The Covid-19 testing centre in Ōtara (Photo: RNZ/Dom Thomas)

Covid-19 live updates, May 23: No new cases; NZ company to start working on vaccine

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.

5.30pm: The day in sum

No new cases of Covid-19 were reported today. The total number of confirmed and probable cases stands at 1,504 of which 1,455 (97%) have recovered.

The NZ COVID Tracer app has now recorded 324,000 registrations – 31,000 more than at the same time yesterday.

New Zealand has joined the vaccine race as a group of wealthy investors have contributed half a million dollars in funding for a new local company called Covid-19 Vaccine Corporation Ltd (CVC).

National’s new leader Todd Muller pledged to take the small business minister portfolio if he becomes prime minister. He also clarified that he was opposed to euthanasia and cannabis but not same-sex marriage.

There are calls for the resignation of Dominic Cummings, a key adviser to British prime minister Boris Johnson, after he was caught breaking lockdown rules while displaying Covid-19 symptoms last month.

3.00pm: On The Spinoff today

Speed is of the essence when breaking any chains of transmission, and that’s where contact tracing apps come in. Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris explain.

Simon Bridges’ qualities as a leader seemed irrelevant to National voters, until suddenly they weren’t. Danyl McLaughlan on the change at the top of the opposition.

If you find yourself haunted years later by the loss of a broken friendship, it’s worth trying to fix, Karyn Henger writes after reconnecting with her old BFF during lockdown.

From Ronnie Van Hout’s take on The Breakfast Club to James Oram carving a rendition of his own face out of soap, Christchurch Art Gallery’s show of new video art in response to Covid-19 isolation is worth championing, writes Mark Amery.

Rugby Unwrapped, The Spinoff’s series with Scotty Stevenson and various rugby insiders discussing the state of the game, is now available in podcast form.

2.30pm: Today’s data, charted

It’s a ditto day, as former weatherman Augie Auer would say, with no change in the numbers of confirmed, probable, active or recovered cases, and no further deaths. Here’s how that looks in graph form:



2.15pm: Shipley backing Muller to be PM this year

Former National Party leader Dame Jenny Shipley thinks Todd Muller will be prime minister by the end of September. Appearing on Newshub Nation this morning, the one-time prime minister praised the way Jacinda Ardern had responded to the Covid-19 crisis, but predicted the mood of the nation will have shifted by the time of the election. “I was very popular [as prime minister]”, Shipley said, “but I lost an election because people had moved on and were looking for different things.”

1.05pm: No new cases

There are no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand today, the Ministry of Health has announced.

The total number of confirmed and probable cases in New Zealand is still 1,504, of which 1,154 are confirmed and the rest probable.

The number of recovered cases remains at 1,455, or 97%.

There have been no further deaths related to Covid-19. One person remains in Middlemore hospital in Auckland, but does not require intensive care.

Yesterday laboratories completed 5,604 tests, which brings the total number of tests completed to date to 255,850.

The NZ COVID Tracer app has now recorded 324,000 registrations, 31,000 more than at the same time yesterday, the Ministry of Health release said. “We continue to encourage as many people as possible to download the app – it will help us identify, trace, test and isolate any cases of COVID-19. The faster we can do these steps the less likely it is the virus can spread in our communities.”

The Ministry of Health encouraged people to read Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris’ explainer on the importance of prompt contact tracing published on The Spinoff today.

12.00pm Today’s case number update

Today’s update on New Zealand’s Covid-19 case numbers is expected to arrive in the form of a written media briefing some time around 1pm today. Yesterday saw the country’s first recorded case in five days, a household contact of an earlier case linked to the St Margaret’s cluster in Auckland.

11.00am: New Zealand company joins vaccine race

A group of wealthy New Zealand investors – including former NZ Breakers owners Paul and Liz Blackwell – have contributed half a million dollars in funding for a local company to start work developing a vaccine for Covid-19. Covid-19 Vaccine Corporation Ltd (CVC) was registered during level four, BusinessDesk reports, and will use bio-bead technology developed by Polybatics, a company started at Massey University in 2009.

CVC co-founder Dr Robert Feldman said the company’s top priority would be supplying the New Zealand market. There have been concerns that if and when a vaccine does come available, New Zealand will be well down the global list to receive it. The company’s investment group will provide more funding in due course, with the estimated cost of bringing a vaccine to market estimated at around $8 million.

