Black Lives Matter March For Solidarity in Auckland on June 1, 2020 (Photo: Jihee Junn)
Black Lives Matter March For Solidarity in Auckland on June 1, 2020 (Photo: Jihee Junn)

SocietyJune 1, 2020

Live updates, June 1: Thousands of Black Lives Matter NZ protesters fill Aotea Square

Black Lives Matter March For Solidarity in Auckland on June 1, 2020 (Photo: Jihee Junn)
Black Lives Matter March For Solidarity in Auckland on June 1, 2020 (Photo: Jihee Junn)

For all The Spinoff’s latest coverage of Covid-19 see here. Read Siouxsie Wiles’s work here. New Zealand is currently in alert level two – read The Spinoff’s giant explainer about what that means here. For official government advice, see here.

The Spinoff’s coverage of the Covid-19 outbreak is funded by The Spinoff Members. To support this work, join The Spinoff Members here.

6.45pm: The day in sum

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

5.15pm: Impromptu haka rounds off demonstration

Jihee Junn reports from the foot of Queen Street:

The march down Queen Street heaved with protesters, chants of “Black Lives Matter” ringing out. Police presence was minimal – two cop cars blocked off Victoria Street and another was stationed at Britomart.

To round-off the march, protesters were asked to kneel and raise their fists before an impromptu haka broke out. While the official march has ended, hundreds are still gathered in front of the US consulate, where Kendrick Lamar, Black Eyed Peas, and Beyonce blared out from mobile speakers.

A handful of police officers watched from the sidelines, some taking photos with protesters.

4.40pm: March arrives at US consulate

The thousands of protesters in Auckland are turning out of Queen Street and on to Customs Street where the US consulate is located.

This photograph is courtesy of Kirk Serpes:

4.15pm: Solidarity march under way

Thousands of protesters at the Black Lives Matter solidarity march have now begun heading down Queen Street towards the US consulate. Crowds were already spilling out of the packed square as the world UFC middleweight champion and New Zealand sportsperson of the year Israel Adesanya delivered an impassioned address. “It’s heartbreaking, I’m pissed,” he said. “Shout out to those of all races, we need you to speak up. We squashed the Covid curve. The militarisation of police? squash that shit, too.”

The march is now slowly making its way down Queen Street, with loud chants of “No justice no peace” and “Black lives matter”.

Aotea Square. Photo: Jihee Junn

3.45pm: Police comment on armed officers on Anzac Avenue

Images have circulated on social media showing armed police in central Auckland in recent hours, prompting speculation it may be linked to the Black Lives Matter solidarity march. The police have just issued the following statement in response:

“Police were called to an apartment on Anzac Avenue in central Auckland at 1.15pm today, after neighbours heard what sounded like gunshots. On arrival, police found that an apartment resident had been throwing items around his apartment, causing a significant amount of noise and damage. No firearms were involved.

“Police are aware of commentary on social media claiming the police in attendance were on their way to a planned march in Auckland city. These claims are not accurate.”

There are now at least a couple of thousand protesters gathered in the square. While many are in masks, it appears unlikely that physically distancing requirements under alert level two are being met.

3.10pm: Hundreds gather in Aotea Square

The Spinoff’s Jihee Junn reports from central Auckland ahead of the Black Lives Matter solidarity march:

Twenty minutes before the Auckland Black Lives Matter protest is set to begin, a crowd of several hundred has already gathered in the light drizzle at Aotea Square. About a third of those present are wearing face masks. There is no sign of a police presence, with only Māori wardens in evidence.

Speaking to media beforehand, protest organisers stressed the issue wasn’t just an American issue but a humanitarian issue, and that today’s protest would be a strictly “peaceful and respectful” protest, asking participants to “not provoke and not be provoked”.

The issue of “militarisation of the New Zealand police”, and its disproportionate effect on Māori and Pacific Island communities, was also raised.

The protest is set to formally kick off at 3.30pm with a series of speeches before marching downtown to Nethe US consulate on Customs Street. Participants taking photos and videos have also been advised to “be aware” of what they’re documenting. “This is not just for your Instagram.”

The Black Lives Matter solidarity march at Aotea Square, Auckland. Photo: Jihee Junn

2.45pm: ‘This is not just an American issue; it’s a humanitarian issue’

Solidarity Auckland Spokesperson Shalane Williams has issued a statement ahead of this afternoon’s protest march.

“We are showing up and standing up across Aotearoa New Zealand – Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, Wellington, Palmerston North, Waitarere, Hamilton and Takahiwai  – to recognise that what is going on in the US is not only about George Floyd.  This has been an ongoing epidemic which has seen the consistent persecution of the black community. The same white supremacy that has led to the disproportionate killing of black people in the US by police exists in NZ today,” she said.

