursday, and a decision on when the shift will happen is coming next Monday. 

A high court ruling allowed a man, who had recently flown in from London, to leave managed isolation to visit his dying father, and Ardern said the government would learn from the judgement.

It was revealed that Ardern will be making an appearance at the Australian national cabinet tomorrow, where the possibility of a trans-Tasman bubble will be discussed.

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield announced that for the first time in seven weeks, there were no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand today. One probable case was confirmed. There were also no deaths.

Auckland’s Marist College, the site of the country’s second-largest Covid-19 cluster, announced all students and staff were being given the opportunity to be tested for Covid-19 regardless of their symptoms.

Ardern hit back at a Wall Street Journal report that claimed Australia was better positioned for a more swift economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic than New Zealand.

The prime minister was grilled on safety practices at Waitākere Hospital following an outbreak among nurses there.

6.55pm: Positive signs that Pacific Islands are containing Covid-19

With only four active cases remaining of a total of 18, Fiji expects to be able to declare it is free of Covid-19 in 12 days’ time, according to the government. The country has not recorded any deaths.

In Tonga, meanwhile, where no cases have been recorded, emergency restrictions are being eased. Samoa, which is also Covid-free, announced church services could resume and schools restart at the weekend.

New Caledonia, which has had 18 cases but none for a month, has also eased restrictions, reports RNZ, and Papua New Guinea, which has recorded eight cases, has lifted its curfew in the capital of Port Moresby.

6.40pm: NZ should consider extra measures, says public health professor  

Responding to today’s milestone zero cases announcement, Michael Baker, professor of public health at the University of Otago, Wellington, said complacency was the enemy. “The threat of Covid-19 has been consistently under-estimated across the globe, with tragic consequences. Outbreaks are possible at any time.

Baker said in planning a move to alert level two, New Zealand should consider additional measures to safeguard the country, such as “mass-masking” in enclosed public spaces and a contact-tracing app or card, as well as strong measures to protect vulnerable populations.

6.30pm: On The Spinoff today

New Zealand marked the milestone of zero new cases today. Here are all the details (plus a cool Toby Morris gif), here’s Dr Siouxsie Wiles’s message to us, and here’s the day’s data visualisation.

Dr Siouxsie Wiles raises concerns about a “church” pushing bleach as a miracle cure for Covid-19.

Economic commentator Michael Reddell says an outward focus is key to rebuilding a shattered economy in a post-Covid world.

Tourism operators in Punakaiki contemplate the prospect of a town without tourists.

Covid-19 has demonstrated the importance of a robust research sector, but the future is not looking bright.

The government’s lack of transparency around decision-making concerns Jenée Tibshraeny of interest.co.nz.

Kiwibank recently received the Rainbow Tick – its chief risk officer explains why that’s important.

If you need a laugh, today’s 48Hours film pick, Icy Cold Killer, will deliver.

Meet Devoney Scarfe, the baker battling lockdown bleakness through the medium of incredible pies.

5.35pm: Government’s Māori Covid-19 response not up to scratch, says minister

Associate minister of health Peeni Henare has told Māori TV’s Te Ao that the government has a lot more work to do to improve its Covid-19 response for Māori, saying he and others in parliament were taking on the challenge. “It needs to change urgently, not just because of a Covid-19 response but as we look forward to what a post-Covid world might look like,” said Henare, saying inequity in the health system was an ongoing problem. “We’ve made it a big challenge to find that equity and to be completely honest, we aren’t there.”

The $56 million Māori response package, announced on March 22, has supported hard-to-reach and vulnerable whānau during the Covid-19 pandemic, including those who live in remote areas, kaumātua and the homeless, reports Te Ao. The majority of the package, $45 million, went to support Whānau Ora and a tailored health response.

5.20pm: 18 lockdown exemptions granted for dying relatives, says PM

Responding to questions at her post-cabinet briefing about the high court ruling that allowed a man to visit his dying father (see 3.35pm update), Jacinda Ardern said 283 requests for exemptions had been made, 24 on the grounds of a relative dying. Of those 24, 18 had been granted. Ardern said the Ministry of Health would need to make sure it learned from the judgement, particularly around concerns that the initial rejection of the request was an automated response.

