Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Health Minister David Clark (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Covid-19 live updates, April 28: More heat on David Clark, three new cases reported

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 three – 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.

8.00pm: More pressure on health minister over lockdown activity

If you’d asked Jacinda Ardern whom she’d least like to see making headlines at the end of the first day out of alert level four, chances are top of the list would be David Clark. The embattled health minister was stripped of his associate finance portfolio and demoted to the lowest ranking in cabinet when he admitted having driven with his family 20km to the beach, his second breach of the lockdown rules.

Now he’s under fire again for moving house under level four, which would almost certainly be another breach. Some outlets are reporting as fact that he “moved house during lockdown”, and while that appears true to the letter, he insists that he moved house proper, with a removal truck and all that, before the lockdown began, only returning to the nearby former home, which he still owns, to get some work done. “During lockdown I used my old house as my office and occasionally walked the odd item or box back with me, as is within the rules,” he said in a statement.

6.35pm: The day in sum

There were three new cases of Covid-19; two confirmed and one probable.

New Zealand moved into alert level three.

Around 400,000 New Zealanders returned to work today.

New Zealanders, and Dr Ashley Bloomfield, enjoyed takeaway coffee again.

The confusion over the difference between ‘elimination’ and ‘eradication’ was cleared up to some extent, after international media reported New Zealand had been victorious in eliminating Covid-19. In sum, elimination is “not zero cases, but zero tolerance for cases” according to the prime minister.

The Epidemic Response Committee resumed today with a focus on small business, where the government was accused of being “naïve about business”.

After being suspended for a month parliament resumed today, with a more sparsely populated quorum of members for safe distancing. A fairly subdued debate and Question Time followed a speech from the prime minister.

Police confirmed they have arrested 14 people in connection with a large scale Jucy Rental car heist that took place under the cover of level four.

Restrictions on who can receive the seasonal flu vaccine were lifted today, and further stocks of the vaccine will be supplied.

6.00pm: On The Spinoff today

Siouxsie Wiles & Toby Morris on how to make level three count.

Listen to The Spinoff’s Politics in Pubs podcast, the first of what was meant to be a real-life event in a pub in partnership with Verb Wellington. Your host, journalist Danyl Mclauchlan is joined by another journalist and a former political staffer to discuss politics and the media.

Alice Webb-Lidall lays down the law on what your lockdown cooking says about you. A content warning for proud sourdough bakers.

New Zealand businesses have had to pivot in all sorts of ways, both to survive and to muck in. These are some of the great innovators of the Covid era.

The scenery steals the show, writes Catherine McGregor of new local crime drama, One Lane Bridge.

Technology advisor Robyn Kamira on the independent response from Māori to help stop the spread of Covid-19, and the telecommunications vulnerabilities it exposes.

This review by Sam Brooks of Breton Dukes’ latest short story collection: “a thrilling, surgical examination into the everyday tragedies of domestic New Zealand”.

Exponential growth is meant to be a good thing (unless you’re talking about infectious disease rates). Consultant Justin Connolly says there are different ways to look at it. 

5.40pm: What the numbers look like

See all of today’s charts, graphics and data visualisations by Chris McDowall here.

4.50pm: NZEI calling for educators to have flu jab priority

The New Zealand Educational Institute says that now more than 500,000 vulnerable New Zealanders and healthcare workers have received the seasonal flu vaccine, teachers should take priority.

“It makes sense to protect all teachers and support staff – and their students and tamariki – from seasonal flu,” NZEI president Liam Rutherford said in a media release. “Even with careful social distancing and strict school bubbles they will have some of the closest and most prolonged contact of any workers.”

A record number of seasonal flu vaccines have been administered this year, more than double the number by this time last year. Priority has been given to those 65 and over, young children with respiratory illnesses, people with chronic conditions, pregnant people and frontline health workers. Yesterday it was made available to the wider public again, and further stocks of the vaccine will be released.

3.45pm: More than 100 Jucy rentals nicked during lockdown, 14 arrests

Fourteen people have been arrested after an estimated 112 vehicles, including cars and vans, were stolen from a Jucy Rentals car yard near Auckland airport, police have reported. Nine of those stand accused of being a very bad bubble and face charges or will be appearing in court relating to the thefts. Three of those charged also face driving-related charges after allegedly failing to stop for police. Fifty of the vehicles, believed to have been stolen over the weekend, have been found.

