Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks during the Covid-19 update on May 6, 2020. (Photo by Mark Mitchell /Getty Images)

Covid-19 live updates, May 7: ‘Halfway down Everest’: rules for alert level two announced

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 three – read The Spinoff’s giant explainer about what that means here. For official government advice, see here.

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

7.05pm: The day in sum

There was one new confirmed case of Covid-19, and no new deaths

The prime minister announced the level two rules the country will operate under when we move out of level three

Legislation setting out the legal basis for level two restrictions will be introduced to parliament next week, the government said

The education minister suggested international students could be allowed in before the border officially reopens

A $25 million relief package aimed at local and regional sport, and recreation groups struggling due to Covid-19 was unveiled

Details were released on how domestic professional sport, including Investec Super Rugby and the ANZ Premiership Netball League, will work under level two

Mediaworks announced that there will be no The Block NZ on TV this year, for the first time since 2012.

6.50pm: New legal framework for level two on the way

Legislation setting out the legal basis for the level two restrictions will be introduced to parliament next week, the government has announced. Enforceability of level four and three restrictions has so far relied on the Epidemic Notice, the Health Act and the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act.

There has been some debate over the legality of the lockdown in recent days, with law professors Claudia Geiringer and Andrew Geddis arguing on this website that it is unclear whether existing legislation authorises director general of health Ashley Bloomfield to issue the particular lockdown notices that he has.

“In which case, those notices are ‘ultra vires’ and so of no lawful effect – meaning that any actions to enforce those notices also have no legal basis,” they wrote.

Today’s news that level two legislation is to be introduced suggests the government might harbour its own doubts over the lockdown’s legality, but attorney general David Parker said that’s not the case.

“I would reiterate what the prime minister has said: There has been no gap in the legal underpinning or in the enforcement powers under the notices that have been issued under level three and level four.

“This change is not retrospective and does not need to be.”

6.20pm: On The Spinoff today

How the rules will change when we move to alert level two

The dehumanising reality of working in customer service during a pandemic

Siouxsie Wiles & Toby Morris: Why our run of low Covid-19 numbers does not mean jump now

Covid-19: New Zealand cases mapped and charted, May 7

Māori mobilisation in a crisis: A proud history

Yes, the courts should scrutinise the lockdown, says Andrew Geddis. But Bridges’ committee should back off

6.05pm: International students may be allowed into NZ before border reopens

The government is considering loosening the border restrictions for international students, education minister Chris Hipkins has told RNZ.

“It is possible that we’ll be able to put a quarantine arrangements in place for international students coming into New Zealand that sees them quarantining for two weeks, that way we know that when they come into wider New Zealand society they are Covid free.”

The dramatic drop in international student numbers has been a body blow for an industry that had been worth $5 billion a year. However the education sector may be on a better footing than tourism since students who arrive in the country generally plan to stay for the entire year, making the prospect of quarantine less of a barrier.

Hipkins emphasised that any new system would involve a “hard quarantine model”.

“We could not be relying on trust for example, we couldn’t be putting them in a hall of residence and saying ‘don’t go anywhere’, we’d actually need to know that it was an enforceable model.”

5.05pm: Level two ‘too restrictive’ to save many struggling businesses, hospitality lobby group warns

Level two will “crush” the viability of many businesses already on the brink of closure, says Hospitality NZ. The drinking and dining restrictions, summed up by the prime minister today as the “three S’s” – people must be seated; people must be separated; and each table must have a single server – were workable, but would put a lid on trade that could prove fatal for many in the industry, chief executive Julie White warned.

“The rules can be made to work, but not in a way that they can afford,” she said. “Level two is still very restrictive and will mean higher costs and reduced income.

“The government has talked about a rescue package but where is that? We need it urgently or we will continue to see hospitality businesses closing with the loss of vibrancy from our towns and cities and thousands of jobs being lost.”

Meanwhile the Restaurant Association struck a more positive note. The group, which said it had “worked closely” with the government on the issues facing the industry, welcomed today’s announcement.

“Hospitality businesses are used to working to strict food control plans and we do not anticipate that the additional guidelines will cause our members any issues, many of whom are anxious to get back into the establishments,” said chief executive Marisa Bidois.

“We are very hopeful that next week will see our businesses opening their doors again to do what they do best, welcoming people into their dining rooms.”

