Jacinda Ardern at her post-cabinet press conference
Jacinda Ardern at her post-cabinet press conference

PoliticsMarch 16, 2020

Covid-19 NZ latest, March 16: Events of 500+ banned; deportations threatened

Jacinda Ardern at her post-cabinet press conference
Jacinda Ardern at her post-cabinet press conference

Rolling updates as they happen, by Spinoff writers.

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To read new updates for Tuesday March 17, please join us here.


That’s a wrap for today. We’ll be back up and running from 7am tomorrow. The big event will be the government announcement of a “significant, multi-billion dollar fiscal response”. This afternoon on Newstalk ZB the finance minister, Grant Robertson, underlined that it was far from the full response. “This is just package one,” he said. “There will be much more to come.”


Having earlier announced it will cut its long-haul capacity by more than 80% (see 10.30am), Air New Zealand says it is expecting job cuts of almost a third. CEO Greg Foran said: ”One of the harsh realities we find ourselves facing is that we will require fewer Air New Zealanders as we move to grounding most of our international operations and paring back significantly our Tasman, Pacific Island and domestic services.”


Pharmac has warned that there may be delays to some medicines amid the outbreak. “It’s inevitable there will be disruptions to supply,” director of operations Lisa Williams told RNZ’s Checkpoint. The requirements for retailers to have stock in hand means there’s no cause for undue concern, however. “The buffer that we have in New Zealand of product will help us manage.”


Among the events that have been cancelled or postponed in light of the new rules banning gatherings of 500 or more people: the Auckland Writers Festival, Wellington’s Armageddon Expo and Alanis Morissette’s New Zealand and Australian tour. The Auckland season of Book of Mormon, being held in the 2000-capacity Civic Theatre, is also expected to be cancelled.


Jacinda Ardern has announced that gatherings of 500 or more held either indoors or outdoors should be cancelled to “limit the potential spread of the virus”. Further, “more prescriptive” guidance will be announced later in the week for event organisers. “I know it will have an impact on a large number of communities … I know the impact it will have on the arts. But we are making this decision in the interest of New Zealanders”.

Universities and schools are exempt.

She also announced “zero tolerance” for those who do not follow the rules of self-isolation. All visitors who fail to comply will be “liable for detention and deportation”.

Her message to visitors: “We will look after you if you look after us. If you come here and have no intention of following our requirements to self-isolate, frankly, you are not welcome, and you should leave before you are deported.”

Speaking at her post-cabinet press conference, Ardern confirmed that an emergency economic package will be unveiled tomorrow, and that a “mass public awareness campaign” will be launched on Wednesday. She said Treasury’s advice suggested the impact of the coronavirus pandemic could be greater than the global financial crisis, but for the current event there was “no playbook”.

She also demonstrated the “Gisborne wave”, an alternative to hand-shaking, to a reporter.

Flattening the expressive curve: The PM mid East Coast wave

“I gave it with such subtlety you didn’t even notice.”


Auckland’s 2020 ASB Polyfest is the latest event to be cancelled in light of the Covid-19 outbreak. The event, which was due to take place this Wednesday the 18th to Saturday the 21st of March at Manukau Sports Bowl, has been canned following meetings between Polyfest Trust and Auckland Regional Public Health Service this afternoon, according to a press release. More than 100,000 people were expected to attend, including school groups from around the country. This follows the cancellation of the Pasifika festival last week.

In other cancellation and postponement news, Wellington’s beer festival Hāpi, which brewers from around the world were due to fly in to attend, has been cancelled, while May’s Highball cocktail festival and August’s Beervana festival have been postponed until 9-10 October and 13-14 November respectively.

Whangamatā’s Beach Hop, which was due to attract up to 100,000 visitors to the Coromandel town next week, has been postponed until 25-29 November.

Overseas, five states in the US – California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio and Washington – have ordered the closure of all bars and restaurants. New York City has also closed all bars and restaurants, except for delivery and pick-up services, as well as nightclubs, cinemas and theatres. This comes in the wake of a suspension of all public schools. In Ireland, the government has asked all pubs to close.


The ministry of health’s Dr Ashley Bloomfield has announced that there are no further confirmed cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand. Dr Bloomfield said the tally remains at eight confirmed cases, and two probable cases. A man who flew to New Zealand from Australia after being tested (and before he got his positive results) is now symptom free, and in self-isolation. And in the eighth case, a woman has been discharged from hospital in Queenstown, and is recovering in monitored self-isolation.

The suspected coronavirus case relating to a passenger aboard The Golden Princess has tested negative and the cruise ship has now left New Zealand waters.

