Dr Ashley Bloomfied, director general of health (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Covid-19 live updates, April 8: Support for schools announced; public urged to avoid Easter travel

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: Jihee Junn

6:30pm: Today on The Spinoff

5:10pm: 120 Covid-19 testing centres now operating

There are now 120 sites across New Zealand taking samples for Covid-19 testing. This includes 68 community-based assessment centres (CBACs) and 52 other centres including designated general practices, swabbing centres, and mobile clinics.

“These centres are designed to take the load off GP teams and hospital emergency departments. They also reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for healthcare workers in ‘walk-in’ healthcare locations,” said health minister David Clark. “These centres have been set up in areas of high demand. We will assess the data and more clinics will be opened where the demand is strongest.”

3:45pm: Poll shows overwhelming support of government response to Covid-19

According to a new poll, 84% of New Zealanders approve of how the government handling of the outbreak, 83% of respondents have “trust in the government to deal successfully with national problems”, while 88% “trust the government to make the right decisions on Covid-19”.

The numbers show New Zealanders’ backing for measures “far outstrips the response in any of the G7 nations”, according to pollster Colmar Brunton.

For more on polling results, read Toby Manhire’s report on The Spinoff now. Also on the website, we have a new video from Dr Siouxsie Wiles who explains whether it’s OK to meet up with your neighbours down the driveway and the latest New Zealand cases mapped and charted by Chris McDowall, now featuring a new chart on the number of tests conducted.

3:15pm: Police urge public to avoid travel over Easter

New police commissioner Andrew Coster has said there have been 367 breaches of lockdown rules, 45 prosecutions, 309 warnings and 13 youth referrals. He said the police continues to receive a huge number of reports of potential breaches, adding that it was “a positive signal” that people want others to comply. To date, it has received 37,000 reports of breaches with just under 7,000 of those in regards to businesses and organisations.

Coster urged those planning to travel out of town for Easter to change their plans, adding that police will have an increased presence in the community over the weekend including checkpoints to make sure people are following rules. “This weekend we will be particularly focused on holiday hotspots,” he said. “Now is not the time to start departing from what we’re trying to achieve here.”

Coster said that the effectiveness of lockdown did not mean police officers were going to relax any time soon. “We’re doing well so we should double down,” he said. “So we can be in control for as long as possible”. Coster said that the increase in family violence during lockdown has been statistically significant, but he didn’t have the numbers on hand.

With regard to David Clark’s infamous bike ride, Coster said the police will not be carrying on the conversation with him. Coster said he suspects Clark’s public apology and demotion “will carry more weight than what police are able to do.”

Since April 3, police have conducted almost 1,200 face-to-face checks on all arrivals into New Zealand with 575 of those conducted yesterday alone. “I’m confident that by the end of the week we’ll have 100% of those arriving in the country being visited by police as part of a compliance check.”

In response to the escalating risk of police, hospital staff and supermarkets workers being spat on, Coster warned that if someone spits or coughs on another person and infects them, they risk being charged and may face up to 14 years in prison.

Regarding those facing hardship at this time, Civil Defence director Sarah Stuart Black encouraged anyone struggling to come forward and ask for help. She said that as of Monday, 7,727 food parcels and 528 food vouchers had been delivered. The government is continuing to ramp up access to those services.

3pm: Call for online shoppers to prioritise those with disabilities

Disability rights commissioner Paula Tesoriero has issued a plea to New Zealanders to “think before they shop” to allow greater access to online delivery for those who need it most.

Supermarkets have reserved online delivery slots for priority shoppers (people who can’t shop in person because of a disability, or because they need to stay home to protect themselves or others from infection). However, these priority slots are being quickly taken up which means at-risk people need to find others to do their shopping or ask for emergency food deliveries.

“Some people who can’t be left at home alone are waiting for lengthy periods in vehicles in supermarket carparks while their support workers shop. In the worst-case scenario, it may mean people are going hungry till they can get help,” said Tesoriero. “For many of us, we have other options… If you can free up your online supermarket shopping slot for your neighbours who most need them, please do so.”

