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Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield. (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield. (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

SocietyApril 6, 2020

Covid-19 live updates, April 6: $5.3bn paid out in wage subsidy scheme, PM says it’s time to ‘double down’ on efforts

Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield. (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield. (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

For all The Spinoff’s latest coverage of Covid-19 see here. Read Siouxsie Wiles’s work hereNew Zealand is currently in alert level four. The country is shut down, apart from essential services. For updated 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.

On the afternoon/evening shift: Alice Neville

7.10pm: The day in sum

  • The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said New Zealanders must “stay the course” of the four-week lockdown and there would be no easing up of restrictions. She also announced that $5.3bn has now been paid out to 876,000 people through the government’s wage subsidy scheme.
  • The man who filmed himself deliberately coughing and sneezing on shoppers at a Christchurch supermarket pleaded guilty to a charge of offensive behaviour and was remanded on bail.
  • The director general of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, announced 67 new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, including a new cluster of cases in Christchurch centred around the Rosewood rest home.
  • National leader Simon Bridges defended his decision to commute between his home in Tauranga and parliament during the Covid-19 lockdown.
  • The coroner is investigating the death of a man in Wellington who had reportedly been suffering flu-like symptoms.
  • A tiger tested positive for Covid-19 at the Bronx Zoo in New York. 
  • Scotland’s chief medical officer, Dr Catherine Calderwood, resigned after taking a family trip to her second home during her country’s Covid-19 lockdown.
  • Both the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, and Bloomfield suggested that New Zealand was on track for lowering the alert level, and spoke of the potential of mobile apps helping in contact-tracing efforts.
  • British prime minister Boris Johnson, who is suffering from coronavirus, was admitted to hospital.
  • The Queen addressed Britain and the Commonwealth on the Covid-19 pandemic, comparing the fight against the virus to a war and praising frontline health workers.

7.00pm: Class action against operator of Ruby Princess

A class action is being prepared against Carnival Cruises, the operator of the Ruby Princess, on which hundreds of passengers became infected with Covid-19 and 10 died, reports RNZ.

The ship visited a number of New Zealand ports during its cruise and despite an outbreak of illness, those on board were allowed on shore. There are currently 16 Covid-19 cases in the cluster connected with the ship’s visit to Hawke’s Bay.

Shine Lawyers in Australia, the firm behind the class action, said passengers were not advised of the risk and were not monitored for symptoms. The class action is open to all passengers who were on board the ship, as well as people with links to it, the firm said.

6.55pm: Southland man didn’t disclose symptoms before surgery, tests positive for Covid-19

Stuff is reporting that 13 Southland Hospital staff and two patients are currently self-isolating after a man undergoing surgery only disclosed his symptoms after he’d shared a room with two people and the surgery had been performed. He has since tested positive for Covid-19. The two patients with whom he shared a room have tested negative. It’s not clear if the staff members’ results have come back yet, but all are self-isolating, says the story.

The Southern District Health Board has the highest number of cases in the country, at 177, and community transmission is being investigated.

6.20pm: Today on The Spinoff

5.05pm: PM says TVNZ/RNZ merger could be expedited, classes Easter bunny as ‘essential worker’

In response to a question about whether other government work would continue during the lockdown, Ardern indicated that work on the RNZ/TVNZ merger would go ahead. “The pandemic underscores the importance of the public having access to news and information,” she said, “so that’s an area where I expect to expedite our work.”

Meanwhile, in response to a question from a reporter about whether the Easter bunny was allowed to break lockdown bubble etiquette, Ardern said both the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy had been classed as essential workers. However, she asked children to understand that if said rabbit didn’t make it to their house, it was because he (she? they?) was very busy at home at the moment. Ardern suggested children could create, in a manner similar to the bear hunt that has gripped the nation, their own lockdown-friendly Easter egg hunt for other kids in the neighbourhood by drawing a picture of an egg and putting it in their window.

For the avoidance of doubt, this editor wishes to make clear that her opinion of the Easter bunny is in line with her views on Santa.

