Jacinda Ardern speaks to media (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Jacinda Ardern speaks to media (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

PoliticsJune 2, 2020

Live updates, June 2: Move to alert level one could come next week; apprenticeships to be fully subsidised

Jacinda Ardern speaks to media (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Jacinda Ardern speaks to media (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

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 made possible thanks to donations from Spinoff Members. To support this work, join The Spinoff Members here.

3.15pm: Restaurants call for level one, further government support

The hospitality sector has added its voice to the chorus calling for an immediate move to alert level one. A weekly Restaurant Association survey of its members shows that three weeks into level two, 60 percent of members are reporting a fall in revenues compared with this time last year, with 22 percent of them describing the losses as “significant”.

In addition to the move to level one, the Restaurant Association is also calling on the government for more financial support for its members. “Whilst the extension to the wage subsidy has helped, it’s only going to apply to businesses sitting at a 50 percent loss, which completely undermines the needs of those sitting at 20, 30 and 40 percent losses which are still considerable for an industry where profit margins are typically lower than 10 percent,” CEO Marisa Bidois said.

3.00pm: New Hong Kong cluster after two weeks of no new cases

Hong Kong has seen a new Covid-19 cluster emerge after two weeks of no new cases, another global reminder of the risks of Covid complacency. The five new cases, connected to a local warehouse, have no clear overseas source, an editorial published in the South China Morning Post explains. “While the city must again reset its 28-day count before the epidemic can be declared fully under control”, the editorial reads, “it has to come to terms with the fact that hidden infection chains in society have never disappeared.”

2.00pm: Today’s data, charted

1.45pm: Apprenticeships to be fully subsidised under training scheme

Speaking alongside Jacinda Ardern at this afternoon’s press conference, education minister Chris Hipkins has outlined the first part of a package for supported training to aid Covid-19 recovery. The top line is that apprenticeships across all industries will be fully subsidised.

The government summary of the provisions is as follows:

  • The Targeted Training and Apprenticeships Fund (TTAF) will pay costs of learners of all ages to undertake vocational education and training
  • The fund will target support for areas of study and training that will give learners better employment prospects as New Zealand recovers from Covid-19
  • Apprentices working in all industries will have costs paid
  • High demand areas, including in regional New Zealand, targeted
  • In many cases apprentices, trainees and learners at tertiary providers will save between $2500 and $6500 per year.

Starting on 1 July, and for the rest of 2020, the government is initially targeting vocational programmes in the following areas:

  • Primary industries, including agriculture, horticulture and viticulture, fisheries (including aquaculture) and forestry
  • Construction, including building, plumbing, and civil engineering
  • Community support, including youth work, care for elderly, counselling and community health, including mental health and addiction support
  • Manufacturing and mechanical engineering and technology
  • Electrical engineering
  • Road transport (eg heavy vehicle operator).

“We know as a result of Covid-19, many New Zealanders will be looking to retrain and employers in key sectors will need more skilled people,” Hipkins said.

“We’re working hard to connect the two sides of the equation by making this process as simple and practical as possible. It’s designed not just for school leavers but for people in a range of circumstances and stages of their lives.

“That means we’ve removed costs for learners, apprentices or employers – for the next two and a half years, are targeting courses and programmes that are more likely to lead to jobs. We will also be deliberate in promoting vocational education for all ages.”

1.35pm: Cabinet to discuss level one next week, PM confirms

Speaking to media at the Beehive, Jacinda Ardern has confirmed that New Zealand could move to alert level one as soon as next Wednesday, “if and only if there are no further unexpected cases over the coming days.”

More precise information about what would be permitted under level one would be provided later this week, the prime minister said. In brief, while caps on gathering numbers would go, “we will [still] need to maintain strict border controls to prevent any new infections arriving from overseas.”

Should the move to level one go ahead “we will be one of the first countries in the world to have experienced a Covid outbreak and then return to that level of normality so quickly,” Ardern said.

Asked if the lack of enforcement of level two rules at yesterday’s marches meant that the government had lost its authority to determine the rules, Ardern said: “Obviously we’ve put in place the rules, it’s up to the police how they determine to enforce them. Just as we had some rules broken in alert level four, that’s no reason for us to abandon restrictions that have been put in place for the health and safety of all New Zealanders.”