2:15pm: Additional support for schools announced

Minister of Education Chris Hipkins has provided details on the government’s plan to support distance learning for schools across the country. The plan focuses on four main points:

  1. Increasing the number of students who have access to the internet and devices at home. Currently, it’s estimated that there are around 80,000 households in New Zealand with children in them that don’t have access to the internet. 
  2. The delivery of hard copy packs of materials for different age groups and year levels. These will be used to supplement what schools are already doing.
  3. The arrangement of two TV channels which will broadcast education-related content for at least a month. One will be in English and one will be in Māori. The channels, hosted by TVNZ and Māori TV, will begin broadcasting on April 15. It’s expected to provide 6-8 hours of content for different age groups every day on topics such as wellbeing, numeracy and literacy. The ministry is also working to provide content for Pasifika and other communities.
  4. Making sure there are enough resources for parents, including additional learning support resources for parents whose children have additional learning needs.

Hipkins added that devices and materials will be delivered to households in waves, and that initial focus will be given to senior secondary students who are working towards their NCEA qualifications.

In order to fund these initiatives, Hipkins said $88.7 million of immediate emergency funding has been fast tracked and that it’s likely that further funding will be required. 

“Our goal is to make sure all families have access to at least one learning channel from home by the time term two starts next Wednesday,” he said. “The Ministry of Education surveyed all schools to see how prepared they are to support learning from home. Around half are very well set up for distance learning using the internet already and we’re taking action to ensure there are new resources and connections to all schools.”

NZEI Te Riu Roa has welcomed the government’s swift roll-out of learning from home initiatives. “This announcement is significant and welcome. The package will help support the hard work schools and early learning centres have been doing to figure out how they will best support their local communities and the wellbeing of their learners,” said NZEI Te Riu Roa President Liam Rutherford.

1.05pm: 50 new cases, another new fortnight-low tally

There are 26 new confirmed cases and 24 new probable cases of Covid-19. There are now 282 reported cases of people who have recovered, an increase of 41 from yesterday, and no additional deaths. The total number of cases is 1,210.

Four people are currently in intensive care. Two of them are in a critical condition.

This means the 14 days since lockdown look like this: 78, 85, 83, 63, 76, 58, 61, 89, 71, 82, 89, 67, 54 and today 50. Here’s Chris McDowall’s plotting of the latest data, showing a very slight uptick in active cases. More from him on the site soon.

A quarter of the 20 health workers who have been infected have come back from overseas.

The ethnicity breakdown of tests so far is 64.2% European and other, 13.6% Māori, 12% Asian, 7.8% Pasifika, and 2% Middle Eastern/Latin American.

When asked about whether there can now be a definitive government position on the lockdown being extended, PM Jacinda Ardern said “the data we’re making decisions on is real time,” and it is still too early to say. Bloomfield agreed that there were positive signs, but more testing needed to be done to identify previously unseen clusters.

“Alert level four remains in place and there is absolutely no change to the rules,” said Ardern. She asked religious leaders around the country to ensure worship remains in line with these rules over Easter.

Ardern said no-one should be going to their holiday homes over the Easter break. There will be police at holiday hotspots this weekend. More to follow from Police Commissioner Andrew Coster this afternoon.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield has urged those who need flu vaccinations to consider that to be essential travel, along with other medical needs. He says there is more than enough supply of vaccinations.

Testing

On testing, Bloomfield said that antibody testing kits were still under development. “It’s not as accurate, but it can have a particular role, for example in identifying whether someone is a close contact.”

Bloomfield said that testing was predominantly for those who are symptomatic. In this morning’s Science Media Centre briefing, Professor David Murdoch said tests were more accurate once a person becomes symptomatic, and that a negative test could give people a false sense of security.

Bloomfield said if community testing were done it would not be linked to case definitions. “Any community testing would be part of broader surveillance,” he said.

Bloomfield said there was active policy work happening regarding further funding for community pharmacies. There has already been $15 million invested in the community pharmacy programme to alleviate financial pressure.

Flights and Cyclone Harold 

Ardern has spoken about the damage being done to Pacific Islands by Cyclone Harold in countries that are also dealing with Covid-19 measures right now. Ardern acknowledged the concern many New Zealand residents will have for loved ones, and said that this morning a defence force aircraft left New Zealand for Fiji to survey the damage. Earlier today, foreign minister Winston Peters announced a $500,000 initial package to support Vanuatu where there has been severe damage.