4.10pm: $5.3bn paid out under wage subsidy scheme, we’ll ‘stay the course’ of lockdown, says Ardern

The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has announced that $5.3bn has now been paid out to 876,000 people through the government’s wage subsidy scheme.

A public register of employers who have applied for the scheme will be available soon and will take the form of a searchable database, she said.

Ardern also announced that a mental health campaign aimed at helping people with the stresses created by Covid-19 will be launching tomorrow. 

On the question of when New Zealand might expect to move out of alert level four, Ardern said she didn’t want “New Zealand to be at level four a minute longer than needed”, but there was no plan to move from it earlier than the four weeks  originally indicated. 

She said the remainder of the period will be about “doubling down to ensure the gains made in the first half won’t be squandered in the second”, which would entail broader testing, including surveillance testing, more contact tracing, and the strong enforcement of lockdown rules and border control. “Now is not the time to ease up.”

Ardern added that a better understanding of community transmission was needed to rule out the risk of wider unseen transmission, especially in areas where there are low case numbers. “The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence,” she said. “We don’t want to miss silent outbreaks.”

Following the news that the government has arranged a charter flight to help New Zealanders stranded in Peru get home (see below), Ardern said MFAT had facilitated the return of 334 New Zealanders worldwide, in addition to those who had come home on commercial flights. She also said that 11 New Zealanders had been helped out of “strict and extended lockdown conditions” in the Tyrol region of Austria, along with around 20 Australians, and they were now bound for Auckland, via Doha. She was aware of three more New Zealanders in the region who were keen to get home.

In non-Covid news, Ardern said the last patients from the Whakaari/White Island eruption on December 9, which killed 21 people, had now been discharged from the national burns unit at Middlemore Hospital. She thanked all the health staff who had been involved in their care.

In response to a question from a reporter, Ardern was careful not to directly criticise opposition leader Simon Bridges for commuting from Tauranga to Wellington during lockdown to chair the Epidemic Response Committee (see 12.57pm update), pointing out that the select committee had been arranged to give ministers flexibility and enable them to “fulfil every requirement” from home. “The flexibility is there, and it’s up to those members of parliament to make those decisions.

Ardern also said she wouldn’t rule out MPs being asked to take pay cuts during the Covid-19 crisis. “We’re all acutely aware of the pain our communities are going through.”

4.00pm: Watch: PM gives latest update on Covid-19 response

3.55pm: Government chartering flight to get New Zealanders stuck in Peru home

The government has arranged to charter a flight to help New Zealanders leave Peru, foreign affairs minister Winston Peters has announced, having negotiated with Chile to allow the flight to transit through Santiago.

“On 24 March, we advised New Zealanders overseas that they should shelter safely in place if they could not return to New Zealand commercially. However, New Zealanders in Peru are finding it increasingly difficult to shelter safely in place given the complexities of the situation in-country,” said Peters in a statement.

“This has been an incredibly complex operation and officials based at the New Zealand embassy in Santiago and our team in Wellington have been working around the clock to make it happen.

“We appreciate the constructive engagement we have had thus far with the Peruvian government and look forward to working with them over the coming days to bring our people home. We are also grateful to the Chilean authorities for allowing the flight to make the necessary transit through Santiago.”

The flight will depart from Lima, with an added domestic connection from Cusco, said the statement. Private tour operators Viva Expeditions and Chimu Adventures will provide assistance to New Zealanders on the ground in Peru, helping transport them to the appropriate pickup points. Officials are working on remaining operational requirements, including the exact departure date, said the statement.

Peru closed its borders in late March with little warning, leaving more than 80 New Zealanders unable to get home.

3.40pm: Christchurch supermarket cougher pleads guilty to offensive behaviour charge

The man who filmed himself deliberately coughing and sneezing on shoppers at a Christchurch supermarket has pleaded guilty, reports Stuff. Raymond Gary Coombs, 38, was initially charged with endangering life by criminal nuisance and obstruction of a medical officer of health after his “drunken prank” during the country’s coronavirus lockdown. When he appeared in court via audio visual link this afternoon, the charge was withdrawn and amended to a charge of offensive behaviour.

