Police Commissioner Andrew Coster speaks during the All of Government briefing at Parliament on April 8, 2020. (Photo by Mark Mitchell/Getty Images)

Live updates, June 9: Armed patrols scrapped, border restrictions tightened

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 one – read about what that means here. For official government advice, see here.

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6.30pm: The day in sum

New Zealand entered its first day under level one restrictions.

No new cases, no active cases

Armed Response Teams will not go ahead, police commissioner Andrew Coster announced. The controversial trial period had seen officers armed with semi-automatic weapons sent to patrol several largely Māori and Pacific communities.

Arrivals to New Zealand will now be tested twice during their 14-day stay in quarantine, Ashley Bloomfield announced, with examinations taking place around day three and day 12 of their time in isolation.

Jacinda Ardern expressed anger over The Warehouse Group’s plans to cut 1000 jobs, saying the cuts are galling when small businesses are doing all they can to keep employees on through the Covid-19 pandemic.

In response, National finance spokesman Paul Goldsmith has told prime minister Jacinda Ardern to “stick to her knitting” and stop criticising struggling businesses.

Federated Farmers described a leaked EU/NZ free trade proposal as “insultingly low”. Under the leaked proposal, New Zealand farmers would get access to a fraction of a percent of the European market for cheese and butter

Otago University epidemiologist Nick Wilson said New Zealand’s contact tracing system remains inadequate for the fight against Covid-19.

6.00pm: Consumer NZ disappointed by Air NZ response on refunds

Consumer NZ wants law changes fast-tracked after Air New Zealand said it would not be giving passengers refunds for cancelled flights. The organisation met with the airline today to try to resolve the situation, Consumer NZ chief executive Jon Duffy said, but Air NZ reiterated that it would only provide refunds where required to by law and in cases of genuine financial hardship.

“There are many loyal Air New Zealand customers who will be extremely disappointed by the response. The only way to fix the problem is to change the law so consumers aren’t left in this situation again,” Duffy said.

Thousands of New Zealanders have been left with credits for cancelled domestic and international flights as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Consumer NZ has also asked the airline to provide better information on its website about rights to a refund for EU and US flights. Passengers on Air Zealand flights departing from the EU are entitled to refunds under EU regulations. Passengers on flights to or from the US are also entitled to refunds under US rules.

5.40pm: Cheesy anger erupts between EU and NZ

Political editor Justin Giovannatti writes: Federated Farmers is applauding the government’s stern rebuke of the latest offer from the European Union in free trade talks. The last 24 hours has seen the relationship between the Beehive and Brussels take a hit, not only from the miserly proposal itself, but from the way it was delivered: trade minister David Parker only learned of the EU’s intentions through a leak to a European dairy publication over the weekend. The details are completely unacceptable, Parker told reporters yesterday.
Today Federated Farmers president Katie Milne described the offer as “so insultingly low, I thought they’d made a mistake and put the decimal point in the wrong place”. Under the leaked proposal, New Zealand farmers would get access to a fraction of a percent of the European market for cheese and butter. In exchange, the EU would insist that New Zealand respect names protected in Europe: Goodbye feta and parmesan.

2.40pm: Primary industries a potential lifeline for jobless – Ardern

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern has talked up the primary industries as a potential lifeline for people who have lost their jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic, after touring a Bay of Plenty kiwifruit packhouse and speaking with workers today. In a press conference alongside Waiariki MP Tamati Coffey following the visit, Ardern said the government was focusing on working with the horticulture and dairy industries to recruit workers. Those sectors were mostly up-and-running following the pandemic, while hospitality and tourism would be the slowest industries to restart, she said. Apprenticeship programs would be available in the kiwifruit industry, with potential trainees being offered a day to “taste” the industry and see if it’s a fit.

Ardern also fielded questions on the recently released Oranga Tamariki report. “Harm is done when children are removed from families,” she said. “We also want to see abuse in NZ come down.” The government began funding a new model of Oranga Tamariki in July of last year which Ardern said has already made significant changes. “But we have to keep going.”

1.50pm: Armed police patrols scrapped

Police have scrapped their controversial trial of Armed Response Teams, which sent crews of officers with semi-automatic weapons to patrol several largely Māori and Pacific communities.