“We want to draw attention to the fact that we pride ourselves on being a nation of empathy and kindness and the deafening silence from the government and media does not reflect that. In fact, it is complicit in what’s happening.  The intention is for this to be a peaceful and respectful protest. We are simply here to draw attention to the plight of our brothers and sisters in America and stand in solidarity with those in the NZ African Diaspora community who share in this trauma. This is not just an American issue; it’s a humanitarian issue. Everyone should get involved.”

2.30pm: Protesting during Covid-19

As this New York Times feature explains, there are serious fears that the protests flaring up across the United States carry risks as possible “super spreader” events for Covid-19, which remains rampant in the country.

Even though New Zealand is on the brink of stamping out the disease, it pays to take precautions. Read Siouxsie Wiles’ thread on the steps you can take here if you’re joining the Black Lives Matter solidarity march (see 8.30am).

2.20pm: The state of Covid-19 in New Zealand, at a glance.

Sometimes a flat line is a good line.

1.45pm: Where we’re at with the government Covid app

The Ministry of Health release today included an update on take-up of the Covid Tracer, the official contact tracing app. A further 8,000 registrations since yesterday has taken total signup to 476,000, with 20,774 businesses having generated unique QR codes.

An expert on contact tracing technology, Andrew Chen (see his excellent piece for The Spinoff here), has had the following to say on Twitter:

I’m expecting exposure notification to be in the next release of the MOH app, which means:

  • For accurate localisation of people, the QR codes have a “Global Location Number” that offers a unique location for each QR code. This is helpful for matching people’s logs against the logs of people who have Covid-19. Other localisation systems may not be interoperable.
  • If we can get a large number of businesses using the QR codes, then people might be more likely to use the government app to check-in. Singapore has made it mandatory for businesses to have a govt QR code available for scanning.
  • If a high proportion of people are scanning the QR codes, then we might have confidence that the exposure notification mechanism would capture most cases. This might give us confidence that businesses can stop running their own contact tracing registers.
  • There are several ifs and mights in the above logic, but the point is that if lots of people have the govt app (and are scanning QR codes) then we may have confidence to move towards using one system, alleviating the fragmentation problem.
  • Personally, I think any method of keeping a personal log/diary is helpful in the unfortunate event that you are interviewed by a contact tracer. But we would need to see that the govt system is working and that there is high uptake before we could switch to it exclusively.
  • So I guess there are two ways to look at this: (1) We need to pre-load everyone onto the app to justify moving towards it in the future; (2) We will never be able to convince enough people to use the app and we just have to live with the chaos we have now.

1.00pm: Tenth straight day of zero new Covid-19 cases in NZ

For the tenth straight day there are zero new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand. One known active case remains, the Ministry of Health has announced in a press release.

The total number of confirmed cases remains at 1,154, with confirmed and probable cases remains at 1,504. The number of recovered cases is unchanged at 1,481. Only one case remains active. The person is not in hospital.

Yesterday only 626 tests were processed, bringing the total number of tests completed to 281,609.

“Lower testing volumes are regularly observed over holiday weekends, and we recognise that this alert level two Queen’s Birthday, people will have been taking the advantage of the renewed ability to travel and enjoy a break within New Zealand,” said the ministry statement.

However we want to encourage and remind everyone that if they have any respiratory symptoms, they should seek advice from Healthline, their GP or after-hours clinic about getting tested. Testing is free. As we’ve done to date, we’ll keep our testing approach under constant review to respond to any changes, and New Zealanders can be assured that testing will continue to be a tool against Covid-19.”

It continued: “The ministry has requested that DHBs continue to ensure equitable access to testing for those who have symptoms consistent with Covid-19. Each DHB will be making its own decisions on how best to provide testing over the coming weeks and this may involve a mix of CBACs [Community Based Assessment Centres], mobile services, primary care and other community-based testing. Each DHB will determine when and if it is appropriate for them to close their CBACs, while ensuring that testing is available. As at Friday there were 64 active CBACs operating around the country and 105 designated practices, including mobile clinics, providing assessments and swabbing.”

An updated testing strategy will be considered by cabinet this week, said the ministry. “We anticipate any updates on this strategy should be publicly available by mid-June.”

Illustration: Toby Morris

12.45pm: NZ Covid update imminent

Yesterday New Zealand recorded zero new cases of Covid-19 for the ninth consecutive day. Will it be 10? And will there still be one known active case? We’ll find out around 1pm via a statement from the Ministry of Health; full details here.

9.45am: Level one pressure from Muller

Following calls from Winston Peters, Amy Adams and others, the new National leader Todd Muller has amplified the pressure for expediting a shift to alert level one. “Kiwis have made enormous sacrifices to flatten the curve, but if their efforts still aren’t enough to move to level one then the government must explain why,” said Muller in a statement. “It has been more than a week since the last confirmed case of Covid-19. There are fewer cases now than there was before any restrictions were put in place. The government has a duty to speak with one voice on such a critical issue, but all Kiwis are hearing now is mixed messages from the prime minister and her deputy.”