The judge deferred Coombs’ sentencing to May 19, reports Stuff, when he will be appearing in court on an unrelated charge of driving under the influence of alcohol. The maximum penalty for the charge of offensive behaviour is a fine of $1000. Coombs was released on bail until his sentencing on the condition that he not access the internet for anything other than communicating with friends and family.

3.30pm: The day so far

  • Director general of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, announced 67 new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, including a new cluster of cases in Christchurch centred around the Rosewood rest home.
  • National leader Simon Bridges defended his decision to commute between his home in Tauranga and parliament during the Covid-19 lockdown.
  • The coroner is investigating the death of a man in Wellington who had reportedly been suffering flu-like symptoms.
  • A tiger tested positive for Covid-19 at the Bronx Zoo in New York. 
  • Scotland’s chief medical officer, Dr Catherine Calderwood, resigned after taking a family trip to her second home during her country’s Covid-19 lockdown.
  • Both the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, and Bloomfield suggested that New Zealand was on track for lowering the alert level, and spoke of the potential of mobile apps helping in contact-tracing efforts.
  • British prime minister Boris Johnson, who is suffering from coronavirus, was admitted to hospital.
  • The Queen addressed Britain and the Commonwealth on the Covid-19 pandemic, comparing the fight against the virus to a war and praising frontline health workers.

3.10pm: Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris on masks

In their latest informative Covid-19 collab, Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris explain the ever-evolving thinking behind whether or not you should wear a face mask. It’s not as simple as you think…

2.45pm: Public sector bosses told to be cautious; coastal whānau call for fishing rules to be relaxed

The auditor-general has reminded public sector bosses of their obligations during the Covid-19 state of emergency. In a letter sent to the chief executives of public agencies, John Ryan emphasised the importance of going through the correct approval processes when using emergency powers or incurring emergency expenditure, and tracking and reporting on that spending accurately. He also advised being aware of the increased risk of fraud and having a back-up plan for those in critical roles in case anyone falls ill.

Meanwhile, people in isolated coastal communities who rely on the sea to feed their whānau are calling on the government to relax bans on fishing and diving, reports RNZ. Kelly Klink, who lives on Aotea/Great Barrier Island, told RNZ’s Te Aniwa Hurihanganui that with delays in online deliveries, for many on the island, fishing or diving for kai was the only practical option. “Our people live by the water, it’s not like they’re going to be driving to the beach. They will just be walking out their front doorsteps, going to the rocks and catching a fish, enough for a feed, and coming home.”

Former MP and Northland kaumātua Dover Samuels echoed the call, saying he’d asked MPI and the police for discretion to be used when enforcing the ban.

1.44pm: International flights continuing

International travel has not dried up completely, and there are plenty of people still wanting to leave or return to New Zealand.

About 37,000 foreign nationals still want to leave New Zealand, said director general of health Ashley Bloomfield, with 5,000 set to leave in the next five days. More than 2,000 people flew out over the weekend.

There are currently 22,000 New Zealanders registered on the Safe Travel site as travelling abroad, who “may at some point want to come back”.

1.40pm: Bloomfield clears up confusion on Covid-19 jargon

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said there remained some confusion about the way the terms quarantine, self-isolation and the bubble are being used. Here’s his summary.

“We are using quarantine to describe when someone comes in from overseas and they are symptomatic; they are then assessed and taken to a hotel in Auckland, where they are tested and then of course cared for if they have symptoms. They remain in that location for that full 14-day period, even if their Covid-19 test is negative.

“In terms of self-isolation, this is people who have been identified as a close contact of one of our new confirmed or probable cases. Self-isolation means being in your own home and also isolating from other people in your own home, so you are not risking passing on the infection to them… yes, you can go for a walk around the block or get some physical exercise alone, but should not have any contact with other people.

“Then we have our bubble situation, which is what we are all in under alert level four… Make sure that we are only having close contact with those in our bubble.”

Bloomfield added that people who need medical care should not delay seeking attention, whether by calling their local GP or Heathline.