The differing responses may be partly due to the types of businesses the two industry groups represent. While members of the Restaurant Association generally offer seated dining, the membership of Hospitality NZ is much more diverse, including bars, cafes and accommodation providers.

4.10pm: Spinoff readers invited to take part in back to work survey

As alert level two beckons, we’re running a survey with Stickybeak to find out how employees feel about returning to the workplace. Click this link to give us your view. It only takes a minute to complete, and results are aggregated and anonymised.

3.55pm: Lockdown only lawful if health risks were justified, government was told

The government was advised that the strict restrictions under levels three and four would only be lawful if there were provable risks, according to a cabinet paper obtained by Stuff. The advice included a warning that the lockdown restrictions involved “the most significant and widespread interference with human rights in New Zealand in living memory” but they would be “only unlawful if they cannot be shown to be demonstrably justified”.

Attorney-general David Parker said the government was confident that under those terms the restrictions were were lawful. “The government believes the restrictions it has imposed are a justified and appropriate response to the unprecedented risk Covid-19 poses to the health of all New Zealanders,” he said.

2.15pm: Today’s active and recovered cases

Here’s the chart showing Covid-19 cases in New Zealand today. There are currently 136 active cases, 1,332 recovered cases, and 21 deaths.

2.05pm: How will the rules will change when we move to alert level two?

Still confused about what you can and can’t do once we leave level three? Alex Braae has whipped up a handy explainer on what to expect – read it here.

2.00pm: Some domestic professional sport to resume

Sport and recreation minister Grant Robertson has released a statement on plans to allow local and professional sport to resume domestically under level two.

“Obviously, the paramount concern is that a return to competitive sport is done safely. This means ensuring there are systems in place to implement public health measures such as contact tracing and hygiene requirements to create a safe environment,” he said.

This will mean some modifications to training, play and competition will be necessary, and Sport NZ is working with the major sporting codes and WorkSafe on how these are put into practice. The rules around mass gatherings still apply, so sports will be played at empty stadiums.

Investec Super Rugby and the ANZ Premiership Netball League have already confirmed their intention to resume domestic competition at alert level two and are working through what a return to training and competition will look like.

“Some sports will be able to return to play more quickly than others while the necessary health requirements, modifications and restrictions on non-essential inter-regional travel are worked through,” Robertson said.

“Sports bodies are putting in a lot of work to get the pro-sport leagues going. But let me be clear that competitions will only start when all the public health guidelines are met, so we will continue to support these sports as they work through the necessary requirements to resume play safely.”

1.10pm: Ardern announces level two rules

Introducing the rules that would apply for alert level two, Jacinda Ardern said: “We can be proud of what we have achieved. Low numbers of new cases and two days without any. Increases in testing, including actively testing those who might be at risk of Covid-19, as we hunt to find any burning embers of the virus.”

She said the cabinet decision on Monday would draw on “all of the data we have from almost one more full cycle of the virus. We need every number from every single day to get the full set of data and we need of course the view of the director general of health.

“We will make a balanced decision. One that recognises the impact of restrictions and the huge impact of restrictions on people’s livelihoods, but doesn’t risk all of the gains that we have made today. After all, no one wants a second wave. No one.”

In some parts of the world the virus had “bounced back” after restrictions were lifted, Ardern said. “So the key for us has always been to understand where we are at at any given time in our battle with Covid, and then make sure we are at the right alert level to put us in the best position to continue beating it.

“Every alert level therefore has its own battle and even when you win one, it doesn’t mean that the war is over. It is very unlikely that we have hunted down every single case of Covid-19.”

“We think of ourselves as halfway down Everest. I think it’s clear that no one wants to hike back up that peak. The descent is known to be even more dangerous and so we need to proceed with caution, with the highest degree of confidence, and to look after one another on the way. And I absolutely believe we can do that.”

The rules for level two

“In a nutshell the principle behind level two is: play it safe. We will only move there if things are under control. But it won’t mean the fight is over,” Ardern said.

Public health measures remain the same. “If you are sick stay at home. If you have symptoms stay at home. And now, more than ever, wash your hands.

“Even if it is just a runny nose, a sore throat, get a test. And now more than ever, wash your hands – often and properly, all of the time. Wash all high-touch surfaces regularly, like your keys and doorhandles, and don’t pass other people your phone.”

