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Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. (Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas)
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. (Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas)

SocietyApril 9, 2020

Covid-19 live updates, April 9: Decision on ending lockdown in 11 days; drop in active cases

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. (Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas)
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. (Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas)

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.

7.00pm: The day in sum

  • Cyclone Harold has inflicted a terrible toll on Vanuatu and Fiji, at a time when those countries can least afford to have people in crowded evacuation centres.
  • The condition of UK PM Boris Johnson, who has Covid-19, has improved. He is now able to sit up and engage with his clinicians, though he remains in intensive care.
  • Here in New Zealand, the National Party continued to raise doubts about whether September’s election should go ahead as scheduled, or whether it should be delayed.
  • The government announced driver licences and warrants of fitness that expired on or after January 1 of this year will be valid for up to six months from tomorrow.
  • The limit for Paywave contactless payments is being temporarily raised from $80 to $200 due to concerns about virus transmission through Eftpos and credit card transactions requiring a PIN number.
  • It was announced that 10,700 benefits were granted last week, the majority of those jobseeker benefits.
  • Prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced that from midnight tonight every returning New Zealander must undergo quarantine or “managed self-isolation in an approved facility” for 14 days.
  • She said a decision “on next steps” would be taken by cabinet on April 20, and more details on a possible shift to alert level three would be provided next week. She encouraged businesses to start thinking now about how they would operate under level three.
  • There were 29 new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, the lowest number since the lockdown began and the third drop in new cases in as many days.
  • An updated model by scientists at Te Pūnaha Matatini suggests New Zealand is on track to meet the most optimistic scenario they laid out before the lockdown began.

6.30pm: Today on The Spinoff

Matt Bartlett implored us to ignore the pandemic productivity guilt trap – it’s bullshit anyway

Our Business is Boring podcast spoke to Pat MacFie of Manaaki, a free online service offering businesses support through Covid-19

Toby Manhire reported on new scientific modelling that shows an optimistic Covid-19 scenario for New Zealand

A bus driver talked to Leonie Hayden about his concerns about going to work in a lockdown

Newshub investigations reporter Michael Morrah argued that the government isn’t being as transparent as its Ardern and Bloomfield briefings might suggest

We reported on how bulk testing of samples – also known as ‘pool’ testing – could be the way forward for coronavirus surveillance in New Zealand

Chris McDowall published his latest set of fascinating data visualisations showing the spread of Covid-19, and its containment

6.15pm: Data on testing by ethnicity and region released

The Ministry of Health has added two new tables to its ever-expanding collection of graphs and charts illustrating the distribution of Covid-19 testing and of positive cases in New Zealand

The first table shows testing by ethnicity

and the second, testing by DHB region.

Both tables feature provisional data as of today, April 9. For a deeper dive into today’s Covid-19 data, see Chris McDowall’s latest collection of data visualisations and graphs.

5.40pm: Ardern in talks with other world leaders

Jacinda Ardern has been talking with her counterparts in other countries about the pandemic, she told RNZ Checkpoint. She said she’d spoken with Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven last night, and was scheduled to talk with Singapore’s leader Lee Hsien Loong this evening. Ardern said the conversations were about “sharing ideas, rather than the idea that what we’re doing can just be replicated elsewhere, because our populations are different and our ways of life are different too.” There was some curiosity about New Zealand’s achievements, she said, but the interest went both ways. “We’re all sharing right now, and that is as it should be.”

Unlike most of the world, Sweden is following a controversial ‘herd immunity’ strategy which allows businesses, shops, restaurants and schools to remain open, with some physical distancing restrictions. The country has experienced a surge in cases over recent days, and yesterday recorded 96 deaths.

After initially achieving success in limiting the rate of infection through strict self-isolation and contact tracing measures, Singapore has also experienced a sharp rise in cases this week. Yesterday 142 new cases were recorded, the biggest daily increase since the outbreak began in January.

5.10pm: No media briefings for next two days

Terrible news for those of you who have structured your lockdown lives around the 1pm briefings: there will be none of that tomorrow and Saturday, with the information coming in the form of a media release rather than out of Ashley Bloomfield’s mouth. The briefings will be back at 1pm on Sunday and Monday.