“If you are very unwell, for example with significant chest pain or other problems, you should dial 111 and get an ambulance.”

1pm: 67 new cases of Covid-19

There are 67 new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, the director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, has just announced. 

That includes 39 confirmed and 28 probable cases. It takes the total cases in New Zealand to 1106.

There are 13 people in hospital, including three in ICU. Two of those are stable, but one is in a critical condition.

Pākehā make up 73% of cases, Asian 8.5%, Māori 7.8% and Pasifika 3.4%.

An estimated 176 people have recovered from the virus.

There are currently 12 significant clusters of Covid-19, including a new cluster of cases in Christchurch centred around the Rosewood rest home, with 15 confirmed and probable cases among staff and residents. Twenty residents have been moved to Burwood hospital, said Bloomfield, and a DHB staff member is supervising the care of the remaining 40 residents.

Marist College is the biggest cluster, with 72 cases, followed by a Bluff cluster of 62 cases and a Matamata cluster of 58 cases.

Bloomfield said 43% of cases had an overseas travel link, 38% were in close contact with another confirmed case, and 2% had now been confirmed as community transmission. The rest were being investigated.

That 2% community transmission figure is double the previous estimate of 1%. Bloomfield said the number of cases attributed to community transmission has gone from “about 10 to about 20”.

The highest numbers of cases under investigation are in the areas with the highest numbers of cases – Auckland, Waikato and the southern region – Bloomfield said.

Bloomfield said 190 Ministry of Health staff were now running a close contact tracing centre, which has been moved to an electronic platform that links into other healthcare databases.

He was encouraged by the current growth rate of Covid-19, particularly given a big recent increase in testing has not been met with a corresponding jump in the daily number of new cases.

“Clearly the levelling off is a good sign. We’ve clearly avoided that exponential growth that the modeling showed would have happened… and it’s really watching when it starts to drop. That’s the main thing.”

Bloomfield clarified that the death of a man at a Wellington lodge last night is not thought to be related to Covid-19.

Police were called to the sudden death at the Pickled Parrot in Newtown at 8.35pm on Sunday. The man had reportedly been suffering a high fever before his death, Stuff said this morning.

However, Bloomfield said he had received DHB advice that there was no link to Covid-19.

12.57pm: Simon Bridges commuting between Tauranga and Wellington

National leader Simon Bridges is defending his decision to commute between his home in Tauranga and parliament during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Bridges has been travelling from Tauranga to Wellington to chair the Epidemic Response Committee, which sits on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Other MPs on the committee have been appearing via video link.

The opposition leader told media his “bubble” includes his house and parliament, comparing it to prime minister Jacinda Ardern commuting between Parliament House and the Beehive.

12.15pm: Bridges gives details on Covid-19 committee’s agenda

National Party leader Simon Bridges has released this week’s agenda for the Covid-19 select committee he chairs.

The committee will speak to epidemiologist David Skegg, health minister David Clark, and director general of health Ashley Bloomfield tomorrow, a statement from Bridges says.

It will ask whether all travellers should be quarantined upon arrival in New Zealand, Bridges says. National has been pushing for those stricter quarantine measures for some time.

The committee will focus on the economy on Wednesday, interviewing former BusinessNZ chief executive Phil O’Reilly and a range of leaders from industries including tourism and agriculture.

On Thursday, it will look at the virus response from the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Education.

Bridges says the committee is aimed at ensuring the government can provide the highest standards of health care and a fast economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis.

Meanwhile, National’s electoral law spokesman Nick Smith is complaining about the speed with which the government is progressing legislation which gives some prisoners the right to vote. 

The government set a three-month select committee process in motion on March 18 for electoral law changes giving voters the ability to register on election day and allowing prisoners sentenced to less than three years in jail  to vote.

Smith is calling for Justice Minister Andrew Little to delay the bill until after the Covid-19 crisis.

“The rush to pass this bill contradicts the prime minister’s public assurances when parliament was shut down that only urgent matters would be progressed.”

11.20am: Supermarket sneezer appears in court

The man who filmed himself deliberately coughing and sneezing on shoppers at a Christchurch supermarket has appeared in court this morning.