4.48pm: What will be allowed under alert level two?

Jacinda Ardern has confirmed that cabinet discussed the details of alert level two today, and that those will be publicly revealed on Thursday. But what might be the general shape of what is and isn’t allowed under alert level two, if and when we get there? Here’s the guidance as provided by the prime minister’s office when alert level three details were announced on April 16:

  • Physical distancing of one metre outside home (including on public transport).
  • Gatherings of up to 100 people indoors and 500 outdoors allowed while maintaining physical distancing and contact tracing requirements.
  • Sport and recreation activities are allowed if conditions on gatherings are met, physical distancing is followed and travel is local.
  • Public venues can open but must comply with conditions on gatherings, and undertake public health measures.
  • Health services operate as normally as possible.
  • Most businesses open, and business premises can be open for staff and customers with appropriate measures in place. Alternative ways of working encouraged (eg remote working, shift-based working, physical distancing, staggering meal breaks, flexible leave).
  • Schools and Early Childhood Education centres open, with distance learning available for those unable to attend school (e.g. self-isolating).
  • People advised to avoid non-essential inter-regional travel.
  • People at high risk of severe illness (older people and those with existing medical conditions) are encouraged to stay at home where possible, and take additional precautions when leaving home. They may choose to work.

4.05pm: Level two details coming on Thursday, decision coming next Monday

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern says cabinet will decide next Monday whether New Zealand will move to alert level two, as this represents two weeks since the move from alert level four to level three, which is the virus’ period of transmission – its two-week life cycle. Speaking at her post-cabinet press conference today, Ardern said New Zealand could take heart that there were no new cases today, but her message remained the same – stay the course. “We cannot afford to squander the good work we’ve done to date when the end goal is within reach.”

Cabinet discussed the shape of alert level two earlier today. Ardern said that details would be revealed on Thursday, “once the guidance has been fully written up and we can clearly communicate that to the public and businesses. This will provide clarity and certainty and give people time to prepare”.

She added: “Please note, though, as with the previous process, no decision has been made on moving out of alert level three at this stage. You will receive clear guidance and signalling before any such move.”

Referencing the latest Google tracking data that showed New Zealand had maintained consistent levels of low movement under lockdown, Ardern said the ongoing commitment to physical distancing and staying at home had no doubt been a big contributor to the rapid drop in case numbers. Noting the country had done better than others on this front, she said, “Your efforts have put us at the front of the pack and everyone should feel very proud of that.” She added, however, that there had been an uptick in visits to parks and so forth in the last week, and emphasised the need to maintain physical distancing.

Ardern confirmed she would take part in Australia’s cabinet meeting tomorrow, with discussions “including the creation of a trans-Tasman travel bubble”. She said “such a meeting is without precedent” and reflected “the mutual importance of our two countries and economies. Both our countries’ strong record on fighting the virus has put us in the enviable position of being able to plan the next stage in our economic rebuild and to include trans-Tasman travel and engagement in our strategy.”

Pressed on timing for a possible trans-Tasman bubble, Ardern offered only: “I wouldn’t say that it would be in the very, very near short-term”, but that New Zealand and Australia were looking at similar timelines. She confirmed the trans-Tasman bubble idea would mean there was no requirement either way for the fortnight quarantine period.

Ardern said it was hoped the Fieldays agricultural events, which contribute $183 million to the Waikato economy alone, could go ahead as normal later in the year, but a virtual event would also be held in mid-June that would bring hundreds of exhibitors together online.

Foreshadowing finance minister Grant Robertson’s pre-budget speech this Thursday, Ardern emphasised the government was not about to splash the cash. “With decreased revenue and the government taking on increased debt, we are being very cautious to ensure every dollar helps create jobs and sets us on a path to our country rebuilding better.” Budget day is May 14. 