Inspector Matt Srhoj, Counties Manukau West area commander, said in a release: “We are determined to locate the remainder of these stolen vehicles and police are working hard to establish exactly what has occurred. We have also spoken to other rental car companies in the wider area to ensure they have appropriate security measures in place, which includes keeping vehicle keys hidden in a secure place.”

3.30pm: Grab the popcorn, Question Time is back

Spinoff editor Toby Manhire is watching Question Time from his desk, and sent this tepid take: “There’s a noticeable echo in parliament today, with fewer bodies to absorb the noise and none of the feverish hum of a typical Question Time. There’s a more sombre atmosphere than the usual argy-bargy of question time, too, which is understandable enough, given the circumstances.

“Michael Woodhouse seems desperate to let rip at David Clark, the health minister popping back on to our screens from the distance of the back bench, but keeps it in check in a series of questions on contact-tracing capability.

“Simon Bridges is downright funereal. He’s speaking slowly, deliberately, because he doesn’t want to repeat the debacle of that Facebook post last week, which brought him a lot of flak for being overzealous in his attacks. For, according to the now obligatory phrasing, ‘failing to read the room’. And if anyone is playing Covid-cliche-bingo, the finance minister just said ‘the new normal’.”

Paul Goldsmith’s questions for the minister of small business Grant Robertson revolved around the small business owners that appeared before the Epidemic Response Committee today, including a question on behalf of bar owner Reg Hennessey about the “huge shit fight over rents” for venues with overheads but no revenue.

Health minister David Clark defended contact-tracing protocols to National’s health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse by pointing out that no government has ever had to set up a contact-tracing programme. The data to date had been collected by individual public health units, and was still being collated in a national database.

Another question to Robertson about why supermarkets were allowed to open but not “butchers, bakers and… greengrocers” has enraged candlestick makers everywhere.

If you have “going early and going hard” on your bingo card, please mark that now, thanks to the minister for health.

2.45pm: Deputy PM quotes Gandhi

In a stirring speech, deputy prime minister and NZ First leader Winston Peters opened by quoting his philosophic contemporary Mahatma Gandhi.

His opening remarks covered surprisingly broad ground, including New Zealand’s history of meat export, non-contributing beneficiaries, the pitfalls of globalism, fiscal prudence, and prioritising the hiring of New Zealanders.

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson talked about equity and zero hour contracts. She looked forward to a future that supported low income families and the environment as the country’s economy was being rebuilt. She finished by acknowledging those that had lost loved ones in the past month.

Act leader David Seymour opened by praising the prime minister, and invoked the Anzacs who, he said, would be buoyed by New Zealand’s leaders uniting against a common enemy.

The praise was short lived however, as Seymour turned to criticism of the government’s management of data and asked for more honesty. He pointed to the issues of PPE, initial testing rates and contact tracing.

Seymour advocated for a “bottom up” economy built by workers, not banks printing money, and recommended restarting international travel as soon as possible. He said the goal should be to return to surplus by 2024.

Watch live streaming of parliament here

2.15pm: Prime minister’s speech to parliament, opposition’s response

Speaking to a sparsely populated parliament, the prime minister commended the response from New Zealanders, who had “united in the defence of our most vulnerable and ultimately in the defence of our way of life”. Ardern thanked the opposition for their cooperation in supporting the government’s Covid-19 response.

Simon Bridges, whose criticisms, or at least the framing of them, have upset many, including some in his own caucus, opened his response by saying they backed the broad lockdown strategy, but felt it had in parts been overly draconian. “We believe the medicine is worse than the disease,” he said, pointing to the impact on hospital services and the “disproportionate” pain borne by small businesses.

He said Australia, with its looser measures, was a better model. “We can be vigilant on the things that matter”, he said, citing border restrictions, contact tracing, distancing and PPE, while “getting New Zealanders working again”.

“We flattened the curve, we don’t need to flatten the country.”

2.00pm: Parliament about to resume

After being suspended for the last month, the house of representatives resumes today, albeit with distanced MPs on the green cushions. The prime minister is expected to give a short speech, with a debate to follow. Then, at about 2.45pm, question time returns, with the first salvo coming from Simon Bridges, who has the generic “Does she stand by all her government’s statements and actions?” ready to go. Paul Goldsmith will then tackle (metaphorically) his counterpart, the minister of finance Grant Robertson, and we’ll get to see the first sight of David Clark, the admonished health minister, for a while. Michael Woodhouse’s opening question to him is: “What percentage of identified Covid-19 close contacts who have been contacted to date were contacted within three days?”

We’ll have updates here.