Alongside sending logistical support, the government has said it will be looking at plans to evacuate New Zealanders stranded in Vanuatu. It’s understood there are New Zealanders currently in the north of Vanuatu and in the capital Port Vila

Air New Zealand has made 17 flights since Monday last week. They’re taking food overseas and returning with supplies like PPE, vaccines, and thermal imaging technology.

Ardern said 49 people have registered for the flight from Peru so far. A departure date has yet to be set.

Education

An extensive distance learning package is set to be announced by the Minister of Education soon. “I’ve personally been thinking about a lot about parents at home with heir children at the moment,” said Ardern. “I’ve seen so many of the ways you’ve entertained them at this time but we have a role to support you.”

In a message to parents homeschooling children at this time, Ardern said “parents do need to be easy on themselves with their expectations. Children will be learning in many many ways right now”.

“At the same time, we want to keep them entertained and engaged so providing that material at home actually helps take the pressure off parents at the same time.”

Business

After the wage subsidy, Ardern said the second big expense for businesses will be leases. “We’re looking at ways to alleviate pressure here,” she said.

The third key area was servicing debt to banks; the advice remains that businesses should reach out to their banks for help here.

Ardern asked all businesses to prepare to move to level three and said that regardless of their essential status, they will need to be ready to undertake contact tracing. “This is the kind of preparation that we need businesses to do because it will be critical.” She said they will also need to think about social distancing and PPE, as needed.

Clark-related questions

Ardern said that she had not asked all of her ministers and MPs whether they had been complying with the lockdown rules, because she simply expected them to be.

She compared it to asking members of cabinet whether they had been complying with the cabinet manual at the start of each meeting, which she says shouldn’t be necessary.

It follows health minister David Clark being booted to the bottom of cabinet rankings for breaking the lockdown rules.

Conspiracy theories

Ardern said the idea that 5G was responsible for or connected to Covid-19 was wrong. “I can’t state it clearly enough, and I almost hesitate to speak to it on this platform. It is just not true.”

More to follow 

12.55pm: Watch live: Ministry of Health updates on Covid-19 cases

12.50pm: Trump threatens to stop WHO funding

Donald Trump’s erratic handling of the Covid-19 crisis continues. This morning he has lashed out at the World Health Organisation, accusing the UN agency of being “very China centric” and of issuing bad advice about closing borders. “We’re going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO. We’re going to put a very powerful hold on it and we‘re going to see,” said the president. A few minutes later he switched tack, saying just that they were “looking into” holding funds back. “I mean, I‘m not saying I‘m going to do it, but we are going to look at it.”

12.45pm: Tourism Industry sees reason for optimism

The tourism industry has looked to the future as a chance to reinvent itself, when it starts to come out of hibernation.

Speaking to the Epidemic Response Committee, Tourism Industry Association boss Chris Roberts said “within two months, we’ve lost 20 years of growth.” But he also said Covid-19 has given a chance to make sure what comes next is a better fit for the communities that serve tourism, in a nod to pre-pandemic fears around over-tourism.

12.35pm: Microbiologist assesses testing regime

The Science Media Centre has launched weekly online media briefings, and this morning’s inaugural session featured Prof David Murdoch, a clinical microbiologist. Murdoch is generally positive about the state of Covid-19 testing in New Zealand. “There is a decreasing number of cases per day at a time when we’re ramping up testing,” he said. He acknowledged testing is a crude measure of tracking success, but said the numbers are what we wanted to see at this stage.

Murdoch said global demand for testing supplies is the biggest worry for diagnostic labs at the moment, but that diversifying the testing tools and methods could protect us from losing the ability to test. “The actual platform that’s used, and the consumables and the companies involved is a range of companies, so there is a bit of diversification,” he said. “That is potentially a way around that.”

With regard to home testing, Murdoch can see something akin to a home pregnancy test on the horizon, but not any time soon. “There’s a lot of noise, and we really have to go through and check that they have been evaluated. We could be creating a much worse situation if we use a test that’s not giving the results we need.”

12.25pm: Easter Bunny remark draws ire

While some international media are applauding our prime minister’s handling of the crisis, others are less impressed. On the UK breakfast show This Morning, co-hosted by New Zealand’s own Phillip Schofield, radio host Nick Ferrari was very (hot) cross indeed about a recent Ardern pronouncement. “My problem is the expression ‘essential workers’… of course the Easter Bunny should come, [but] when I stand and applaud every Thursday at 8pm I am not applauding the Easter Bunny.” The short clip is worth watching just for the incredulous reaction from Schofield and co-host Holly Willoughby.