Ardern also gave an update of breaches of the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act or Health Act under alert level three, saying that as of 6pm Sunday, there had been 593 breaches, 154 prosecutions, 400 warnings and 39 youth referrals.

4.00pm: Watch PM gives post-cabinet Covid-19 update

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern is about to give her post-cabinet update. Watch here, and stay tuned for live updates.

3.35pm: High court allows man in managed isolation to visit dying father

A man who had recently flown in from London has been allowed to visit his dying father after a high court judge overturned lockdown rules.

According to the Herald’s report on the ruling, Oliver Christiansen arrived in Auckland on April 23, believing his father, who was terminally ill with brain cancer and in palliative care at home, still had weeks to live, so he would have a chance to say goodbye to him once his 14-day period of mandatory managed isolation had been completed. The father’s health took a turn for the worse, however, and Christiansen was advised he was likely to die within days. Christiansen, who had no Covid-19-like symptoms, applied to health authorities for dispensation to visit him, but was denied, so decided to take his case to the High Court in Auckland to have his situation reviewed by a judge.

Justice Tracey Walker heard the case on Friday and allowed Christiansen to visit his father if he travelled by private car and wore full PPE for the visit. Stuff reports he was able to spend just over 24 hours with his father before he died.  “In this particular case, there is a very strong argument, in my judgment, that the permission for Mr Christiansen to visit his dying father was not considered on the correct legal grounds and did not take account of relevant mandatory considerations,” she said in her ruling, released today.

2.30pm: A word from Siouxsie on reaching zero cases

In the latest 60 Seconds with Siouxsie, Dr Siouxsie Wiles says we should be very proud of ourselves, but we’ve got a way to go. Watch her message below.

1.45pm: Today’s active and recovered graph

Here’s today’s graph, courtesy of Chris McDowall. There are 191 active cases and 1,276 recovered. See McDowall’s data visualisations for yesterday’s numbers here, and check back later this afternoon for today’s full suite of graphs.

1.30pm: Ardern to appear at Australian cabinet tomorrow

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has invited his New Zealand counterpart to participate in Australia’s national cabinet tomorrow, according to reports.

The pair are expected to discuss a mooted “trans-Tasman bubble” that would allow New Zealanders and Australians to freely travel between countries, reports Stuff.

Both countries have had success in containing the spread of the virus, prompting enthusiasm, especially from deputy prime minister Winston Peters, around the idea of establishing a trans-Tasman bubble.

Spikes continue in Australia, however. Overnight the state of Victoria recorded 22 new cases, with 19 of those at a Melbourne meat-processing plant.

At today’s official Covid-19 update, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said he was in touch with his counterparts in Australia about the possibility of establishing a trans-Tasman bubble. He said he would work with them on establishing an agreed set of “public health pillars” to ensure the bubble could be established safely. “We’re trying to go very much in tandem with the range of moves we’ve made, whether it was around the border, around case definitions, around sharing information. I’m confident we could continue that to support a trans-Tasman bubble arrangement if that’s what the governments agree.”

1.00pm: No new cases of Covid-19 today, no deaths

Dr Ashley Bloomfield has announced that for the first time since March 16, there are no new cases of Covid-19 today. One probable case has been reclassified as confirmed following a positive test in the past few days, so the total number of cases remain at 1,487, said Bloomfield, 1,137 of those confirmed. There have been no further deaths.

Bloomfield said 2,473 tests were completed yesterday, a lower number than usual on account of it being a Sunday, which brings the total to date to 52,696. Ten further cases have recovered since yesterday, bringing the total to 1,276, which is 86% of all confirmed and probable cases. There are seven people in hospital with Covid-19. None are in ICU.

There are still 16 significant clusters of Covid-19 around the country, though three of those are considered closed because 28 days have passed without a new case linked to a reported case.In the days since New Zealand went into alert level four, the new cases each day have numbered as follows: 78, 85, 83, 63, 76, 58, 61, 89, 71, 82, 89, 67, 54, 50, 29, 44, 29, 18, 19, 17, 20, 15, 8, 13, 9, 9, 5, 6, 3, 5, 5, 9, 5, 3, 2, 3, 3, 6, 2, and today, 0.