1.35pm: Sepuloni announces ‘Keep NZ Working’ programme

Jacinda Ardern began her briefing by warning that New Zealand is “not out of the woods yet”. She quoted from Siouxsie Wiles’ Spinoff article this morning: “There may still be some smouldering ashes out there. And they have the potential to become a wildfire again if we give them the chance. It can take from two to 10 days for people who are exposed to the Covid-19 coronavirus to come down with symptoms.”

Appearing alongside Ardern, Carmel Sepuloni, the minister for social development, announced that the wage subsidy scheme has now paid out $10.46 billion to 1,694,281 New Zealanders. She confirmed 7,694 more people had come on to a benefit, with 6,991 of those going on to Jobseeker Support.

Sepuloni announced a “Keep New Zealand Working” programme, which includes a range of initiatives for people who have lost work. The measures include an online recruitment tool that “connects job seekers directly to the employer”, as well as online training courses. There will be 35 new employment centres operating remotely under level three and face-to-face under level two. There will also be a fast-tracking service for “benefit applicants who need to re-engage quickly with the job market”.

More details on the scheme can be found here.

Answering questions from the gallery, Ardern said the number of cases that would keep New Zealand in level three for longer than the planned two weeks would depend on circumstances. She pointed to Taiwan as an example where cases fell to zero, but a navy ship carrying people with the virus bought numbers up again. “I rely on the advice and information by our epidemiologists and the director general as to whether or not we’re in the position to move into a lower alert level.”

Ardern said she believed there would be a low number of children returning to school and ECE centres when they reopen tomorrow. “Initial signs are that we’re expecting a very, very small number to return to schools.”

She defended the government’s cautious approach in response to small business owners that appeared before the Epidemic Response Committee today, who felt that restrictions under level three were too severe considering the small number of cases. “I cannot emphasise enough, no one wants a second wave in New Zealand. We must guard against that. We’re moving cautiously down through the alert levels so that we don’t have to go backwards. That would be terrible for New Zealanders’ health and the economy.”

Fielding a question about who had authority between iwi that have placed rāhui on their ancestral rivers as part of their community protection plan, and licensed anglers wishing to fish there, Ardern admitted there was “some complexity” to the issue. “I would ask iwi to work alongside DOC, those administering the licensing and police to make sure we’re not impeding what are legal access right that we have given permission for,” she said.

1.30pm: Today’s graph

Here’s the graph of active and recovered cases, updated to reflect today’s numbers:

1.00pm: Three new cases in New Zealand today

On the first day of alert level three, a further three people in New Zealand have Covid-19, the director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, has just announced. Two are confirmed cases and one is probable.

Both confirmed cases can be linked to a confirmed source, Bloomfield said. One is linked to the Marist cluster and the other to a rest home in Hawke’s Bay. The probable case, in South Canterbury, is currently under investigation. There are only two cases since April 1 that are still being investigated – the other was announced yesterday as being from Tauranga.

The new national total of confirmed and probable cases is now 1,472. The total number of confirmed cases, which Bloomfield said is the number the government reports to the WHO, is 1,124.

1,214 cases are now reported as recovered, meaning they have been symptom-free for at least 48 hours and it has been at least 10 days since the onset of symptoms. That’s an increase of 34 on yesterday. 82% of Covid-19 cases in New Zealand are now recovered.

There were 2,146 tests processed yesterday, bringing the total to 126,066.

Today there are nine people in hospital around the country, including one person in ICU in Middlemore hospital.

This means the 33 days since lockdown began look like this, in terms of new cases: 78, 85, 83, 63, 76, 58, 61, 89, 71, 82, 89, 67, 54, 50, 29, 44, 29, 18, 19, 17, 20, 15, 8, 13, 9, 9, 5, 6, 3, 5, 5, 9, 5, and today, 3.

Bloomfield sought to clarify the definition of elimination, acknowledging that his words yesterday had caused some “confusion” – including foreign press declaring New Zealand had reached victory in its elimination strategy.

“We haven’t eliminated it, we haven’t eradicated it – our elimination goal continues into alert level three and to maintain that we need to be even more vigilant,” he said.

“Elimination is not a point in time. It is a sustained effort to keep it out and stamp it out over many months. It is crucial that all New Zealanders remain vigilant.”

Bloomfield revealed that he, like many, had enjoyed a takeaway coffee, but urged people not to congregate around places like cafes.

Pressed for a definition of elimination, Bloomfield said: “A small number of cases, a knowledge of where those are coming from, and an ability to and a posture to identify cases early, stamp them out, and of course to maintain strict border measures so we’re not importing new cases – that’s what underpins the elimination goal.”