Read the full story on BusinessDesk

10.20am: How close did we come to disaster?

Just how narrowly the country avoided disaster in the early days of Covid-19 has been highlighted by Herald investigative reporter Matt Nippert in his second epic long read in as many weekends. Today’s story, again based largely on the thousands of pages of government documents released earlier this month, reveals that at the start of lockdown New Zealand only had enough test kits to last six days. “The just-in-time deliveries of scarce swabs made while airfreight markets were collapsing are nothing short of miraculous,” Nippert tweeted. 

10.00am: Muller vows to take small business portfolio as PM

Todd Muller says he will take the small business minister portfolio if he becomes prime minister in September. Speaking to Simon Shepherd on Newshub Nation this morning, the new National Party leader said New Zealand was facing “the greatest economic challenge of a generation” and that his party was best-placed to lead the economic recovery from Covid-19 over the next three years.

Quizzed by Shepherd on his anti-abortion stance, Muller said that was “a privately held view” in line with his Catholic values. He highlighted the fact that his deputy, Nikki Kaye, who he described as “an absolute icon in terms of liberal thought”, had voted in favour of abortion legislation. Muller said he was opposed to euthanasia and cannabis, but was “totally relaxed” when it came to same-sex marriage. “I never said I was a perfect Catholic,” he said. 

Asked about the Make America Great Again cap that has been noticed on display in his office, Muller said he also had a Hillary Clinton badge from the 2016 US presidential election, “but nobody ever looks at that”. Asked to choose between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, he said he had seen both speak during the 2016 campaign, and had been more impressed by Biden.

National’s leader Todd Muller, next to an office shelf filled with American political paraphernalia (Photo: Alex Braae)

On the topic of working with NZ First, Muller said: “Our caucus position is clear, if it changes I’ll get back to you.”

Muller said he had a quiet night last night, celebrating his ascension to National Party leader with “a reheated meal of chicken and coleslaw” at home with his wife Michelle.

8.00am: New Zealand begins getting to know new National Party leader

Until he successfully rolled Simon Bridges to become the new National Party leader yesterday, many New Zealanders won’t have known a thing about Todd Muller. That has all changed now. If you were offline yesterday, have a read of The Spinoff’s quick introduction to the man who wants to be prime minister by the end of September. 

One thing this introduction doesn’t include is Muller’s stance on the controversial issue of spaghetti on pizza, but this was covered in a rapid fire round of questions during an interview on RNZ’s Checkpoint last night. Muller said that unlike his predecessor Bill English, he doesn’t believe spaghetti belongs on pizza. The opposition leader also revealed that his favourite native bird is the Tūī, he doesn’t think cannabis should be legalised and that his nickname is “Toddles, Toddie, Toddster … anything with ‘Todd’ on the front and something on the end.”

There will be more Muller in the media this morning, with an interview on Three’s Newshub Nation.

7.45am: Boris Johnson’s adviser broke lockdown while showing coronavirus symptoms

A senior adviser to the British prime minister was spoken to by police during lockdown after being spotted in Durham, over 250 miles from his London home, the Guardian reports. Dominic Cummings was at the time self-isolating with symptoms of Covid-19 after his boss, Boris Johnson, had tested positive with a case that required him to be hospitalised and receive intensive care. “It’s one rule for Dominic Cummings and one rule for the rest of us,” a disappointed neighbour told the paper. There are now calls for Cummings to resign, as did other government officials who were found to have broken lockdown or social distancing rules. 

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

There was one new case of Covid-19, a household contact of an earlier case. It was the first new case in five days.

Todd Muller toppled Simon Bridges as leader of the National Party. His deputy will be Nikki Kaye. He pledged a break with the negative tactics often employed by his predecessor, saying he would be happy to work constructively with the government on areas of agreement.

Almost 50,000 applications for the small business cash flow loan scheme have been received, finance minister Grant Robertson reported, and $824.5 million has been paid out so far.

Auckland Council said it would be cutting jobs as it prepares for a shortfall of more than $500 million dollars in revenue over the next financial year.

Read more in yesterday’s live updates



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