In a post for The Spinoff, microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles has explained the dangers of moving too quickly to level one, which would in effect mean a return to normal life but with the border restrictions remaining. “We’ve only just opened up our bars and nightclubs and increased our gathering sizes,” she writes. “If the virus is out there, we’ve just increased its opportunities to show us where it’s at. Now we just need to wait to see what happens.”

9.10am: Gong!

To mark the miracle of the Queen getting two birthdays a year, the annual alphabet soup of honours has been served to the great and the good.

Medical scientist and Cure Kids founder Robert Elliott gets a knighthood. So does tā moko artist, composer and Māori arts champion Professor Derek Lardelli. A damehood goes to Karen Poutasi, former boss of the NZQA and health executive. And one to Jane Harding for services to neonatology and perinatology – work with babies, pregnant women and new mothers. And another to Aroha Hohipera Reriti-Crofts, a member of the Māori Women’s Welfare League since 1968, for services to Māori and the community.

Other New Zealanders gonging it up this morning are former All Black captain Kieran Read, Hurricanes talisman Taika Waititi, former MP Georgina Beyer, and the recently retired police commissioner Mike Bush. Then there’s horse racing veteran David Ellis, and genius novelists Elizabeth Knox and Tessa Duder.

You can read the full 178-strong gong list here.

8.30am: Black Lives Matter march in Auckland today

Protest and violence continue to erupt across the United States following the Minneapolis killing of George Floyd, who died pleading “I can’t breathe” as a police officer pushed his knee into his neck for nine minutes. Most recently, Donald Trump, a president whose pronouncements have emboldened white supremacists, announced that Antifa was to blame for the unrest and would be named a terrorist organisation, despite the fact that he lacks the authority to do so, and Antifa is not an organisation (it would be “like calling ‘bird-watching’ an organisation”, explained one expert).

Antifa is short for “anti-fascist”.

In New Zealand, a “Black Lives Matter: March for solidarity” is being held from 3.30pm at Aotea Square in Auckland, protesters planning to march to the US consulate near Britomart. “We can’t sit by and watch people suffer without doing anything. The aim of the protest is simple: we want to put pressure on our government from the local level, right up to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to publicly condemn the acts of violence and state-sanctioned murder against African Americans in the United States,” say organisers. “We also want to call attention to the problem of the militarisation of the New Zealand police”, a reference to the controversial trial that saw armed police response squads in South Auckland.

Participants are asked to observe social distancing and wear masks and gloves to adhere to Covid-19 requirements. Organisers have also set up a contract tracing register.

Meanwhile the The Green Party has this morning released a statement saying New Zealand’s justice system shares the structural racism motivating the US protests. Justice spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman noted that Māori experience more arrests, more prosecutions, longer jail sentences, more brutality, and deaths, than Pākehā in similar circumstances. “The disease of state based discrimination is not constrained to American borders. We must acknowledge that here in New Zealand, at every single step of the justice system, Māori face increased discrimination”, she said.

Party co-leader Marama Davidson said police violence in the US serves as a warning about the dangers of arming New Zealand’s officers. “The Green Party, Māori leaders and the local community all raised concerns during this trial. As a mother with Māori teenagers living in a trial area I genuinely feared for the safety of my two sons.”

7.45am: Global cases surpass 6 million

Another grim pandemic milestone has seen the number of confirmed cases worldwide pass 6 million, according to the Johns Hopkins dashboard. The total, which records confirmed cases and so significantly under-counts the true spread, now stands at 6,120,740.

There are 1,784,824 cases in the US, 498,440 in Brazil, 405,843 in Russia and 276,156 in Britain. The global death toll is 371,041, with more than 100,000 of those in the US.

It puts into perspective the situation in New Zealand, where zero new cases have been recorded across the last nine days and only one known active case remains. An update is expected from the Ministry of Health via a statement today at 1pm. We’ll have that here as soon as it lands.

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

There was no change to any of the main numbers, with no new cases for the ninth day in a row and one active case remaining.

The prime minister’s chief science adviser Juliet Gerrard said New Zealand’s borders could re-open soon, provided authorities are selective about which countries to allow in, and quick to change the rules if case numbers spike.

Epidemiologist Michael Baker called on the government to set up a centre for disease control to coordinate future health responses.

Virologist Siouxsie Wiles made the case for staying at alert level two, saying it’s imperative the country doesn’t squander the gains it has made.

An earthquake struck near New Plymouth. It measured 4.9 in magnitude and hit at a depth of 11km.

Protests raged across the US over the killing of George Floyd. Police drove into a crowd in New York, and demonstrators clashed with Secret Service agents outside the White House.

Catch up with yesterday’s developments here.

Keep going!