Bloomfield explained that the Ministry of Health and the 12 public health units around the country are “well on the way” to achieving the three key goals identified by infectious diseases expert Dr Ayesha Verrall in her audit of the government’s contact tracing capabilities. “One of the challenges has been collating data that has been manually collected locally. We have got what I think is a good picture of that with data from the public health units for the period of the 13th to the 17th of April, and that showed they were contacting and tracing 80% of close contacts within 48 hours.”

On the subject of the community testing in Māori and Pasifika communities that was announced as a priority last week, Bloomfield confirmed that testing so far has gone well. “We’ve seen ongoing high testing rates among Māori and Pasifika, which is good. The feedback I’ve had is that testing has gone well in Tai Rāwhiti, Tai Tokerau and Taranaki. We will be continuing that where appropriate. We haven’t seen any positive results, which is reassuring for us and for those communities.”

There is no further information on the Hawke’s Bay holiday park where a resident tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this week. The man was a care worker at Gladys Mary Care Home in Napier, which is linked to the Ruby Princess cluster. Bloomfield confirmed the area’s PHU had offered testing to all residents of the park. “I don’t have the results of that yet,” he said. “We certainly haven’t seen any positive tests come through in the reports today.”

12.40pm: Today’s briefing

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield will be along at 1pm for today’s briefing. Prime minister Jacinda Ardern will follow with a post-cabinet session scheduled for 1.30pm. Watch here:

11.15am: Government ‘naive about business’ – landlord

Dallas Pendergrast, who owns Glenfield Mall with her husband, told the ERC they had halved rents for their 115 tenants for April and May, but expected many to still face hardship in the months ahead. She slammed the government as being “largely naive about business”, saying that commercial landlords still had overheads to pay as well. “It’s naive to say [to landlords] ‘show some compassion’”, she said, “compassion doesn’t pay our bills.” Pendergrast also claimed the risk of Covid-19 to New Zealand had been “dramatised right out of proportion.” 

10.45am: SMEs call for relief measures

Rotorua publican Reg Hennessy has warned the ERC we are “heading for one huge shitfight” if no action is taken around commercial rents. The owner of Hennessy’s Irish Bar said having to continue paying rent for a business that couldn’t trade has left him and many other SME owners in a “very difficult situation” and that “the government appears to not want to help or get involved, apart from telling us to ‘be kind’, which is just not a solution.” Hennessy said he didn’t understand why the government hasn’t taken Australia’s lead in implementing a code of conduct around commercial rents, a question also raised by Michael Barnett from the Auckland Chamber of Commerce earlier in the meeting. The government should also be offering small businesses interest-free loans to help them survive, Hennessy told the committee.

Tauranga nail salon owner Emma Fraser echoed many of Hennessy’s concerns. She said the wage subsidy meant she could continue paying her staff, but that it only covered one of the many costs of running a business, and there had been no relief for things like rent or insurance. Salons like hers were also incurring more costs installing perspex screens and ordering extra PPE to be able to operate under alert level two, she said.

Fraser said she believed her salon could safely operate under level three, as all clients bookings were done electronically and therefore easily traceable. “We believe that we could tick those boxes right now…we could still operate and just get that little bit of income coming through to ease some pressures that are causing a lot of sleepless nights.” She told the ERC she worried the country would see a surge of redundancies once the 12-week wage subsidy period ends.

Other small business owners have painted a similarly bleak picture for the ERC, with chiropractor Louise Blair saying that small businesses were being forced to bear a “disproportionate” weight of the fallout from the pandemic. Like others, she called on the government to provide a cash injection for SME businesses to pay their overheads, and direct action to relieve the burden of commercial rents beyond simply asking landlords to show compassion.

10.15am: Plight of small business in the spotlight

Michael Barnett, the chief executive of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, has laid out the plight of small business under Covid-19 to the Epidemic Response Committee the morning. He told the ERC that small and medium businesses were the lifeblood of the community, and yet had been treated “en masse” during the lockdown and indiscriminately shut down regardless of their unique circumstances and abilities to continue operating throughout level four. He cited the MPI’s work to keep the meat industry operating under level four as an example of what could have happened in other industries. “If we had listened more closely to this sector, and given them a voice at the table, there may have been less pain,” he said.

While Barnett applauded the wage subsidy and said the government could not be blamed for businesses failing as a result of the lockdown, he emphatically challenged the inconsistencies in the essential business rules, citing many cases including one where a manufacturer of magnets for cancer diagnostic machines was not allowed to operate while producers of other healthcare products were.