Under level two the border remains unchanged, closed to all but New Zealanders, with a blanket requirement for managed self-isolation.

On distancing, the two metre guideline remains for strangers. Around people you know or in the workplace “we can live with less because we can find you and we can find them”, said Ardern.

Services can be provided on people’s premises, and workplaces can resume with hygiene measures in place. But the fewer in a workplace the better. “It is worth a conversation with your boss: whether you have to be there in person.”

The following operations can reopen, with conditions including physical distancing and hygiene practices: retail stores, cafes, restaurants, hospitality, hairdressers, domestic cleaners.

Larger retailers and malls will need to limit the numbers in-store to ensure distancing is possible. For hairdressers and beauticians appropriate protective equipment is required. Specific advice is to come.

In restaurants, cafes and bars, “three S’s” will be mandatory. They are: people must be seated; people must be separated; each table must have a single server (no counter service is permissible).

The first S is the rule that people must be seated. Explaining why people in hospitality venues will not be allowed to mill about, Ardern said that Covid “loves congregations”.

“Crowds of strangers with no physical distancing and no ability to tell who you were standing near is very, very difficult [to manage]. It is much easier to separate people keeping them physically distanced and trace them if we make sure people are seated. This also helps to prevent the spread. Congested bars have already produced a massive cluster in New Zealand and we must avoid another.”

The second S is separation. “There must be social distance in venues between people and tables. I acknowledge this may mean for some it is not economical to open, but that is up to each venue.”

The third S is that “each table must have a single server. At every venue there must be table service, not people going up to counters as this minimises contact and helps us to trace if we need to.”

Venues will not be permitted to hold more than 100 people. Outdoor gatherings will also be limited to 100 people. Public venues including markets and museums will be allowed, but in compliance with the same rules.

You no longer need to keep to your bubble. “You can begin seeing family and friends again. But we do want you to hang on to the same principles we are using in hospitality … if we have large scale events in people’s homes all of that becomes harder … Keep the numbers small.”

Regional travel will be allowed.

Professional sport will resume, but gathering rules apply.

Schools, tertiary institutions and early learning centres will reopen.

Ardern concluded by leaving open the possibility of a “phased” change, rather than moving to level two in one go. “When it comes the time to move, we want to move with confidence,” she said.

“That means the Ministry of Health and experts giving us the best advice on when to do that. If that advice is to move in a phased way, because level two taken all at once has too many risks, because for instance it includes gatherings of people, i would rather take that advice and move out slowly, than be in level three longer than we need to. Equally no one wants to make a decision that leads to us yo-yo-ing between levels.”

Under level two, there will be some recommendations around wearing of masks and PPE in some settings, and further consideration is being given to recommendations on masks for the general public, said Bloomfield.

On whether it’s OK now to embrace your friends and family, Bloomfield said this: “For my part, I’m looking forward to giving some of my extended family members and friends a careful hug, but for work colleagues and people I’m meeting for the first time I’ll be sticking to probably an elbow bump.”

1.04pm: One new case of Covid-19

There is one new confirmed case of Covid-19 in New Zealand today, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield has announced. The person is a household contact of a previously confirmed case linked to the Matamata cluster.

Today’s case brings the total number of confirmed and probable cases to 1,489. Of these, 1,339 are confirmed cases. There are now 1,332 cases recorded as recovered, or 89%. Two people remain in hospital with Covid-19, one in Auckland City and the other in Middlemore. Neither are in ICU.

There were 7,323 tests processed yesterday, a new record. It brings the total tests to 168,023. “It’s very encouraging to see these testing numbers increase again after the weekend,” said Bloomfield.

Roughly one in every 30 New Zealanders has now been tested.

On the vexed question of masks, Bloomfield said a new review has been published by the Ministry of Health. The verdict? “There are both risks and benefits.”

12.45pm: Daily briefing to begin soon

Today’s briefing features all-star combo PM Jacinda Ardern and director general of health Ashley Bloomfield. With details of level two rules set to be announced, it’s going to be a good one. Watch it here:

12.30pm: PPE stocktake satisfies health minister

A “rapid stocktake” of PPE distribution undertaken by the government has found that aside from what Ashley Bloomfield described as early “teething issues”, appropriate processes are now in place for DHBs handling and filling orders.

