For all The Spinoff’s latest coverage of Covid-19 see here. Read Siouxsie Wiles’s work here. An explainer on self-isolation is here, on social distancing here. For updated official government advice, see here.
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8.10pm: The day in sum
- Prime minister Jacinda Ardern this afternoon announced an immediate lift in the Covid-19 alert status from level two to level three, with a lift to level four at 11.59pm on Wednesday night. This means people are instructed to stay at home, schools and non-essential businesses are to close and travel will be severely limited. It will stay this way for at least four weeks. The full text of Ardern’s speech is here.
- Finance minister Grant Robertson announced the Covid-19 wage subsidy scheme would be expanded and a freeze would be placed on rent increases.
- The shutdown announcement came after director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield announced 36 new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, bringing the total to 102. More than half were directly related to overseas travel, and most of the remaining cases were close contacts of a previously confirmed case or associated with an event where there were confirmed cases already. Two were being treated as community transmission, one in the Wairarapa and one in Auckland.
- In the morning, the Reserve Bank announced a $30 billion buy-up of government bonds.
- In Australia, national and federal leaders agreed to a staged shutdown of “principal places of social gathering”. Papua New Guinea went into lockdown for two weeks, UK PM Boris Johnson warned that massive lockdowns could be coming soon, and US senator Rand Paul tested positive for Covid-19. The terrible toll of Covid-19 continued to rise in Italy, and German chancellor Angela Merkel went into quarantine after her doctor tested positive for Covid-19.
6.55pm: Supermarkets around the country swamped as NZ prepares for shutdown
Pak ‘n Save Wairau Park on Auckland’s North Shore temporarily closed as it was overwhelmed with shoppers after this afternoon’s announcement that New Zealand would be moving to alert level four, reports the Herald, while other supermarkets, liquor stores and pharmacies around the country have seen queues out the door, with some placing limits on entry. Supermarkets and pharmacies will remain open throughout the shutdown.
On RNZ this afternoon, the manager of corporate affairs for Woolworths and Countdown supermarkets, Kiri Hannifin, say the panic buying was disastrous and she was begging for people to stop.
Meanwhile, Foodstuffs, which owns New World, Pak ‘n Save, Four Square, Gilmour’s and Trent’s stores, put out a release saying some stores may operate on reduced hours during the shutdown and protective measures would be in place for stuff, such as masks and protective screens at checkouts.
6.35pm: Māori will be hardest hit by pandemic and shutdown, says academic
Dr Rhys Jones, a senior lecturer at the University of Auckland’s Te Kupenga Hauora Māori, has raised concerns about how the shutdown will impact Māori, saying that social and economic inequities are likely to be exacerbated.
Jones said as many Māori whānau live in multigenerational households, the virus is more likely to spread to vulnerable members if anyone is infected. Severe economic hardship will result for Māori in precarious employment, and if services like WINZ are less accessible, people on benefits could face serious consequences. “That’s why it’s critical that all essential services from WINZ and other agencies are available over the phone, and any barriers to accessing benefits and emergency payments must be removed,” said Jones, who also called for more funding for Whānau Ora services, and for “Māori health providers who are really struggling to get adequate supplies of essential medical equipment and technology for setting up remote consultations”.
Inequities in access to mobile phones and adequate internet access will also become apparent, so “there needs to be a strong push for phones and mobile plans (including data) to be provided to the most vulnerable whānau”, said Jones, and due to having a younger population on average than non-Māori and greater socioeconomic deprivation, Māori are also “likely to be disproportionately impacted by having to take time off work to look after school-age children”.
“What we’ve seen so far from the government has largely been a one-size-fits-all approach. That means that the science and evidence informing the pandemic response is translated into actions that work for ‘middle NZ’. Those things are not always going to work for Māori communities.”
Meanwhile, teachers’ union NZEI Te Riu Roa has welcomed the government’s decision to close schools. “The decision will be a real relief to those working in schools and ECE centres who have become more anxious as the threat of Covid-19 has grown,” said president Liam Rutherford.
“Key to the government’s announcement was the assurance that all schools and ECE centres will continue to be funded as normal. We’re talking with the Ministry of Education to make sure this means everyone working in education can continue to be paid as normal while they are forced to stay home.”
