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Jacinda Ardern and Health Ashley Bloomfield at a Beehive briefing in April 2020. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Jacinda Ardern and Health Ashley Bloomfield at a Beehive briefing in April 2020. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

SocietyApril 7, 2020

Covid-19 live updates, April 7: Mental health resource Getting Through Together now available

Jacinda Ardern and Health Ashley Bloomfield at a Beehive briefing in April 2020. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Jacinda Ardern and Health Ashley Bloomfield at a Beehive briefing in April 2020. (Photo by 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 shift: Leonie Hayden

6.00pm: Government’s mental health toolkit released

As telegraphed in this morning’s Bulletin, a set of tools for coping with the effects of Covid-19 and the alert level four lock down on our mental health has been released. Getting Through Together is an online resource divided into subjects such as parenting and whānau, workplace wellbeing, te ao Māori and identity and culture, and offers written articles, tips, questionnaires, activities and games delivered in a range of formats. Phone numbers for services such as Lifeline and Healthline can also be found on the site.

The Christchurch-based organisation behind it, All Right?, was launched in 2013 to support Cantabrians following the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. Information about them and their research is also available at

The newly launched Getting Through Together website aims to help Kiwis with their mental health during lockdown.

5.15pm: Two new clinics should see a rise in testing for Māori and Pasifika

Two recently opened South Auckland community testing clinics, opened in Ōtara and Wiri on the weekend, will mean a sharp rise in the number of Māori and Pacific people tested for Covid-19, according to Waitematā DHB CEO and Northern Region Covid-19 lead Dr Dale Bramley. Bramley says that over 17,000 people have been tested across the Auckland metro area since March 21, and the two new sites offer “a culturally appropriate approach to testing for Māori and Pacific”.

So far no data on how many Māori or Pacific people have been tested has been released, despite people supplying their ethnicity data when registering for the test, but Bramley estimates they’ve accounted for around 20% of those tested in Auckland. As of today Māori make up 7.8% of probable and confirmed cases, and Pasifika 3.4%.

A full list of Auckland community-based Covid-19 testing centres can be found here.

4.40pm: SkyCity accused of breaking law by sacking 200

Unite Union says SkyCity has broken the law by making 200 salaried workers redundant without consultation or discussion, reports RNZ. The casino operator laid off the staff late last week, citing lost revenue due to the Covid-19 outbreak. According to the union, SkyCity’s letter of notice said the decision had already been made and it was not seeking the employees’ views to the extent it would do under normal circumstances. Unite’s national secretary, Gerard Hehir, also said the company didn’t apply for the government’s wage subsidy scheme, adding that the union had never seen “such a large scale blatant and deliberate breach of the law” around restructuring and redundancies. He said the union would take SkyCity to the Employment Relations Authority if necessary.

4.00pm: New Worlds to pay back wage subsidy

No doubt after spending some time exploring the searchable database that went live last night (it’s fairly addictive), Stuff has reported that two New World supermarkets have applied for the government’s wage subsidy.

Parent company for New World and Pak ‘n Save, Foodstuffs, has since said those supermarkets will either pay back the subsidy or withdraw their application. A spokesperson said: “The Foodstuffs North Island and Foodstuffs South Island co-operatives have each taken the decision to communicate to their owners that at this time no New World or Pak ‘n Save stores will apply for the Government wage subsidy – and the strength of each cooperative will be used to support individual stores that have been affected negatively.”

3.30pm: Shane Jones to repurpose Provincial Growth Fund

Shane Jones’s Provincial Development Unit is looking at how it can repurpose the $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund to help those worst hit by the economic impacts of Covid-19, and those most essential to rebuilding the economy. “We need to be throwing everything we have at our disposal at keeping Kiwi businesses going, workers in jobs and regional economies afloat and viable. If Provincial Growth Fund money is not going out the door through conventional projects then it needs to be repurposed for other initiatives,” regional economic development minister Jones said.

Ministers will receive advice about which projects can be prioritised, which will include nationally delivered programmes and investments that support short-term employment. Other applications and projects that have already received funds may be “deferred or terminated”.

The PGF will also be delivering some of the key projects within the $100m worker redeployment package announced on March 20, which has already helped redeploy 300 forestry workers on the East Coast.

