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

SocietyJune 3, 2020

Live updates, June 3: All restrictions ‘essentially lifted’ under level one, zero new cases for 12th day

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

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

The Spinoff’s coverage of the Covid-19 outbreak is made possible thanks to donations from Spinoff Members. To support this work, join The Spinoff Members here.

8.00pm: The day in review

The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced that alert level one would essentially mean the end of Covid-19-related rules and restrictions, but people would be encouraged to follow some “golden rules”. New Zealand could now move to level one as soon as next week.

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield announced a 12th consecutive day of no new cases of Covid-19. One active case still remains.

The government announced $401.3 million in funding for research and development to help the post-Covid-19 economic rebuild.

Three police officers were charged with manslaughter in relation to the death of a 55-year-old man who died in custody at the Hāwera police station in 2019.

National leader Todd Muller added his voice to the call for an immediate move to alert level one.

Tensions escalated across the US as protests over the death of African American man George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis spread to more than 100 cities.

5.30pm: Air NZ still won’t refund tickets

A complaint lodged with the Commerce Commission earlier this month criticised Air New Zealand for its treatment of passengers with cancelled flights to the US. The company was offering credits, not refunds.

Today, Air New Zealand’s chief financial officer Cam Wallace told RNZ the company would have to use some of its $900 million government loan to give refunds, and credits remained preferable option. A “credit system” would be online by the end of July.

3.45pm: Schools to get more NCEA credits, menstrual products

Chris Hipkins has announced further changes to support secondary school students. Following from his statement earlier in the month that portfolio submission dates and NCEA and Scholarship exams will be pushed back at the end of the year, today he said university entrance requirements have been modified. 

“As further recognition of Covid-19’s impact, this year university entrance (UE) will be awarded to students who achieve 12 credits in each of three UE approved subjects. They will still need to attain NCEA level three and meet the literacy and numeracy requirements to be awarded UE.”

Students will be able to earn additional credits with a new scheme that rewards every five NCEA credits with one additional “learning recognition” credit. These additional credits are capped at 10 for NCEA level one and eight for levels two and three.

More information can be found here.

Ardern and minister for women Julie Ann Genter today announced menstrual products would be free to access in 15 Waikato schools, the first in a roll-out expected to expand to all state and state-integrated schools that opt-in by 2021.

“We know that nearly 95,000 9-to-18 year olds may stay at home during their periods due to not being able to afford period products. By making them freely available, we support these young people to continue learning at school,” said Ardern.

“Menstruation is a fact of life for half the population and access to these products is a necessity, not a luxury,” said Genter. 

The initiative is part of the $5.5 billion families package, announced in this year’s budget.

3.20pm: Everything you need to know about level one

Missed today’s announcement and wondering what the hell’s going on? Catherine McGregor has the lowdown on what alert level one will mean for businesses, hospitality and day-to-day life. And remember, we’re not there yet!

Read the full story on The Spinoff

2.30pm: More than 3,700 Rotorua jobs could go – report

An Infometrics report on the impacts of Covid-19 on the Rotorua economy predicts more than 3,700 jobs and $186m in earnings will be lost in the town as a result of the Covid-19 downturn, reports the Rotorua Daily Post.

Commissioned by Rotorua Lakes Council and released last Thursday, the 34-page document forecast a 7.8% contraction of the local economy and a rise in unemployment to 10.7%, which would primarily affect Māori and Pasifika communities. “The principal impacts on Māori unemployment in Rotorua are forecast to take place in the industries that are expected to contract the most,” it said. “The general age and skills profile of New Zealand’s Māori and Pasifika populations tends towards high levels of younger and lower-skilled employees, which are at greater risk of losing their jobs during a recession.”

The report said the industries to be hit hardest were the accommodation and food services, retail, arts and recreation sectors, and suggested local government could “play a critical role” in the Covid-19 economic recovery by maintaining operational expenditure and “where possible, accelerating already-funded capital projects”.

