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.
6.50pm: The day in sum
There were two new cases of Covid-19 recorded in New Zealand, both linked to the St Margaret’s cluster. The total active case number is down to 103.
A cache of proactively released documents has kept journalists and other curious people busy all day.
A leaked memo showed the Prime Minister’s Office warning ministers off doing interviews, and urging “There’s no real need to defend” the government’s actions, “we can dismiss”.
Air New Zealand announced plans for the reinstatement of many routes under level two.
Salvos between China and Winston Peters continued to fly, with a Chinese article calling him “unprofessional” over remarks relating to Taiwan and the WHO.
Flower sales have boomed for Mother’s Day according to Auckland’s best florist.
6.30pm: Everyone wants some lovely flowers for their mum
Despite (or perhaps because of) the lockdown, demand for Mother’s Day flowers has been significantly higher than recent years, according to Millie Austin, friend of The Spinoff and owner of florist La Femme Fleur.
With florists able to reopen under level three, but cafe brunches still off limits, flowers are proving a popular non-bubble-bursting option. It comes at an important time for the flower industry, especially for growers who were forced to destroy tens of thousands of dollars of crops during level four lockdown, said Austin. However, with demand so high and supply reduced by Covid-19, soaring prices at this week’s flower auctions mean profit margins will be slim.
Just in case it’s not clear to everyone, Mother’s Day is tomorrow.
5.30pm: Sam Neill is dancing to Bach
Other live blogs will be too frightened to share this with their readers, but you, and probably the World Health Organisation, need to be aware of this latest addition to the Sam Neill lockdown experience.
4.00pm: Beijing hits back at Winston Peters over Taiwan comments
The verbal salvos between New Zealand’s foreign minister and China continue, with a post on Sina News, attributed to the Observer Network, chastising Winston Peters for his remarks about the ambassador in New Zealand and the status of Taiwan.
It kicked off last week when Peters said that New Zealand supported the reinstatement of Taiwan, which had “something to teach the world and every country, including China”, given its successful response to Covid-19, as a member of the World Health Organisation. The Chinese ambassador to New Zealand, Wu Xi, issued a statement asserting the “one-China principle” as “the political foundation of the China-New Zealand relationship”. She added: “As a province of China, Taiwan is not eligible for the membership of WHO”.
That prompted Peters to say that she should “listen to her master, [foreign minister] Wang Yi, back in Beijing”, who had given him assurances “China does not behave that way”.
The report on Sina News characterises Peter’s response to the ambassador as an “attack”, using “very unprofessional language”. It concludes: China urges relevant countries to recognize the situation clearly, abide by the one-China principle, and stop using the epidemic situation to manipulate Taiwan-related issues.
Meanwhile ministers of defence for New Zealand and Australia have issued a statement following a teleconference. New Zealand’s Ron Mark discussed with his counterparts procurement and commitment to the Pacific. The statement talks of close cooperations and good friends and avenues to strengthen, but there’s nothing specific. It is not at this stage known whether or not Minister Mark wore a fetching cowboy hat on the video chat.
1.30pm: The latest data, charted
The latest case numbers fit with an encouraging trend. Below are the cases by active, recovered and deceased. Hover your cursor for more information.
1.05pm: Two new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand
There are two new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, with one of those a confirmed case and the other recorded as probable.
The latest information, which comes in a press release from the Ministry of Health, described both cases as linked to the St Margaret’s Hospital & Rest Home in Auckland.
The confirmed case is a household contact of a previously confirmed case linked to the cluster. The probable case is a nurse who had been looking after St Margaret’s patients at Waitakere Hospital and was among the close contacts of other positive cases already announced.
That means the reported new cases over the last seven days are: 2, 0, 0, 2, 1, 2, and today 2. One of the zero days, however, included a case being reclassified as non-Covid, and another in which a probable became a confirmed, which by our calculation the net addition of cases over the last seven days is five.
There are no additional deaths to report. Yesterday 7,204 tests were processed, bringing the tests total to 183,039. “This equates to 3.5% of the population and puts New Zealand in the top 20 countries per capita for testing,” said the ministry.
New Zealand’s combined total of confirmed and probable Covid-19 cases now stands at 1,492, with 1,142 confirmed cases (the number reported to the World Health Organisation) and 350 probable cases.
There are now 1,368 people reported as having recovered from Covid-19. That amounts to 92% of all confirmed and probable cases – an increase of 21 on yesterday. By our calculation that means there are now only 103 known people in New Zealand who are “active cases”.
There are now two people in hospital with Covid-19 – one each in Middlemore and North Shore hospitals. Neither is in ICU.
In terms of confidence of stamping out Covid-19, the most reassuring part of recent new cases is that there are no positive tests popping up that have no clear link to known cases.