John Ombler, the controller of the all-of-government response, Sarah Stuart-Black, the director of civil defence, and Mike Bush, the police commissioner, have given more details about the actions to be taken to address the crisis.
Clarifying the list of services considered essential, Ombler said they included health, any entity involved in Covid-19 response or civil defence, key public services, transport providers including KiwiRail, NZ Post, teachers, public safety and national security, supermarkets, pharmacies, social services, financial services, food producers, biosecurity and animal health staff.
Speaking about policing during the lockdown, Bush said there would be extra patrols “almost immediately” to ensure the new rules were being followed, but added that the police’s primary role would be to educate people.
On reports of panic buying and disorder at supermarkets, he said that “if people are being disrespectful, we will intervene to maintain order”. More broadly, the police would be looking out for “any unlawful behaviour, or anything that brings anyone’s safety into question. We very much have a prevention-first philosophy.”
Asked about the vulnerable position of domestic violence victims under a ‘stay at home’ directive, Bush said the issue is something the police have been considering “very seriously”.
“We’ve been watching overseas trends, and yes, that kind of things does increase inside homes. That will be one of our top priorities.”
Civil Defence head Sarah Stuart-Black explained the powers of National State of Emergency that can be used under a Level 4 alert, which New Zealand will be under shortly. The powers include closing or restricting roads, the requisition of materials, and the ability to enter premises to rescue people or save lives.
The director-general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, spoke about how the lockdown will work in practice. In response to a reporter’s question about families with shared custody arrangements, Bloomfield said “every family will work out ways to make arrangements to achieve what we’re trying to achieve.
“If they’re in the same community, it might be OK for them to move between households if it’s achieving the intent of this, which is not spreading the virus.”
4pm: What are ‘essential services’?
A lot of people are very reasonably asking now: what exactly constitutes an “essential services”? What we do know is that supermarkets, banks, GPs, pharmacies, service stations, couriers and “other important frontline service providers” qualify. Public transport and regional air travel is restricted to “those involved in essential services and freight”. Domestic air travel is permitted “in some cases for people to leave the country and to get home to self-isolate.”
In a statement Z Energy confirmed their service stations and truck stops will remain open. “We have plenty of fuel of all grades at all sites, and with the supermarkets we encourage the public to fuel up normally. Pumps will remain open during the self-isolation and we encourage all customers to start pay at pump and contactless payments options,” said a spokesperson.
“We are working on a plan for ensuring that convenience items will be available and will update the community within the 48-hour window on how that will work at different service stations.”
3.50pm: Air NZ looking to put on extra domestic flights
The national shutdown has prompted a mad scramble for flights, Air New Zealand chief executive Cam Wallace said. With the government instructing New Zealanders to go home and stay there, people across the country are trying to get home within the 48 hour period before New Zealand’s alert level rises to Level 4. In a tweet, Wallace said the Air NZ website was experiencing high demand and the airline was “urgently” looking at adding extra flights across the domestic network to get people home.
3.35pm: ‘We stand absolutely supportive’ – Bridges
National leader Simon Bridges has been speaking to media in recent minutes. “I’d just encourage everyone to stay calm, and to follow the instructions they’ll be getting from government, from officials and from the various essential services they will be in contact with,” he said. “We stand absolutely supportive of what the government has done, and urge all New Zealanders to get behind it.”
2.45pm: What it means for schools, ECE; parliament to be suspended
Chris Hipkins, the education minister, has been speaking. Schools and early childhood centres will close from tomorrow for all but children of identified essential workers. They will close completely from the end of Wednesday, he confirmed. Tertiary institutions would close “as soon as possible”.
“Work is under way to prepare for online learning in all educational settings where that is appropriate and where that can be delivered consistent with the self-isolation requirements,” said Hipkins.
Two of the next four weeks will count as school holidays.
On funding, Hipkins said it would continue to flow to all providers. There would be no claw-back for non-attendance or failure to meet benchmarks.
Hipkins also spoke in his capacity as leader of the house.
Parliament’s business committee will meet tomorrow via teleconference, with the speaker asked to recall parliament on Wednesday. Terms for that would be determined, but Hipkins did not expect MPs to travel to Wellington.
