Illustration: Toby Morris
Illustration: Toby Morris

MoneyMay 24, 2020

Covid-19 live updates, May 24: No new cases, Baker talks up trans-Tasman bubble

Illustration: Toby Morris
Illustration: Toby Morris

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.

2.50pm: Today’s data, charted

For the sixth time in seven days, New Zealand recorded a zero increase in its Covid-19 case numbers. Recovered cases continue to vastly outnumber active cases. Here’s today’s data, charted by David Garcia.

Waitematā continues to have the most number of cases of any district in the country, Southland has the second most, though it hasn’t recorded a new case in more than a month.

2.25pm: Top epidemiologist says he would fly to Australia ‘tomorrow’

Otago University epidemiologist Michael Baker says he would happily fly to Australia to see his brother right now, provided both countries took proper measures to manage the risks involved. “I’d happily hop on a plane tomorrow to visit my brother who’s a GP in Sydney,” he told Stuff.

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern and her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison have agreed to ease travel restrictions between the two countries as soon as it’s safe to do so. In his interview with Stuff, Baker was optimistic about the idea of a trans-Tasman bubble. He said the chances of someone with Covid-19 boarding a plan in New Zealand are approaching zero. “Then you think: what do you need to do to make a very small risk manageable. You’ve got quarantine, testing, temperature checking, and tracing people’s movements.”

There would likely need to be a cap on visitor numbers crossing the Tasman to start with, and that would need to be carefully monitored before restrictions were loosened, Baker said. “Because it will cost billions of dollars if we lose our elimination status. It’s high stakes. That’s when you start to balance those very small risks.”

Read the full story on Stuff here.

1.45pm: Two bars shut down over alert level two breaches

Two Auckland bars were shut down overnight after refusing to comply with alert level two rules. In a statement, police assistant commissioner Scott Fraser said officers closed the bars in Counties-Manukau and the city centre when they “did not respond to education or encouragement to comply” with regulations. Under alert level two rules, bars have to ensure patrons remain seated in groups of 10 or fewer. They must keep groups at least 1m from other other patrons, and assign each one a single server.

It wasn’t clear which rules the two bars broke. A police spokeswoman refused to name the culprits, citing privacy, the Herald reports.

1.30pm: The view from South Africa

In January this year New Zealand barrister and writer Felix Geiringer moved to Pretoria, South Africa. A few weeks later the coronavirus hit and the country went into a lockdown that was far stricter than New Zealand’s. No outside exercise was permitted, alcohol and tobacco sales were banned, and the rules were enforced by both police and military.

“This might sound extreme to New Zealand ears,” Geiringer writes, “but the stakes are much higher here. South Africa had to go harder and earlier. About 8 million of South Africa’s 58 million people are HIV positive. Despite a recent push significantly improving the situation, only about half of those people are receiving effective treatment. That means 7% of the country have severely compromised immune systems, just from HIV.

“The living conditions for many South Africans also make social distancing an impossible dream. Over a third of the population live in townships or large squatter camps known as ‘informal settlements’. Accommodations can range from cramped to, frankly, appalling, and many lack basic amenities.”

Read the full piece here.

12.55pm: No new cases of Covid-19

For the sixth time in seven days, there are no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, the Ministry of Health reports. 

The total number of confirmed and probable cases in New Zealand remains at 1,504, of which 1,154 are confirmed and the rest probable. Only confirmed cases are reported to the World Health Organisation.  

One more person has recovered from Covid-19, taking the number of recoveries to 1456, or 97% of all cases. There are now just 27 active cases in the country.

No more people have died from Covid-19 in New Zealand. One person is still at Middlemore hospital in Auckland. They do not need intensive care.

Health workers processed 3302 tests yesterday, bringing the total number of tests completed to date to 259,152. The NZ Covid Tracer app has now recorded 354,000 registrations, 30,000 more than at the same time yesterday. Privacy commissioner John Edwards has said New Zealanders should feel secure downloading and using the app.

New Zealand’s single case of Covid-19 in the last week was a close contact of someone from the St Margaret’s rest home cluster in Auckland. In terms of new cases, the last seven days look like this: 0, 0, 0, 0, 1, 0, 0.

12.45pm: New case numbers expected soon

The Ministry of Health is set to announce New Zealand’s Covid-19 case numbers via press release at 1pm. No new infections were reported yesterday. Only one new case has been reported in the last six days. It was linked to the St Margaret’s rest home cluster in Auckland.

11.40am: Iwi raise concern over government’s RMA overhaul

A south Auckland iwi is raising concern that its cultural and historical interests could be trampled if the government passes legislation fast-tracking the resource consent process. Protections for Māori heritage, including consultation with mana whenua and the concept of kaitiakitanga, is enshrined in the Resource Management Act as it stands. But the government wants to pass legislation temporarily enabling developers to bypass the Act in favour of a fast-tracked consenting process as it looks to inject life into the country’s economy.

The Hui reported this morning that south Auckland iwi Ngāti Te Ata is worried cultural sites will be destroyed under the proposed changes. Its consents manager Edith Tuhimata said she currently has to look over hundreds of consents every few weeks due to the rapid intensification taking place in south Auckland. “We’re struggling to keep up with it now so if they fast-track this stuff, what will happen to our cultural heritage that lies in this area?”