Bloomfield said the results were encouraging, but warned against taking them as a sign that Covid-19 has been eliminated. He said health officials would expect to see later this week whether any community transmission has emerged after New Zealand’s shift to alert level three.

“We cannot afford to squander all the hard work and effort of the past weeks. We did see in the weekend that it can be easy to start slackening off, and we need to maintain discipline and sustain the advantage we have fought so hard for.”

Bloomfield said New Zealand needed to stay at alert level three despite the zero increase in new cases, adding that the lockdown restrictions were needed to give health officials confidence there was no undetected community transmission of the virus. “It’s clear from looking at other countries that there is a very long tail and what we’re trying to do now is make sure we are finding any potential additional cases that are associated with current cases or clusters.”

He acknowledged that the zero increase was “cause for celebration”. “I think it’s important that we reflect that it’s symbolic of the effort everyone’s put in. So I don’t want to downplay that, but once again we want to be continuing vigilance. It is important we all collectively acknowledge this is the first day we had no new cases and we want to keep it that way.”

Cases still under investigation

There are still several cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand without a clear link to existing clusters or overseas travel, said Bloomfield, but health officials had conducted widespread testing of the close contacts of those cases and hadn’t found any evidence the virus was spreading. “But we want to make sure that we’re covering off that long tail.”

One of the cases under investigation is in the Nelson/Marlborough region and one had been found through surveillance testing of staff at Auckland Airport, said Bloomfield. In both instances, there was an explanation related to overseas travel, but it wasn’t certain that was the source of the infection, he said.

Bloomfield said community testing of asymptomatic people in environments such as supermarkets would continue this week. “It’s really later this week that we’ll be confident if we are or are not seeing if new cases are popping up in the community.”

Concerns were raised about a person in Nelson testing positive for Covid-19 after travelling to the Cook Islands, which still doesn’t have a recorded case of the virus. Bloomfield said it was more likely the person had contracted their infection from another source. “What’s not clear is whether that infection might have happened as part of the travel back from the Cooks, but whether it happened in another setting after that person arrived back. I think that’s more likely so I don’t think it puts in jeopardy anything that might have happened in the Cooks,” he said.

Bloomfield grilled on Waitākere Hospital infections

Bloomfield dodged questions on whether Waitākere Hospital should have allowed staff to work in both Covid-19 wards and other parts of the hospital. Three staff at the hospital have tested positive for the virus, and 57 others who had contact with those cases have been stood down.

Newsroom published a report last night alleging nurses’ health and safety concerns were ignored in the lead-up to the outbreak. “I would rely on the advice of the clinicians, remembering that staff inside our hospitals day in and day out, particularly in the intensive care units, are working with people who have a whole range of infections,” Bloomfield said. “I would defer to those clinicians for their advice.”

On a move to level two, and flu vaccines

Bloomfield said he didn’t want to pre-empt cabinet’s decision, but from a health perspective, any move to level two would be based on both low case numbers and knowing where those cases came from. He said he wasn’t nervous about the prospect of domestic travel and retail being reopened under alert level two. The important thing was maintaining physical distancing and good hygiene practices whatever the setting, he said. “The concern would be if we are relaxing the things we’ve started to do more routinely,” he said. “The risk lies in the way that we go about those activities.”

Bloomfield gave an update on flu vaccinations, saying 1.35 million had already been distributed to general practices, pharmacies, workplaces and other providers, which is more than had previously been distributed in an entire flu season, and more than 700,000 had been administered as recorded on the national vaccine register. He said 451,000 over-65s had been vaccinated already, exceeding the number vaccinated in last year’s entire campaign, and more over-65 Māori had also been vaccinated than in the entire season last year.

12.50pm: Watch live – case numbers to be updated

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield is about to provide today’s Covid-19 update. You can watch live here, and we’ll be providing updates as they happen.

