Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield (Photo: Kevin Stent – Pool/Getty Images)
Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield (Photo: Kevin Stent – Pool/Getty Images)

SocietyJune 4, 2020

Live updates, June 4: No new cases for 13th consecutive day

Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield (Photo: Kevin Stent – Pool/Getty Images)
Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield (Photo: Kevin Stent – Pool/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.

7.10pm: The day in sum

New Zealand saw its 13th consecutive day of no new cases of Covid-19.

All arrivals into the country will be tested for the coronavirus starting next week, it was announced.

Opposition leader Todd Muller continued to criticise the government for not moving to alert level one quicker, after a leaked cabinet paper showed it had now been more than 28 days since the last case linked to potential community transmission.

Deputy prime minister Winston Peters said the creation of the trans-Tasman bubble is currently in Australia’s hands, and that he didn’t agree the government’s contact tracing app should be mandatory for businesses.

The government announced new measures to help resolve commercial rent disputes, but the hospitality sector said the new legislation didn’t go far enough.

Discover Waitomo was allocated $4 million of the government’s Covid-19 tourism relief fund to safeguard its operations as the first round of funding was distributed from its tourism and sports packages.

Air New Zealand said it will introduce more domestic services in July and August, and Jetstar signalled its intention to begin flying again from next month.

The Blues announced the signing of rugby legend Dan Carter ahead of the start of the Super Rugby Aotearoa season next weekend.

4.50pm: Peters rejects calls for contact tracing app to be mandatory

Political editor Justin Giovannetti writes: The creation of a trans-Tasman bubble is now in Australia’s hands as New Zealand awaits a response from that country’s government on whether they are ready to move forward with the travel zone, according to deputy prime minister Winston Peters.

Speaking at the Beehive on Thursday afternoon, Peters said that Australia’s more complex form of government, where states and the federal government share power, means negotiations need to be resolved across the ditch.

“It should have happened yesterday,” he said. Peters also shot down speculation that flights could begin first between the two capital cities. “This is too early, it doesn’t have the support of the Australian government at this point in time and, just as an aside, I wouldn’t have thought Wellington and Canberra are the two best places to open to flights,” he said.

The deputy PM fills in for the prime minister on Thursdays in parliament.

Peters also said he would not support a move to make the government’s contact tracing app mandatory in businesses. Ashley Bloomfield, the director general of health, said earlier on Thursday that the government was looking at making the app a requirement for businesses as the country moves to level one.

“That’s not what the prime minister said, she said she was going to encourage businesses to adopt a certain contact tracing regime,” said Peters.

However, the deputy prime minister added that more people need to start using the app for it to be effective. As of Thursday, the Ministry of Health reported that about 10% of New Zealanders have now registered for the app. Peters said the figure needs to be “well beyond” 60% for the app to be useful.

3.10pm: All arrivals to be tested from next week

New Zealand’s Covid-19 border restrictions are about to get tougher as mandatory testing for all newcomers starts next week. New rules for aircrews and cargo ships are also being contemplated as the government looks to plug any holes through which the virus could reappear.

Currently, all travellers are required to go into 14-day managed isolation at hotels where they’re supervised around-the-clock and checked daily by nurses. Testing, however, has been limited to those who’ve shown significant symptoms but that could now change as soon as Monday.

For more, read the report from The Spinoff’s political editor Justin Giovannetti here

3.00pm: Air NZ increasing schedule, Jetstar to return next month

July and August will see the return of more Air New Zealand routes, with the airline set to be operating at 55% of its usual capacity. Services between Invercargill and Wellington and Auckland are set to be reinstated, along with flight between Christchurch and Rotorua and New Plymouth. Air New Zealand’s main domestic competitor Jetstar also looks to be resuming operations from the start of July.

In related air travel news, Air New Zealand has dampened speculation Wellington to Canberra flights could start from next month, saying it “does not intend to operate” any such flights. “Air New Zealand is not proposing Tasman operations until such time that the Tasman borders are open, and only with the support of governments on both sides,” a company spokesperson said.

2.15pm: Relief funding to safeguard Waitomo

Discover Waitomo will receive $4 million of funding from the government’s $400 million tourism sector recovery to safeguard it against potential closure. Tourism minister Kelvin Davis announced the recipients of the first wave of funding today, and said Discover Waitomo was “a world-renowned iconic tourism attraction that generates significant economic, cultural and employment benefits for the region.” This investment would “help safeguard and enable Discover Waitomo to retain a highly skilled workforce with specific skills and experience.”