2.35pm: New Zealand will come to Vanuatu’s aid; legal advice over Ruby Princess

Vanuatu, which declared a state of emergency on March 25 due to the Covid-19 crisis, has been hit by the category five tropical cyclone Harold. Many areas have had to be evacuated, putting paid to measures such as physical distancing for the time being, and 79 New Zealanders are currently stranded after flights were grounded as part of Covid-19 measures. Winston Peters told Morning Report today that they are working with the Australian and French governments to find a way to bring them home.

On whether New Zealand will be able to assist Vanuatu in relief efforts under the circumstances, the prime minister confirmed in her media briefing that the New Zealand Defence Force will fulfil its duties.

“We don’t anticipate that being challenging because our defence force as a matter of course have to be ready and able to deploy within a very short period of time no matter what status New Zealand is in. That’s in case we have any natural disasters domestically or in case they’re called upon internationally.”

Meanwhile, Ardern is seeking legal advice as to whether cruise ship the Ruby Princess fulfilled its obligation under New Zealand law while in our waters, in the wake of a criminal investigation launched by the Australian government. The Ruby Princess allowed around 2000 passengers to disembark in Sydney with confirmed Covid-19 cases on board. The docking is thought to be responsible for 10% of Australia’s 6,000 confirmed cases and more than 10 deaths.

2.00pm: National launches petition on mandatory quarantine

It’s a delicate balance for the opposition on being constructive while critiquing the government response. It was notable, for example, that Simon Bridges resisted any temptation to have a go at David Clark over his humiliation (and stay of execution) earlier today (see 7am).

But he has just announced that National is trying something else: a petition, calling on the government to require all people arriving in New Zealand to spend at least a fortnight in mandatory quarantine.“Experts and clinicians across the country have been calling for this for weeks. National has echoed those calls,” he said in a press release. “The feedback from the public has been overwhelmingly in favour of this. It’s time the government listened to the experts and all New Zealanders about this issue.”

Based on what Ardern said moments ago, it seems as though the government is heading towards such a measure, though not as quickly as many would like.

1.50pm: $6.6bn paid in subsidies

Some more detail on the Covid-19 subsidies paid out, via a press release just received.

  • $6.6bn total paid out.
  • $1.25bn of payments yesterday.
  • Covers 1,073,129 workers, including 914,931 employees and 158,198 sole traders.
  • This represents 41% of the New Zealand workforce.
  • A total of 305,363 applications from businesses, self-employed and sole traders approved.

The release notes: “The Treasury estimates the 12-week scheme will pay out between $8 billion and $12 billion. For each full time worker, businesses receive a lump-sum payment of $7,029.60, and for each part time worker $4,200. The full value of the subsidy has to be passed on to employees, unless their normal wages are below the subsidy, in which case the employee must be paid at least their normal wages.”

1.40pm: How do those numbers look?

Chris McDowall’s daily update of the latest numbers in a series of charts will arrive later this afternoon, when the Ministry of Health updates its data. But he’s plugged in the headline numbers and sent this, which offers some real encouragement that the measures are having an impact.

Here’s what the numbers of new cases have been daily since the start of lockdown: 78, 85, 83, 63, 76, 58, 61, 89, 71, 82, 89, 67, and 54 today.

“The signs are promising,” said Bloomfield at the briefing. But it was important to stick to the alert level four requirements over Easter, he said. “Have a staycation.”

Bloomfield has also updated the numbers on enforcement of the lockdown. He said police had recorded 291 breaches of the relevant orders, with 16 prosecutions, 263 warnings and 10 youth referrals.

1.25pm: 54 new cases of Covid-19 in NZ

There are 54 new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, Ashley Bloomfield, the director general of health, has just announced; 32 are confirmed and 22 are probable. It brings the total to 1,160.

There are 12 in hospital, with four in ICU (in Wellington, Waitematā, Counties Manukau and Southern District). One is in a critical condition.

There is now confirmed community transmission of 2% but this number is likely to climb.

Yesterday, 67 new cases were announced.

The ethnic breakdown: 73% European; 8.5% Asian; 7.8% Māori; 3.4% Pacific.

The seven day rolling average of tests is 3,063. The total tests undertaken to date is 42,826 and yesterday there were 2,908 tests undertaken.

Bloomfield noted updated recommendations from the World Health Organisation on the use of masks. “The WHO doesn’t recommend the use of surgical masks by the general public, except in particular circumstances, [such as] where someone is sick and wearing a mask protects others, or someone is caring for a sick person and the mask can help them,” he said.