12.10pm: Tropical Cyclone Harold hammers Pacific, countries already struggling with Covid-19

Tropical cyclone Harold hit Fiji this morning, just after the country went into a nationwide curfew to limit the spread of Covid-19.

Harold is a severe category four cyclone, and caused massive destruction across Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands before brushing the coast of Viti Levu, Fiji’s largest and most heavily populated island.

The capital city of Nadi is now without power, and floodwaters are rising across the island. Fiji’s police commissioner, Sitiveni Qiliho, said that although the storm brought its own set of challenges, the public and the police must remain focused on the Covid-19 crisis.

Qiliho said that at the same time as police officers were helping those in need of assistance due to the cyclone’s impact, others were making arrests related to breach of Covid-19 safety measures.

He said there were 51 arrests last night for breach of curfew and social gathering bans. There are currently 15 confirmed Covid-19 cases in Fiji.

12.05pm: How Covid-19 has hit meat industry

The early impact of Covid-19 on China in January took a toll on the meat industry, cutting export receipts by 45%, says Meat Industry Association Tim Ritchie. However, he said much of that was able to be redirected to other markets, and China has now come back on stream.

Ritchie says Covid-19 has had an impact on the processing sector, which has been designated as an essential service to maintain. He says protocols have been developed “to provide the government assurance that it is not jeopardising efforts” to eliminate the virus. The measures include a base standard of two metre distancing between workers, PPE being used when they have to be in closer contact, staggered shifts, and rules against work teams mixing.

However, these measures have also reduced production, with plants currently running at about half capacity. That is particularly a problem in areas hit by drought, with farmers having to de-stock due to a lack of pasture. Crashing demand from restaurants has also hit higher value products, like racks of ribs, and there are also concerns that a global economic downturn will have a negative impact on meat demand generally.

11.25am: New pieces on The Spinoff

Tonight New Zealand marks the halfway point of alert level four. Assuming, that is, it ends on schedule. What will determine the decision to lift the strictest restrictions, and what comes next? Kate Newton asks the experts.

And a simple, long overdue change in New Zealand’s policy for blood donations would benefit everyone, writes Dr. Oliver Armstrong-Scott. He says it’s time to overturn the homophobic ban on gay men giving blood.

11.05am: Scott Morrison says NZ-style strategy in Australia would come at too great a cost

The Australian prime minister has “effectively ruled out” an elimination strategy, reports The Conversation’s Australian political editor, Michelle Grattan.

“New Zealand is trying for elimination, but has had to go into a stringent lockdown to pursue it. Elimination was the policy adopted in the source of the virus – Wuhan in China,” she writes.

Morrison told media said such an approach would mean “you don’t have any immunity in the population and you really have to control your borders in a very aggressive way and that might be for a long time.” Even existing measures in Australia, Morrision said, had a “finite life” in terms of “the economic lifeline”.

The measures in place in Australia, while not as strict as New Zealand’s – schools, for example, remain open – have so far succeeded in flattening the curve.

11.00am: Stream goes down

Alas, even with committee chair Simon Bridges in Wellington, the Epidemic Response Committee stream has gone down. We’ll let you know when it’s back up. (UPDATE – back up now)

Next up on the agenda was Mark Cairns, from the Port of Tauranga. His stream froze, and Simon Bridges noted that it proved his point about the internet in Tauranga.

10.45am: Trucking and keeping supply chains open

Road Transport Forum CEO Nick Leggett has warned the Epidemic Response Committee that some aspects of the country’s supply chains could start to break down as the lockdown goes on. He says supply chains are complicated, businesses operate on very low margins, and some have been unable to operate because they don’t meet the definition of essential services.

“This is an issue that is going to be felt widely, because of the restrictions and confusion on classifying freight as either essential or non-essential.”

He says about 50% of trucks are currently on the road, and many are operating partially full, because they’re not able to “backload” with non-essential products.

“Because trucking mirrors the economy, if we see a reduction in freight, I think it’s really important to say that our industry needs to be up and running and ready to respond to demand. If road freight can’t operate, the economy will suffer,” said Leggett.