4.15pm: New modelling reveals impact of lockdown

An updated model by scientists at Te Pūnaha Matatini suggests New Zealand is on track to meet the most optimistic scenario they laid out before the lockdown began.

The scientists found that “while New Zealand case numbers remain low, tracing, testing, and rapid case isolation, combined with population-wide control methods, offer an opportunity for the country to contain and eliminate Covid-19.”

Read more on The Spinoff here.

Today’s Clovid-19 modelling by Te Pūnaha Matatini

2.35pm: DHBs issue reminder that emergency departments remain open

A group of northern region DHBs are reminding the public that emergency departments (EDs) remain open during lockdown, including through the Easter break. “We are concerned people may not be coming in for the care when they need it,” said Dr Dale Bramley, Waitemata DHB CEO. While advice and care is available from GPs, urgent care clinics and the Healthline service, “for emergencies, people shouldn’t hesitate to call 111 or present at any of our emergency departments,” he said.

“This message is particularly important for our older people, who often don’t like to make a fuss,” he said, adding that ED staff were using all appropriate PPE and following international best practice for infection prevention.

Patient volumes have fallen by up to 50% at some EDs over recent weeks.

2.00pm: Preparing for alert level three

Ardern has announced this afternoon that the decision on moving out of lockdown and to alert level three would be taken on April 20, a couple of days before the end of the four-week. More details on what alert level three requirements would involve are to be provided next week.

She added, however, that businesses should start making preparations now, by focusing on three areas.

“Make sure you look at whether or not you can work with social distancing. Can we contact-trace all of the customers or employees that you work with? And do you or will you need PPE [personal protective equipment]?”

A reminder, here’s what alert level three looks like, according to the current official advice:

Level 3 Restrict

Heightened risk that disease is not contained.

Risk assessment

  • Community transmission occurring OR
  • Multiple clusters break out.

Range of measures

These can all be applied locally or nationally:

  • travel in areas with clusters or community transmission limited

  • affected educational facilities closed

  • mass gatherings cancelled

  • public venues closed (eg libraries, museums, cinemas, food courts, gyms, pools, amusement parks)

  • alternative ways of working required and some non-essential businesses should close

  • non face-to-face primary care consultations

  • non acute (elective) services and procedures in hospitals deferred and healthcare staff reprioritised.

1.40pm: Ardern announces mandatory quarantine, lockdown decision on April 20

From midnight tonight every returning New Zealander must undergo quarantine or “managed self-isolation in an approved facility” for 14 days, Jacinda Ardern has announced. That would be a “significant undertaking”, she said, noting nearly 40,000 had returned home since the border was closed to foreign nationals on March 20.

A network of up to 18 hotels will be used, with one or two devoted to those “under strict quarantine conditions”, that is, those who are symptomatic or being tested.

Scaled up and faster use of contact tracing would also be introduced. She would be discussing with the Singaporean prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, their use of tracing technology, later today.

She also said testing needed to expand further, with surveillance testing to come into play “to ensure we have greater levels of certainty around the decline of the virus’s spread”.

For more on contact tracing see here; for more on surveillance testing see here.

Ardern said more details on the shift to alert level three would be provided next week. A decision “on next steps” would be taken by cabinet on April 20. That meant “if we are ready to move to alert level three, business will have two days to implement arrangements”.

She reiterated there was no prospect of moving out of lockdown sooner. “If we move too early we will go backwards.”

She urged businesses to “prepare for what every alert level means for you”.

Addressing the state of play halfway through the lockdown, the prime minister commended the “wall of defence” from the New Zealand public. “In the face of the greatest threat to human health that we have faced in over a century, Kiwis have quietly and collectively implemented a nationwide wall of defence. You are breaking the chain of transmission, and you did it for each other.”

While the government has used “powers that come with being in a national emergency … you have the greatest power of all,” she said. “You have saved lives”.