Bloomfield is appearing today at the Beehive press conference with the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern. The pair will henceforth routinely run a combined press conference. “I will make sure we linger longer to take questions,” said Ardern.

On the question of David Clark (see 7am), Ardern reiterated that in normal circumstances she would have sacked him from his health portfolio for breaching distancing guidelines. It was a “massive mistake”, but “my priority above all else is our collective fight against Covid-19”, she said. “We cannot afford massive disruption in our health sector.” His associate finance roles will be shared by Grant Robertson and David Parker.

The prime minister faced a range of questions about the viability of Clark remaining after what has happened. “Removing him from his role at this time would not be in the best interests of the response that we are focused on,” she said. “I’m focused on getting on with it now and he is, too.”

To have fired him from the role would have left a challenge to get someone else “up to speed” in the role. “That would not have been the right decision.”

On the numbers announced today, Ardern said, “for the moment we do appear at this moment to be on track”.

On the wage subsidy, Ardern said 435,000 applications had now been lodged, with more than $6.6bn paid out, supporting more than a million workers.

On the prospect of mandatory quarantine of arrivals to New Zealand, Ardern said that was under consideration. She wanted a “watertight border … and we can do better on that”.

Just as important, she said, was contact tracing. For a summary of why contact tracing matters, see our explainer from this morning.

Ardern also noted the plight of Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, who is now in ICU with Covid-19. “Upon learning the prime minister had tested positive for Covid-19 some days ago now, I sent a message to him to pass on New Zealand’s best wishes,” she said. “He replied to that message and said his thoughts were also ‘with all our friends in New Zealand’. This more than ever is a time when every nation is connected and I know will want everyone in the UK, especially the prime minister, to know that we are thinking of them.”

1.00pm: New transit rules revealed

Winston Peters has announced a cabinet decision to open up potential airport transit by foreign nationals through New Zealand. “There are millions of people around the world stranded by Covid-19 and we are continuing to do our part to help them get home,” said Peters. “Accordingly, cabinet agreed yesterday that New Zealand would seek reciprocal transit arrangements with a number of countries to enable our citizens to transit each other’s airports.”

Strict regulation for these transits will be put in place, with protection of public health of utmost importance, he said in a statement. Transiting passengers cannot enter New Zealand, must have a maximum of 10 hours between flights, and must have no symptoms with Covid-19 nor contact with any suspected cases.

12.45pm: Survey shows a sharp drop in business confidence

The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research has released the results of a survey giving a partial glimpse into how businesses think Covid-19 will impact them and the economy. The quarterly survey of business opinion showed that business confidence plummeted in the lead up to the lockdown with 67% of businesses expecting general economic conditions to deteriorate. Most firms expected to perform poorly next quarter, even after the lockdown was lifted, with hiring and output the common thread. The data also showed that that while activity held up reasonably well in the weeks leading up to the lockdown, businesses started to reduce operations in anticipation of weaker demand.

12.20pm: Australia confirms 45th Covid-19 death

A 75-year-old man died in ICU in Adelaide overnight, reports ABC News, bringing Australia’s confirmed death toll from Covid-19 to 45. To date, Australia has 5,895 confirmed cases of Covid-19.

11.45am: Skegg calls for tighter border control, ‘tremendously improved’ contact tracing

Both University of Otago epidemiologist Sir David Skegg and director general of health Ashley Bloomfield have said that there would need to be more security at the borders to prevent people bringing in more cases of Covid-19 into New Zealand once the country leaves level four. “We need to be really confident that as we come out of alert level four we turn off the tap to additional cases coming into the country – this is what elimination means,” Bloomfield told the parliamentary select committee on Zoom today. Skegg raised four main measures needed to eliminate Covid-19 from New Zealand. “How do we achieve elimination? Initial comprehensive lockdown, prevention of spread from returning New Zealanders, increased testing and rapid tracing of contacts,” he said.

He also suggested the need for digital or app-based contact tracing, like those being used overseas, in order to track community transmission. He said this could potentially be applied on a small sample of people such as front line healthcare workers, with privacy taken into account. Speaking later in the meeting, health minister David Clark agreed electronic tracing “can be beneficial”, but emphasised that any use would “augment existing efforts” of contact tracing rather than replace them. He said the Singaporean government had offered to share the source code of their contact tracing app in the next couple of weeks, and that if that technology could be adapted to New Zealand (and New Zealanders were on board with it), that could be one option to augment existing contact tracing.