Armed patrols were trialled by police in the Counties-Manukau, Waikato and Canterbury districts during the six months leading up to April this year. They’ve been the subject of widespread protests. The Arms Down NZ movement has called for guns to be removed from New Zealand streets, pointing out that Māori are eight times more likely to be shot by police than Pākehā, while Pacific people are three times more like to be shot than Pākehā.

Recent media reports have shown huge holes in the callout data supplied by the teams. During the first two months of the trial, data from five out of every six callouts was missing.

In an email to all staff obtained by Stuff today, police commissioner Andrew Coster said he had opted not to extend the armed patrols after assessing the preliminary findings from the trial evaluation, along with feedback from the public and the results of consultation with community groups. “Given that our model of policing is underpinned by the notion of policing by consent, it’s critical that we maintain wide community buy-in for the way we police and it’s clear that ARTs do not reach that threshold,” his email said.

Watch Coster’s statement on the decision here: 

1.45pm: Covid-19 scare in Auckland

Auckland health authorities received a scare this morning after a Covid-19 test returned what appears to have been a false positive result, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield has confirmed. Two siblings were tested for Covid-19 after showing symptoms of the virus in Auckland DHB area, Bloomfield said. One of the tests came back with a weak positive result, and was sent away to be retested, he said. “That made a few hearts flutter, but the revalidation showed that it was a negative result, which was good.”

Bloomfield said the people affected did “everything right”, calling ahead to let their GP know their symptoms and being sent to a testing centre. He commended them on being proactive. “That’s how we will find any cases that are out there.”

1.15pm: Bloomfield announces stricter border measures

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield has announced tighter controls on people crossing the border into New Zealand, saying the move is necessary to prevent future community transmission of Covid-19. Incoming travelers will now be tested twice during their 14-day stay in quarantine after entering New Zealand, with examinations taking place around day three and day 12 of their time in isolation, Bloomfield said. “These [measures] are designed to keep all New Zealanders safe from Covid-19 as we open up our domestic economy.”

Bloomfield also announced tighter restrictions around exemptions to the mandatory 14-day managed isolation period for people arriving in New Zealand. Health authorities received around 20 to 30 requests per day for exemptions to isolation on compassionate grounds during alert level two. Of those, 142 exemptions were approved for people to attend funerals, tangihanga or to visit a dying loved one, while 182 similar applications were declined, usually because the applicants were not able to provide a workable plan for how the exemption would proceed safely.

From today, those conditions will change so people are no longer allowed to apply for compassionate leave to farewell family in group settings, Bloomfield said. Instead, they will have to apply to attend smaller gatherings before or after the funeral or tangihanga, he said. “We’re making this change because someone who may have been exposed to Covid-19 overseas now poses a greater risk to those of us in New Zealand given we are now in alert level one with much greater interaction between people.”

Bloomfield said border measures had to tighten up as domestic restrictions eased, as that was how health authorities could ensure Covid-19 stays out of the country.

1pm: Still no active cases of Covid-19

There are still no active cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield reports.

Bloomfield said all New Zealand’s case numbers remain unchanged from yesterday.

Our total number of confirmed cases remains at 1,154, which is the number we report to the World Health Organisation.

Our combined total of confirmed and probable cases remains at 1,504.

The number of recovered cases is now 1,482, or 98.5% of all cases.

Yesterday, 1,053 tests were processed, bringing the total to just under 296,000. No further clusters had closed but each would be in the coming days, said Bloomfield. He reiterated the prime minister’s comments from yesterday that additional cases of Covid-19 were inevitable. “It may be that we detect a case at the border, or we may even find cases here on shore in our communities. We should be prepared for that and we are prepared, with our ongoing testing, contact tracing and arrangements for isolating people.”