New Zealand’s 31 Regional Tourism Organisations (RTOs) will also receive $20.2 million from the fund. “The industry has been asking for this throughout my discussions with them,” said David. “The restart, recovery and rebuilding of the tourism sector will depend on capable and well-resourced regional organisations to lead and coordinate activities alongside the industry, stakeholders, Māori and communities.”

Read Josie Adams’ report from earllier this week on Waitomo’s uncertain future on The Spinoff

2.00pm: Government toughens rules around high-cost loans

High-cost lenders and truck shops are the target of law changes announced by consumer affairs minister Kris Faafoi this afternoon. Under the new rules mobile traders and truck shops must adhere to responsible lending requirements, face an interest rate cap on high-cost loans and are prohibited from offering further credit to an applicant who has taken two high-cost loans in the past 90 days.

“Predatory lending causes severe financial hardship in communities across New Zealand,” Faafoi said, adding that “the economic impacts of Covid-19 have only exacerbated the need to take a harder line to protect vulnerable whānau from problem debt.”

1.45pm: Today’s data, charted

Another ditto day, numbers-wise.

1.30pm: Peters gives media briefing

Deputy prime minister and foreign affairs minister Winston Peters is now giving a Covid-19 briefing.

He said nearly 80,000 New Zealanders have returned home since lockdown began and 57,000 foreign nationals have left New Zealand during the same period.

Asked whether July was still a realistic target date for a trans-Tasman bubble, Peters said, “It depends on Australia – we’re waiting on a response from their federal government. I’d like to be able to say it should’ve happened yesterday, but we’re dependent on Australia.”

On the possibility of test flights between Wellington and Canberra, Peters said “I’ve got nothing against Canberra”, but said from his perspective cities with bigger populations made more sense.

Peters was openly combative with journalists at times, saying “Why are you asking that question?” to ones he didn’t like, and making comments such as “I wish you’d get a grip on reality”.

He said claims that he breached the Cabinet Manual by expressing his opposition to staying in level two are “poppycock”, and denied NZ First had been “absorbed” by the Labour Party, as his MP Shane Jones had inferred this morning.

1.00pm: Day 13 of no new cases

For the 13th day in a row there are no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield has announced.

There is still just one remaining active case in the country. No one in New Zealand is in hospital with Covid-19 and there have been no further Covid-19 related deaths.

There were 2,649 tests processed yesterday, bringing the total to 286,174.

There have now been 495,000 registrations on the NZ Covid Tracer app, an increase of 8,000 since this time yesterday.

Bloomfield referenced the international Covid-19 situation, pointing out that the highest number of cases reported to the WHO in any one day since the pandemic started was just a few days ago, with 124,139 on June 1. Worldwide, there have been 6.3 million confirmed cases and 380,000 Covid-19 deaths reported to the WHO, he said.

“The point here is we are still very early in the evolution of this pandemic globally,” he said. “There are still big gaps in our knowledge, and New Zealand is in a position that is the envy of many countries and that is due to the hard work and sacrifice of so many Kiwis.”

“If we want to stay in the good position we are now we cannot afford to act as if it is all over globally. It has only really just started.”

“Even though we are looking at a possible move to alert level one pending cabinet decision, this is not life as it was before,” said Bloomfield. “We need to make some things a part of our new normal,” he added, referring to the “golden rules” outlined by Jacinda Ardern yesterday – staying at home if unwell, hand hygiene, sneezing and coughing etiquette and keeping track of where you’ve been.

12.30pm: Bloomfield to update case numbers

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield will hold a media briefing at 1pm today to update New Zealand’s Covid-19 case numbers. We’re going for 13 days without a new case, and who knows, maybe today will be the day the country hits zero active cases. Watch here from 1pm to find out:

12.15pm: Professional sports teams get relief funding

Sport NZ has provided $4.6 million of the government’s $265 million sport recovery package to some of the country’s biggest professional sporting teams. Wellington Phoenix FC will receive $950,000 and the NZ Warriors $200,000, while NZ Rugby gets $1.25 million to spread across its five Super Rugby franchises. Netball New Zealand receives the biggest chunk of the funding with $2.2 million to support the running of the ANZ Premiership and its teams. 