Bloomfield said the numbers of international arrivals had already dramatically dropped, and that there they were “expeditiously” looking at fines for people who defied self-isolation obligations. He said border officers were “questioning people before they get to immigration. They need to be able to demonstrate what their arrangements are for self-isolation, and have some evidence to demonstrate that is the case. If we are not satisfied that is the case, we will facilitate them making arrangements to fly back to where they came from.”

Bloomfield noted that several people, including MPs, were voluntarily self-isolating after returning before the overnight cut-off. “I think that’s commendable,” he said.

He said there would be “much wider testing happening” for Covid-19.

“There is a cluster of symptoms, and the case definition has been adjusted. So previously it was fever [above 38 degrees] and cough or shortness of breath. It is now fever or cough or shortness of breath. We also know that some people have quite mild symptoms. It could be a runny nose and sneezes and a sore throat. If they have that plus a travel history that is suspicious or contact with a confirmed case, then, yes, a clinician can test.”

He said there had been “huge pressure” on Healthline, with a four-fold increase in calls. Extra staff had been enlisted, but it is important, he said, that people didn’t call seeking general, travel, or event information. To do so was to the detriment of “people who genuinely need clinical advice”.


Changes to public access to parliament have been announced, with public tours and school visits suspended. The public gallery and select committee meetings remain open to the public. Details here.

Three MPs who have returned from Australia, National’s Chris Bishop, the Greens’ Chlöe Swarbrick, and Labour’s Nanaia Mahuta, the minister for for Māori development and local government, are in self-isolation. Tracey Martin, a NZ First MP and cabinet minister, is in self-isolation after returning from Washington DC where she was in proximity to Peter Dutton, the Australian senior minister who tested positive for Covid-19. National MP Kanwal Bakshi is currently in India and will self-isolate on his return.


New on The Spinoff: Alex Braae explains what the Official Cut Rate means in plain language and Dr Sarb Johal looks at the psychology of washing your hands properly.


After a slew of suspensions of sporting competitions, the A-League has decided to continue, though behind closed doors. The New Zealand side, Wellington Phoenix, who were on track for a home semi-final, will play their remaining games in Australia, after completing a 14-day isolation, as mandated by the Australian government. They will not be permitted to train together, meaning their ultimate triumph will be more from-the-ashes than ever.

Meanwhile, Wellington’s Homegrown festival has been cancelled, as have four events at the Auckland Arts Festival. They are: Circolombia – AcéléréWolfgang’s Magical Musical CircusWatt by Samuel Beckett and Soweto Gospel Choir. An announcement on Polyfest is expected soon.


Fiji as yet has no confirmed Covid-19 cases, and has introduced further measures in the hope of keeping a lid on it. In a statement, Frank Bainimarama said: “Our travel restrictions on Italy, Iran, South Korea and mainland China remain in full effect, as do the stringent screening measures at our international airports. We plan to install thermal scanners at our international airports. From tomorrow, cruise ships will be banned from berthing anywhere in Fiji. Also from tomorrow, international events will not be allowed in Fiji and local events will be closed to all guests coming in from overseas.”


Air New Zealand has placed itself in a trading halt to allow it time to assess the operational and financial implications of the travel restrictions imposed by the government at the weekend. The measure was announced this morning, when the airline also announced plans to reduce long-haul capacity by 85% over the coming months. A minimal schedule will remain in place to allow New Zealanders to return home and keep trade corridors with Asia and North America open, said the airline.

Meanwhile, Auckland Airport has suspended its earning guidance that was updated only on Friday, with chief executive Adrian Littlewood citing the unprecedented scale of the new border restrictions and uncertainty over the impact on the business.


Interest rates are set to drop dramatically as part of a bold decision by the NZ Reserve Bank to cut the Official Cash Rate by 0.75% to 0.25%. The cut, designed to deliver a substantial monetary stimulus to the economy, will “remain at this level for at least the next 12 months”, said the Bank, a


Via Alex Braae in The Spinoff morning newsletter the Bulletin, here are all the latest developments in the Covid-19 story:

Major new travel restrictions were announced over the weekend, making a recession this year all but certain to happen. Toby Manhire has put together the essential guide with all you need to know about those restrictions, which PM Jacinda Ardern says are the strongest in the world. The main feature of them is that all arrivals into the country, from anywhere in the world except the Pacific Islands, will be required to self-isolate for 14 days. Those who are feeling unwell, or who suspect they may have been in contact with someone with the virus, are being told to call Healthline on 0800 358 5453.