Raymond Gary Coombs, 38, appeared via video link at the Christchurch District Court, where he is facing one charge of criminal nuisance and one of failing to follow a medical officer of health’s orders.

He was refused bail and remanded in custody until Thursday while the court awaits his test results for Covid-19, the Herald reported.

Coombs was arrested on Saturday after making a video of himself aiming coughs and sneezes at shoppers in the Fresh Choice supermarket in Barrington, and posting it to Facebook.

Judge Jane McMeeken reportedly told the court that she considers his offending serious and of national concern.

10.35am: Investigation into death of man with reported flu-like symptoms

The coroner is investigating the death of a man in Wellington who had reportedly been suffering flu-like symptoms.

Police were called to investigate the death of a man at the Pickled Parrot lodge in Newtown at 8.35pm last night, Stuff reported.

It reported that the man had recently been suffering a high fever and breathing difficulties.

Paramedics wore personal protective equipment at the scene, a Wellington Free Ambulance spokesperson confirmed.

10.05am: A tiger tests positive for Covid-19 in New York

A tiger has tested positive for Covid-19 at the Bronx Zoo in New York. The four-year-old tiger named Nadia is suspected to have contracted the virus from a zookeeper with the virus, a statement from the US Department of Agriculture said. Six other tigers and lions at the zoo had also fallen ill.

The case is significant because it’s the first known instance of a person passing Covid-19 on to an animal in the US, or to a tiger anywhere, the USDA said. There is still no evidence that animals can infect humans with the virus, it said.

Research from the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute suggests cats can contract Covid-19 and pass it on to other cats, according to a report by Nature. Virologist Linda Saif told the publication that despite those findings, the animals are not likely to be a significant vector for the transmission of Covid-19. Other findings from the Harbin study showed dogs are not highly susceptible to the virus, though ferrets are much more vulnerable.

9.37am: Scotland’s chief medical officer resigns over lockdown trip

Scotland’s chief medical officer has resigned after taking a family trip to her second home during her country’s Covid-19 lockdown.

Dr Catherine Calderwood received a police warning after pictures of her trip to Earlsferry were published by the Scottish Sun.

She initially said she would carry on her role, but this morning issued a statement saying she would step down rather than risk her actions becoming a “distraction” during the Covid-19 response. Her decision came after a conversation with Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon. “Having worked so hard on the government’s response, this is the last thing I want,” Calderwood said.

9.27am: Ashley Bloomfield talks ‘signs of hope’

New Zealand’s director general of health Ashley Bloomfield told Morning Report there are “signs of hope” that New Zealand’s lockdown is stopping the community transmission of Covid-19. The last few days have been particularly encouraging, as increased testing hasn’t been met with a large corresponding increase in Covid-19 case numbers, Bloomfield said. “We’re definitely not seeing the exponential growth we know would have happened if we hadn’t put in place the range of measures that are in place.”

Bloomfield echoed prime minister Jacinda Ardern in talking up the potential role of mobile phone apps in contact tracing efforts as New Zealand looks to move out of lockdown. The Ministry of Health is making plans to track the contacts of people who test positive for Covid-19 via GPS location or Bluetooth technology, he said. “We’ve seen other countries do this and we’ve had a myriad of offers for being able to use this technology, and we are actively stepping through the privacy issues, the implementation issues and so on.”

Despite Bloomfield’s assurance, Radio NZ reported this morning that the government still hadn’t approached major tech companies or tech industry bodies about helping with its contact tracing efforts. Neither the New Zealand Technology Industry Association or the newly established Digital Council had been contacted, the report said.

8.25am: Boris Johnson in hospital

Ten days after being diagnosed with Covid-19, British prime minister Boris Johnson has been admitted to hospital.

A spokeswoman for Johnson told the BBC that he has “persistent” symptoms of Covid-19, including a fever. He has been admitted to hospital as a precaution, on the advice of his doctor, she said.

However, some British media have floated the possibility that Johnson is in a more serious condition than what has been publicly reported by his Downing Street officials.