When asked by MP Michael Wood about landlords that were taking advantage of vulnerable businesses and tenants during level four lockdown, Barnett said that he had a pile of letters that were examples of “the worst kinds of behaviour”. He said there was a system of bullying and this was the time to apply empathy and pressure in order for it to change.

10.00am: Zoom Zoom Zoom

Here’s the live stream for today’s select committee:

9.55am: Bloomfield’s back

Yesterday we were told not to expect the usual 1pm briefing from director general of health Ashley Bloomfield any more now that we’re out of alert level four, but surprise – it’s now been announced he’s doing a 1pm media briefing today after all. The prime minister will follow at her scheduled post-cabinet time of 1.30.

9.30am: Today’s Zoom select committee

The parliamentary Epidemic Response Committee resumes this morning with a focus on small business. Michael Barnett from the Auckland Chamber of Commerce will be the first guest, before a range of small business owners get 15 minutes each to give the select committee a piece of their minds. The first two on the schedule are Reg Hennessy, owner of Hennessy’s Irish Bar in Todd McClay’s electorate of Rotorua, and Emma Fraser, owner of Allure Nail Studio in Simon Bridges’ electorate of Tauranga. We’ll have a live stream and updates here from 10.

9.20am: Broadband usage up 40% during level four

New Zealanders have been extremely online during level four lockdown, according to figures released by Spark today. Broadband volumes across the Spark and Skinny network increased by 40%, with customers collectively using over 17,000 terabytes of data during the 33 days of alert level four. Meanwhile, in a particularly challenging development for millennials, who hate answering the phone almost as much as we love buying avocado on toast, the amount of calls also went up by 60%. Spark said it expects these levels to remain the same during alert level three.

9.00am: Prime minister briefing at 1.30pm

The 1pm briefing may have been torn away from us, but the prime minister is giving an earlier-than-usual post-cabinet press conference, at 1.30pm today. At this stage we’re expecting the latest numbers relating to Covid-19 cases to come via press release at around 1pm. We’ll have coverage of all of that, and video of the PM’s press conference, here.

8.50: European experts exploring link to inflammatory disease in children

Medical experts in the UK and Italy are investigating links between Covid-19 and clusters of what’s known as Kawasaki disease, a severe inflammatory condition in infants, Reuters reports. 

In Northern Italy, “extraordinarily large numbers of children aged under nine” had presented with symptoms including “fever, skin rashes, swelling of glands and, in severe cases, inflammation of arteries of the heart,” the report claims. British doctors had noticed a similar spike in cases, which were now being investigated for links to Covid-19. However, national medical director Stephen Powis stressed that it was too early for that link to be determined.

Read the full story on Reuters

8.20am: New Zealanders enjoy coffee

RNZ has reporters on the ground in city centres around the country to describe the scenes as New Zealand wakes up to alert level three. The main theme seems to be that while there’s still not a huge number of people out and about, those who are all seem to be necking flat whites. In Dunedin’s Octagon, Tim Brown observed “a small line of people waiting for what I assume is contactless delivery of coffee.” In Wellington Ben Strang was enjoying a “fantastic” coffee from the McCafe by the Basin Reserve, while in Masterton Te Aniwa Hurihanganui met a woman who’d just had her first barista-made coffee in five weeks, and reported “[she] looked at me and said ‘tastes good!'”

7.50am: How will we know when we have achieved elimination?

Consecutive interviews on RNZ’s Morning Report today have centred around the meaning of elimination, and the gap between what a popular understanding might be, a clinical definition, and its use as a broad strategy. University of Otago epidemiologist Dr Michael Baker was up first, and asked what he would need to see over the next two weeks to be satisfied that we had achieved that goal. His response dwelled on community spread as proof elimination had not been achieved, but admitted it needed further defining. This was echoed by his colleague Dr Ayesha Verrall on Twitter.

PM Jacinda Ardern was up next, and stressed that the government’s working definition of elimination was “not zero cases, but zero tolerance for cases”. Pressed on our contact tracing capability, Ardern affirmed her belief that it was up to the standards described as necessary in Verrall’s independent report into our capabilities. Ardern said that the most important thing to aid our contact tracing was to ensure the gap between someone becoming symptomatic and being tested was as small as possible.

“The moment you get a tickle in your throat, or a runny nose – get a test,” she said. “The biggest delay at present is people getting tested.”