On the deputy prime minister, Winston Peters, openly calling for a move to level one, she said: “He had a view that we should move as of Monday. Obviously my job is to balance all of the advice we receive from the scientists, who remain concerned about moving at a pace that can ensure that we don’t move backwards. So my job is to build that consensus.”

To “slide backwards” would be “the worst thing for our economy possible”, said Ardern.

1.05pm: No new cases

For the 11th day in a row, there are no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, the Ministry of Health has announced.

There is still just the one active case remaining, and that person is not receiving hospital-level care.

Yesterday labs completed 654 tests, bringing the total number of tests completed to date to 282,263.

The government’s NZ Covid Tracer app has now had 482,000 registrations, an increase of 6,000 since this time yesterday.

Protestors not required to self-isolate

“We’re aware of several large gatherings in New Zealand yesterday to recognise the tragic death of George Floyd in the USA,” director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said. “Anyone who attended these gatherings or who is planning to be at other upcoming events and feels they may be at risk by coming into close contact with people they don’t know, should take a cautious approach and seek advice.”

Bloomfield said since there is currently no evidence of community transmission in New Zealand, “at this time, quarantine for 14 days after attending one of these outdoor events is not required.”

Call for people to keep getting tested

“We want to encourage and remind everyone that if they have any respiratory symptoms, they should seek advice from Healthline, their GP or after-hours clinic about getting tested. Testing is free,” the release said.

“As we’ve done to date, we are keeping our testing approach under constant review. New Zealanders can be assured that our testing capacity remains high and that testing at the border and in our communities will continue to be an essential part of our Covid-19 elimination strategy.”

12.15pm: No Bloomfield today

The director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, will not be holding his usual media briefing today. Instead, the Ministry of Health has advised the latest update on Covid-19 case numbers will be released as a written statement. We’ll have the update on whether or not New Zealand has made it 11 days without a new case, or if we’ve finally hit zero active cases, at approximately 1pm.

11.45am: Singapore Airlines resumes flights into NZ

Singapore Airlines is recommencing passenger services to New Zealand from next week, it has announced. From the 9th of June the airline will operate three passenger services a week – two into Auckland and one into Christchurch – for the first time since borders were closed in March. During lockdown the airline continued to run three cargo flights a week to New Zealand, which it last week announced was increasing to five. “These flights will provide important cargo capacity for import and export between the cities and our global network, while allowing those who have an urgent need to travel, or return home, to do so,” a spokesperson said.

11.00am: Up to police to decide how to respond to protests

Police minister Stuart Nash has echoed the prime minister’s response that the police call not to intervene and enforce social distancing rules at yesterday’s protest marches was an “operational decision”, and not something that the government should have a say on.

“My understanding is the police had words with the organisers beforehand to really highlight the rules around level two and what needed to happen, and that didn’t. But that’s up for police to determine what actions should be taken,” Nash told reporters this morning.

Earlier this morning deputy prime minister Winston Peters called for the protest organisers to be prosecuted over the rule breach.”I understand they’re not going to,” Nash said

While he said he didn’t support the general arming of police, one of the issues raised by the protests, Nash said any continuation of the Armed Response Team trial would also be a decision to be made at the police level.

10.15am: Epidemiologist unconvinced we’re ready for level one

While some politicians and business leaders say even next week is too long to wait for a move to alert level one, public health experts remain unconvinced that the country is ready. University of Otago epidemiologist Nick Wilson told RNZ’s Nine to Noon this morning he believed contact tracing still wasn’t up to speed for a full level one, saying New Zealand was “really still way behind” countries like Taiwan and South Korea in terms of digital tech for contact tracing. Like his colleague Michael Baker, Wilson said the use of protective masks should have been “embedded in New Zealand culture” during lockdown, and should by now be common practice on planes and public transport.

The university’s modelling has indicated that four weeks of no new cases would give a 95% assurance of elimination, Wilson said, and after five or six weeks that percentage rises to 99%. However “the problem is that the Ministry of Health website is lacking the key information about when the last infectious person went into isolation.” We could even be at that 95% stage or above already, he speculated. “It could be that we actually have gone five or more weeks since the last infectious person was moving around in the community.”

9.15am: New poll results similar to other polls

A new Roy Morgan poll has Labour sitting at 56.5% and National down at 26.5%, with the Greens the only other party above the 5% threshold, at 7%. These figures are roughly in line with last month’s Reid Research and Colmar Brunton polls, which contributed to the downfall of National Party leader Simon Bridges. The Roy Morgan poll was conducted between April 27 and May 24; Bridges was replaced by new National Party leader Todd Muller on May 22.