Health minister David Clark said he has confidence that the distribution system is now working more efficiently, but has asked Sir Brian Roche “to cast an independent eye over the information gathered for the stocktake” in order to ask further questions of the ministry and DHBs.

12.15pm: Covid Budget an opportunity to start ‘rebuilding the house’

In a speech to the Wellington Chamber of Commerce today, finance minister Grant Robertson hinted at the shape of next week’s budget, saying that it would be an opportunity to address long-standing social issues and rebuild the economy into something better.

“There are few times in life when the clock is reset. Now is the time we should address these long-term issues. It is a privilege many countries won’t have. It’s not one we should squander.”

“As someone said to me the other day, if your house were to burn down, you probably wouldn’t build it back exactly the same, would you?”

However, he did not underestimate the cost of the rebuild, which along with the support to cushion the economic fall from Covid-19 would mean running operating deficits for an extended period and allowing net core Crown debt to increase well beyond previous targets.

“This is a necessary and responsible move as we fight the virus, reduce the impact on businesses and workers, and rebuild our country.”

He reaffirmed New Zealand’s strong financial position heading into Covid-19, which meant that debt levels would not be as severe relative to other countries.

“Despite the additional borrowing we will need to undertake, we will remain among the least indebted countries among our peers.”

11.55am: A five-year-old’s account of being tested for Covid-19

Yesterday, food editor/co-deputy editor Alice Neville’s niece Thea went to the doctor because she had sore ears and an ongoing chesty cough, and her mother wants to make sure she’s fighting fit to go to school the minute it opens for everyone. (Thea turned five last month so her first experience of school has been via Zoom.)

Thea stayed in the car outside the GP clinic while a PPE-clad doctor gave her the usual checks through the window. Then the doctor said, “Shall we do the other one? The nose one…”

Here’s Thea’s account of how it went down:

“The doctor was wearing like um a mask [a face shield, says her mother] and gloves and a doctor’s gown. She put a stick up my nose. Like a plastic white skinny one. When the stick went up my nose it felt like pepper in my nose. It made me have watery eyes. It took about five seconds. It felt tickly when it came out. The doctor said I was braver than an adult.”

Update (May 8): Thea does not have Covid-19.

11.30am: The Block NZ postponed

For the first time since 2012, there will be no The Block NZ on TV this year. MediaWorks has announced today that the popular DIY show has joined the planned season of Dancing With the Stars NZ on the backburner as a result of Covid-19. Production of the new series has been on hold since the country entered level four lockdown. “These significant time delays combined with the high level of uncertainty in the coming months for all stakeholders means we simply cannot commit to a typical production schedule,” said MediaWorks director of TV content Ben Quinn in a statement released today. The season has been postponed until next year.

10.20am: Sporting bodies face difficult times

Netball NZ is expecting a revenue deficit of almost 50% this year, CEO Jennie Wyllie has told the Epidemic Response Committee. Many of the sport’s main revenue streams – things like broadcast deals and grants – had been turned off by Covid-19 and were unlikely to return at the same levels, she said. At the community level, this meant the sport would require alternative funding sources to survive, and called for urgent government intervention. Wyllie said getting sports like netball up and going again would play a vital part in the national mental health recovery post-Covid, and that this crisis offered an opportunity to address the systemic underinvestment in women’s sport in New Zealand.

Women’s rugby league was one area Warriors CEO Cameron George said was likely to be affected by the club’s revenue downturn. The Warriors have invested a lot of money in recent years to establish a women’s team to participate in the new NRLW competition, but the ongoing funding would likely now have to be reviewed along with other “discretionary spends” like youth development programs. The privately-owned club receives no government funding and its main priority was to ensure the men’s team can remain in the NRL. Asked by committee chairman Simon Bridges if the club was at risk of going under as a result of Covid-19, George said that while financial recovery would take some time, “we will survive”.

Richard Beddie from the Exercise Association of NZ highlighted the health impacts of New Zealanders staying away from gyms and stopping exercise as a result of Covid-19. He said contrary to popular perception, New Zealand is actually ranked among the worst in the world for physical inactivity, and the public health costs associated with that would likely increase post-Covid if not managed properly. He said in terms of reopening gyms, the Exercise Association had designed a framework that was “stricter than anything else I’ve seen on the planet”, with stringent protocols that went above and beyond current government guidelines. Beddie predicted 10-15% of Association member businesses, which includes things like gyms, personal trainers and yoga instructors, would not survive the economic downturn.