Parliament would need to receive the epidemic notice that the prime minister will soon issue. They will seek a supply bill to allow funding to continue to flow, and a motion to suspend parliamentary business, including everything before select committees. An “accountability mechanism” would be established so that opposition and backbench MPs can continue to critique the government.
“At this point parliament will adjourn. No fixed date for parliament to meet again will be set at this point. We will ask the speaker to recall parliament when it’s appropriate to do that.”
Hipkins said he was unable to comment on the possibility of any election postponement.
2.05pm: NZ to move to national shutdown – alert level lifted to 3, will rise to 4 in 48 hours
The prime minister has announced an immediate lift in the Covid-19 alert status from level two to level three, with a lift to level four in 48 hours. It will stay that way for at least four weeks. “I hope then we will be able to ease these restrictions,” said Jacinda Ardern. That depended, however, on abiding by the rules.
This is what that means:
- People instructed to stay at home
- Educational facilities closed
- Businesses closed except for essential services (eg supermarkets, pharmacies, clinics) and lifeline utilities
- Rationing of supplies and requisitioning of facilities
- Travel severely limited
- Major reprioritisation of healthcare services
“I do not underestimate what I am asking new Zealanders to do,” said Ardern. “It is huge. I know it will feel daunting.”
Read Ardern’s speech in full here.
She said medical modelling had suggested that without such steps tens of thousands of New Zealanders would die. “Everything you give up for next few weeks will literally save thousands of lives. The worst-case scenario is simply intolerable. It would represent the greatest loss of lives in New Zealand’s history. I will not take that risk, I would rather make this decision now.”
“We are all now preparing as a nation to go into self-isolation in same way we have seen many other countries do.”
Schools will be closed from tomorrow, except for children of essential workers, such as doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and police. This measure is temporary, and schools will close entirely from midnight Wednesday.
“We are now asking all New Zealanders who are outside essential services to stay at home.”
It was important to gain exercise, go for a walk, but: “Please remember this simple principle: it must be solitary. Only spend time with people you are in isolation with.
Otherwise, keep two-metre distance from everyone else, she said.
The crucial change, she said, was that they were now confident that there is community transmission in New Zealand.
Ardern said New Zealand had “a window of opportunity to break the chain” and avert the catastrophe being seen overseas.
Finance minister Grant Robertson announced the Covid-19 wage subsidy scheme would be expanded to include all businesses, self-employed people, contractors, registered charities, non-government organisations, incorporated societies and post-settlement governance entities. The $150,000 cap any one employer could receive has been removed. The estimated cost of the scheme has risen from $5.1 billion to $9.3 billion.He also announced a freeze on rent increases and said the government would “look to extend no cause terminations to protect people during this difficult time”. “Now that many New Zealanders may not be able to go to work for the next few weeks our priority is ensuring they continue to receive some form of income through this period,” said Robertson.
Ardern warned against vigilantism.
“Be kind. I know people will want to act as enforcers but we will play the role of enforcers. What we need is for you to support others. Check on your neighbours, start a phone tree on your street, plan how you’ll keep in touch. We’ll get through this together but only if we stick together. Be strong and be kind.”
Asked about military and police presence, Ardern said: “We want New Zealanders to see that these measures are being enforced, but in a way that we’re used to as New Zealanders. I can understand that seeing an increased presence by police and military may be not what we’re used to, but they will be working together.”
She said she would be issuing an epidemic notice, and “we will be in a Civil Defence emergency”.
For more on the legal basis for all this, see Andrew Geddis’s explainer here.
There may a period in which some regions move out of level four before others, she said.
What are “essential services”?
Ardern: “Essentially those who are part of the food supply change, who are providing our supermarkets, who are part of our essential primary industry.” Discussions had been had with Fonterra and Federated Farmers.
There would essential services for construction and maintenance related, for example, to hospitals. There would also be staff within the public services, and police, and those in healthcare and defence.
Ardern said she had spoken to Simon Bridges and he supported the move.
Grant Robertson urged employers to make plans with employees in the next 48 hours. He said there was overwhelming support for the measures from within the business community.
Meanwhile, Auckland mayor Phil Goff has confirmed that rubbish collection, as an essential service, will continue to go ahead over the shutdown period.