11.55am: All Marist College staff and students offered Covid-19 testing

All students and staff at Auckland’s Marist College are being given the opportunity to be tested for Covid-19 regardless of their symptoms. The school is the site of New Zealand’s second-biggest Covid-19 cluster, with 94 cases recorded to date. While only half of those cases were directly associated with the college, health authorities and the school’s board have agreed to issue vouchers allowing its staff and students to undergo testing at any of the 14 community-based assessment centres across Auckland.

Marist College principal Raechelle Taulu encouraged people to get tested regardless of their symptoms or whether they’ve been tested before. “Testing all staff and students will give them extra confidence that when we do open the school gates, every precaution has been taken to protect their safety,” she says.

Auckland Regional Public Health Service director Dr William Rainger says the testing is unlikely to reveal any new cases. “But it is important that we take every precaution so that the school community can have confidence about the way forward.”

11.21am: Bloomfield on duty for 1pm briefing

Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield will front today’s 1pm Covid-19 briefing. Yesterday’s briefing was issued via press release. It included a warning from Bloomfield over reports of alert level three rule breaches, which he said could delay New Zealand’s transition out of lockdown.

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern won’t be at the 1pm briefing, but will take questions at her 4pm post-Cabinet press conference.

10.50am: Epidemic Response Committee to focus on health, education, sport

It’s Epidemic Response Committee agenda time again. This week the committee chaired by opposition leader Simon Bridges will focus on education, health, and sport and recreation.

On Tuesday, it will host representatives from the Early Childhood Council, the New Zealand Principals Federation, Auckland Grammar School. It will also hear from Victoria University vice chancellor Grant Guilford, who is weathering complaints over the university’s decision to charge students for rooms they’re not allowed to occupy.

On Wednesday, the committee will put questions to director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield and hear from the Cancer Society, the Funeral Directors of New Zealand, and Hospice New Zealand.

On Thursday, it will host representatives from Netball NZ, the NZ Rugby Players Association, and the Exercise Association of New Zealand. Warriors chief executive Cameron George will also appear, in the wake of the team flying out to rural New South Wales to prepare for the NRL season restart.

“Even with Parliament resuming last week, the Epidemic Response Committee still has an important role to play. With one week until Cabinet decides whether New Zealand can move out of restrictive lockdown measures, it’s crucial we have the opportunity to ask questions and put the spotlight on relevant issues,” Bridges said in a statement.

9.55am: Don’t put stock in Wall Street Journal report – Ardern

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern also used her Monday morning round of media interviews to hit back at a Wall Street Journal report claiming Australia is positioned for a more swift economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic than New Zealand. She told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking the advice cited in the Journal didn’t necessarily reflect what she was hearing from her officials. “Who are these economists making these assumptions because I would prefer to listen to Treasury in New Zealand rather than anyone else,” she said.

The Wall Street Journal article credits New Zealand and Australia with stamping out Covid-19, but says the latter is likely to pay a lower economic price because it kept more of its economy open. Ardern said the government had weighed up long-term economic modelling before making its decision on whether to move the country to alert level four lockdown. She argued initiatives like the wage subsidy scheme would cushion the economic blow from the pandemic and hinted that New Zealand’s long-term outlook may be superior to Australia’s. “I would say rather than reading the Wall Street Journal, let’s see how, in the end, after a few quarters, how New Zealand and Australia are doing,” she said.

For a more detailed report comparing New Zealand and Australia’s Covid-19 responses, you can read Kirsty Johnston’s report for the Herald from April 17.

9.17am: Ardern issues warning over lockdown breaches

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern has issued a warning over reports of widespread lockdown breaches. Stuff has reported two helicopter rescues were carried out in Canterbury this weekend as warm weather drew “thousands” of people to the region’s beaches. Police have received more than 1200 reports of mass gatherings since lockdown restrictions eased, and they were called to 685 parties between Friday night and Saturday afternoon, Newshub reports.

Ardern told John Campbell on TVNZ Breakfast this morning that people breaking lockdown rules could expect a strong police response. “The rules are there for a reason. Break them and you’ll see action from the police. This is ultimately to look after one another though. They’re not there simply to hold back people’s social life for no reason. They’re there so we can get back to normal as soon as possible. So that we can get the economy in full force as soon as possible.”