12.55pm: Ministry of Health update soon

The Ministry of Health is set to deliver an update on the response to Covid-19 at 1pm. You can watch the live stream here:

12.50pm: Paul Goldsmith tells Ardern to ‘stick to her knitting’

National finance spokesman Paul Goldsmith has told prime minister Jacinda Ardern to “stick to her knitting” and stop criticising The Warehouse Group for cutting more than 1000 staff. The Warehouse Group announced it was cutting 1080 jobs yesterday, despite making a $29 million profit in the half-year to January 26, and claiming more than $60 million under the government wage subsidy scheme between The Warehouse and Noel Leeming. Ardern criticised the move in an interview on RNZ this morning, saying it stands in stark contrast to the actions of thousands of small businesses who are “giving up everything to keep their staff on”.

Goldsmith has now responded, telling the Herald that Ardern should be “better focused” on the government’s plan to grow the economy. “I don’t think it’s helpful for the prime minister to be criticising struggling businesses, she should stick to her knitting,” he said. Several people are already pointing out that the phrase Goldsmith used is sexist. Pressed on why he used the knitting analogy, Goldsmith said it was a metaphor.

11.50am: Contact tracing system still unacceptable – epidemiologist

An Otago University epidemiologist says New Zealand’s contact tracing system remains inadequate for the fight against Covid-19, even as the country reaches the milestone of having zero active cases of the virus. Professor Nick Wilson told Morning Report that the Ministry of Health’s NZ Covid Tracer app was “low-quality in most people’s view”. Relying on it, in conjunction with manual contact tracing, was “completely unacceptable”, he said. He urged the government to make more use of telecommunications data to track potential infections, saying the health benefits of the move outweigh the potential privacy concerns “If you ask New Zealanders, ‘would you rather have, during an outbreak, a slight risk to your privacy with telecoms tracking or would you rather go back to a level four lockdown?’, to me I think most New Zealanders would choose some smart, careful use of technology.”

Wilson also said New Zealand had missed an opportunity to build a “culture of mass-masking” during the alert level four lockdown. He was worried about the policies of airlines like Air New Zealand, which don’t require crew and passengers to wear masks. “At the border areas where we need that absolute maximum protection, they should be used,” he said.

11.30am: The 1pm briefing lives

Yesterday New Zealand recorded zero new Covid-19 cases for the 17th consecutive day, and zero known active cases. But the media briefing has not been eliminated: there will be a Ministry of Health press conference at 1pm today. We’ll have all the details here.

10.45am: How Covid-19 changed the way we communicate

The Covid-19 crisis brought on some profound changes to the way we communicate. First and foremost, the pandemic altered the way we connect with each other. In-person and spoken communication made a comeback, at least temporarily, as people sought out human interaction in the face of uncertainty.  That was illustrated in the hours following prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s announcement that New Zealand would move to alert level four lockdown on March 23. After she urged New Zealanders to “support one another”, Vodafone New Zealand reported a 70% surge on its network, including a 100% rise in landline calls.

The pandemic also transformed the way, and the amount, the government spoke to New Zealanders. Our road to zero active cases was paved not just by a successful health response, but by a triumph of communications. That effort was spearheaded by Ardern, who fronted the daily media briefings with director general of health Ashley Bloomfield and invented the alert level system which provided clarity about the different stages of the Covid-19 response. She was backed by one of the biggest public advertising campaigns in New Zealand history. The government’s yellow-and-white Covid-19 branding became ubiquitous in public spaces and in media across the country.

Read Duncan Greive’s on the government’s “communications masterclass” here and James Borrowdale on the comeback of conversation here.

9.30am: Auckland Home Show to go ahead under alert level one rules

The Auckland Home Show is set to go ahead in September, in what organisers are calling the first major post-lockdown retail event of the year. More than 500 businesses exhibit and around 40,000 visitors attend the exhibition at ASB Showgrounds every year, which focuses on the home renovation market. It’s expected to generate about $30 million of business and months of work for the companies involved, along with employing hundreds of venue staff.

A statement from organiser Exhibitions & Events New Zealand said the home show could go ahead as planned under the alert level one rules instituted today. Its general manager Amanda Magnus said the event’s ticketing system could collect any necessary contact tracing data. “This year its role will be a very important one – enabling hundreds of businesses and thousands of consumers the opportunity to do business together and to help rebuild the post-Covid New Zealand economy,” she said.

The Auckland Home Show will take place at the ASB Showgrounds from September 9 to 13.