Skegg concluded the meeting by returning to the issue of border control and whether all returnees should be quarantined. “It’s not going to be satisfactory to tighten up the border in the last few days of lockdown. If you’re trying to empty a bath with a cup, you don’t leave the tap running at the other end, or even trickling … In Australia and China people are quarantined in a hotel for two weeks when they arrive – I’m not sure why we can’t do that.”

He added that there were two kinds of health criteria that need to be met as we start to think about ending the lockdown. Firstly: “Where have we got in controlling the epidemic? At the moment we need better analysis of data about new cases being detected, and epidemiological surveillance.” Secondly: “Do we have the tools in place to ensure we can continue to eliminate this virus once lockdown has stopped?” Skegg pointed out that once we move down to phase three, people will likely be much more active as a reaction to having been cooped up for so long. “It’s nice to know that at the moment there are only two or three contacts on average, but that will suddenly change, so we have to ensure we have tremendously improved capability for contract tracing.”

10.45am: Zoom select committee in session

National MP Paul Goldsmith asked health minister David Clark if police had been sent a clear message about their priorities, that a critical part of their work should be focusing on following up on recent returnees in self-isolation. Goldsmith said there was an impression among the public that police have “a huge amount of resources in some areas”, for example in policing lockdown breaches on Tamaki Drive, “but in critical areas about people coming through the border, they don’t seem to be focused on that particular job”. Clark said a very clear message had been sent to police around those expectations, and they were aware that extra resources were available if needed.

In response to a question from Act leader David Seymour about whether laboratories had been rejecting certain cases sent to them for testing, Clark said he wasn’t aware of that happening, and that test capacity had been increased by 1,000 a day. Seymour also asked if supplies such as swabs were being rationed, which he said was a suspicion among medical professionals he’d spoken to. Clark replied that “there is a national collection of swabs, about 100,000, and the challenge really has been a logistical one to make sure they’re getting to the right places”. Bloomfield reiterated this in answer to a question about whether a shortage of nose swabs meant tests were having to be done with second-choice throat swabs. He said there was no shortage of nose swabs in the country, and that it was a matter of distribution.

National MP Shane Reti asked about reports of people being turned away from testing facilities, even though they had been referred by their GP and had symptoms. Bloomfield responded that “the testing stations are explicitly set up to test everyone with symptoms. It may well be that not everybody is tested, but that doesn’t mean that either the GP or the testing person has got it wrong.” Simon Bridges then pushed him on this point, saying that Bloomfield and the prime minister had both made clear last week that “the GP would have the final say on this”. “New Zealanders have been led to believe that GPs now could say ‘no ifs, no buts, you, Johnny, will be tested’ – are you now going back on that?” asked Bridges. Bloomfield said that yes, the case definition had been widened considerably and pushed out actively to primary care, which had led to a big increase in testing. “It’s very hard for me to second-guess a clinical interaction by clinicians,” he said. “There may well be isolated incidents of this, and I’m very happy to pursue this.”

When asked by Simon Bridges if the rate of testing had been satisfactory, Ashley Bloomfield said that the New Zealand testing rate was ahead of many other countries per capita.“If you look at our mortality rate and compare that with the number of people we’re testing, we’ve got a very low mortality rate at this point … if you look at France and Italy it is around 12% and we’re around 0.1%.” Although he expected the number of deaths to increase, he said the low mortality so far was an encouraging sign that earlier testing was not missing cases.

Reti then addressed the issue of flu vaccine shortages. “We continue to hear that flu vaccines are running out in the community and I don’t accept the Ministry of Health’s excuse that it’s a distribution issue, he said. “Are there vaccine shortages and what are we doing about it?” Clark responded that there was a “distribution challenge” and that vulnerable people and the elderly were being prioritised. Bloomfield claimed it was neither a supply or a stock issue. “Pharmac buys supply in for both the public and private sectors”, he explained, “the private sector orders the vaccine ahead and pays for it, and it is sent out by a distributor … We’ve taken over some control of how that supply is distributed, but a lot of vaccine had already gone out. Each DHB is working hard, success is happening on a day-by-day basis to redistribute it.” On the decision to start the vaccine campaign early, Reti asked whether there was any concern that the vaccine would run out while flu season was still in full swing. Bloomfield replied that it was an issue that was considered but the pros of starting early outweighed the cons.