2.00pm: Today’s cases, charted

1.35pm: Restrictions out under level one, but ‘golden rules’ should be followed, PM says

At alert level one, “all current rules and restrictions on businesses and services are essentially lifted”, the prime minister has announced. This means there will be no requirement for physical distancing, no hospitality restrictions, and no restrictions on gathering sizes. Community sport, religious gatherings and concerts would go ahead as normal.

The government was working with ticketing agencies and large-scale event organisers on a “Covid code”, however, whereby contact details are gathered to keep track of people at such events, said Ardern.

“But while these restrictions will end when we’re in the situation of moving to alert level one, we do need new behaviours to start,” said Ardern, adding that the ongoing use of digital diaries will be encouraged. 

Cabinet will decide on Monday whether New Zealand will move to level one, and the change would take effect 48 hours later – on Wednesday, June 10.

Ardern said the “golden rules” of alert level one are:

  • If you’re sick, stay home.
  • If you have cold or flu-like symptoms, get tested. 
  • Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands.
  • Sneeze or cough into your elbow and regularly disinfect shared surfaces.
  • If you’re told by health authorities to self-isolate, do so immediately.
  • If you’re concerned about your wellbeing or have underlying health conditions, work with your GP to understand how best to stay healthy.
  • Keep track of where you’ve been and who you’ve seen to help contact tracing if required – keep using the NZ Covid Tracer app.
  • Businesses should help people keep track of movement by displaying a Covid Tracer app QR code.
  • Stay vigilant – there’s still a global pandemic going on – and be prepared to step up alert levels if we have to.

1.30pm: PM to reveal alert level one rules – watch live

1.00pm: No new cases for 12th day, one active case remains

New Zealand has no new cases of Covid-19 today, for the 12th day in a row, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield has announced. There remains one active case, and the total number of both confirmed and probable cases remains at 1,504 of both. Yesterday, 1,262 tests were completed, bringing the total to 283,525.

Bloomfield said there had now been 487,000 registrations on the Covid Tracer App, and 29,000 posters had been downloaded by more than 17,000 businesses and organisations.

On testing, Bloomfield said more than 30,000 asymptomatic people were tested between the end of April and the end of May and only one positive result was returned, that of a worker at Auckland Airport. It was believed the case was related to overseas travel some weeks earlier, said Bloomfield.

Border-focused surveillance testing will continue, and Bloomfield encouraged anyone with respiratory symptoms to seek advice on whether they should be tested.

One million doses of flu vaccine had now been administered, said Bloomfield, around 200,000 more than at the same time last season. The entirety of the southern hemisphere vaccine – 1.74 million doses – had now been distributed, with the slightly less effective northern hemisphere vaccine now being sent out.

Bloomfield said a proposal to test everyone coming in to the country, including asymptomatic people, was being considered and if adopted would begin next week. The strategy would also focus on those working at the border.

12.50pm: Bloomfield, PM to speak – watch here

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield is fronting a media briefing at 1pm at the National Library auditorium in Wellington. Will it be a 12th day of zero cases, and will we reach the milestone of zero active cases too? You can watch here, and follow along for live updates.

Following hot on the heels of Bloomfield, the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, will be announcing the details of what alert level one will look like at 1.30pm. We’ll have all the details of that too.

12.30pm: $400m funding boost for R&D announced, scientists sceptical

The government has announced $401.3 million in funding for research and development to help the post-Covid-19 economic rebuild. The biggest portion of the funding, $196 million, goes to Crown Research Institutes, with the money coming from both the budget and the Covid Response and Recovery Fund. A sum of $150 million from the Covid Response and Recovery Fund has been dedicated to a new short-term R&D loan scheme. “The loans provide an immediate source of finance to R&D-performing businesses to enable them to maintain their R&D programmes and secure the jobs the programmes bring,” said research, science and innovation minister Dr Megan Woods in a press release announcing the funding.

A $33 million investment from the budget will “support Māori to partner with MBIE and co-design a fund to enable Māori to determine, and make further investments in their research, science and innovation priorities”, said the release, while $12 million, also from the budget, has been allocated to the Nationally Significant Collections and Databases. From the Covid Response and Recovery Fund, $10 million will go to Callaghan Innovation “to maintain in-house R&D capability to serve New Zealand businesses, particularly early stage R&D intensive companies that are disproportionally affected by Covid-19”.