“This investment acknowledges the critical role these professional franchises play in entertaining New Zealanders and uniting communities, as well as inspiring young people and providing important end-to-end pathways for talented sportspeople,” said Sport NZ CEO Peter Miskimmin. “Professional sport franchises do not typically receive government investment, but in the sport recovery package we have an opportunity to provide relief to other organisations who are also critical to our system. We know they have exhausted their financial options and that they make such a valuable contribution to our sector and national and regional economies.”

12.00pm: Blues unveil new player

Auckland-based Super Rugby franchise the Blues have confirmed the signing of a 38-year-old first five-eighth as cover for the injured Stephen Perofeta this morning. Dan Carter previously played for Kobelco Steelers in the Japanese Top League competition, which had its season curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic. The Blues’ latest recruit trained with the team this morning ahead of their Super Rugby Aotearoa opener against the Hurricanes at Eden Park next Sunday.

Carter’s move to the Blues has reportedly been given the blessing of his Christchurch-based grandmother, who told Stuff “he’s got to play for somebody”.

11.30am: Language schools facing closure without more clarity over international students

Managers of English language schools are warning that their industry is in a critical state and begging the government to provide a clearer timeframe on when international students will be allowed back into the country. Wayne Dyer, the chairperson of English New Zealand, which represents 22 language schools, told RNZ one school had already closed its campus and others were sure to follow without more financial support and a clearer indication of when students were likely to be able return. “If English language is a $500 million contribution to GDP, how much value does the government put on retaining that industry and ensuring its survival”, he said, warning that “once the schools close down it’s going to be hard for them to reopen again.”

11.00am: Wellington-Canberra flights proposed from next month

The trans-Tasman bubble could begin to open from the start of next month if a proposal written up by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry gets government approval. The proposal suggests starting with flights between the two capital cities, Wellington and Canberra, before gradually opening up flights into other centres, according to a report in The Australian newspaper this morning. Passengers would be free to travel around once they arrived, but New Zealanders would have to obey any state border closures within Australia.

10.45am: Consumer watchdog continues to call for Air NZ refunds

Consumer New Zealand says Air New Zealand’s decision to only offer customers flight credits instead of refunds for flights cancelled as a result of Covid-19 is not on. Yesterday the airline said it couldn’t afford to offer refunds to all customers, despite the $900 million government loan at its disposal. Consumer New Zealand chief executive Jon Duffy told RNZ the issue was a “comms debacle” for Air New Zealand. He said while credits would be acceptable for some customers, “there would be some people who because of their circumstances and changing economic situation … will be really doing it tough and really need to get their cash out to help them pay the power or pay rent or put food on the table.” Consumer affairs minister Kris Faafoi has said the government would look at changing the law to entitle all customers to a refund in future.

10.30am: Union calls for investigation into hospital staff safety

E tū union is calling for an investigation into an incident at Auckland’s Middlemore Hospital in which two security guards were stabbed with a pair of scissors. One of the guards, Gareth Liley, told E tū workers at the hospital had warned the DHB something like this might happen.

“What we need is the right support, personal protective equipment, staffing levels, and training, to ensure we can keep ourselves and our colleagues safe at work,” Liley said.

E tū is asking for a serious harm investigation into the incident, which the union said Counties Manukau DHB was not taking seriously enough. “Violence in the workplace cannot be treated by our health system like business as usual for our essential service workers,” said E tū director Sam Jones.

In March, the National Bipartite Action Group issued a report on New Zealand’s hospital security services that found more than 5,000 security incidents, including 230 reported assaults, logged across 13 out of 20 DHBs over a 12-month period.

10.15am: Hydroxychloroquine ‘no better than placebo’, study finds

Hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malaria drug controversially touted by US president Donald Trump as a preventative cure for Covid-19, has been found to be no more effective than a placebo in protecting people from the virus, a trial has found. The results of the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine “demonstrate that hydroxychloroquine is no better than placebo when used as post-exposure prophylaxis within four days of exposure to someone infected with the new coronavirus,” said one of the lead authors, Dr Todd Lee. Other trials of the drug are taking place to find out if it is useful for treating Covid-19 in any other settings.

9.15am: Swedish epidemiologist concedes ‘potential for improvement’

Sweden’s chief epidemiologist now concedes his controversial approach to Covid-19 has resulted in too many deaths, and admits more should have been done to prevent the spread of the virus. Anders Tegnell said there was “quite obviously a potential for improvement in what we have done” during an interview on Swedish Radio overnight.