Greens co-leader Marama Davidson said that Māori were three times more likely and Pasifika twice as likely to die from the flu as other populations, and asked how inequity issues around flu vaccine availability were being addressed. Clark responded that ensuring those populations could access the vaccine through iwi providers and Whānau Ora was “front of mind”. “It’s not an easy problem to solve, but we’re trying to address the issue of equity to make sure we’re looking after our Māori and Pacific populations,” he said.

Simon Bridges asked Bloomfield why there was a shortage of PPE for front line health workers, many of whom had reported being bullied for wearing the wrong type and were concerned about dwindling supplies. Bloomfield replied there had been a range of PPE secured from abroad, which had been distributed out beyond DHBs to community-based organisations. However he said there needed to be guidance on what types of PPE was appropriate in certain clinical situations.

Bridges also pressed Bloomfield on the order issued on Friday evening under section 70(1) of the Health Act that provided a legal basis for the lockdown to be enforced, asking for the full legal advice received from Crown Law to be made public. “New Zealanders need to know you’re acting in accordance with the laws set by parliament,” he said. Bloomfield replied that he also wanted to be “100% assured that we’re acting within the law in issuing the notice … Considerable work went in from Crown Law and a range of other legal advisers to develop the notice, balancing out Bill of Rights Act considerations and other considerations.”

10.30am: Clark apologises to select committee

In an appearance before the parliamentary epidemic response committee this morning, health minister David Clark admitted that he “stuffed up” by driving 20km to go to the beach after the lockdown period began. “It can only be seen as a clear breach of the lockdown principles of staying local. As health minster I acknowledge that I not only have to follow the rules, but I have to set an example to all New Zealanders. I’ve let the team down, I’ve been a bit of an idiot,” he said. None of the opposition MPs in the meeting have asked any questions about or made any reference to Clark’s demotion.

10.00am: Today’s Zoom select committee

University of Otago epidemiologist Sir David Skegg will speak to the parliamentary epidemic response committee this morning, followed by health minister David Clark and director general of health Ashley Bloomfield. Updates to follow, or you can watch it all happen live here:

9.40am: Expert ‘cautiously optimistic’ about new case numbers

Today’s number of new Covid-19 cases could signal a “turning point” in the fight against the virus and show lockdown efforts are working, economic research institute Motu’s executive director John McDermott has told Kathryn Ryan on RNZ Nine to Noon. He explained that the virus has three phases – exponential growth, linear growth (the phase we are currently in) and decline. If we were to see a number “in the fifties” today, that would be a good sign the country has turned a corner and is entering the decline phase. McDermott told Ryan he is “cautiously optimistic” efforts to stop the spread of the virus are working based on the numbers so far.

8.05am: Epidemiologist Michael Baker ‘very positive’ about NZ’s progress

Epidemiologists, admits the University of Otago’s Dr Michael Baker, “can be a pessimistic bunch”. He has been among the doomiest in recent weeks, yet speaking to Morning Report this morning he said that “the findings at the moment are very positive”. This was because, despite a large increase in test volume, our positive tests are flat to falling. He said it was time to start preparing for the next phase of testing and monitoring. “We’ve had great increase in test volume, but we just don’t really have a breakdown of where the tests are being done,” he said, while advocating for greater data on who was being tested, and where. Following that, New Zealand should “expand case definition and priority groups”, he told RNZ’s Susie Ferguson.

“Basically, we can’t test everyone in the country. But we can gradually expand that testing base.” He said New Zealand’s next move should be to begin testing groups with a greater chance of exposure. “Once you move from testing symptomatic people… you move to testing asymptomatic people in higher-risk groups”.

He went to on make the case for sewage testing, as detailed in Mirjam Guesgen’s feature for The Spinoff yesterday. “It’s pooled testing of large groups of people, from a whole town or city,” he told Ferguson. Finally, he continued to press the case for more stringent monitoring of overseas arrivals and better contact tracing. “Whether it’s an ankle bracelet, or an app on your phone”, he said that tracking this group is “the most critical infrastructure to put in place”.