She said modelling on the eve of the lockdown suggested New Zealand was on a similar trajectory to potentially Italy or even Spain, and that our 205 cases on March 25 could have grown to over 10,000 without strict actions. New Zealand had avoided, she said, the “horrific scenes seen abroad”.

She added: “We are turning a corner and your commitment means our plan is working, but to succeed we need it to keep working. Success does not mean we change the course. Removing restrictions now would allow the virus to spread rapidly once again, and we would be back to the starting line in two weeks.”

Ardern said the stepping up of police presence would continue. “We cannot let the selfish actions of a few set us back, and we won’t.”

Asked about shifting the election back to November, as promoted by her deputy prime minister, Winston Peters, earlier today, Ardern said, “at the moment we’re sticking with the date we have”, but “it is too soon to make a determination … It is something that is under review”. She said she was in touch with Simon Bridges on the question.

Pressed on whether there could be adjustments on tangihanga in changes to essential services, Ardern said there couldn’t “be any room” for opening up “some parts of our lives where contact is built in”, such as tangi. “I know how horrific that is for tangi … But it’s the only way we can protect each other.”

1.10pm: 29 new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, active cases decline

There are 29 new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, the director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, has just announced. There are 35 further recovered cases reported, meaning the net change of active cases is six fewer.

This means the 15 days since lockdown look like this: 78, 85, 83, 63, 76, 58, 61, 89, 71, 82, 89, 67, 54, 50, and today a low 29.

Here are those numbers expressed in a Chris McDowall chart (more to come later today):

The combined overall number of cases is 1,239. There are 14 people in hospital, with four in ICU.

A reported 41% of cases have an overseas link, with 44% linked to known cases, and 2% confirmed community transmission. That leaves 13% still under investigation.

A total of 3,990 tests were processed yesterday.

On the main clusters, Marist College in Auckland (87 people), Matamata (67) and Bluff (87), Bloomfield said they were “confident now that we are on top of those clusters and any additional cases are largely within bubbles within each of those clusters”.

Bloomfield said the government has distributed over a million doses of the flu vaccines. They are in GPs, pharmacies and DHBs. Bloomfield said there were “good supplies” in every region, and there are sufficient vaccines for all priority groups, who are encouraged to ring their GP or local pharmacy to make a time to be vaccinated.

Bloomfield is appearing at his daily media briefing with prime minister Jacinda Ardern at the Beehive.

12.40pm: Delivereat removes questionable marketing schemes

An online directory designed to support New Zealand businesses delivering essential goods and services during lockdown has removed listings for multi-level marketing schemes from its platform after being contacted by The Spinoff. Delivereat began as a lockdown directory of food businesses but has widened out to include MBIE-approved pet supplies, hygiene products and services such as online Pilates classes. This morning, a Twitter user noticed that Isagenix, a US-founded multi-level marketing (MLM) scheme that sells medically questionable weight-loss supplements, was listed on the site under the “non-perishables” category, as was Isa Energy. Both listings linked to the main Isagenix website.

Also listed under the non-perishables category was controversial cosmetics MLM Arbonne, which linked to a consultant’s website. On being contacted by The Spinoff, Delivereat founder Denym Bird said he was unaware of the listings but they would be removed. He said businesses submit their details through an online form and select their own category, but are approved before being added to the site.

After media coverage of Delivereat earlier in the week, he and business partner Alex Hamilton had been flooded with applications, said Bird. “It’s difficult for us to verify and investigate every single listing that comes through, especially as we are doing this as a part-time non-profit initiative outside of our full-time commitments,” said Bird in a follow-up email. “We’ve removed the two listings you mentioned that were MLMs and we’ll be taking a lot more caution in the future to ensure that they (and any others) don’t get through the cracks.”

11.45am: Schools may not reopen straight away after level 4

Parents should be prepared for the prospect of schools being closed longer than the minimum 4 week lockdown period, education minister Chris Hipkins has told the Zoom select committee this morning. It was wrong to assume all schools and early learning services would reopen as soon as the country went back down to level 3, he said, and that reopening schools is “likely going to be a progressive warming up, rather than a big bang.” Among the many considerations to be made are how to keep kids safe and implement social distancing measures once they return to school, and how to manage the many school staff considered at high risk from Covid-19.