There remain concerns, however, around safe practices and use of protective equipment at Waitakere Hospital, which is part of the Waitemata district health board.
In the release, the ministry said: “Affected areas at Waitakere Hospital remain closed to further admissions and multiple precautions have been in place over the last week. The DHB has confirmed to the ministry that it has ample supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in stock and this is being used by staff in line with national guidance. The DHB is also ensuring that training in the correct use of PPE and other infection control strategies for Covid-19 continue for all relevant staff.”
12.45pm: Today’s numbers expected soon
A reminder: there is no 1pm media briefing today. Instead the latest information on new cases will come in a press release. We’ll post those details here just as soon as they arrive.
12.30pm: Air NZ to restore domestic routes under level two – but prices will be up
Following the government decision to permit regional travel under alert level two, and an eagerness among tourism operators to get the domestic sector up and running, a range of routes will be back in action when the country shifts down a level, Air New Zealand has revealed. It has warned, however, that distancing requirements mean that less than half of the seats will be able to be sold, meaning the airline “will not be able to offer its normal cheapest lead in fares”.
Air NZ will fly from Auckland to Christchurch, Gisborne, Kerikeri, Napier, Nelson, New Plymouth, Palmerston North, Tauranga, Wellington, Whangarei and Queenstown.
From Wellington to Auckland, Blenheim, Christchurch, Gisborne, Hamilton, Napier, Nelson, New Plymouth, Rotorua, and Tauranga.
And from Christchurch to Auckland, Dunedin, Invercargill, Nelson, Palmerston North, Wellington and Queenstown.
Air New Zealand is looking to restart services to Taupo, Hokitika and Timaru “as demand allows”.
12.00pm: NZ rugby under the microscope in our new series
New Zealand rugby has had its problems thrown into sharp relief by the pandemic, so what better time to launch Rugby Unwrapped, our three-part video series looking at the state of the game in Aotearoa. In part one, host Scotty Stevenson is joined by four rugby stakeholders, including All Black TJ Perenara, for a frank discussion that attempts to pinpoint where the weak links lie. How many of modern rugby’s problems could be solved by a return to the good old days, or do we need to look forward in search of new models? It doesn’t serve up all the answers on a plate, but it does offer a rare insight into the types of conversations about the game’s future that have until now only taken place behind closed doors. Watch here.
11.30am: Swedish epidemiologist defends approach, questions NZ strategy
Johan Giesecke, the former official epidemiologist for Sweden, has defended the country’s widely condemned “herd immunity” approach, which has seen deaths in the country considerably outnumber those of neighbouring nations. In a letter to the medical journal The Lancet, he wrote: “Measures to flatten the curve might have an effect, but a lockdown only pushes the severe cases into the future —it will not prevent them.” Vaccines “will take time, and with the unclear protective immunological response to infection, it is not certain that vaccines will be very effective.” Trying “to stop spread”, he argued, “is all but futile”.
Questioned separately on the example of New Zealand, where the pursuit of elimination so far appears to be working, Giesecke accepted that the Ardern government was succeeding in its strategy. “Yes, it seems they have … But what are they going to do now? To keep the country virus free, they will have to keep borders closed. Everyone travelling in must be quarantined for 14 days before being allowed in, and if no good vaccine arrives, New Zealand will have to keep that quarantine for a long time. A very long time.”
11.00am: NZ ‘not there yet’ on contact tracing, Shaw defends ‘gag’ on ministers
Appearing on Three’s The Nation this morning. Dr Ayesha Verrall, who audited the government’s contact-tracing efforts before the move to level three, said before a move to level two, reassurance was needed that contact-tracing capabilities had been sufficiently scaled up to deal with up to 1,000 new cases a day. “The government should be able to reassure us we’ve hit that target before we move to level two,” she said. “I’m really optimistic we’re on track to do that, but despite good progress New Zealand is not there yet.”
Verrall said the proposed trans-Tasman bubble with Australia may not be workable until New Zealand improves its contact-tracing abilities to match its neighbour. “It may well be that the Australians say ‘for this to be OK, you need to double your contact tracing’,” she said. “I’m optimistic we can because I know how much we’ve improved over the last two weeks.”
Epidemiologist Michael Baker said he believed New Zealand’s contact-tracing capabilities were sufficient for a move to level two, but further resources needed to be put into the public health system. He urged a sense of caution for any move to level two, “because the virus is almost certainly still circulating”.
“New Zealand had to do a huge catch-up because we had underinvested in public health infrastructure for decades,” said Baker. “A huge message from this is we weren’t ready. New Zealand’s done well but some countries have done better, like Taiwan, because it had a dedicated public health agency, acted early and didn’t need a lockdown.”