Read more: The Spinoff’s feature on the power of sewage testing

7.45am: Boris Johnson moved to intensive care

UK prime minister Boris Johnson has been moved to intensive care because of his current Covid-19 infection. He was admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital, in London yesterday, and has remained there ever since. The BBC reports that foreign secretary Dominic Raab has been asked to deputise “where necessary”. A statement from the prime minister’s office says that “over the course of this afternoon, the condition of the prime minister has worsened and, on the advice of his medical team, he has been moved to the intensive care unit at the hospital”. It continued: “The PM is receiving excellent care, and thanks all NHS staff for their hard work and dedication.”

7am: Health minister David Clark plummets to bottom of cabinet ranking over beach trip

Last week, a story came out about health minister David Clark driving to a mountain bike park to have a ride on a trail, contradicting advice from his own ministry. Now, as One News reports, he has admitted driving 20km to go to the beach after the lockdown period began – a clear breach. As a result, Clark has been dropped to the bottom of the cabinet rankings, and will be stripped of his associate finance role. “I’ve been an idiot, and I understand why people will be angry with me,” he said in a statement.

As part of his penance Clark been forced to do a full round of broadcasting interviews this morning, repeating ad infinitum that he’s been “an idiot”. He next has a stint before the Covid-19 committee to look forward to. He’ll appear alongside the director general, Ashley Bloomfield, for two hours from 10.10am. We’ll have all the important bits in the live updates here.

Clark will keep his health portfolio for now, on the grounds that switching a new minister in could waste valuable days in the wider fight against Covid-19. “Yesterday evening the health minister advised me of his trip to a beach during the lockdown and offered his resignation,” Jacinda Ardern said in a statement. “Under normal conditions I would sack the minister of health. What he did was wrong, and there are no excuses.”

She added: “While he maintains his health portfolio, I am stripping him of his role as associate finance minister and demoting him to the bottom of our cabinet rankings. I expect better, and so does New Zealand.”

Clark issued a contrite statement of his own in response, saying he had provided Ardern with what he described as “a complete picture of my activity outside my home during alert level four”, including having driven his “family approximately 20 kilometres from our house in Dunedin to Doctor’s Point Beach for a walk”.

He admitted that the trip was in breach of the principles of the lockdown, saying “as the health minister it’s my responsibly to not only follow the rules but set an example to other New Zealanders”.

From a political perspective it basically had to happen in these circumstances. With the government aggressively pushing the stay at home message to the public, it could not afford for one of its most prominent figures to do anything that contradicts that message. In Scotland, a similar story has just played out, with their chief medical officer resigning over trips to her second home. Initially, she too had planned to ride out the controversy, but the position very quickly became untenable. It will be interesting to see how long Clark will continue in the health role – one can only assume that a succession plan will now be underway. RNZ political editor Jane Patterson has suggested Clark is unlikely to remain in cabinet after the lockdown is completed. “I would say his days are numbered,” she said on Morning Report today.

Meanwhile, leader of the opposition Simon Bridges has generated headlines for his commute by car from Tauranga to Wellington – a journey of about seven hours each way. Bridges is currently chairing the Epidemic Response Committee from Wellington, but continues to live in Tauranga the rest of the time, despite the committee meeting over Zoom. Bridges argued that it was an essential job, and he was best able to do it from Wellington, even though it goes against advice on long car trips. He also cited an unreliable internet connection at home. PM Ardern quite pointedly refused to criticise Bridges.

6.55am: The Bulletin – mental health support announced

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

One of the major problems of the lockdown period is that it can have a damaging effect on mental health. Isolation and a lack of physical contact can be really hard for some, for others there will be added stresses with loss of jobs or round the clock childcare. This has long been known about as a potential trade-off within the wider lockdown decision – for example last month the Mental Health Foundation launched a series of its own tools aimed at keeping people going. Its key messages were that it’s OK to feel anxious and scared during this time, and they spoke about the importance of keeping active and keeping in touch with loved ones. Clinical psychologist Jacqui Maguire wrote a useful piece for The Press around the start of the lockdown period about how to cope.

Now the government has launched its own campaign, reports the NZ Herald. It contains a range of tools and tips at this stage, with further, more direct support – like phone or online resources – to be finalised and announced this week. It bears a lot of similarity to those tools deployed after the Canterbury earthquake, and has been developed in part by the same people. Health minister David Clark said “the messages in the campaign launched today tell us that it’s OK not to feel all right, all of the time”. He added that it is “important to remember that a lot of the usual places people might go to for support, like your doctor, are still available. It might just be a phone call or an online video link instead.”