Hipkins said the Ministry of Education is currently working on ensuring as many school-aged children as possible had access to the internet to continue learning, and are purchasing and sending out modems (and instructions on how to get them to work) to households who need them. 2,000 modems were set to be sent out today, he said. Additionally, there are 20,000 hard packs of educational material being sent out this week, with 60,000 going out next week. The ministry is looking at being able to deliver at least half a million hard packs in the future. Two TV channels are also being launched next Wednesday, one in English and one in Māori, to support students across a range of age groups.

Green Party coleader Marama Davidson asked Hipkins to clarify what the ministry’s expectations of parents were at this time. “We don’t expect every parent to suddenly become an expert in teaching overnight,” said Hipkins, adding that the materials being sent out by the government were intended to supplement learning directed by the children’s schools. He urged employers of parents with kids at home to “be reasonable of your expectations with productivity.”

On the topic of funding, Hipkins confirmed state schools will continue to get all of the state funding they receive, but that “revenue from international education has obviously been disrupted, with some schools more exposed than others.” He said the ministry would work through that situation to see what additional support could be provided, but that schools would have to budget for a much smaller international cohort than they’re used to having.

Hipkins encourages parents to look at the Ministry of Education’s bulletins, which have gone out regularly, and includes what are in the specific education packs going out to homes. All these hard packs are also available online at Learning From Home.

11.15am: March spending plummets

As you’d expect, spending on travel and hospitality went off a cliff in March. Numbers just released by Statistics NZ show card spending on travel fell by 53% ($66 million) as Covid-19 restrictions came into force. It’s not surprising, but it’s striking to look at.

Meanwhile card spending on food and beverage services (cafes, restaurants, takeaways and bars) fell by 27% ($238 million) in March. The alert level four, which put an end to all of that, kicked in on March 26.

10.45am: Extension for licences and warrants of fitness

All driver licences and warrants or certificates of fitness that expired on or after January 1 of this year will be valid for up to six months from tomorrow, the government has announced.

“People shouldn’t have to worry about getting fined for having an expired document if driving to use essential services or as an essential worker during the Covid-19 alert level four lockdown,” said the minister of transport, Phil Twyford, in a statement. “The extension will give people and businesses plenty of time after the lockdown to renew their documents without putting extra pressure on them when they are already likely to be stressed,” he said. “Drivers will still need to be medically fit to drive, comply with relevant restrictions and conditions on their licence and obey all road rules. Any licence suspensions and disqualifications will also continue to apply.

There will also be a suspension of the requirement to display a current vehicle licence (aka rego) if it expired on or after 1 January 2020. About 600,000 WoFs and CoFs, 800,000 vehicle licences, and 40,000 driver licences are expected to expire between March 24 and May 17, according to NZTA.

10.15am: Over 10,000 new benefits granted last week

10,700 benefits were granted last week, the majority of those jobseeker benefits, the Epidemic Response Committee has been told this morning. Social development minister Carmel Sepuloni and Ministry of Social Development chief executive Debbie Power are currently taking questions from the committee around unemployment figures. The ministry will aim to publish data on benefits granted on a weekly basis, with a breakdown on which benefits have been granted (for example, the accommodation supplement). There were around 149,000 people on the jobseeker benefit in February, which had already increased to 152,000 by March 27. Louise Upston, National’s spokesperson for social development, said there were 310,000 people on benefits, which is an 8.2% increase on a year ago, with a 15% increase of those on the jobseeker benefit.

Upston pressed Sepuloni on why MSD didn’t have forecasts for how unemployment will track. “If you don’t have forecasts, how do you know where those unemployed people will be and how you will redeploy them? If you have daily data, you must have a feel for where in the country people are now, otherwise your ability to respond is severely reduced.” Sepuloni said Treasury was in charge of forecasting, not MSD, and that MSD was working with key industry partners to redeploy people who have lost jobs in industries such as hospitality, moving them into industries that are continuing through lockdown, such as the kiwifruit harvest.

