Jacinda Ardern. (Photo: PM’s office for Stuff)
Jacinda Ardern. (Photo: PM’s office for Stuff)

SocietyApril 10, 2020

Covid-19 live updates, April 10: Second NZ death, mystery surrounds cluster in Auckland

Jacinda Ardern. (Photo: PM’s office for Stuff)
Jacinda Ardern. (Photo: PM’s office for Stuff)

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.

6.15pm: The day in sum

  • New Zealand has recorded its second Covid-19-linked death, with a 94-year-old woman dying in Christchurch.
  • For the fifth day straight, the number of active cases is roughly unchanged. More on the latest data here.
  • Mystery surrounds two Auckland clusters, details of which continue to be withheld for privacy reasons.
  • Mandatory quarantine (and “managed self-isolation”) is now in force in New Zealand.
  • Jacinda Ardern has spoken to leaders including the prime ministers of Singapore and Sweden.
  • Boris Johnson is out of ICU, but the British death has risen to 7,978. New York State has recorded its highest number of deaths for the third day in a row, with 799 fatalities taking the total toll to 7,067.
  • Ashley Bloomfield has said kia ora koutou katoa a lot.

6.00pm: A reminder about how Good Friday works

The neighbour of a Spinoff staffer is furious because the supermarket is closed today. He returned home fuming, and is even angrier at the government than he was already. “All I wanted was some fucking bacon,” the man reportedly said.

While this is a painful story, we would gently remind him, and everyone else, that supermarkets are always closed on Good Friday. Most, untypically, will be open on Sunday.

We’re about to wind this blog up for the day. Hope everyone is having a tolerable day and looking after each other. Catch you tomorrow.

5.30pm: Ardern on her bubble

Jacinda Ardern, has described how talking to friends living in Covid-19-hit countries overseas hastened her decision to place the country in lockdown just over two weeks ago. “[They were] saying, ‘Go, just shut down, because here I am in lockdown with thousands of people dying. Just shut down’,” she said, “so we did benefit from that hindsight, without having to experience it ourselves.”

Speaking to Stuff journalists Eugene Bingham and Adam Dudding for their Coronavirus NZ podcast yesterday, Ardern spoke about her life inside the prime ministerial bubble. That bubble consists of Clarke, Neve and her parents, who are all staying at Premier House in Wellington. She works with a “small group staff [whose] bubbles don’t interact with anyone else”.

Asked how she practises self care in such hectic times, Ardern said that “playing with Neve helps a lot”, and that she will occasionally “dip into” the “terrible comedies” her parents watch. So take comfort in the fact that while the prime minister might not have had time to watch Tiger King yet, she has at least been able to enjoy a bit of (and we’re speculating a bit here) Mrs Brown’s Boys.

Listen to Stuff’s Coronavirus NZ podcast here.

4.45pm: Complaint to ombudsman over mystery Auckland clusters

The ombudsman is considering a complaint around the Ministry of Health withholding details relating to Auckland clusters of Covid-19. New Zealand Herald reporter Kirsty Johnston has tweeted a response from the ombudsman’s office over the failure to provide information about the clusters.

One, listed simply as a “private function”, has swollen by 11 to 34 in the latest numbers. The other, listed as “Workplace”, has increased by four to 28. The concern is that without more information in the public domain, some may be unaware of their proximity to a potential outbreak, and contact tracing inhibited.

The Herald reported on Wednesday that the ministry and officials had refused to provide information citing privacy concerns, but that they were planning to release more details.

2.15pm: NZDF assisting government in ‘long patrol’

The New Zealand Defence Force says 70 of its staff are now working across a range of government departments as part of the “long patrol” against Covid-19. Dubbed ‘Operation Protect’, the NZDF’s response has so far mostly involved providing operations and planning support to emergency services and the Ministry of Health. On a more local level, soldiers have been helping deliver care packages in the Manawatū, and Navy reserves helped clear a hospital ward in Dunedin.

The Defence Force is currently operating three regional task forces in response to Covid-19, based in Auckland, Manawatū and Christchurch, in addition to its national headquarters in Wellington. Chief of army major general John Boswell said in a press release issued today there would be plenty more to do in the coming months: “Even if the alert level does drop over the coming weeks, we won’t automatically return to our old daily routine.”

1.30pm: What the new numbers look like

Chris McDowall has just provided an updated chart. (See more of his work here.)