7.30am: Academics question the legal basis of the lockdown

In a just-published post on the UK Constitutional Law Association website, academics Andrew Geddis of the University of Otago and Victoria’s Claudia Geiringer have raised questions regarding the lockdown’s formal legal basis. Their nutshell argument is this:

“The enforcement of the lockdown rules we’ve all been living under (and are still living under) largely rests on notices issued by the director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield. Those notices purport to be authorised by the Health Act 1956, s 70. And it’s not clear to us that this legislation actually does authorise him to issue the particular notices that he has. In which case, those notices are “ultra vires” and so of no lawful effect – meaning that any actions to enforce those notices also have no legal basis.”

They are at pains to point out that this does not mean you should disregard the laws. More that it might be open to challenge, which is something parliament should move to address.

“[This] suggests the underlying law – the Health Act 1956 – is not really fit for present purposes. Simply put, given the severity of the government’s lockdown actions, we really shouldn’t be able to write the quizzical post that we have. It would be far better if the lockdown rules were based on clear and express parliamentary approval that leaves no doubt at all about their status. So, with parliament back at work today after its five-week adjournment, we think it’s important the lockdown regime be put on a sounder legislative footing. That matters because the health of our constitutional processes is important, alongside the health of our citizens. It also matters because it lessens the possibility of the lockdown response getting tied up in distracting legal challenges.”

Read the full story on The Spinoff

7.05am: The Bulletin wrap of the morning’s key NZ news stories

Taken from our essential daily 7am news roundup – sign up for The Spinoff’s newsletters here

Well, we made it. The first – and hopefully only – stint of level four restrictions has come to an end, and as of this moment we are at level three. And the level four stint lasted only slightly longer than was initially set out, which is a pretty big indicator of success – the other important data being the long run of days in which the new case numbers have gone up by single digits. As Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris put it, “we broke the chains of transmission and likely saved thousands and thousands of lives.” However, they say that level three “may be the trickiest phase yet”, as there could still be “smouldering ashes” of Covid-19 out there, and they could still start a new fire.

Some things will change, but many aspects of life will remain the same at level three. The crucial point is that bubbles will still exist as a concept, and people are required to remain within their bubbles. Slight additions to bubbles are allowed – for example, a family might add a parent who lives alone to help with childcare. But in general terms you are still not meant to see people from outside of your bubble. All this and more is explained in the exhaustive question and answer post written by The Spinoff’s Toby Manhire.

Hundreds of thousands of people will also be going back to work today, though those who can work from home will still be doing so. That means that the roads are expected to be busier than the placid state they’ve been in for the last month. Increased traffic will bring with it some pressures, such as a higher likelihood of car crashes. The road toll has been at the lowest level in decades recently, and hospitals have reported dramatically lower rates of patients coming in with serious injuries. The move to level three will also mean many more food outlets will be open – the NZ Herald reports that in the six hours or so of level three so far, the Maccas drive-thru window has already been doing a roaring trade. But businesses are also being warned that the rush of orders that they see in the coming days may not last – after all, we’re still heading into a severe economic downturn.

It will also mean a lot of major construction projects will resume. For example in the Nelson region, Stuff reports that the Waimea Dam project will start up again. In Auckland, it’ll be the City Rail Link. Newshub reports that dozens of state highway and provincial growth fund projects will resume. The infrastructure projects picking up from where they left off is seen as a key part of the economic recovery, because they’ll get money flowing through again.

PM Jacinda Ardern has urged continued vigilance and observance of the rules.  However, as Stuff reports, she says that if this phase is successful, we might not need to be in level three for a particularly long time. The current schedule has two weeks, with further extensions possible. Moving out of level three won’t necessarily require there to be absolutely no new cases – rather, it will be about maintaining the spread of cases to a small enough number that health authorities can keep on top of them.

Finally, if you are going to take advantage of takeaways coming back this evening, some recommendations: Alice Neville and Jean Teng have rounded up a country’s worth of great restaurants that will be turning on the ovens for takeaways, many for the first time. It’s going to be a really challenging time for many small businesses starting up again, and this intermediate period between closure and full reopening will be crucial.


Just quickly, a message from our editor Toby Manhire:

“Here at The Spinoff, members’ support is more important than ever as the Covid-19 crisis lays waste to large chunks of our commercial work. It’s a tight time for everyone, of course, but if you’re able to, please consider joining Spinoff Members to help us stay afloat and keep producing work by the likes of Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris, whose collaborations have had a real impact in New Zealand and around the world.”