The Guardian said that it was told last week that Johnson was “more seriously ill than either he or his officials were prepared to admit“, and was seen by a doctor who was concerned about his breathing.

Johnson remains in charge of the British government’s Covid-19 response, and recently chaired a coronavirus meeting via video link. He was last seen in public applauding Britain’s NHS workers on Friday (NZ time) last week.

Britain’s foreign secretary Dominic Raab will take over as prime minister if Johnson is unable to continue in the role.

7.45am: Ardern addresses economic case for lifting of lockdown

Speaking to RNZ’s Morning Report, PM Jacinda Ardern addressed the growing debate about the economic cost of the lockdown (well-summarised in The Bulletin below). “When I say I want this to affect as few people’s lives as possible, I also mean their livelihoods,” she told host Corin Dann. She continued to suggest that New Zealand is on track for a lowering of the alert level, in advising those in hospitality to “start thinking now about how they can get involved in contact tracing” when allowed to reopen.

On how people have responded to the lockdown, she referred to the mobility data The Spinoff reported on over the weekend, saying “compliance has been pretty good, when you look at the data Google has produced”, noting the “dramatic decreases, much more so than Australia”. She also cited modelling suggesting that without the lockdown, we might now have as many as 4,000 cases, versus the 1,039 we currently are aware of, and compared our testing with that of South Korea in terms of the proportion of tests which come back positive.

Ardern said the government was looking at using mobile phone tracking apps to increase the effectiveness of its Covid-19 contact tracing. Part of the problem with the current regime was that people often couldn’t remember the names of people they’d been in contact with, she said. “Technology is going to be part of the solution going forward.”

Government had been looking at the technological solutions being used in countries like Britain and Singapore, Ardern said. She floated the possibility of asking people to download apps that would deliver anonymised data on who they’d been in close proximity with. The benefits of that kind of system would have to be balanced against its potential to breach people’s privacy, she said. “Really it’s about working with those technological solutions but also overcoming those issues with privacy and building a system that New Zealanders are willing to use,” she said.

Ardern said she’d asked the private sector to start looking at how to build these apps. However Radio NZ reporter Phil Pennington this morning reported that government hasn’t asked New Zealand’s three biggest tech companies to help with its contact tracing efforts.

7.15am: The Bulletin wrap-up of all New Zealand’s key stories

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

Over the last few days, a debate has started to fire up about leaving level four restrictions, and restarting some of the economic activity that has been shut down. As you might expect, it’s a much more complicated debate than the simplistic framing of ‘saving lives or saving the economy’, as it has been characterised in some places. Only someone very venal or very stupid would choose to save the economy if that was the choice, after all. But there are issues worth canvassing.

It’s a debate that is currently taking place at the highest levels of government. There is reportedly some concern among ministers that the Ministry of Health has been given too much power over the response, according to Stuff’s Thomas Coughlan. NZ First MP Shane Jones has set himself up as an outlier to the wider consensus that lockdown measures are essential, both to avoid human and economic pain. “Medical triumphalism is great but not at the cost of an economic carcass,” Jones said. Green co-leader James Shaw, by contrast, argued that with the coronavirus out there, “it’s not like the economy was going to keep running as if nothing happened.”

The PM addressed this question at yesterday’s press conference, arguing that a “strategy that sacrifices people in favour of a supposedly better economic outcome… has been shown to produce the worst of both worlds: loss of life and prolonged economic pain”. She stood by the government’s approach of a harder lockdown up front, in the hope that it could prevent much longer restrictions being in place in the future. National have started calls for phased reopenings, telling Q+A that would basically be confined to contactless businesses. To be clear, Bridges is not advocating for an early end to the lockdown. Incidentally, there is actually a growing list of businesses still open for sales – The Spinoff’s Michael Andrew has a rundown of them.

With still only one confirmed Covid-19 death, so far the lockdown has been highly successful on that measure. Would mass death be taking place without it? Probably, yes. We can go back in time and quibble over whether border measures were taken early enough to keep it out, but looking ahead, the human consequences of not locking down – or leaving the lockdown too early – could be catastrophic. On Friday, Newsroom’s Marc Daalder put out an excellent analysis of current death rates around the world, and the “bad-faith backlash” against lockdown measures.