In response to the funding announcement, Nicola Gaston, co-director of the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, said “business-as-usual investment in current institutions and funding tools alone” would not be enough to rebuild the economy, which required “structural changes in our science system”. “It is not clear that there is a vision behind this investment for how we grow capability in the areas of future and emerging need most relevant to climate change,” she said.

Gaston welcomed the fund to be co-designed with Māori, as did Troy Baisden, president of the New Zealand Association of Scientists. “Previously, funds designated specifically for Māori-led research were insufficient to fund full-time PhDs or early career researchers, so this could provide a transformational opportunity,” said Baisden.

Professor Travis Glare, director of the Bio-Protection Research Centre at Lincoln University, meanwhile, said the government had “missed an opportunity to raise our basic funding to closer to the OECD average. The scope of the issues facing New Zealand as we reposition our economy post-Covid and move to a robust response to climate change issues will need more research depth than the currently over-competitive and underfunded system can provide.”

11.10am: Three police face manslaughter charges over death of man in custody

Three police officers have been charged with manslaughter in relation to the death of a 55-year-old man who died in custody at the Hāwera police station just over one year ago. The charges filed today in New Plymouth District Court allege that the officers were grossly negligent in their duty of care to the victim and that this negligence was a causal factor in his death.

In a statement today, police said the decision to file charges was made after a thorough investigation and consideration of legal advice from the New Plymouth crown solicitor and a queen’s counsel, reports the Herald. “The victim’s family has been advised of the police decision to lay charges. All three officers have been stood down from their duties and an employment process will follow in due course.”

The three officers have been granted interim name suppression and remanded on bail to appear in the High Court at New Plymouth on June 26.

The death occurred in the early hours of June 1, 2019, after a man was arrested for assault following a family harm incident in Hāwera about 11.30pm on May 31 last year, reports the Herald. He was taken to Hāwera police station and during a routine cell check the man was found unresponsive, police said at the time.

The charges come in a climate of heightened tensions over police violence around the world, stemming from the death of black man George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer in the United States. In New Zealand, Black Lives Matters marches held in solidarity with US protesters at the weekend also raised concerns around the police’s trial of armed response teams here.

10.30am: Over half of emergency welfare fund spent already

In just over a month since it was allocated, more than half of the $30 million emergency welfare fund set aside by the government has been spent, reports RNZ, with many migrant workers and foreigners who can’t get home still requiring help. Under the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act, money is being distributed to help anyone, regardless of citizenship, who needs immediate help with food, transport, clothing, and accommodation. Civil defence minister Peeni Henare told RNZ he expected the remainder of the fund to be spent just as quickly as the first half, and said the government was committed to helping foreign nationals but “it can’t be a long-term plan”.

Read the full story on RNZ

10.20am: Bunnings confirms stores closures; South Island hotels suffer

Hardware chain Bunnings has confirmed its Ashburton, Cambridge, Rangiora, Te Awamutu, Putāruru, Hornby and Hastings stores will close by the end of the month, with 145 job losses. The closures were first proposed several weeks ago, with the final decision driven by the trading environment that resulted from Covid-19 and from other factors including lease arrangements, individual store performance and location, Bunnings New Zealand director Jacqui Coombes told Stuff. Meanwhile, the Methven Resort Hotel in Canterbury was placed into the control of liquidators on Friday and yesterday, it was revealed that about 60 jobs were being cut at two hotels in the Milford Sound gateway of Te Anau, connected to the downturn in tourism brought about by Covid-19 border closures.

10.00am: Can Waitomo survive a post-Covid world?

On The Spinoff today, Josie Adams looks at the plight of Waitomo – a town built on tourism, whose spectacular network of glow-worm caves has been drawing international visitors for over a century. The town’s income was gutted after Tourism Holdings (THL) cut 140 jobs across the Waitomo Group and Kiwi Experience businesses in response to the devastating impact of Covid-19. Adams explains why this impact goes far beyond the human face of the crisis – the survival of the glow worms and the caves that house them depends on the conservation of the wider area, which itself depends on funds coming into the community.