1.15pm: Second death linked to Covid-19; 44 new cases

There has been a second death linked to Covid-19 in New Zealand, Caroline McElnay, the director of public health, has announced. A woman in her 90s died in Burwood Hospital in Christchurch yesterday after testing positive. She was one of a group of 20 residents transferred to hospital from Rosewood Rest Home as part of a cluster management process. The woman involved had “a number of age related health conditions prior to testing positive”.

There are 44 new cases: 23 confirmed and 21 probable. These were outnumbered, however, by recovered cases (56), meaning there is a drop in active cases. The combined total of confirmed and probable cases is 1,283.

This means the 16 days since lockdown look like this: 78, 85, 83, 63, 76, 58, 61, 89, 71, 82, 89, 67, 54, 50, 29 and today 44.

There are 16 people in hospital with Covid-19, including four in ICU, one each in Wellington, Counties Manukau, Waitematā, and Southern DHBs. Patients in the latter two are in critical condition. (In a follow-up release the number in ICU was updated to five, with one in Hawke’s Bay now in intensive care.)

“We are still seeing a strong but declining link to overseas travel at 40% and ongoing links to confirmed cases within New Zealand at 44%,” said McElnay. “That includes those in clusters, with community transmission at about 2%. About 14% of cases are still under investigation.”

There remain 12 “significant clusters”. The three largest clusters remain to be Matamata, which now has 69 cases, an increase of 5 from yesterday; Bluff, 87, unchanged from yesterday; and Marist College, Auckland, 84, also unchanged.

Asked about concerns that have been raised over availability and guidelines on protective equipment use in a number of DHBs, McElnay said: “PPE is not being rationed. We are aware there has been some issues on distribution of PPE … We’ve been working closely with DHBs to ensure that distribution chain is moving smoothly … I would be surprised if people are being asked to take off PPE.”

On the current approach and expectations, McElnay said: “Over the next two weeks … we have to be very aggressive at stamping out the new cases that pop up, and really understanding why they’re popping up and the circumstances. What we would expect to see in the next two weeks is that our new cases will be linked to other cases we already know about. There will be some household transmission … If we see anything outside of that may be telling us our current restrictions perhaps are not being followed, and we need to be very quick to act from any of our outbreaks, that we don’t get further spread. Because this is our two weeks to really get our level of disease down to an absolute minimum.”

12.35pm: All-new Ashley Bloomfield content

Today New Zealand begins two desolate days without updates from Ashley Bloomfield. Here’s something to soften the blow.

12.10pm: New cases vs tests

Ahead of the 1pm briefing, here’s an interesting chart, via the prime minister’s chief science adviser, Juliet Gerrard.

The blue dots show the percentage of daily tests that are positive. As the number of tests has increased, the percentage has in recent days fallen away. While that doesn’t mean wider and surveillance testing isn’t needed, it’s encouraging that in the latest 24 hour report, less than one in a hundred of almost 4,000 tests came in positive.

11.40am: OK, so there will be a 1pm briefing after all

After advising last night that there would be no in-person briefings either today or tomorrow, with the data coming via press release instead, they’ve now performed an about-turn: there will be a 1pm briefing after all. No Ashley Bloomfield or Jacinda Ardern, though; instead it’s Dr Caroline McElnay, the director of public health, delivering the latest information. We’ll have it all here as soon as it happens.

11.30am: Toby Morris on his collaborations with Siouxsie Wiles

Cartoonist Toby Morris and scientist Siouxsie Wiles have combined in recent weeks to create visual expressions of some of the most important ideas in the Covid-19 pandemic. The illustrations and animations have travelled around the world, been viewed by tens of millions, and found their way into science communications efforts in New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, Germany and the UK.

Fellow cartoonist Dylan Horrocks has interviewed Toby about the process for the first in a new series, Quarantoon, in which he chats with cartoonists under lockdown. Here it is.

If you haven’t read it already, do check out Toby’s Side Eye comic.

10.45am: Bubble survey

Unless you’re an essential worker on duty (thank you!) there’s a decent chance you have a little time on your hands today. Consider spending five minutes on this Medical Research Institute of New Zealand survey. They want to find out about the kind of bubbles people are living in at alert level four to “help inform research on pandemic planning and advice”

10.15am: Boris Johnson out of Intensive Care

A breath of relief from Britain, where Boris Johnson has left ICU.

The prime minister “has been moved this evening from intensive care back to the ward, where he will receive close monitoring during the early phase of his recovery”, said a No 10 spokesperson. “He is in extremely good spirits.”