The key piece of evidence could end up being the diverging death rates between Sweden, Denmark and Norway. Sweden initially put in place much lighter rules compared to the other two, and has now seen over a hundred more deaths than the other two put together, with a roughly comparable population to Denmark and Norway combined. As this Bloomberg article reports, there’s now growing consternation that the Swedish approach was not the right one – and they may still have to change course from here and lock down further. The US and UK, who also initially went for fairly relaxed measures, have also seen swift escalations in the death rate over the last week especially.

This sort of data matters a lot, because it is an immediately measurable signal of success or otherwise. But there are other, less immediately measurable signals as well, a point made by Matthew Hooton in the (paywalled) NZ Herald. His analysis rests on the idea that economic damage also costs lives – it just takes place over a much longer timeframe, and is accompanied by a lot of corresponding societal misery. Luke Malpass at Stuff has also looked at the issue from a similar lens, making an explicit call that “the overriding priority of the Government must be to get New Zealand out of lockdown as soon as possible.”

Finally, there’s another important consideration about the lockdown, in the context of a focus on health. As Josie Adams reports, the response to Covid-19 and lockdown provisions are putting huge pressure on the health system, particularly with resources having to be diverted. But things weren’t exactly great in the sector before all of this – there were acute workforce shortages, capacity constraints, run-down infrastructure issues and so on. If there was a widespread outbreak of Covid-19 in New Zealand without a lockdown in place, we’d run a very real risk of a totally overwhelmed system, and mass death from all sorts of other causes as well – not to mention the likelihood of a disproportionate number of deaths among health workers and other essential personnel. It’s one of many examples of why the debate over the next steps is so fraught.

We should get more information this week about how these arguments are being weighed. Politik’s Richard Harman is of the view that “barring an explosion of locally transmitted cases,” the signs are that we’ll leave lockdown at the end of the scheduled four-week period – April 22 for those ticking days off the calendar. Even if that does happen on time (which still seems in some ways like a big if) some restrictions are certain to stay in place for many weeks afterwards.

A message from The Spinoff 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.”

Sticking with the theme of what comes after the lockdown, the tax system is likely to need to change. Interest’s tax expert Terry Baucher has looked over the area in depth, particularly around the competing needs of increasing government revenue to fund expansionary spending, while also not putting on burdens that slow down a recovery. In Baucher’s view, some of the Tax Working Group’s proposals that seemed sound at the time but never really went anywhere could be due for a revival – particularly around environmental taxes, and adjustments to income tax thresholds.

There are serious concerns about Vanuatu being hit by two disasters at once, with the archipelago in the path of an intensifying cyclone. RNZ Pacific’s Jamie Tahana reported yesterday afternoon that the storm could pass over the central islands as a category five cyclone later on today – if that happens, the damage will likely be immense. Some reports have already been coming in of flooding and damage to other islands. Covid-19 restrictions have been relaxed somewhat so that people are better able to deal with the immediate threat of the storm – though they were more about extremely cautious preparation, as Vanuatu is yet to record a confirmed case.

In a story also related to policing, The Hui has reported on a survey of Māori and Pasifika attitudes to the trial of armed response teams. It found those groups had an overwhelmingly negative perception of armed police patrolling their communities, and the statistics show firearms are far more likely to be used against those groups compared to other ethnicities. The trial will finish at the end of April, and outgoing police commissioner Mike Bush confirmed the programme will be suspended at least until a review has taken place.

Small businesses are locked in a standoff with Afterpay over payments not being released, reports Stuff’s Susan Edmunds. Afterpay is refusing to release any of the money coming in to them without confirmation that the orders have been filled – but with postal restrictions in place, that means retailers are seeing nothing for pre-order sales that could help them get through. For an explanation of who Afterpay are, Richard Meadows wrote about the laybuy platform in 2018.