A voluntary contact tracing app is set to be unveiled in the next fortnight, reports Radio NZ. Privacy and technology experts have been quoted in the story, and a key theme is that people will need to be ensured that any data they entrust to it isn’t misused. The importance of contact tracing is hard to overstate as we leave level four, and as this piece quoting Dr Ayesha Verrall from the start of the month noted, an app will allow much more automation of the process. Of course, if you don’t have the ability to get the app, keeping track of your movements will be very important.

Students in Victoria University halls are being charged rent again from this week, despite many not being able to stay in them. A Salient team reported on a range of responses, but this one stood out – a Weir resident said they were being “forced to choose between paying hundreds of dollars rent for a room I’m not legally allowed to enter, or drop out of university.” Some discounts have been offered, but just for context on this – students say they also had to leave their rooms at very short notice, when the country went into lockdown. Radio NZ reports this morning that a group advocating for a rent strike has been growing rapidly

Speaking of enforcing the lockdown, it has been a busy weekend for police trying to enforce it, with almost 100 prosecutions. And Stuff’s Marlborough editor Ian Allen wrote an entertaining piece about the region’s strangest excuses for not following it – including one remarkable case of a possum hunter who went into the bush well before it started, and came out not even knowing what a coronavirus was.

The government is touting progress made on flu vaccinations this year, after criticism of the handling of the early rollout from the health sector. Radio NZ reports that twice as many people have now been vaccinated compared to this time last year, and there are still around 700,000 doses available. Priority vaccination for at-risk groups has now ended, and the government wants essential workers to be next in line for a dose.

One of the best reads of the weekend’s papers didn’t have a single byline on it, rather it was put together by reporters all over the country. The Sunday Star-Times profiled seven spots away from the main centres, to get a bit more detail on how the lockdown had affected their particular patch. One of the really interesting places was Taihape, which before Covid-19 had close to full employment. They’ll be a place to keep watching over the coming months to get a sense of whether a strong food production base can be built on by other sectors. Speaking of which, meat processing is expected to return to close to normal levels this week, reports Farmers Weekly, which will be a huge relief for farmers still facing drought pressures. And for a look at a tourist destination where people are enjoying the sudden serenity, read Michael Andrew’s piece about lockdown at Lake Tekapo.

This is an extremely process-heavy story, but it touches on something extremely important about the accountability of how our country is governed. Newsroom’s Sam Sachdeva reports that public servants pitched the idea of suspending the Official Information Act during the lockdown period – a suggestion which forced the Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier to intervene and block it. Even in the stagnant and unwelcoming form that the OIA currently exists in, such a move would have been disastrous for public accountability, and in my view, one of the things this crisis has revealed is the importance of accountability in improving the competence of the government’s response. There is also an allegation in the story from National, who say the health minister’s office ignored an OIA request – that has been denied by the government.

Right now in the towering pile of great reads on The Spinoff: Erin Kavanagh-Hall looks at a range of neurodivergent experiences during lockdown. Dr Claire Charters (Te Arawa) writes about Te Tiriti during the Covid-19 pandemic, Aotearoa’s dual legal systems, and the government’s obligations to both in these uncertain times. Chris Farrelly of the Auckland City Mission urges people to take note of how tough things are getting for food banks. Danyl Mclauchlan muses on national identity, and how this all will change how we see ourselves. Peter McKenzie reports on how drug dealers are operating their businesses since the lockdown started. Elizabeth Heritage writes about the recent resurgence of fat activism. Teuila Fuatai writes about how Dilworth School is responding to the current situation. Elly Strang pays a visit to the Auckland Museum – well, the virtual version at least. Author Nicky Pelligrino responds to a recent article about e-books and libraries, giving the perspective of those trying to get by on their writing.

For a few other pieces of great writing from the long weekend: Calum Henderson has picked the ten most exciting Zoom backdrops for MPs at the ERC. Madeleine Chapman has put down another definitive ruling – she has ranked 142 biscuits that are available in New Zealand, from worst to best. And Paul Ward has a remarkable essay about the voice of science through these eras in which a lot of history happens.

6.45am: What we still don’t know about Covid-19

World update / The deeper we get into the pandemic, the less it sometimes seems we know about the virus which has transformed human life, sickening millions and killing hundreds of thousands. In an illuminating interview with Vox’s Ezra Klein, billionaire-turned-philanthropy powerhouse Bill Gates called the wildly variable rates of infection and death seen around the world “the most mysterious thing”. Doctors are also, according to the Washington Post, “reporting bizarre, unsettling cases that don’t seem to follow any of the textbooks they’ve trained on.” The magazine Science lists all the different organs which can be attacked, while conceding that the “map of the devastation that COVID-19 can inflict on the body is still just a sketch”.