The BBC reports that 7,978 people have now died in UK hospitals after testing positive for the Covid-19 virus.

Meanwhile, this intro monologue from Emily Maitlis, host of the BBC’s flagship current affairs show Newsnight, has been shared widely – and for good reason.

Meanwhile the state of New York has recorded its highest number of deaths for the third day in a row, with 799 fatalities taking the total toll to 7,067.

9.40am: Mandatory quarantine now in place

Mandatory quarantining – or “managed self-isolation” – is in force as of today for all arrivals to New Zealand. What does that mean in practice?

Anyone symptomatic on arrival will be tested and placed in a quarantine facility for 14 days. Anyone not symptomatic will be placed in an “approved managed isolation facility” for 14 days. In both cases, that is likely to mean a hotel, with different levels of supervision.

Those in quarantine “are unable to leave their room”, while those in managed facilities “are able to go for a walk within the area of the facility, but will need to limit contact with others. They must also not use essential services such as supermarkets, dairies and pharmacies.”

The advice continues: “Travellers in either facility will be provided with three meals a day, and have other basic needs met such as having prescription medicines delivered to them. There is no cost to travellers for the accommodation or associated basic needs. Travellers may use online delivery services to purchase items at their own cost. Friends and family members may not visit or drop off items to travellers in these facilities.”

Before departing, every arrival will undergo a health check.

More details are here.

Meanwhile, do read Andrew Todd’s terrific piece published today on a fortnight in hotel quarantine.

9.10am: Easter roadblocks in force

Police are operating roadblocks around the country on routes to Easter holiday spots to prevent and discourage anyone planning a weekend getaway to their bach or crib.

“We know many New Zealanders may have been planning to catch up with friends and family this weekend, or travel to traditional holiday destinations but we urge anyone who was planning to do this – please change your plans and stay home,” said the Police Commissioner Andrew Coster, earlier this week. “Travelling to the bach for a holiday is not essential travel and it is not permitted.”

Suggestions that there had been any “invasion” of beach towns from city types, may have been exaggerated, however, Newsroom reports.

8.25am: Ardern talks with leaders of Singapore, Sweden

The Singaporean prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, has posted an account of a conversation with his New Zealand counterpart, Jacinda Ardern. In a phone call yesterday they discussed how “we are both implementing strict circuit breaking measures, to break transmission of the virus and squeeze the cases down”, he said.

“PM Ardern and I also discussed how we can support each other during this time, including keeping supply chains intact between the two countries. Both Singapore and New Zealand will continue to do our part in this global fight against Covid-19.”

Ardern is also understood to have asked about the city-state’s use of an app for contact tracing.

Singapore has enjoyed more success than most in tackling the pandemic, but suffered a setback yesterday, with a spike of 287 cases.

Lee and Ardern in the days before physical distancing. Photo: MCI Singapore

One of the outliers in responses to the crisis has been Sweden. Ardern told RNZ yesterday, meanwhile, that the she’d spoken with the country’s prime minister, Stefan Löfven, though there were no further details of the conversation.

Sweden’s comparatively “relaxed approach” to the outbreak has attracted widespread criticism.

7.00am: An Easter break for Ardern and Bloomfield

Mōrena and welcome to today’s live updates on the Covid-19 crisis in New Zealand and around the world.

In a typical year the statutory closure of retail on Good Friday can come as a shock, but on day 16 of New Zealand’s lockdown it’s pretty much business as usual, though do note that supermarkets are shut. Stay at home.

And yet New Zealanders face an unaccustomed challenge. For the first in many weeks, there is no briefing from the Ministry of Health nor the government. No Ashley Bloomfield. No Jacinda Ardern. Instead of getting the latest numbers on Covid-19 from the director general, which has become appointment viewing for much of the country, we get the data via press release. And it’s the same tomorrow. We appreciate it will be barely any consolation, but we’ll give you all the details as soon as they arrive in this post. If you want to, you could read them out a la Bloomfield to the others in your bubble. Only an idea.

We can note with some relief, meanwhile, that Ardern has been very clear that the country cannot and will not go to an alert level higher than alert level four. Because according to documents viewed by The Spinoff, there are plans afoot for New Zealanders to go to Level 42 in May 2021.

Sorry and good morning.


6.00am: The key stories from yesterday

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Cyclone Harold 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, improved. He is now able to sit up and engage with his clinicians, though he remains in intensive care.
  • 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.

Catch up on all of yesterday’s action here.

Keep going!