8.40am: Ardern defends Kiwirail decision to not buy local

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern has defended Kiwirail’s decision to outsource a $371 million rail electrification project to overseas companies, despite urging New Zealanders to buy local to support the economic recovery in her speech announcing the country’s move to alert level one.  The Herald on Sunday reported this weekend that Fletcher Building and Downer Group were “fuming” over Kiwirail awarding the Papakura to Pukekohe rail electrification contract to a joint bid from Chinese-owned firm John Holland and South African-owned McConnell Dowell. The report quoted a Fletcher source who said the contract could have saved many of the 1000 jobs which the company cut in May, despite claiming more than $67 million from the government’s wage subsidy scheme.

On TVNZ’s Breakfast this morning, Ardern said she was disappointed to see some profits from the contract heading offshore, but the project would still preserve jobs. “The jobs are here. It’s not like one of those situations where you’ve seen the manufacturing go offshore.”

JACINDA ARDERN APPEARS ON TVNZ BREAKFAST

Ardern said she didn’t want to institute a rule requiring government contracts to be awarded to New Zealand companies. She placed some of the blame on Fletcher and Downer for their failure to be awarded the contract. “Why was it that we had a situation where those who tendered didn’t do better?” she said. “It might be worth asking Fletchers a few questions about why they weren’t successful as well.”

In her speech announcing the country’s move to alert level one, Ardern strongly encouraged New Zealanders to buy from locally owned businesses. “I encourage you to buy, play and experience New Zealand-made to get our country moving again. Consider it an extra form of support to visit our country, buy our local products and support our local businesses.”

8am: Jacinda Ardern angry over Warehouse job cuts

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern has expressed anger over The Warehouse Group’s plans to cut 1000 jobs, saying they’re galling to see when small businesses are doing all they can to keep employees on through the Covid-19 pandemic. The Warehouse Group yesterday announced plans to shut six stores, at a cost of about 950 jobs in those outlets and a further 130 in its head office. The move comes despite the company making a $70 million profit last year and recently claiming $68 million from the government’s wage subsidy scheme. First Union has claimed many of the affected employees learned about the proposed job losses over social media.

Speaking on RNZ this morning, Ardern said she was dismayed to see that announcement at a time when she’s getting hundreds of letters from small business owners who are “giving up everything to keep their staff on”. “They’re running down whatever reserves that they had. They’re prioritising trying to keep their business afloat, but also trying to keep their people on… The government of course, and taxpayers, are taking a huge hit because we are prioritising trying to keep as many businesses and individuals employed and up-and-running as we can. I’d like to see the same attitude applied by some of our larger organisations in New Zealand.”

The Warehouse Group’s chief executive Nick Grayston has blamed the Covid-19 pandemic for speeding up the restructure. Ardern said she suspected the plans weren’t actually connected to the crisis. “I am angry because I do think they are a company who has promoted themselves as being in the community and for the community. I accept that they’ve been undergoing a bit of a restructure. Well if that’s the reason they’re doing it then that should be the reason that they give.”

7.00am: Alert level one is go

As of midnight, New Zealand has moved into alert level one, a status which means almost every restriction lifts, with the exception of strict border controls.

Read our political editor Justin Giovannetti’s roundup of a milestone day in New Zealand’s elimination campaign against Covid-19 here.

Read about the announcement of zero active cases, and a timeline of the New Zealand Covid-19 fight here.

Read Jacinda Ardern’s speech announcing the shift to level one here.

Read our summary of what alert level one means in practice here.

Read Michael Baker and other experts on hitting zero active cases, and the shift to alert level one, here.

6.45am: Yesterday’s key stories

There are no active cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand for the first time since February. It’s now been 17 days since the last new case was reported.

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced cabinet’s decision that New Zealand would move to alert level one.

A new report on Oranga Tamariki baby uplift practices published by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner found “deep systemic issues” with families describing the system as dangerous, brutal and racist.

The Warehouse Group announced it was planning six store closures and an organisational restructure, with over 1,000 jobs potentially on the line.

Jetstar announced it would resume domestic flights in New Zealand from July 1.

Read yesterday’s live updates here



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