Read the full story on The Spinoff

9.15am: Studio threatened to pull pin on NZ if staff couldn’t get through borders

The studio behind a big-budget film had threatened to withdraw from New Zealand if key staff couldn’t get through closed borders, reports Stuff. Crew on the new Avatar film, along with workers on an unnamed project, were allowed past New Zealand’s closed borders after they were granted an exemption by economic development minister Phil Twyford.

But one of the productions faced the “real possibility” of not being made without the exemption to enter New Zealand, Stuff quotes MBIE’s Iain Cossar as saying, adding that the film at risk was the yet-to-be-announced project, not Avatar. Nine in every 10 requests for exemptions the Covid-19 border restrictions are rejected before making it to Twyford’s desk, says Stuff, but a charter plane carrying up to 56 film workers arrived in Wellington on Sunday. Act leader David Seymour told Stuff letting the film workers in was “an insult to working New Zealanders”. Twyford has granted exemptions to about 200 workers, including a chair-lift expert and “poo pipe” engineers.

As Stuff’s Thomas Coughlan points out in an op-ed today,  the reason the big-budget products are “here in the first place is New Zealand’s generous screen production grant, whereby productions are able to claim back large amounts of the money they spend here”. The Avatar sequels have been awarded $41 million so far – meaning the government is “spending more money subsidising a film about a fake indigenous culture (Avatar’s Na’vi) than it does funding the broadcasting of the real indigenous broadcasting made in New Zealand”. Coughlan concludes that “the country’s film subsidies stretched credulity at the best of times but, in the age of Covid-19, subsidising the jobs of a handful of North American millionaires seems outright ludicrous”.

Read the full story on Stuff

8.55am: Level one rules coming today – here’s what to expect

The prime minister is expected to today reveal the restrictions that will apply under alert level one, after bringing forward the decision to move levels following pressure by business groups and her own deputy. The change could be approved by cabinet as soon as Monday next week, and we could be in level one by next Wednesday.

The Spinoff’s political editor, Justin Giovannetti, has outlined what level one is likely to look like in a new story today and – spoiler alert – it would appear life’s pretty much going back to “normal” for most of us. Remember normal? It basically means no restrictions on physical distancing or mass gatherings, with only some type of contact tracing and a tough barrier at the border remaining in place.

Read the full story on The Spinoff

8.25am: Muller joins call for immediate move to level one

National leader Todd Muller has belatedly added his voice to the call for an immediate move to alert level one on RNZ’s Morning Report this morning, following similar calls by deputy prime minister Winston Peters and several of his MPs in recent days. “I absolutely think now is the time to move,” said Muller, following widespread criticism of a lack of physical distancing at Black Lives Matter marches over the weekend. Referencing director general of health Ashley Bloomfield’s statement yesterday that those who attended the marches did not need to self-isolate for 14 days, Muller asked, “Where is the issue when her own director general says, when looking at thousands of people packed into a march, there is no risk of community transmission?” Muller also raised the issue of shopping malls, saying at the weekend several were “packed” with people “cheek by jowl”.

Responding to a question from Morning Report’s Susie Ferguson, Muller said he didn’t believe police should have gone in and broken up the marches and he didn’t believe prosecutions were needed. “That would not have served a huge amount of benefit for anyone,” he said, adding that the marches needed to be viewed “through the lens of confusion… in terms of mixed messages”.

Asked about the current unrest in the United States, Muller said the forced disposal of protesters at the White House so President Trump could attend a photo op at a nearby church (see 7.45am update) was not OK. “I think all New Zealanders are looking at what’s happening in America with horror. The scenes coming out of that country are hugely disturbing.” He deflected a question about whether he agreed with Joe Biden’s assertion that Trump was part of the problem, saying “Trump’s politics are not mine”, and reiterating that his much-discussed MAGA cap was only a souvenir and was “in a box”.