Baker reiterated his belief that once restrictions ease, mass mask wearing on public transport would reduce transmission. He predicted life would be largely back to normal in New Zealand by Christmastime. “We could be having reasonable volumes of travel to Australia and the Pacific, but international tourism will still be in the doldrums and New Zealand has no control over that. Unless there’s a vaccine or very good antivirals, this will be a problem for a long time in much of the world.”
Meanwhile, also speaking to The Nation, climate change minister James Shaw defended an internal memo sent from the prime minister’s office to all ministers instructing them not to speak to media about the document dump (see 8.30am update). The Greens co-leader said he didn’t receive the memo but had no problem with it, saying it was “entirely appropriate” considering the scale of the Covid-19 crisis, which he compared to World War II and the Great Depression. “It is really important in a time of crisis that the government speaks with one voice, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been that voice, and I think it’s appropriate that she continues to be that voice.”
9.05am: The day ahead
There is no 1pm media briefing scheduled for today. Instead the latest numbers will arrive via press release. We’ll have the finger on the refresh button and drop the details here as soon as they arrive.
It’s an important today, too. That’s because yesterday was the 11th day since New Zealand moved into alert level three. The incubation period of Covid-19 is two to 10 days. The last week has seen a run of low numbers, including two zero new-case results. Critically, all of the new cases are linked to existing cases – that is, there has been no case that has sprung up in a place where there is no obvious source. That would be a big worry. That’s why, as health experts and policy makers mull how soon to shift to alert level two, another result like those we’ve seen this week will provide a boost in confidence that the shift to alert level three did not let loose chains of transmission.
Read Siouxsie Wiles’ explainer on “the lag” here.
8.50am: Vice president’s press secretary has Covid-19
A day after one of President Trump’s personal valets tested positive for Covid-19, there is another case close to the centre of power in the US. Katie Miller, Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary, has returned a positive test despite being asymptomatic, reported the Washington Post.
Miller has attended meetings of the White House coronavirus task force, which Pence leads, and is married to senior White House policy adviser Stephen Miller. Asked if he was worried about a second person in the White House having contracted the disease, Donald Trump said: “I’m not worried, no. Look, I get things done. I don’t worry about things. I do what I have to do. Again, we’re dealing with an invisible situation. Nobody knows.”
8.30am: ‘No real need to defend … we can dismiss’ memo leaked
A memo from the prime minister’s office to ministers, telling them not to speak to the media about the documents released yesterday afternoon (see 8.10am) has been leaked to Newshub.
“If you do get a media query on this please provide a written response,” it reads. “I would like to sign off and see all written response [sic]. Do not put Minister up for any interviews on this.”
A centralised comms strategy at an extraordinary time may be less noteworthy than the attitude in this guidance from from the memo: “There’s no real need to defend. Because the public have confidence in what has been achieved and what the Govt is doing. Instead we can dismiss.”
Just as interesting is this: who would have leaked it, and why?
8.10am: Massive Covid-19 document dump
Just as the press gallery was preparing to (virtually) roll down the slope to the pub, the government released, unheralded, a huge cache of documents relating to the decision-making around the Covid-19 response. There are close to 400 of them, and you can read them here. (If you see anything piercingly interesting, let us know on firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Jason Walls has an excellent roundup of the contents for the NZ Herald here.
Among the revelations:
- Government research found a third of New Zealanders thought the lockdown could have been tougher
- At first the wage subsidy didn’t count more than half of the workforce
- Officials were concerned about domestic violence going unreported
- Advice to make liquor stores an essential service was rejected
- There was a big spike in traffic to porn sites the day New Zealand went into lockdown
RNZ reports that on March 20 health officials recommended New Zealand move to alert level two, and stay there for up to 30 days. Three days later, the government moved to level three, and in another two went to level four. National Party health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse said: “There are clear contradictions between what the government saw about their response and what they were telling the New Zealand public.”
8.00am: Yesterday’s key stories
There were two new confirmed cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand yesterday.
One of these was a nurse who had treated patients from the St Margarets cluster at Waitākere Hospital; the other was a probable case whose status was upgraded to confirmed.
Laboratories completed a record high 7,812 tests.
Ashley Bloomfield assured the country that the Covid-19 testing system is ready to handle a move down alert levels.
The government released thousands of pages of documents relating to their decision-making around Covid-19.
Grant Robertson stressed that unlike most years, next week’s budget will not contain the government’s full spending plans for the year ahead, but “will be just one moment on our road to recovery”.
Business associations put pressure on the government to move to level two as quickly as possible, while others like Dr Siouxsie Wiles said more time was needed.
It was reported that up to half of NZ Rugby’s staff are to be laid off as a result of the downturn in revenue due to Covid-19.