PRIME MINISTER JACINDA ARDERN SPEAKS TO JOHN CAMPBELL ON TVNZ BREAKFAST

Director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield yesterday warned that the level three breaches could slow the country’s transition down to alert level two. Ardern echoed that warning, saying the government wouldn’t ease restrictions until it was confident it wouldn’t see a new outbreak of Covid-19. “You see those countries that are suffering second waves or having to deal with another onslaught of Covid, they see themselves back in restrictions again. So we’re taking the philosophy as much as possible: do it right, and do it once, so we can move down with confidence.”

The breaches come as Koi Tū director Sir Peter Gluckman issues a warning about fraying social cohesion as New Zealand emerges from lockdown. Gluckman told media this morning that the current high levels of trust in government are starting to erode as people start to feel the economic effects of lockdown. He urged the government encourage to take a constructive and inclusive process to policy-making to encourage a strong recovery from the pandemic.

8.47am: Reports challenge government and Ministry of Health response

The government and Ministry of Health’s Covid-19 response has been called into question in a series of news stories this morning. Charlotte Cook of Radio NZ carried out an interview with a woman who developed symptoms of Covid-19 after being on a regional flight with someone who had a confirmed case of the virus. Though she rang Healthline to report her illness and the fact she was on a flight with international travellers, the woman wasn’t contacted by a Ministry of Health’s tracing team for four-and-a-half weeks, Cook’s report says. The woman, who asked not to be named, said the situation “reeked of incompetence”.

In response, the Ministry of Health issued a statement saying it was hard to comment on individual cases, but reiterated that it only tested people who were within two seats of confirmed Covid-19 cases on flights. When the woman did get tested, it returned a negative result.

Over on the Herald, Barry Soper has reported on leaked emails which show police initially had significant doubts about the legality of enforcing the alert level four lockdown. The emails from deputy commissioner Mike Clement to district commanders contained a Crown Law opinion warning police had “little or no power” to enforce the lockdown rules, Soper’s report says. That changed two weeks later, when director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield issued regulations under the Health Act.

These stories come after a report last night by Melanie Reid of Newsroom detailing potentially worrying safety practices ahead of an outbreak of Covid-19 at Waitākere Hospital. Three nurses at the hospital have tested positive for the virus, and 57 staff who were in contact with them have been stood down. Concerns had been raised about staff working across non-Covid and Covid wards in the hospital before the infections. Kerri Nuku from the NZ Nurses Organisation, told Newsroom those concerns were not taken on board. “It’s our view that, had the employer taken the concerns seriously, then the risk would have been eliminated in accordance with the requirements of the Act,” she says.

7.55am: Ardern challenged on Waitākere infections

Kim Hill, filling in for Corin Dann on RNZ’s Morning Report, has given prime minister Jacinda Ardern one of her most challenging interviews since New Zealand went into lockdown. Hill adopted an adversarial style, particularly during questions on the Waitākere Hospital outbreak among its nurses, with Hill asking why Waitematā DHB “would be allowed to look into itself?”

Ardern was at pains to avoid criticising healthcare workers or the DHB, but did pointedly note that N95 masks were not always in use. Ardern also noted that the DHB “gave permission for nurses to work between wards, but never on the same shift.” Hill described the episode as “unsatisfactory”. 

Ardern was also pressed on the number of parties reported to police over the weekend, with Hill saying “your team of five million seems to have dropped the ball”. Ardern admitted disappointment at the number of reports, saying “it’s very important that while we’re in this waiting room, we don’t act like we’ve won already”. When combined with the Greens’ dissatisfaction over the proposed RMA reforms, it suggests that New Zealand is returning to a more normal version of the political discourse.