8.00am: Updates from today’s edition of The Bulletin

Significant new support has been announced for trainees and apprentices, with thousands of dollars worth of costs being removed for each student. The funding, announced yesterday by education minister Chris Hipkins, is part of a wider budget allocation aimed at putting together a workforce capable of handling the Covid-19 recovery, and addressing wider areas of skill shortages. In effect, it will allow school leavers and anyone else needing work with the opportunity to get qualified in an area where there is a high likelihood of jobs being available. Free courses will be available for apprentices in all industries, and those in targeted industries will get additional support in the form of other fees being waived. The programme will be in place until 2022.

There’s an important bit of context to this funding being announced – during the GFC, apprentice training numbers dropped off alarmingly. That is covered up the top of this NZ Herald story on the announcement, and industry leaders feared that a downturn in business would have also meant a cut in the number of apprentices that could be taken on. Because employers will also benefit from the scheme, one estimate suggested hundreds of new places are already lined up to be offered.

The industries that will see targeted support include those directly related to primary industries and infrastructure. However, there are also several categories of community work that will benefit, such as youth work, elder care and mental health support. All have shortages, but in aged care the situation is particularly acute. Last year Radio NZ covered a union-led survey which found that the vast majority of caregivers had seen patient care suffer as a result of staff shortages.

The other piece of context – unemployment is rising by the day, and some of it is taking place in industries where jobs might not come back for a long time, if at all. Recent reporting from the NZ Herald showed that the pace of people joining the jobseeker benefit had slowed in recent weeks, after some heavy spikes at the start of lockdown. However as the story notes, “this does not show the full picture of joblessness from Covid-19, because some people out of work cannot get a benefit if their partners are working”. As well as that, the first round of wage subsidy payments will end soon, which could lead to another rush of job losses. Some training providers are already looking to fill this void – for example, SIT in Invercargill are offering quick turnaround courses in agriculture and forestry for those who have lost work – a particular problem for the tourism-heavy region around the Lakes District.

We’ll get more detail today on what level one will look like, if and when we move into it. Keep an eye on our live blog for the announcement, and read Justin Giovannetti’s report on what is likely to be included. And as for the date of the move, that’ll be looked at by cabinet next Monday, amid calls for it to happen immediately. The PM said the timeline was about making a “balanced decision”, and that once the move to level one is made, the government doesn’t want to have to move the country back up to two again.

A long-delayed range of changes have finally been made to the Emissions Trading Scheme, and Newsroom’s Marc Daalder has a report with some useful context of it all. It was once the flagship piece of legislation for addressing climate change emissions, but now questions are being raised about whether it is really that useful at all. For example, only about 45% of the country’s emissions will be covered by the ETS, and some environmentalists argue that the cap on emissions is far too high to be meaningful. Climate change minister James Shaw acknowledged those concerns, noting that it was one part of a wider framework being put in place by the government, and that it would allow stronger climate action in the future.

The exemptions to get into the country for Avatar film workers are proving deeply controversial, especially when set against others not being granted. Politik has looked at the various cases currently swirling around, including an (on paper) fairly safe seeming fishing boat that requires repairs and has been denied entry in Nelson, and engineers from Israel who apparently can’t get in to work on the Ngawha geothermal plant. There may be an explanation for each particular case that makes sense, but taken together it’s hard to square – and to add a bit more friction, there have also been reports of the Avatar workers not quarantining properly. The NZ Herald reports just over 150 people have been granted entry as essential workers.

Unions have launched a push to get legal sick leave allowances doubled, reports Anna Bracewell-Worrall for Newshub. The legal allowance of five days a year is comparatively low by international standards, and many run out every single year. The CTU also wants to see the stand down period removed – the six months from starting a job until an employee is legally entitled to take sick leave, as well as expanding it to allow care for unwell children or relatives. The government has flatly refused to consider the matter, saying that it is up to employees to negotiate with their bosses.

Countdown supermarket workers will be given shares in the business as a bonus for working through the pandemic, reports Stuff. Around 14,400 employees will benefit, to the tune of about $800 NZD. It won’t be applied across the board – those who started after March 1, non-permanent staff and those who already received some other form of incentive will not be eligible. A lawyer quoted in the story suggested that it was a way for businesses to reward staff without having to give them cash up front. It’ll be interesting to see whether it will have any effect on wider industry demands for higher wages.