“If we were to encounter the same disease again knowing exactly what we know about it today, I think we would settle on doing something in between what Sweden did and what the rest of the world has done,” Tegnell said.

According to Our World in Data, in the past week Sweden has had the highest per capita Covid-19 death rate in the world.

8.45am: New government measures to help resolve commercial rent disputes

Justice minister Andrew Little has announced new measures designed to help businesses suffering as a result of the Covid-19 response to resolve commercial rent disputes. These include a clause in commercial leases requiring a fair reduction in rent where a business has suffered a loss of revenue because of Covid-19, and investing $40 million to provide access to arbitration for businesses and landlords to reach an agreement on fair rent. To be eligible businesses need to have 20 or fewer full-time staff at each leased site and be New Zealand based.

8.15am: Only half of DHBs using government’s contact tracing system

Experts are warning any future outbreaks of Covid-19 could be more difficult to contain because only half the country’s DHBs are using the government’s national contact tracing system, RNZ reports. The four regional public health units not using the cloud-based National Contact Tracing Solution (NCTS) are those in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Northland. While some indicated they would use the NCTS in future, Auckland Regional Public Health Service said it had developed its own software. Contact tracing experts told RNZ there were “compelling reasons” why every public health unit should use the same system. 

Read the full story on RNZ

8.00am: Muller turns the screws over level one

National Party leader Todd Muller says the economy has dropped off the government’s radar and prime minister Jacinda Ardern needs to “get out more” to see the effects waiting to move to level one are having on small business. On Newstalk ZB this morning he said an “extraordinary” leaked cabinet paper showed the criteria for moving to level one was 28 days without community transmission, a milestone which had already passed. This explained why deputy prime minister Winston Peters had been so fervently calling for the immediate move to level one in the past week, he said. 

7.45am: Other officers to be charged

The three other police officers involved in the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota last week have now been charged in relation to his death, while the officer at the centre of the case, Derek Chauvin, has had his charge upgraded to second degree murder. Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao have been charged with aiding and abetting murder, the New York Times reports. Peaceful protests sparked by the killing of Floyd continued for an eighth night, with the Times reporting “minimal mayhem”.

7.35am: Updates from today’s edition of The Bulletin

As has been the way with these moves, we got an announcement of what the new alert level will be like, before confirmation that we’re moving into it. But the signs are fairly clear that a shift to level one is highly likely to be announced next Monday, and will take effect on Wednesday at midnight. When that happens, the country will be very close to being back to normal rules on gatherings, business and internal travel.

There will still be a few minor conditions for people to follow. Catherine McGregor has given an outline of the whole package, and in particular picked out what will still be necessary. Among those things – contact tracing might still be necessary, so make sure you keep a record of where you’ve been. Health authorities will still be able to tell people to self-isolate if necessary. Those with symptoms will still be strongly encouraged to get tested. And the hand-washing discipline built up over the last few months will still be important – nobody wants to see a massive spike in influenza cases, after all.

But in general terms, the country will be back in business. Stuff reports that it is a huge moment for the hospitality industry, which has suffered badly since March – even with some businesses being able to open again after the moves down in levels. Event venues in particular will be hoping for strong turnouts, after having to limit themselves to 100 person shows at level two. Sport will be allowed to have crowds in the stadiums. Religious gatherings, tangihanga and weddings will be able to take place without restrictions. Looking back to mid-March, it was the cancellation of events like Polyfest and the March 15 commemorations that indicated really severe changes were coming – now both would be able to go ahead.

If the move to level one takes place, it will be quite a big deal in a world still largely living with Covid-19 restrictions. For an indication of this, it is fascinating to see the story has been picked up by both CNN and Fox News in the US, and in both stories, there is a clear sense that the news organisation finds the prospect of elimination pretty remarkable. As for letting that outside world in, strict border controls will remain in place, reports Newshub. This will mean quarantines will continue, and also that from next week, all those coming into the country will be tested.

Meanwhile, the move to level one has been debated in parliament. National leader Todd Muller used his question to the PM to ask why the country hadn’t moved immediately to level one, after so many days and transmission cycles since the last cases and instances of community transmission respectively. The NZ Herald’s Derek Cheng reported on the substance of the argument – a leaked cabinet paper that suggested an appropriate amount of time had passed since the last case of community transmission. Ardern responded by noting the range of factors that went into making that call, so that the government could be confident there wouldn’t be another move back up.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

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.

Read yesterday’s live updates here

Keep going!