Committee chair Simon Bridges further pressed Sepuloni on her refusal to release the forecast figures. “You’re not going to give us your projections and scenarios even though you have them,” he said. “That forecast information will come out next week and you’ll just have to wait,” said Sepuloni. “I don’t think it’s in the public interest to put out vague information, it’s not in the public interest for us to speculate.” Bridges responded: “They’re much better than guesses, they’re your scenario plans so you can gear up the ministry.” He added that last week finance minister Grant Robertson promised forecasts “in a week” and they hadn’t come.

9.45am: Today’s select committee

The Epidemic Response Committee will again convene on Zoom at 10 o’clock this morning. They’ll be putting questions to social development minister Carmel Sepuloni and Ministry of Social Development chief exec Debbie Power for the first half of the meeting, before education minister Chris Hipkins and secretary of education Iona Holsted take the hot seat around 11.30 along with Tim Fowler from the Tertiary Education Commission and the Ministry of Education’s Ellen MacGregor-Reid. Updates to follow here, or you can watch it live on Vimeo:

9.30am: Stricter quarantine rules on the way

The government is expected to announce new compulsory quarantine rules for every person arriving into New Zealand later today. Foreign affairs minister Winston Peters gave a teaser of these new rules to RNZ’s Morning Report this morning, saying all new arrivals would be met at the airport and taken straight to a facility for a mandatory 14-day quarantine period. Tougher border controls have been the subject of a petition set up by National earlier in the week, which as of yesterday had accumulated over 40,000 signatures.

9.15am: Hardship grants and food parcels doubled – Salvation Army

The Salvation Army has begun to issue fortnightly reports monitoring New Zealand’s vulnerable people throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. The first was released this morning, and broadly indicates that while many Kiwis were facing financial hardship going into lockdown, the number is climbing. The report states that hardship grants have almost doubled throughout the lockdown period from the December 2019 numbers – a traditionally tight period. The report has detail from the Army’s front lines, and states that Auckland’s food parcel numbers have doubled over the past week. In the central North Island elderly who hadn’t previously requested help from the Army have begun to do so, as they lack support from people nearby.

The report states that while the Ministry of Social Development’s ongoing funding of NGOs is appreciated, the government needs to expand its own initiatives to match demand. Government action surrounding financial hardship has, it says, “been quite muted and lacks strategy”. It suggests expanding core welfare assistance, and points out the current Jobseeker payment, at $281.08, is less than half of the $585.50 offered by the wage subsidy programme. The Salvation Army would specifically like to see more government guidance around car loans, payday lenders, and credit cards.

View the full report here

8.50am: Winston Peters wants election pushed back to November

Adding to questions from the National party over whether New Zealand will be ready for a September 19 election (see 7.20am update), NZ First leader Winston Peters has told Morning Report he believes the election should be postponed until November 21.

8.25am: Paywave limit being increased

The limit for contactless payments not requiring a PIN number to be entered is being temporarily raised from $80 to $200, Payments NZ has announced. The new measure introduced to reduce the number of people having to touch Etfpos terminal keypads to enter their PIN will be rolled out by most banks and retailers in the coming days and weeks, Payments NZ chief executive Steve Wiggins said in a media release this morning. The new higher limit is temporary, and will remain in place for as long as is deemed necessary.

8.00am: WHO director general urges leaders to ‘behave’

World Health Organization director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has urged leaders to “please avoid politicising the virus”, a day after US president Donald Trump criticised the WHO and hinted at withdrawing US funding during a task force briefing. “The focus of all political parties should be to save their people”, Tedros said at a press conference on the eve of the 100-day anniversary of the WHO first being notified of the first cases of “pneumonia with unknown causes” in China. “If we care about our people, if we care about our citizens,” he said, “please work across party lines, across ideology, across beliefs, across any differences, for that matter. We need to behave. That’s how we can defeat this virus.” He did not refer to any specific world leaders by name.