7.20am: The Bulletin – RMA changes please opposition, worry Greens

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In what seems like one of the most unlikely headlines of the year, the government has made RMA changes that are broadly palatable to the other side of parliament. They’re aimed at bypassing part of the RMA process, so that shovel-ready infrastructure projects can get moving faster. In a press release, environment minister David Parker said “the consenting and approval processes that are used in normal circumstances don’t provide the speed and certainty we need now in response to the economic fallout from Covid-19.” As Radio NZ reports, much of the process that currently involves consultation with the public and councils will be done away with, and replaced with a small panel of experts. Those panels will be chaired by an environment court judge.

That has led to a chorus of encouragement from the opposition. National’s RMA spokesperson Judith Collins said that while she’d like to see further details, in general the party supports them, and would even like to see them made permanent. ACT’s David Seymour said it showed the government had recognised “the RMA is an obstacle to progress and frustrating for all involved”, saying it should still be replaced altogether. The Environmental Defence Society said the bill “appears to have a number of important safeguards to protect the environment.” They also said that in normal times the way the temporary law reform came about wouldn’t be desirable, but “there is a clear imperative to get economic activity going again and a strong initial surge of public and private sector spending on infrastructure projects is urgently needed to create employment.” As always, the various weightings on decision-making could still prove to be controversial when they’re actually applied.

Some concern has been raised by the Māori Party, which is telling the government that they’ll be closely watching what happens next. “Among many things the proposed new legislation intends to lower the threshold of permitted activity, apply designation processes that could compromise Māori whenua and wāhi tapu and use the EPA to oversee it,” said co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer. As Radio NZ reports, the Greens have only committed to the first reading of the legislation, because they want the Select Committee process to play out before offering full support – their big objection is the removal of public consultation, “even for a limited time.”

What projects will go ahead? A full list is still being identified, but the release basically said they’ll be the projects that create jobs sooner rather than later. Transport will be an obvious priority, the Parker made a point of also including cycling, walking and rail as options. Housing and environmental regeneration projects will also go forward. Yesterday, the call for carbon friendly projects also came from a recently formed group called Lawyers for Climate Action, reports Radio NZ, who said the fast-tracking of shovel-ready projects created the risk of environmental outcomes being lost.

This all illustrates that regardless of process changes, politics will continue to hang heavy over resource consent and planning decisions. An example of this came from Politik, which reports that NZ First MP Shane Jones is now more confident that projects that would have struggled to get through the RMA will now be possible. Jones specifically talked about campaigning for trout fishing legalisation, and other aquaculture projects – which to date have tended to be controversial. He sees the changes announced yesterday as “just the beginning”, and it seems fair to say he’s absolutely right there – we’re all going to spend a lot more time talking about the RMA even with these changes made.


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 shape of the cannabis law reform that will go to referendum has been announced. Here is a cheat sheet for how the legal regime will be structured, with much stricter regulations on the sale of cannabis than alcohol and tobacco. The architects of the law have been fairly conservative in many provisions – public use won’t be allowed, nor will supply to anyone under 20. The regime would also offer a pathway to those currently growing for the black market to go legal, provided their criminal offending hasn’t gone beyond a defined threshold. One criticism has been made by the Drug Foundation – Radio NZ reports they have criticism about the current upper THC limit for legal cannabis, however they say overall the bill has “covered all the key issues, and public health remains at the heart” of the reforms

Fish and Game, a pillar of the environmental movement for decades, will be independently reviewed after falling into strife and financial disarray. This particularly wild story comes from Stuff’s Charlie Mitchell, who reports that the undercurrents that have been building for several years have now burst to the surface. One issue for the organisation has been farmers increasingly using their voices as hunters and fishers to bring Fish and Game’s positioning more around to their industry’s point of view, almost as a sort of ‘entryism’ political tactic

The rollout of the flu vaccine has been a heavily contested area of the Covid-19 response. The government says about twice as many jabs have been given compared to this time last year, and it will go a long way to protecting vulnerable people especially. However, that’s a top-level assessment, and filtering up from below are more stories that suggest it’s going very differently on the ground. Newshub reported on the 1st of May that hundreds of Auckland doctors were advised that supplies would run out this week. There has also been a disconnect with the messaging compared to the total supply for the season – Dr Ashley Bloomfield has been telling the country “all New Zealanders are now able to get a flu jab, and I would encourage them to do so.” But as One News reports, the ministry has now come out and said that isn’t actually true – there will never be enough stock of flu vaccine for everyone to have one