10.00am: Watch the Epidemic Response Committee

9.30am: Today’s Zoom committee

So far this week education and health have been put under the spotlight of the Epidemic Response Committee, today it’s sport’s turn. We’ll hear from representatives of NZ Netball, NZ Rugby, the mighty Vodafone Warriors, the Deerstalkers Association, the Fishing Council and the Exercise Association, which oversees gyms and so on. As always we’ll have updates and a live stream here on the blog.

8.30am: Could masks become mandatory under level two?

Speaking to RNZ’s Morning Report this morning, University of Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker said while he thought New Zealand was close to being ready for alert level two “in many ways”, we should consider following Taiwan’s lead in making it mandatory to wear protective masks in enclosed public spaces like public transport. Taiwan has been one of the global success stories in stopping the spread of Covid-19, having now gone 25 days without a new local case, Baker said, and mandatory mask-wearing was the only major difference between the two countries’ responses.

In an interview with the Herald this morning, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said there would be no compulsory masking under level two. “People may wish to use a mask. If they know how to use it properly, that’s fine, but at this point we won’t be insisting on masking,” he said.

8.10am: New level two rules to be announced today

Today’s the day we find out more about what life will be like under alert level two. Jacinda Ardern will announce the new guidelines this afternoon, ahead of the government deciding on Monday if and when the country will move down from level three. It’s expected the new rules will differ somewhat from the existing level two guidelines laid out in March, because of how much more is now known about the virus.

The level two rules as currently outlined are:

Physical distancing of one metre outside home (including on public transport).

Gatherings of up to 100 people indoors and 500 outdoors allowed while maintaining physical distancing and contact tracing requirements.

Sport and recreation activities are allowed if conditions on gatherings are met, physical distancing is followed and travel is local.

Public venues can open but must comply with conditions on gatherings, and undertake public health measures.

Health services operate as normally as possible.

Most businesses open, and business premises can be open for staff and customers with appropriate measures in place. Alternative ways of working encouraged (eg remote working, shift-based working, physical distancing, staggering meal breaks, flexible leave).

Schools and Early Childhood Education centres open, with distance learning available for those unable to attend school (eg self-isolating).

People advised to avoid non-essential inter-regional travel.

People at high risk of severe illness (older people and those with existing medical conditions) are encouraged to stay at home where possible, and take additional precautions when leaving home. They may choose to work.

5.10am: Property listings pick up after lockdown slump

The number of new properties being listed are on their way back up, according to Realestate.co.nz.

Listings slumped to an average of 188 daily listings during alert level four – down significantly from an average of 717 before lockdown. But during the first week of alert level three, the number of listings jumped back up to an average of 508 per day.

“There is a lot of speculation around the property market right now, but I’m not convinced that it’s all doom and gloom,” says Vanessa Taylor, spokesperson for Realestate.co.nz. “We have seen sharp drops followed by gradual recoveries in several overseas markets and there is no reason to believe that New Zealand will be any different.”

But despite the drop in listings during the lockdown period, the site also reports that users were more engaged than usual with its average pages per session up by 28% and average minutes spent on site up 36%. Interestingly enough, 23% of all traffic during the first week of May came from overseas, particularly Australia, the US and the UK.

5.00am: Yesterday’s key stories

Two new cases of Covid-19 were announced – one confirmed and one probable.

One further death of a woman in her 60s was reported. She was a resident of Rosewood rest home and was considered a probable case of Covid-19.

The total number of cases recorded in New Zealand is now 1,488, with 88% considered recovered.

Microsoft’s plans to open its first datacentre region in New Zealand were welcomed by the government as a signal to the world New Zealand was “open for business”.

The Epidemic Response Committee focused on the pressures put on other parts of the healthcare system due to the lockdown, including deferred procedures for cancer patients and restrictions around births.

Support services such as Lifeline reported a 25% surge in demand due to Covid-19.

Ngāi Tahu Tourism, one of the country’s largest tourist operators, announced it was cutting 300 jobs.

Read all the key stories in yesterday’s live updates



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