A couple of pieces of candidate selection news for Labour: Radio NZ’s Jo Moir reports the party’s Māori electorate MPs will be going back on the list, after coming off it in 2017 to make a harder run at the seven seats. The strategy worked, given that the aim was effectively to dump the Māori Party out of parliament altogether. And in the Manurewa electorate, sitting MP Louisa Wall has announced that she will not be contesting the party’s selection for the safe seat, after a strong challenger emerged in lawyer and former student union leader Arena Williams. Analysing that, the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Audrey Young has described it as a “managed withdrawal” from Wall, who is likely to now be given a winnable list position.

7.45am: Seventh night of unrest in United States as death toll rises

Anger at the killing of black man George Floyd by police in Minneapolis has now spread to more than 100 cities across the US, with tensions escalating overnight as people defied curfews. In New York, demonstrators smashed windows and looted stores. Authorities said four officers were wounded in St Louis, and one critically wounded in Las Vegas. The death toll has risen to at least nine, reports the Associated Press (AP), including two people killed in a Chicago suburb. More than 5,600 people nationwide have been arrested over the past week for such offences as stealing, blocking highways and breaking curfew, according to a count by AP.

The police chief in Louisville, Kentucky, was fired after a restaurant owner was killed by police and National Guard members enforcing a curfew, reports AP. In Richmond, Virginia, the police chief said officers who used tear gas on a group of peaceful protesters would be disciplined. In Atlanta, six officers were charged after a video showed authorities dragging two young people from a car during protests.

The unrest in Minneapolis, meanwhile, appeared to stabilise on the same day Floyd’s brother made a plea for peace at the spot where a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, put his knee on the neck of Floyd, who was handcuffed, for several minutes, even after he stopped moving and pleading for air. Chauvin has been charged with murder. Minnesota attorney general Keith Ellison said prosecutors were working as fast as they can to determine if the three other officers at the scene should be charged too. All four have been fired.

New York mayor Bill de Blasio has extended an 8pm curfew all week. “We’re going to have a tough few days,” AP reported him as saying, but added, “We’re going to beat it back.” He said he would do that with the help of community leaders, urging them to step forward. “Create peace. Stand up.”

Meanwhile, the president, Donald Trump, taunted state governors for not embracing his proposal to send in the US military to quell unrest. More than 20,000 National Guard members have been called up in 29 states to deal with the unrest, reports AP, but New York is not among them. De Blasio has said he does not want the National Guard, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he will not send it into the city against the mayor’s wishes.

The president has been widely criticised for walking to a church near the White House for a photo op moments after protesters were forcibly dispersed using tear gas. The archdiocese of Washington said it was “baffling and reprehensible” to allow Trump to visit the Saint John Paul II National Shrine. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden sharply criticised Trump’s handling of the protests in a Philadelphia speech overnight. “The president of the United States must be part of the solution, not the problem,” Biden said. “This president today is part of the problem and accelerates it.” Biden is expected to George Floyd’s funeral in Houston, Texas, next week.

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern said that cabinet will now discuss a move to alert level one on Monday, and the “new normal” could be in place by later next week.

Her deputy, Winston Peters, argued the country should move to alert level one immediately, a call echoed by the business community but disputed by public health experts.

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said marchers at Sunday’s anti-racism protest in Auckland were not required to self-isolate for 14 days despite breaching level two rules on crowd sizes.

Education minister Chris Hipkins announced details of the government’s vocational training scheme, including fully subsidised apprenticeships.

The embattled tourism sector reported an “encouraging” amount of trade over the long weekend, with domestic tourists taking advantage of heavy discounts.

Violence continued to erupt at protests in cities across the United States. President Donald Trump threatened to deploy US military unless violent protests over killing of George Floyd end, and protesters outside the White House were cleared with tear gas to enable Trump to visit a nearby church for a photo op.

Read yesterday’s live updates here

Keep going!