1pm: National Party suspends election campaign, pledges support
Simon Bridges has asked all his MPs and candidates to put campaigning on hold.
In a statement, he said: “I have offered the prime minister my full support during this crisis, providing they move expeditiously enough. We will work in a supportive and constructive way in the interests of New Zealanders. I have also offered the government the services of our MPs and staff to assist where we can.”
He also urged a shift to level four on the alert scale. He said: “We will support the government where we can. But we won’t always agree and we will continue to let the government know when we don’t. “The opposition will continue to play an important role to ensure the best decisions are being made in the interests of all New Zealanders. We won’t be campaigning for the foreseeable future, however.”
12.50pm: 36 new cases, total 102, two community transmission
As of 8am, there are 36 new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand. Over half are directly related to overseas travel: they returned recently to New Zealand. Most of the remaining are close contacts of a previously confirmed case or associated with an event where there were confirmed cases already, such as the Hereford cattle conference in Queenstown. There remain cases, one in Auckland and the other in Wairarapa, for which there is no certain source of the infection, and they are being treated as community transmission.
Speaking to media, Ashley Bloomfield, the director general of health, said Jacinda Ardern would address any change to the alert level. “The prime minister will update the country later on the alert level, which is a result of and informed by those cases of community transmission,” he said.
A reminder that community transmission is, according to the system outlined on Saturday, sufficient to trigger level three (see image below). Many of the measures it requires are being undertaken already.
Just over 1,200 tests were conducted yesterday, bringing the total of completed tests to 7,400. Which means that one in every 74 tests is returning positive.
Of the new cases, close contact tracing is under way.
Bloomfield said that new staff continued to be added for Healthline. The average waiting time, he said, is 30 minutes.
Asked about the calls for the alert level to be lifted to four, Bloomfield said: “That’s a government decision and we continue to provide advice to the government about the alert level, and as I’ve hinted at the prime minister will be talking about the alert level in the next hour … It’s a cabinet decision. Even if we advise something, the cabinet has to discuss and make a decision.”
He declined to say what advice had been given. The prime minister is speaking at 1.30pm.
Asked about the scale of testing, Bloomfield said: “I would expect that we’ll continue to see more cases each day. We’re doing a lot of testing now, between 1,100 and 1,500 tests a day. Our case positivity rate is between 1% and 2%. Australia’s is just under 1%. To date South Korea’s has been about 3%, the UK about 5% and the US about 13%. So we’re doing a lot of testing comparatively and our case positivity rate remains quite below. We want to keep it there, but we want to find all the cases, so we’re testing where there is suspicion.”
He said they were looking at a range of other testing possibilities which had been offered from overseas. Those included point-of-care testing, which would “help particularly where it was important to either get a rapid diagnosis or where it might take time to get a swab from a remote area to a central laboratory … Nothing is off the table.”
On the intensive care capacity, Bloomfield said he had confirmed a stocktake that there were sufficient ventilators to provide “around 180 ICU beds as it is, fully staffed, and as the ability, with our current ventilator capacity, to treble that. One of the reasons we want to reduce elective surgery and outpatients is so we can train staff to be able to look after people who are ventilated, and look at how to increase our number of ventilators as well.”
Officials were looking at options for quarantine, for “people coming into the country or others in the country where we weren’t confident about their compliance with self-isolation expectations … We have the capacity and there’s work happening to increase the capacity if we need it quickly.”
11.40am: Event Cinemas to close
Event Cinemas NZ has announced all their cinemas, including the Embassy in Wellington and Rialto in Auckland and Dunedin will close today.
General manager Carmen Switzer said: “The impact of Coronavirus is unprecedented and we could no longer guarantee the safety and wellbeing of our staff and customers which has always been our first priority.”
Meanwhile Flight Centre NZ has announced it will be making about 250 staff members redundant and shuttering 33 stores.
11.30am: Briefings to come
Cabinet has been meeting this morning at parliament (and virtually; around half of them are piping in via teleconferencing), and Jacinda Ardern will speak to media earlier than usual, at 1.30pm.
Today’s Ministry of Health Covid-19 briefing, at which Ashley Bloomfield, the director general of health, will update with the latest number of positive tests, is at 12.30pm. Bloomfield also has the authority to make a change, if any, to the alert level.