Mark Cairns from the Port of Tauranga reiterated those concerns, saying that an inability to move non-essential cargo would hamper efforts to move essential supplies.

10.10am: How businesses are coping

Former Business NZ chief executive Phil O’Reilly has outlined the mood of the business community, saying they “supported the go hard and go early” approach. However, he also says that possible economic activity needs to be maximised during the lockdown to ensure that as many businesses as possible can stay solvent.

“You might think it’s just one month, but it’s much more than that. Thousands of businesses will have been damaged by this, some of them mortally.” He says the damage will be seen across all sectors.

O’Reilly praised the work of public servants who have been rolling out initiatives like the wage subsidy, saying it was “particularly helpful” for smaller businesses. However, he says there has been a reasonable degree of confusion both over what businesses are entitled to, and between government departments as to what they’re responsible for.

In praising the wage subsidy, O’Reilly said a bigger issue would be operating capital for businesses. He says many have seen their revenue crash, and so are currently rushing towards insolvency. “The biggest killer for small and medium businesses is cashflow.”

Looking ahead to the future, O’Reilly says businesses will need confidence to start hiring and expanding again. He says one mechanism would be to allow businesses who can enforce social distancing protocols to start reopening.

On the relationship between government and business, O’Reilly said “the worst thing that could happen” would be government taking a dominant position in many markets, saying instead that they should proactively approach businesses to see what they need to restart hiring. However, he saw plenty to like in the government’s various infrastructure packages. Paraphrasing his views, Simon Bridges described it as “building confidence rather than big government.”

He also raised the question of fairness at the margins around what is an essential service. “If someone feels like they’re being fairly treated, they’ll tend to follow what the government wants them to do. But perceptions of unfairness are corrosive.”

NZ First MP Fletcher Tabuteau pushed back against the suggestion that the ‘essential services’ list should be expanded, citing Sir David Skegg, who has argued that we should be accepting economic pain now to speed up the prospects of recovery after the lockdown. O’Reilly countered that “less businesses are staying home as the lockdown goes on”, and it was taking place safely – but wasn’t necessarily fair on other business who can’t reopen.

O’Reilly also called for the government to fund free industry training over the next two years, and heavily subsidise employers to take on new workers and apprentices from marginalised groups.

9.50am: Watch live: Epidemic response committee

On the agenda today: Business and economic logistics will be the key themes discussed at the Epidemic Response Committee today. The independent witness will be former Business NZ CEO Phil O’Reilly, who will open and close proceedings.

Over the course of the day, we’ll also hear from the Road Transport Forum, Port Company CEOs group, Federated Farmers, Meat NZ, the Tourism Industry Association, and the Restaurant Association of NZ.

Committee chair Simon Bridges says it will be a day to “talk about the real economy”, and what the business sector wants to see from the government.

9.05am: Something to watch before the select committee starts

Beloved local band The Beths are currently doing a livestreamed concert from their house, and you can watch it here.

Around 40 minutes into the stream, the band gave a shoutout to Dr Siouxsie Wiles and The Spinoff’s Toby Morris, for all of their vital and brilliant science communication work over the last month.

Meanwhile, beloved Auckland film institution The Academy has launched an on-demand platform that allows people to rent some of the best flicks in the world. You can check it out here.

8.30am: Big business day looms for select committee

Business and economic logistics will be the key themes discussed at the Epidemic Response Committee today. The independent witness will be former Business NZ CEO Phil O’Reilly, who will open and close proceedings.

Over the course of the day, we’ll also hear from the Road Transport Forum, Port Company CEOs group, Federated Farmers, Meat NZ, the Tourism Industry Association, and the Restaurant Association of NZ.

Meanwhile, National’s finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith is calling on the government to start releasing data of key economic indicators on a weekly basis. He says promised data from finance minister Grant Robertson is now a week late.

“Employers and business owners are making critical decisions now on whether to ride out the lockdown or close down which impacts the lives of many Kiwis. They need real time information now. Importantly, New Zealanders need a clear sense of the wider impact of government decisions on our wellbeing.

Goldsmith particularly wants data on new benefit applications, tax revenue, and bank lending to businesses.