A greater outline has been given by the PM on how decisions will be made on regional lifting of lockdowns. The ODT reports Jacinda Ardern says testing at a regionalised level will be crucial, particularly those regions which have so far seen fewer cases – and therefore fewer tests. Otago University expert Dr Ayesha Verrall had an important point to make in this article by me about contact tracing, which is the another hugely important tool for leaving lockdown. “Unless you know how many cases you can trace, you don’t know what your epidemiological trigger is for going into lockdown,” said Verrall.

One of the biggest points of contention in the current response to Covid-19 is around the wearing of masks. Should we all be wearing them all the time? Dr Siouxsie Wiles has outlined the complicated issues around that question, and rather than summarise it crudely, I highly encourage you to read her unpacking of it.

A survey conducted by South Island Whānau Ora commissioning agency Te Pūtahitangi te Waipounamu has found hundreds of Māori families are concerned about running out of food. Stuff’s Cate Broughton has reported on the survey, which covers how some of the $15 million allocated to Whānau Ora agencies will be spent over the lockdown. Some families have reported that because a member has underlying health conditions, it is dangerous to send someone to the supermarket. Others simply can’t afford it, after losing jobs. It has left many gaps in the safety net that need to be filled.

We haven’t really covered this off yet in The Bulletin, but details are coming out on a ‘hibernation’ option for businesses hit by Covid-19. Business Desk (not paywalled for once) has done a wrap of what details are known so far, including the conditions by which it might be taken up. The key point for businesses who want it appears to be the agreement of their creditors – they won’t simply be able to choose to do so without running it by others who might be affected by the decision.

Some more international comparisons to share: Newsroom has tested the claim of the government that we’ve “gone early and gone hard” against Covid-19 with border and lockdown measures, compared to similar countries. The conclusion is that while we’ve definitely gone early relative to the outbreaks of other countries, there are a few different pieces of data that matter. And for an update on the case numbers to date, there were 67 new ones yesterday, bringing the total up to 1106. So it’s not great, but it’s also not the exponential curve that other countries are experiencing, as far as we can tell for now.

6.50am: US cases surge past combined total of Italy and Spain

The New York Times reports that US cases of Covid-19 have surpassed that of Italy and Spain, the two worst-hit nations, combined. It now has 347,003 cases, per Johns Hopkins, well beyond the 267,579 cumulatively reported by the stricken European nations. At the same time, there are still signs the US epicentre of New York might be cresting, with the 599 deaths reported overnight only a slight increase from the day before, and down from Friday’s peak of 630. The overall national death toll neared 10,000, as California attempted to organise a national distribution of medical supplies according to need, rather than the current system of states competing for them.

Iran has announced its intention to decide the economy-versus-health dilemma by leaning toward the economy, saying that business restrictions will end on Saturday. Al Jazeera reports its president Hassan Rouhani as saying that two thirds of government employees will be back to work by April 11, saying “under the supervision of the health ministry, all those low-risk economic activities will resume from Saturday”, adding, “those activities will resume in the capital, Tehran, from April 18”.

The global death toll stands at 72,638 , with over 5,300 of those officially occurring in UK hospitals. yet as the Guardian reports, there is a lag in cause-of-death attribution which means this total will continue to rise, and is distorting our understanding of which nations have most successfully combatted Covid-19. Elsewhere Germany is considering making face masks mandatory in public, Italy saw a rise in deaths, breaking a steady decline, while Spain recorded a fourth day of declining deaths, registering 637, for a total of 13,055.

6.15am: Website reveals all entities that have received government wage subsidy

In a move that neatly shows it’s not just beneficiaries who need welfare payments, the government has set up a website to show which businesses and other entities have applied for and received the government’s wage subsidy, how many employees they list and the size of the payment received. It shows retail giants like Kmart ($12m), along with tech firms like TradeMe ($4.1m) have received funds, along with smaller organisations like the Taxpayer’s Union ($60k). Full disclosure – while not yet in the database, The Spinoff has also received around $120,000 in wage subsidies.

Check out the database here 

6.00am: The key NZ stories from yesterday

  • 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.

Read more in yesterday’s live updates

Keep going!