7.50am: Updates from around the world

UK PM Boris Johnson is reportedly conscious and able to engage with his clinicians, though remains in intensive care. The BBC has covered a press conference from chancellor Rishi Sunak, who says the PM’s condition is “improving.” The death toll in the UK has now rising above 7000, with almost a thousand deaths over the last 24 hours.

In the US, there are fears the death toll is being undercounted, even as it mounts at terrifying speed, reports Reuters. New York and New Jersey in particular are being hammered, and there has been a massive surge in the number of people dying at home – cases that aren’t necessarily counted towards the official Covid-19 death toll. Meanwhile, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has suspended his campaign, saying there is no realistic path to victory, and that he cannot in good conscience continue to campaign amid the wider pandemic.

A small mercy in Italy: Because of the ongoing lockdown, a bridge collapse has only caused a small number of casualties, reports the Guardian. Much of the country’s infrastructure is in a decrepit state, and the bridge would normally have been busy at the time it went down. It revived fears of a 2018 bridge collapse which killed 43 people – in this instance, only two people have been hurt, and there have been no deaths.

Finally, the global death toll from Covid-19 has reached 87,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. The total number of cases will hit 1.5 million imminently.

7.20am: Questions over the election date 

As things stand right now, the country will be going to the polls in September. But will we actually be able to do so safely?

As Radio NZ’s Jo Moir reports, the National Party is raising doubts about whether it should go ahead as scheduled, or whether it should be delayed. Their deputy leader Paula Bennett had this to say:

“I must say that even in the last couple of days I’ve just been wondering just how ready would the public be for a September 19 election and is it fair to them and fair to our whole democracy system to be asking them to go through that.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in some elections being delayed around the world. Several states in the US postponed their primaries, and those that didn’t have subsequently seen Covid cases linked to the polls being open. In Brisbane, local elections went ahead just two weeks ago.

In March, electoral law professor Andrew Geddis wrote this piece for The Spinoff about whether there was a mechanism for delaying the elections. The key point is this: “Barring legislative change by parliament, the prime minister has to name an election date sometime in this year. And making any changes to that fact will not be easy.” So if the election doesn’t end up happening on September 19, the most likely outcome is that it gets pushed back later in the year, rather than taking place next year.

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

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

An announcement is expected today on mandatory 14-day quarantine for all arrivals at the border, in an effort to prevent outbreaks of Covid-19. That comes from Newshub’s political editor Tova O’Brien, and the story is written with the wording that they ‘understand’ such an announcement is imminent – in the vast majority of reported stories like this, things that are understood turn out to then happen. To back that up, Stuff reported last night that a mandatory quarantine was “on the cards”, with PM Jacinda Ardern giving more information about what it would look like in practice.

Don’t we already have this in place? Not as such, though quarantine options exists. Those who turn up showing symptoms, or who do not have adequate self-isolation plans, do already face mandatory quarantine. Police have also been carrying out face-to-face compliance checks on those arrivals who are self-isolating in recent days. However, with the largest chunk of Covid-19 cases in New Zealand still coming from overseas rather than community transmission, mandatory quarantine is probably a necessary part of a wider elimination strategy. It will likely apply to all countries of origin for arrivals, and will be modelled on the facility in Whangapāroa used to quarantine arrivals from Wuhan in February.

Why wasn’t it done sooner? This report from Newstalk ZB suggests that the reason mandatory quarantine didn’t come sooner was because the PM believed the existing system was working. As well as that, when more people were arriving, it would have been logistically impossible. However, there has been a relentless campaign from many figures for a mandatory quarantine in recent days, from epidemiologist Sir David Skegg at the Epidemic Response Committee, to the National Party, to Newshub itself through their national correspondent Patrick Gower.

Meanwhile, there’s concern that even with a tiny number of international flights taking place, some New Zealanders won’t be able to make it home. The NZ Herald reported on one such case yesterday, of a New Zealand family stuck in Germany. Even though the German government has chartered an Air NZ flight to get their citizens out of New Zealand, it isn’t at all clear whether this family will be able to get on the return leg. It’s a system the NZ government have said they’re looking at as a solution, but clearly in this instance it hasn’t yet got over the line. And in Peru, some New Zealanders have expressed disappointment at the high price of a repatriation flight home, reports Stuff – though by all accounts it seems better than the alternative of a military curfew that has been put in place over the country.