7.50am: New police commissioner refines exercise guidelines, warns against Easter travel

Given that health minister David Clark has been giving a national lesson in behaviours to avoid, it’s useful to have more official guidance on what exactly constitutes appropriate response to the lockdown. Freshly-minted police commissioner Andrew Coster has been refining that on RNZ’s Morning Report. “The distance you have to travel for essential services is about what’s reasonable for exercise,” he told host Corin Dann. When asked whether that meant donning lycra and going for a lengthy ride would get you pulled over, Coster said that was a possibility. “We accept, unfortunately, that the range of recreational activities available to New Zealanders is lower than we’d like,” he said. “We are quite entitled to stop and speak to people.” He earlier underlined travel restrictions, saying that any people looking to decamp to a holiday home for Easter could expect to be pulled over and reprimanded.

Later on in the morning, Radio NZ spoke to Dr Siouxsie Wiles about what sort of behaviours should be avoided over Easter. She said the ‘over the fence’ drink with neighbours was out, because even if people are standing two metres apart, there are still risks. In short, stay in your bubble, save lives.

7.30am: New Zealand’s ‘squashing the curve’ draws big Washington Post story

It’s not often you see ‘HAVELOCK NORTH, New Zealand’ as a dateline on a major news site, yet there it is on the Washington Post, beneath a very arresting headline.

Headline on the Washington Post’s story

The story is written by New Zealander Anna Fifield, the WaPo’s Beijing bureau chief, currently exiled to her homeland thanks to a post-Covid-19 visa row. She has written a lengthy feature, prominently positioned on the Washington Post’s homepage, about the apparent success of New Zealand’s lockdown, contrasting it with the more haphazard efforts elsewhere in the world.

“People have been walking and biking strictly in their neighbourhoods, lining up six feet apart outside grocery stores while waiting to go one-in-one-out, and joining swaths of the world in discovering the vagaries of home schooling.

It took only 10 days for signs that the approach here — “elimination” rather than the “containment” goal of the United States and other Western countries — is working.

The number of new cases has fallen for two consecutive days, despite a huge increase in testing, with 54 confirmed or probable cases reported Tuesday. That means the number of people who have recovered, 65, exceeds the number of daily infections.”

The story has been a huge social media hit, with analysis from Crowd Tangle pointing to nearly 90,000 Facebook interactions and over 30,000 on Twitter.

Read the full story on the Washington Post here

7.25am: 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

The state of water storage in Auckland is currently the worst it has been in decades. In fact, as Radio NZ reports, Watercare has warned the city that if it weren’t for Covid-19, water restrictions would already be in place. Chief executive Raveen Jaduram put the current dam levels in context, which are down to just 52% of capacity: “We want everyone in Auckland to realise how severe this issue is. Half full storage lakes in April – we haven’t had that since about 1992.”

To reiterate, formal water restrictions have not yet been put in place. And continuing good hand-washing is essential right now, so don’t stop doing that. But the message around activities like washing the car or waterblasting the house is very simple – don’t do it. If water use doesn’t come down, or we don’t see an inordinate amount of rain in the next few weeks, restrictions will almost certainly come in. And the real pain point won’t necessarily be this year – if things don’t improve, another dry summer next year could be catastrophic.

If you think this is just an Auckland problem, think again. Large parts of the country are still in drought, according to NIWA’s drought monitor. The associated problems with that haven’t gone away in the last few weeks, even though attention has been elsewhere. Discussions are starting up again in the particularly hard hit Hawke’s Bay about water storage dams, reports Hawke’s Bay Today, which is fair enough, though you can’t store rain that isn’t falling. This situation is not going to get better as the climate changes, so the whole country needs to start thinking about permanent changes in habits that lower the amount of water that gets used.


Just quickly, a message from our 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.”


See this graph? It shows tentative signs of a very positive possible scenario in the fight against Covid-19. There were only 54 new cases announced during yesterday’s update, which is lower than any other day over the last two weeks. That also comes amid increasing numbers of tests being carried out – though typically Monday and Tuesday have seen lower tallies of new cases than other days of the week. Dr Ashley Bloomfield says we’re clearly not out of the woods yet, and people still need to follow all of the lockdown measures for the efforts so far to be worth it. Here’s the updated charts which show the current spread so far.