Many people will be required to self-isolate over the coming months. Toby Manhire has put together a guide as to what that means in practice – some of you have emailed in confused about it, and this is very clear and informative. You absolutely must not simply ‘soldier on’ during a virus though, writes Catherine Jeffcoat, because doing so will endanger others. If you feel sick, stay home. And a reminder for employers from the start of the month – you have a legal obligation to keep your staff and customers safe. In taking the approach that it has, the government has calculated that the public health benefits will outweigh the massive economic dislocation that will come with it – a view elaborated on here by Dr Siouxsie Wiles.

For tourism, this will be a time of profound disruption and economic pain. That’s the conclusion from this Stuff report, which notes that the impact will be severe in the short term, but could even force structural changes to the industry long term. The cruise ship industry in particular is effectively just done for the next few months, and whether they come back is anyone’s guess. A few media companies have in the past few days launched campaigns to get people to keep their tourism spending local, and I wholeheartedly agree – off the top of my head I’d recommend the Rangitikei District, Opōtiki and Bluff as buzzy and cool places to check out.

In the rural sector, one major issue will be visas for migrant workers. On the day before the new travel restrictions were announced, Farmers Weekly published advice that there would be major delays in processing them. That advice probably still stands, and additionally, all those coming in will need to be in self-isolation for 14 days, so farmers will need to factor that in too. Earlier today on Morning Report, there was a suggestion that forestry workers could be diverted to help out with seasonal horticulture work instead, particularly with the Kiwifruit season coming up.

With far fewer tourists coming in, and people wary of crowds, hospitality is going to take a hit. As Duncan Greive and Alice Neville report, it’s already happening to a smaller degree, and some businesses are looking ahead to a future where the question isn’t so much a loss of revenue as it is staying open at all.

The film industry is also going to suffer, reports Newsroom, in an example of how the ripple effects of this will spread. Previously, the industry had been absolutely pumping – and now, as the NZ Herald reports, it has got to the point where the massive Amazon Lord of the Rings production has been shut down – with no clarity on when it will return either.

And in terms of the financial markets, well. Today could be a rather wild day. New Zealand will open early relative to the rest of the world, so it will be tomorrow before we have a really clear picture of the global situation.

What will the expected recession look like? Writing on Radio NZ before the new restrictions were announced, economist Shamubeel Eaqub believes that it won’t be a case of a rapid crash, with countless people put out of work overnight. Rather, the effects will permeate over a long period, and be seen most notably in fewer business decisions around expansion and new hires. And for an idea as to how complicated it will be to measure and assess the nature and depth of the recession, this piece from Stuff’s Thomas Coughlan is illuminating.

Further announcements will be made over the course of this week. Jacinda Ardern gave a preview of some of these on TVNZ’s Q+A, saying that it would almost certainly be the single biggest package she will ever announce as PM. She noted that with the situation changing as rapidly as it is, economic advice she received two weeks ago may now be out of date.

So to reiterate the most important messages: If you have been overseas (except to the Pacific) you must self-isolate on return. And if you are starting to feel sick, you must self-isolate. These two points need to be absolutely hammered home, because they’re not really about any one individual person – they’re about the collective health of all of us. Other measures that should be taken can be found in this article about stopping the spread. The point of these measures is to slow or halt outbreaks before they become rampant, overwhelming the health system. If you don’t follow these measures – or worse, encourage or demand others to ignore the measures – then you should be ashamed of yourself. Don’t leave it up to the government to force you to quarantine.

Finally, there are going to be some difficult times ahead, and things are going to change a lot. Throughout whatever comes next, I would ask you to reflect on what sort of world you want to live in, and how what you do can help bring that about. Let’s help each other as readily as we help ourselves, and understand that our actions can have consequences for people we might never meet.

Listen to the experts. Support your neighbours. Stay home if you’re sick. Give freely to those in need. Wash your hands.

That sixth patient who was mentioned earlier is recovering at home, and has praised the response from the health system. Stuff spoke to the man in his 60s, who recently returned from the US, who said that the testing and treatment that he received in New Zealand was far better than what would have been available in the States. This man in particular appears to have been a fortunate case, in that his symptoms were not severe, and he is able to continue working from home.

However, two more cases have now been confirmed, bringing the total to eight. The NZ Herald has a rundown on the movements of those people since arriving in the country. Both involved overseas travellers. In the case of one, he was tested in Australia, and flew to Wellington before getting the positive results – he is now self-isolating. It shouldn’t need to be said, but… don’t do this. The eighth person arrived in Auckland before heading to the South Island. Again, if you’re feeling unwell, or suspect you may have been in contact with someone with the virus, call Healthline on 0800 358 5453.

Keep going!