Waiuku kaumatua George Flavell told The Hui important cultural sites are already being bulldozed. That situation may get worse if the consent process speeds up, he said. Ngāti Te Ata spokesman Roimata Minhinnick said the iwi had serious questions about Māori participation in the new process. “You’ve got the future generations’ identity at risk, and the heritage that goes along with that identity,” he said.

You can watch the full report on The Hui here.

10.30: A sobering front page from the New York Times

The front page of The New York Times today is just a list of 1000 of the nearly 100,000 Americans who have died from Covid-19. “None were mere numbers,” the page’s standfirst reads. It has been released as President Donald Trump golfs at one of his Virginia resorts.

10.20am: A report from post-pandemic Queenstown

Queenstown is one of the New Zealand locations hit hardest by the Covid-19 pandemic. Much of the southern city’s economy was built upon an international tourism industry which disappeared overnight. Unemployment there is now predicted to hit 30%. The Salvation Army is predicting a looming “refugee crisis” where thousands of migrant workers will be trapped by visa restrictions and limits on flights out of the country.

George Driver has surveyed the situation in what was once one of the country’s most affluent and desirable locations. He’s found a place reeling from the sudden downturn, with discounts on just about every service and product in town. But some businesses are still buzzing, the town is still one of the most beautiful in the world, and there is an undercurrent of hope if you scratch a little below the surface. You can read his report here.

9.45am: Hooton stepping back from media commentary

The prominent right-wing pundit Matthew Hooton is stepping back from media commentary after taking on unpaid, as-yet unspecified work for new National leader Todd Muller. BusinessDesk journalist Pattrick Smellie raised questions about the role Hooton was playing in Muller’s leadership bid while still acting as a commentator for RNZ and the Herald in a column printed on Friday. “Heaven knows how Radio New Zealand chose repeatedly to use lobbyist Matthew Hooton as a commentator on Muller’s challenge this week, when most journalists know that Hooton has been working on Muller’s behalf to help achieve this outcome,” he wrote.

In an article for The Herald today, political reporter Claire Trevett said Hooton has brought into the Muller team on Wednesday. Hooton has now issued a statement to RNZ’s Mediawatch saying he gave Muller his “personal support” in a phone call that day. New National deputy Nikki Kaye then asked him to travel to Wellington on Thursday, ahead of Muller’s challenge at noon on Friday, he said. He still went ahead with some media appearances on Friday, being interviewed on Morning Report and submitting a column arguing Muller was the only choice for National leader to the Herald. In both cases he disclosed that he had been a friend of Muller’s for more than 30 years but did not say he was linked to the campaign.

Hooton told Mediawatch he agreed to help Muller on an unpaid basis after his win over Bridges, and had withdrawn from his regular commentary slots on RNZ’s Nine to Noon and in the Herald. “Obviously I’m too conflicted right now to do any media commentary.”

8.30am: Pressure grows on Boris Johnson’s top advisor to resign

Pressure is growing on a top Boris Johnson advisor to resign following reports that he repeatedly ignored government advice on movement during the UK’s lockdown. The Guardian and The Mirror yesterday reported that Dominic Cummings was spoken to by police on March 31 after he was seen more than 400km from his London home in Durham, where he’d traveled with his family despite showing symptoms of Covid-19. Downing Street issued a statement saying Cummings made the trip to stay near his parents’ house because he wanted to have support for his young child while he and his wife were sick.

Though the travel would appear to be in breach of official advice to “stay home, save lives”, UK government ministers rallied behind Cummings following the revelations. Health minister Matt Hancock tweeted that his move was “entirely right” and MP Michael Gove tweeted that “taking care of your wife and child is not a crime“.

The Mirror has now issued a new report showing Cummings was seen again in Durham on April 19, days after he was photographed back at work in London on April 14. The Guardian has tracked down another witness who also saw Cummings at  Barnard Castle, a tourist town 30 miles from Durham, on April 12. The UK was still in lockdown during both sightings.

Political leaders across the spectrum have called for Cummings to be sacked. “It’s rather insulting to the millions who’ve made sacrifices to keep to the government’s own rules for cabinet ministers now to be prioritising the career of Johnson’s spin doctor-in-chief above the public’s health and well-being,” said Ed Davey, acting leader of the Liberal Democrats. Labour has called for an urgent inquiry into the reports. Some UK residents have pointed out that they’ve had to sacrifice seeing their dying relatives to comply with lockdown rules.

Cummings was one of the architects of the Vote Leave campaign which paved the way for Brexit, and is seen as one of Johnson’s most trusted and influential advisors.

7.55am: New York’s daily death toll dips below 100 

The death toll from Covid-19 has dipped below 100 per day in New York for the first time since late-March. Governor Andrew Cuomo revealed 84 people died from the virus yesterday. He hailed the toll as a positive step while acknowledging it is still a “hideous number” by normal standards.

New York has been one of the global epicentres for Covid-19. It has nearly 200,000 confirmed cases of the virus, and was recording around 800 daily deaths in early April. Though it is still recording the highest daily increases in infections in the US, other states are now starting to see rapid growth in their case numbers. A new study reported by The Washington Post found that the virus could be spreading uncontrolled in 24 states, mainly in the South and the Midwest.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump has been criticised for golfing at one of his Virginia resorts as the death toll continues to grow.

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

No new cases of Covid-19 were reported. 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 on Friday.

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.

Read more in yesterday’s live updates

Keep going!