11.00am: Free up stockpiles – NZMA
The chair of the NZ Medical Association, Kate Baddock, has called for more protective care to be provided to health professionals. Speaking to RNZ, Braddock said: “We need to ensure that we have a steady and guaranteed supply of PPE. So that when we see anyone who fits the criteria for Covid, we can dress safely and protect ourselves, our workers, our staff, anyone else who is in our surgery.”
Currently the gear was available but there were concerns about the risk supplies could run low, she said.
On tests and protection equipment stockpiles at the Ministry of Health, she said: “If it doesn’t come out to the practices now so that we can contain it in the community then hospitals will be overrun. To stockpile for when the hospitals are overrun is a futile argument. We need to be able to protect against that occurring, which means having the equipment and the testing being done in the community now.”
GPs have announced that preliminary remote consultations will become the new norm as of this week.
9.00am: Nationwide shutdowns in Australia
In Australia, national and federal leaders have agreed to a staged shutdown of “principal places of social gathering”.
Pubs, entertainment venues, cinemas, casinos, nightclubs, indoor sports venues, gyms and places of worship will be closed. Restaurants and cafes will be limited to takeaway or delivery will be required to close from noon today.
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, said the moves were required because people were not abiding by physical distancing rules.
8.40am: Teaching Council calls for schools to close
The chief executive of the Teaching Council has written an open letter to the prime minister asking for schools to be closed. “As the voice of teachers, the council, on behalf of all teachers, implores you to act now and to move to alert level four, closing early childhood centres and schools,” wrote Lesley Hoskin, reports Stuff.
“We have been communicating with teachers over the weekend and we’ve listened to their concerns … The council supports you and your leadership of Aotearoa, but please – help us to keep our tamariki and rangatahi safe. We can only do that if you allow us to keep ourselves and our loved ones, safe too.”
The appeal comes after two separate petitions from health workers have called for a move to level four.
8.04am: Reserve Bank unleashes massive buy-up of government bonds
The Reserve Bank has announced in a release a $30 billion buy-up of government bonds, also known as a Large Scale Asset Purchase programme.
They say that over the last week, the risks to the economy have been heightened, and “financial conditions have tightened unnecessarily over the past week, reducing the impact of the low OCR on achieving the MPC’s mandate.” [MPC being the Monetary Policy Committee, who among other jobs set the Official Cash Rate.]
The bonds will be purchased over 12 months on the secondary market.”The programme aims to provide further support to the economy, build confidence, and keep interest rates on government bonds low,” says the RBNZ.
8.00am: It takes a village
The small village of Rongotea, about 20 minutes drive from Palmerston North, has organised itself in preparation for helping more vulnerable residents through the various measures to fight Covid-19. Local resident Liam Hehir has outlined how it all works here, and more importantly, what the important bits are for other communities to pick up if they’re thinking of doing something similar.
7.45am: International updates from overnight
Germany: Chancellor Angela Merkel is in quarantine after her doctor tested positive for Covid-19. Bloomberg reports she was being given a precautionary immunisation for pneumonia, and will be continuing to carry out her duties from home over the coming days.
Italy: The terrible toll of Covid-19 continues to rise, with Italy now having the highest number of deaths for any country. All non-essential businesses have been ordered to close, including many factories. More than 5,400 deaths have now been confirmed in the country, out of a total global death toll of more than 14,000. The number of cases worldwide is also rising rapidly, and is now up to 340,000.
USA: US Senator Rand Paul has tested positive for Covid-19. In a statement released through his twitter account, a spokesperson confirmed he was feeling fine and in quarantine. “He is asymptomatic and was tested out of an abundance of caution due to his extensive travel and events. He was not aware of any direct contact with any infected person.”
Britain: UK PM Boris Johnson has warned that massive lockdowns could be coming soon, reports the Guardian. He says a decision will be made in the next 24 hours, after consternation over pictures of people gathering as normal over the weekend.
Papua New Guinea: RNZ Pacific reports PNG will go into lockdown for two weeks, after a national state of emergency was declared. It comes after the country’s first confirmed case was declared on Friday. In the region, the Solomon Islands will be closing their borders to non-citizens, despite not having registered a confirmed case yet.