9.00am: Tourism sector buoyed by long weekend

Operators in the hard hit tourism sector have been encouraged by the levels of domestic tourism seen in the first long weekend since lockdown. “I think you could have heard a collective sigh of relief from this district,” Queenstown hotel owner Nik Kiddle told RNZ’s Morning Report this morning. He said the region had seen “a good level of volume trade” over the weekend, driven by heavily discounted rates. 

Hobbiton’s GM of sales and marketing Shayne Forrest told the show the shire was “really thrilled with the weekend”, having seen around 400-500 visitors per day. While this was down on the 1,000-1,500 daily visitors they would normally expect to see at this time of year, it was “a promising start”, he said.

Other tourist operators called for the fast-tracking of alert level one after having to turn away customers over the weekend due to the current social distancing restrictions.

8.30am: Level one move has ‘absolutely zero’ to do with protests – PM

Speaking to Three’s The AM Show, Jacinda Ardern stressed that the potential fast-tracking of a move to alert level one had “absolutely zero” to do with the lack of social distancing at yesterday’s Black Lives Matter solidarity protests. The prime minister said the alert level shift was to be deliberated on by cabinet next Monday because “progress has exceeded expectations”. Asked if she agreed with Dr Siouxsie Wiles’ calls for protestors to self isolate for 14 days, Ardern said she would “put that question to the director general” [of health, Ashley Bloomfield].

“Ultimately the flouting of rules is not an argument to move away from [level two restrictions], health evidence and data is a reason to move away from them,” Ardern told RNZ’s Morning Report. “We always said [a move to level one] would be no later than the 22nd, but based on where we are now I think with some confidence we can look at it at an earlier date.”

Under level one “as it stands … there are very few restrictions”, the prime minister explained. “It’s border controls – and they remain critical – and of course public hygiene measures … Basically, alert level one is our new normal with Covid in the world.”

7.15am: PM hints at early shift to alert level one

Speaking with Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB, Jacinda Ardern has said that New Zealand could shift to alert level one as soon as June 10, eight days from now. The existing timeline had indicated a decision on June 8 with a move on June 22 or later. But cabinet will today consider expediting that in light of the low case numbers and advice from the Ministry of Health, she said.

Asked about yesterday’s Black Lives Matter marches, where physical distancing rules were breached, Ardern said she did not condone it, but that Police had taken a “graduated approach”, and she was “not going to issue diktats on the Police’s operational decisions”.

Earlier on Hosking’s programme, Winston Peters reiterated his concerns about yesterday’s march and the hands-off Police approach. He also took a swipe at epidemiologist Sir David Skegg who told the Herald on Saturday: “People who advocate a move to level one straight away are either ignorant or indulging in political posturing.” If Skegg meant him, he should have said so, Peters railed.

7.00am: Updates from today’s edition of The Bulletin

Protests have taken place in New Zealand cities in solidarity with the Black Lives matter movement in the US. All up thousands of people attended the various events, with a particularly large gathering in central Auckland yesterday afternoon. Our reporter Jihee Junn was on the scene and filed a series of reports to our live updates page. It was a large, passionate and vocal event, and also entirely peaceful.

But it follows a weekend of hideous violence in the US, much of it instigated by police. The original cause of the protests was the killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd, who is black, by a police officer who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for almost eight minutes. But to say that what is happening now was caused by that is sort of like saying World War One was caused by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand – it was certainly the spark, but events are now unfolding with their own momentum. The Washington Post reports dozens of cities have sought to impose curfews, after days of peaceful protest gave way to nights of running battles, looting, and beatings. To give a sense of where things are at, The Hill reports US Senator Tom Cotton is urging President Trump to use the Insurrection Act against protesters, which would give himself the power to deploy active-duty military personnel to quell the uprisings. Trump himself has called on state governors to “dominate” protesters. We don’t know to what degree police forces are already doing this, but some deeply telling examples have emerged – for example, a reporter who captured footage of himself being indiscriminately pepper-sprayed by a heavily armed officer.