Waipareira Trust boss John Tamihere has been accused of telling staff to lie in order to get Covid-19 tests, reports Leigh-Marama McLachlan for Radio NZ. The accusations have come from two doctors at a West Auckland testing station, who say they were told by Tamihere to test his staff. When they refused to automatically test – saying instead they’d screen them and test as required – they were told that staff members had been instructed to lie so they would be tested. The doctors say they felt intimidated by the experience, and they walked out, also saying it could have put the staffers at risk. Tamihere is yet to comment on the allegation, except to say that it is an employment matter.

Two pieces to share on questions of trust in those leading the Covid-19 response: Toby Manhire has reported on new data from polling firm Colmar Brunton, which has found overwhelming public support for how the government has handled the crisis. In fact, the figures show trust in the government response is far outstripping other countries in the G7 so far, even though New Zealanders are more likely to think that it will take more than six months for things to get back to normal.

On the other hand, are we really being given timely and trustworthy information from the government and top public servants? That’s the question posed by Newshub’s Michael Morrah, who has laid out a series of incidents in the message from the top being markedly different to what his newsroom’s reporters were hearing on the ground, around matters like PPE, testing swabs and flu vaccines. Morrah has also called out a tendency for answers to specific questions that end up being vague and late.

Foreign citizens who have found themselves unemployed say they’re trapped, with no access to benefits or any way back to their birth country, reports Radio NZ. The stories range from asylum seekers who have been released from detention, to immigrants who say their employers got rid of them first because it would be easier. One point made in the story is that the treatment they’re getting here is very similar to the way Australia treats unemployed New Zealanders – and we get pretty up in arms about that.

And if you’re planning on going somewhere for an Easter holiday – how about this: Don’t do it! Stay at home. And as Dr Siouxsie Wiles says, don’t hang out with the neighbours over the fence either, it’s just too risky. You should of course choose to stay at home, but if you choose otherwise, the NZ Herald reports the cops will be out in force at checkpoints. So far there have been 45 prosecutions for flouting of lockdown rules, and at this stage you’d have to be pretty dumb to add to that tally.

6.10am: Cyclone Harold smashes locked down Pacific

Cyclone Harold has inflicted a terrible toll on Vanuatu and Fiji, at a time when those countries can least afford to have people in crowded evacuation centres. RNZ Pacific has published pictures this morning of the damage, which includes totally flattened villages, roofs ripped off houses, and crops destroyed. The danger hasn’t fully passed for Fiji yet, with the storm still blowing as a category four – slightly weaker than what hit Vanuatu. The NZ government has made available an initial support package of $500,000.

6.00am: The key NZ stories from yesterday

  • Fifty new cases of Covid-19 were announced yesterday (26 confirmed and 24 probable). The total number of cases is now 1,210 with 282 people reported to have recovered.
  • New police commissioner Andrew 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
  • Plans to support distance learning for schools was announced. It will focus on increasing access to the internet and devices at home, delivering hard copy packs of educational materials, more support for children with additional learning needs, and two new TV channels hosted by TVNZ and Māori TV which will begin broadcasting educational content on April 15.
  • Tropical cyclone Harold has hit Fiji, just after the country went into a nationwide curfew to limit the spread of Covid-19. A defence force aircraft has left New Zealand for Fiji to survey the damage. Alongside sending logistical support, the government has said it will be looking at plans to evacuate New Zealanders stranded in Vanuatu.
  • A new poll shows that New Zealanders overwhelming support the government’s response to Covid-19.
  • Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said a New Zealand-style strategy in Australia would come at too great a cost.
  • US President Donald Trump lashed out at the World Health Organisation, accusing the UN agency of being “very China centric” and of issuing bad advice about closing borders
  • When asked about influencers and conspiracy theories, Jacinda 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.”

Read more in yesterday’s live updates

Keep going!