7.35am: Courtrooms to continue operating
New Zealand’s court system will continue over the Covid-19 pandemic, but the way they operate will change. In a release from chief justice Helen Winkelmann, she says essential justice services will continue to be delivered, but changes will be made depending on what level the alert system is at. Priority will be given to proceedings involving criminal matters, the safety of young people being held in custody, and proceedings concerning the safety and welfare of children.
7.30am: Decisions coming on whether to raise level in new alert system
How will day to day life change with the new alert system aimed at combating Covid-19? To put it bluntly, it will have to change quite a lot, particularly if those efforts are going to be successful. Here’s a report by Duncan Greive on the new system, and how people should be behaving at each. There is some legal heft behind the system too, and here Otago University professor Andrew Geddis has laid out the legal basis for the new orders.
Right now at level two, people are being told to cancel events, restrict travel around the country to only essential trips, work from home wherever possible, and reduce contact with other people. This from Dr Siouxsie Wiles is also an essential read about how people should be responding – I’ll quote at length:
“Level two is about keeping a safe distance from people outside of our household. You should be aiming to stay two metres apart at all times, but absolutely spending less than 15 minutes in that “close contact” zone. It means no more BBQs, parties, or social events, if you can’t stay one-to-two metres apart from other people. It means as many of us as possible need to be working from home. It also means every business where people can’t work from home needs to do things like stagger shifts and lunch breaks to reduce the amount of contact people have with each other.”
At level two, people are being asked to keep track of everyone they come into contact with. And the elderly and immuno-compromised are being asked to stay at home, to drastically limit the chances that they’ll come into contact with someone carrying the coronavirus. Dr Wiles also noted that the language of these directives uses the word ‘should’ a lot – her view is that “wherever you see the word should, replace it with must. Because it you don’t do the right thing now, we will all regret it in a week.”
At level three, public venues and non-essential businesses will close, as many already have in any case. And level four is basically lockdown – people would be told to stay at home at all times, except for the provision of essential services. The levels may end up being applied either across the country, or on a regional level, but right now are being applied nationwide. Even at level two, you shouldn’t assume public facilities or food outlets will be open, particularly if they involve people having to be in close proximity with each other.
There are many people saying right now that being at level two is too relaxed for the situation. Some of the opinions carry more weight than others. Hayden Donnell has put together an excellent argument about the reckons of non-experts being given too much primacy in the media over the last several weeks, particularly from those who have been successful in a field entirely unrelated to responding to a global pandemic. At the same time, some of those calling for an immediate jump to level four are frontline health workers, reports the NZ Herald. And there are many legitimate questions to be asking of the government’s approach, and whether it is going far enough. For an example of that, I’d point you towards this piece by epidemiologist Sir David Skegg, who wrote on Newsroom that far more transparency is needed about the scientific advice the government is following, particularly on the point about testing and community transmission.
One of the biggest questions right now is around if and when schools will close. While children are much less likely to be badly affected by Covid-19, they can still carry and pass it on – not to mention teachers, who are quite a bit more at risk. As the NZ Herald reported last week, a blanket closure order will only apply if there is nationwide community transmission of Covid-19. There’s a level system in this article as well, and it’s a different level system to the earlier one, but both are fairly easy to follow. As our live updates page reported yesterday, isolated school closures are already taking place at those which have a connection to a confirmed positive test. Because of the criteria set out, mass closures could be announced at quite short notice, and schools are currently scrambling behind the scenes to ensure that distance learning systems are in place.
And that probably illustrates why there hasn’t yet been an immediate jump to level four. If it happens too hard and fast for the public to get their heads around, the risk of panic and systems breaking down rises significantly, with all the accompanying consequences of that. As Newstalk ZB reported on Saturday, PM Jacinda Ardern said the new system “does mean we have to be ready to step up our action if we need to.” The difficult choice facing Cabinet – of whether to continue incremental escalation of measures or rush straight to lockdown – is outlined in an analysis published this morning by Politik. And as Radio NZ reports, the decision will be made with many cabinet ministers dialling in by video-conference, rather than being there in person, in a scene that will be played out at workplaces across the country today.
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