One of the biggest issues in government funding over the next year is going to be how on earth local government pays for itself. Concern about rates is bubbling up all over the country, at a time when most councils are facing deficits of critical infrastructure. Rather than tie the individual issues together beyond that, I’ll just go down the country and give you some headlines to show where things are at:

In Auckland, there has been a freeze on contractors, and non essential work has been paused. The Council also has basically no choice but to go ahead with a 3.5% rates rise. In New Plymouth, the Council has major three waters projects coming up, and discussions are taking place over recovery from the Covid-19 downturn, “rates remission, rent holidays and a proposed rates increase.” In Wellington, the rates hike is still going ahead, amid the loss of tens of millions in revenue from Council facilities.

In the South Island, Tasman District is considering blocking a scheduled rates rise of 2.97%, and foregoing about $2 million in the process. In Christchurch, councillors are actively pushing for property owners to lobby the Council to stop a rates rise, which would involve big budget cuts – but don’t worry, those councillors still want a massive new rugby stadium to be built from the public purse. And in Clutha, the rates will still have to be paid, but the Council has given a bit more leniency on how quickly for those affected by the downturn.

In the interests of transparency, IRD has started publishing the names of businesses who have applied for the wage subsidy, and how much they’ve been paid out. And New World stores, which have continued trading over the lockdown period, have now voluntarily withdrawn all applications, and will pay back money already paid out, reports Stuff. The scheme is not just free money – it requires businesses to have seen a 30% downturn in revenue (or projected revenue) because of Covid-19, and is tied to keeping people employed. You can have a look at the list here. And speaking of supermarkets, Michael Andrew has reported on a new crowd-sourced system which tells you how long the lines at stores are.

The government needs to consider some sort of private equity measures to prevent key NZ companies with depressed share prices being bought up by overseas interests. That’s the view of the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Fran O’Sullivan, in a provocative column that looks at the likes of Tourism Holdings, Fletcher Building, and other companies that are vulnerable to raiding. Other countries, particularly Singapore and Australia, have already made moves in this direction.

Health minister David Clark suffered through a pretty brutal round of interviews yesterday morning, after his demotion and reprimand from the PM. A brief survey of political reporters and commentators show a pretty unanimous opinion that it will only get worse from here. Radio NZ’s Jane Patterson believes that “his future as a Cabinet minister once the lockdown is over is shaky, to say the least.” Stuff’s Henry Cooke argues that his career is now effectively over, and he’s now just serving out a notice period as health minister. And the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Audrey Young has hammered home the point made by the PM – that she would have sacked Clark were there not a global pandemic on right now. Just so we’re all clear here, David Clark did offer his resignation – it just wasn’t accepted because of the immediate situation.

6.15am: NY has its worst one-day death toll yet while Italy has lowest infections in weeks

New York has suffered its worst one-day Covid-19 toll to date, with 731 announced as having died from the virus on Monday, a sharp rise from the 594 and 599 over the weekend. At the same timing, governor Andrew Cuomo found reasons to be optimistic, with deaths a lag indicator and the rate of hospital admissions indicating “flattening or a possible plateau”, he said yesterday. (A note on death tolls – this British Medical Journal post provides context for ways of understanding the overall impact of Covid-19 on a population, and is worth a read).

Authorities in New York are increasingly hopeful that by applying new standards for admission and sharing the load it will be able to avoid having its hospitals overwhelmed the way those of Italy have been. Italy itself is now firmly on the downslope, with a number of markers in as good a state as they have been in weeks, with far more recoveries than new cases and deaths continuing marked a trend down. Meanwhile, despite continuing concerns about the integrity of its data, China claimed another milestone overnight, with zero deaths attributed to the virus and early epicentre Wuhan reopening from its lockdown. Both Italy and China will be closely watched by other nations to see how they might emerge from lockdown, and how people and the economy behave in the aftermath.

For countries earlier in the curve, actions and thus results remain a broad spectrum. Turkey is currently reporting the highest rate of new infections in the world. It topped 30,000 cases yesterday, yet its president Recep Tayip Erdoğan has failed to impose a lockdown, demanding instead that the “wheels of the economy must keep turning” and people should continue to work. It has imposed a curfew on those over 65 and under 20, and closed the border and most shops, but remains well short of what its doctors would like. The global total is now 1.39m infections, with the US listing 379,000 and Italy, Spain and Germany all over 100,000. There have been 79,000 deaths attributed to Covid-19 globally, all figures per Johns Hopkins.


Catch up on the key NZ stories through yesterday’s live updates



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