New York magazine’s David Wallace Wells wraps this confusion into a story which details the ways what was thought a relatively simple virus in its early stages has turned out to be anything but – a fast-moving pathogen with bizarre and unique characteristics. In one paragraph Wallace Wells lists the symptoms it is known to have brought out.

“The disparate impacts were significant ones: Heart damage was discovered in 20 percent of patients hospitalised in Wuhan, where 44 percent of those in ICU exhibited arrhythmias; 38 percent of Dutch ICU patients had irregular blood clotting; 27 percent of Wuhan patients had kidney failure, with many more showing signs of kidney damage; half of Chinese patients showed signs of liver damage; and, depending on the study, between 20 percent and 50 percent of patients had diarrhoea.”

It’s an unsettling read, but, as we head into level three, yet another reminder of the stakes we’re playing for.

Elsewhere, confirmed infections surpassed 3m worldwide. And the Washington Post reports that, according to its analysis, the US experienced nearly twice as many deaths as its seasonal average in the very early stages of the pandemic, suggesting the virus may have caused far more deaths than have been attributed to it.

6.00am: Tasmanian dinner party never happened

New Zealand’s somewhat sleepy Epidemic Response Committee, more popularly known as Zoom parliament, hasn’t made too many international headlines during its month or so in operation. The one big exception was when, during an appearance there, Australia’s chief medical officer Brendan Murphy let slip that the virus’ spread had been aided by Tasmanian healthcare workers, who had held an “illegal dinner party”, which A) sounded like a really fun evening and B) set off something of an international incident, with Murphy forced to refine his statements, to make it clear he was referring to a rumour, rather than a fact in the days after the appearance. Last night the ABC reported that the rumour, which is said to have distressed healthcare workers, had turned out to be baseless. Police “determined that there is no evidence of such a gathering occurring”, putting an end to the sorry and somewhat surreal saga.

5.00am: Infrastructure projects resume, parliament back in business

As of a minute before midnight, New Zealand moved into alert level three. It’s still, by most definitions, a lockdown, but it’s a less stringent lockdown. Read our roundup of what you can and can’t do here.

Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris have combined to send a message about where we’re at and what we need to acheive in the coming weeks. Read that here.

A pair of press releases are quick out of the blocks this morning, one from Shane Jones and another from Winston Peters and Phil Twyford.

Jones, the self styled champion of the regions, has announced that more than 60 projects, representing $439.8 million of Provincial Growth Fund investment, are set to resume under alert level three. Twyford, the minister for transport, gets second billing to Deputy Prime Minister Peters on a release announcing a range of transport infrascture projects getting back under way.

The release confirms that KiwiRail will have works resume on “almost all of their projects” today. That includes the Kaikōura rebuild and Wellington metro upgrades. The biggest of the lot, Auckland’s City Rail Link, starts back up, too.

On the roads, 25 of the 44 state highway projects resume construction, including Transmission Gully and Pūhoi to Warkworth. All state highway and rail projects are expected to have works restart by next Monday.

Meanwhile, among the operations returning to business today is parliament. There will be a physically distanced question time at 2.45pm, but the Epidemic Response Committee continues, kicking off at 10am. We’ll have updates from all of that right here.

As for the 1pm mainstay of recent life, that’s no longer going to happen under alert level four, Jacinda Ardern announced yesterday, when she paid tribute to the director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield. Instead we’ll get daily announcements on the latest numbers from the Ministry of Health, while the prime minister will speak at her weekly post-cabinet press conference, in the house, and on the “bridge run” on her way there.

4.55am: Yesterday’s key stories

A woman in her 90s passed away in Waitākere hospital. She was a resident of St Margaret’s hospital and rest home; the third death associated with the St Margaret’s cluster.

There were five new cases of Covid-19; only one confirmed and four probable.

Yesterday was the last day of Dr Ashley Bloomfield’s daily briefings. We will continue to hear from the director general of health but he will no longer be a daily lunchtime fixture.

National’s health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse publicly criticised the minister for health, David Clark, over written responses in which Clark admitted he didn’t know how many close contacts of positive Covid-19 cases the Ministry of Health was unable to reach.

The eight iwi of Taranaki announced community checkpoints effective today, with support from police, at the northern, eastern and southern boundaries of Taranaki.

Business news giant Bloomberg published a piece that got just about every fact about New Zealand’s lockdown wrong.

A new poll revealed two-thirds of New Zealanders supported the extension of alert level four lockdown.

Read more on yesterday’s live updates



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