To close out this section, an explanation from a scientist as to why some of the advice has changed over the last two months. Dr Siouxsie Wiles – in my view an outstanding science communicator who has made a real difference to public health – has also faced accusations from members of the public of being “grossly irresponsible, negligent and deserving of formal censure by the University”. In the spirit of being open to criticism, she has written about trying to get the right information out to the public, at a time when so much about the coronavirus is still unknown. I’ll just quote this key passage:

“We are having to build the plane at the same time as flying it. We are all making judgements and decisions based on the evidence at hand and on our values. But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t prepared to change our minds as new evidence comes in.”

7.00am: The Queen has addressed Britain and the Commonwealth

RNZ and TVNZ carried a short address from the Queen, focused on the UK but also nodding at the Commonwealth, on Covid-19, in which she explicitly made comparisons of the fight against the virus to a war, and praising “everyone on the NHS frontline” and drew comparisons with her first address to the nation in 1940, during the second world war. It had the air of a call to duty, with her majesty saying “I want to assure you, that if we remain united and resolute, then we will overcome it. I hope in the years to come, everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge. And those who come after us will be able to say that Britons of this generation were as strong as any.”

6.45am: The complexity of locking down India

A policeman wearing a coronavirus-themed outfit in Chennai on April 2, 2020. (Photo by ARUN SANKAR/AFP via Getty Images)

The announcement that India would go into lockdown despite having a very low number of cases was initially greeted with relief, as the combination of living conditions (very tight) and hospital beds (comparatively few, especially in poorer states) meant that an outbreak could be devastating. Yet as this story from the Economist (Covid-19 coverage is free to those who subscribe to its daily newsletter) shows, the lockdown has caused chaos, particularly for the millions who work away from their home state. It shows that for many, the inability to work forced them to return to their birthplaces, often on foot, leading to exactly the kind of conditions the lockdown was intended to avoid. Inter-state workers are now being quarantined, but the situation remains extremely perilous, with the state of Bihar having just four testing stations for its 120m residents.

The consequences of not locking down, and what comes next, are detailed with incredibly compelling data-visualisation in this New York Times story (also free to those logged in) which details the way the virus took root in Italy, and how difficult it will be to get out of lockdown. “There are no studies or literature on this,” it quotes Italian health agency head Silvio Brusaferro as saying. “We are looking into scenarios that have never been taken before by countries that resemble Italy. Other nations are looking at us as a pilot program.” The consensus is increasingly clear that countries with major outbreaks will be living with some form of lockdown for as long as six months, or longer. Coming out of lockdown will be even more complex in Europe, with its essentially open borders.

Two countries really ramping up in terms of deaths and infections are the US and UK, which between them recorded over 2,000 deaths yesterday. The US recorded over 1,300 deaths, as Surgeon General Jerome Adams said this week would be its “Pearl Harbour moment”. The UK recorded 708 deaths, its worst day so far, just as Spain, Italy and France continue to see a downward trend in key metrics. Elsewhere, Vanuatu, which currently has no cases, relaxed its lockdown to allow people to prepare for tropical cyclone Harold, which is threatening to become a category five.

The global tally currently stands at 1.25m confirmed infections, and 68,000 deaths, per Johns Hopkins.

6.00am: The key NZ stories from yesterday

  • The police have issued lockdown enforcement guidelines laying out a four-step approach with escalating consequences, and Spinoff legal expert Andrew Geddis explained how it will all work.
  • The United States recorded more than 1,000 deaths in a single day, taking its total death toll to over 8,000.
  • National leader Simon Bridges suggested a delay to the election in September might be possible if the outbreak continued into winter.
  • Deputy director of health for Māori John Whaanga said New Zealand needed to get better data on Covid-19 and Māori, fast.
  • There were 89 new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, bringing the total to 1,039.
  • The prime minister asked businesses to start planning for how they would operate under a drop in the alert level.
  • National called on the government to ease lockdown restrictions to allow more businesses to operate where it would be safe for them to do so.
  • Jacinda Ardern described as “idiots” those who refuse to follow the rules and put others at risk, including a Christchurch man who videoed himself coughing at people in a supermarket and posted it online.
Keep going!