Exceptionally stormy weather yesterday and overnight has caused issues around the country. The NZ Herald reports that flooding and slips have been seen all over the North Island, along with trees being brought down by the wind. And in the South Island, snow is likely to fall around the Canterbury and Otago high country, while heavy rain will continue to pound the West Coast and top of the South. Also, if you’re in Auckland and wondering if the rain means water levels in the reservoirs have returned to normal – no, they haven’t, we’re still facing restrictions

This is easily one of the most bizarre stories I’ve ever read about the lawmaking process under urgency. As Interest’s Jenée Tibshraeny writes, the government unintentionally passed a bill on Thursday enabling it to lend billions to small businesses. And what’s more – it wasn’t actually clear to the government that had happened until Tibshraeny told them. Perhaps all’s well that ends well, because it was always something the government intended to do. But the process will leave many wondering what other blunders are being made, and the opposition says it speaks to a lack of competence

You might have heard a bit about a miracle seaweed that can be fed to cows to cut their methane emissions. Unfortunately, while this is a very promising area of study, it hasn’t yet proved to be the game changer that many are hoping for. For more, have a look at this strong science read from Stuff’s Nikki Macdonald about the local and international efforts to make this work, and the barriers that have come up so far.

7.00am: Russia records new high, 1/3 of Kabul residents test positive in random test

Seven day moving average of confirmed cases (Source: Our World in Data)

Russia’s outbreak surged by more than 10,000 overnight, the highest number outside the US, and its trajectory looks set to follow its former cold war rival, with it hampered by similar issues around initial response, testing and reliable information. The Financial Times reports Moscow’s mayor Sergei Sobyanin as saying 2% of capital residents are likely already infected, indicating an infection rate for the capital alone of over 250,000 – almost double the 134,000 officially reported for the nation as a whole.

Spread outside the capital is now being closely watched, as the population in other regions tends to be older, with more underlying health conditions and worse medical facilities. Russia’s ability to respond will be impacted by the collapsing price of oil, which is such a huge part of Russia’s economy.

The true scale of Afghanistan’s outbreak is becoming more clear, with the Washington Post reporting that a third of Kabul residents subjected to random testing returned a positive result. The country has only 2,700 confirmed cases, but limited capacity means that it has performed just 12,000 tests. Most cities are in lockdown, but compliance is patchy, and efforts to contain the spread have been further hampered by the return of 250,000 Afghans from Iraq since the start of the year – the kind of population mobility which inevitably spreads the virus.

Meanwhile, the virus is well past its peak in Europe. Italy recorded its lowest number of deaths since the first day of lockdown, with the UK, France and Spain showing death tolls well under half their peaks. Johns Hopkins has global confirmed cases at 3.48m, and deaths at 245,600.

6.00am: Sky-high social cohesion will not last, warns think tank

New Zealand is currently experiencing a level of trust in the government and sense of collective purpose unheard of outside wartime – but that could all be about to change, according to a just-released discussion paper. The paper from Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures at the University of Auckland says New Zealand’s social cohesion will likely begin to waver as the country transitions out of the acute phase of the Covid-19 crisis and the implications of a prolonged recession become apparent.

“Already, we’re seeing a rise in tension between conflicting economic and health interests. Sectors are starting to compete for attention. Some are in hurry to return to a pre-Covid life; others see the opportunity for a major reset,” Koi Tū director Sir Peter Gluckman says.

Social cohesion must be a key policy consideration as the government steers the country through the crisis, the report argues. Says co-author Professor Paul Spoonley: “A cohesive, safe and Covid-free country will enhance New Zealand’s global reputation and help project our place in the world – with positive flow on effects for our economy.

“But once lost, it becomes extremely difficult to restore, especially when there is both increased uncertainty and new forms of inequality.”

5.55am: Yesterday’s key stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catch up with yesterday’s updates




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