While some might look at this as unconnected, there are very real and tangible reasons for people in New Zealand to fear racism and violence from police officers. People of African backgrounds spoke out in the past about this, saying they were targeted and harassed by officers. Police dogs are far more likely to be unleashed upon Māori youth, as opposed to kids of other ethnicities – one might wonder why such vicious creatures are being used on children at all, or on anyone for that matter. Recent research from JustSpeak shows that there are still vast structural biases against those who aren’t Pākehā. And as for why many people might not trust the police in New Zealand – you don’t have to go back far into the whakapapa of many Māori people to see land dispossession being supported by the police, or for Polynesian people living in fear of their door being broken down in a dawn raid. And just recently, the NZ Herald revealed that no consultation took place with Māori over the trial of armed police teams, despite Māori being at much greater risk of being shot.

But while all of that makes it clear that there are problems with how policing takes place in New Zealand, there is also a qualitative difference with the US. One of the most important distinctions that needs to be understood is that New Zealand’s police force hasn’t been militarised in the same way. Policing in the US now draws heavily from the tactics of various wars and foreign occupations of the last two decades. Military equipment is routinely given to ostensibly civilian police departments, for domestic use. The obvious problems that creates are explored in this piece on The Atlantic, or this piece on The Verge – it means that police come to see those they are policing as an enemy to be defeated and occupied. They become a law unto themselves, unaccountable and out of control.

The police in New Zealand – and the politicians they are supposed to be accountable to – have some very important choices to make here. The police force has also in the past proven itself to be capable of structural change. The Bazley Report into a widespread culture of misogyny and covering up of sexual assault is proof – genuine changes for the better were made in the wake of that, even if everyone would acknowledge that there is more to be done. It should also be very clearly noted that police responded to these protests in New Zealand by standing back, even on top of Covid-19 restrictions – more on that below.

The recent trial of armed response teams had one positive outcome – not a single shot was fired by any of the teams during them. It shows both that police officers here aren’t necessarily trigger-happy, and also shows that such an escalation of equipment is entirely unneeded. And unconnected to the trial, over the period it was running police still shot and killed several people who were themselves believed to be armed with weapons, in circumstances that are being investigated by the IPCA. The wider point about routinely armed police is put brilliantly by NZ Herald (paywalled) writer Siena Yates. These shouldn’t be operational matters for the police to decide – they are fundamental questions about what our society should look like.

National’s first economic policy under the leadership of Todd Muller has been released. Stuff reports that businesses who employed a full time worker would be paid out $10,000, with the overall policy spend being capped at $500 million. Muller says the scheme is designed to get businesses hiring again after winter, and will send a signal to those businesses that the government will share in the risk of doing so. Speaking of which, National’s new shadow minister for everything Amy Adams spoke to Newshub Nation over the weekend, about what her coordination role will mean for the party. Adams told the show that she’d be more than happy to see the government start the scheme earlier than National’s date of November 1st – that is, if they get elected in September.

Queenstown has seen a massive weekend of domestic tourism, with Crux reporting that it was reminiscent of seasonal peaks in normal times. Some providers were even caught off guard by the rush. Stuff reports that such a boom was seen the length of the South Island, and it will be a deeply welcome result for regional economies that previously relied heavily on tourism.

6.15am: Questions over Auckland march and Covid

Thousands of people crowded Aotea Square and Queen Street yesterday, prompting questions over the implications of the largely undistanced throngs.

The deputy prime minister, Winston Peters, who last week encouraged a hastened shift to alert level one, had a go at the protesters last night, had a go at the protesters at the same time as declaring that the laissez faire approach to the march meant level one should come immediately.

Meanwhile Siouxsie Wiles urged those who had not taken “Covid precautions” to now self-isolate.

6am: Yesterday’s key stories

  • Thousands of people thronged central Auckland for the Black Live Matters solidarity march. The large crowds spilled out of Aotea Square, and there was little sign of the required alert level two physical distancing. The demonstration follows the suffocation of African American George Floyd by a police office in Minneapolis, which has led to protest and violence erupting across the US.
  • For the 10th consecutive day, New Zealand registered zero new cases of Covid-19, though fewer than 700 tests were processed, reflecting the public holiday. One known active case remains.
  • Pressure to expedite the move to alert level one, in light of the low numbers above, grew, with new National leader Todd Muller admonishing the government for conflicting messages from the prime minister and her deputy.
  • Global confirmed cases of Covid-19 surpassed six million.
  • To mark the miracle of the Queen getting two birthdays a year, honours were handed out.

For more on yesterday’s headlines, see here.

Keep going!