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.
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5.40pm: The day in sum
There were two new cases of Covid-19 recorded in New Zealand, with one linked to the St Margaret’s cluster and the other linked to overseas travel.
Police confirmed they recorded 1051 breaches of the alert level three rules. Of those, 50 came between 6pm Friday and 6pm Saturday over the weekend.
Experts voiced concerns over the potential shift to alert level two. Te Pūnaha Matatini Professor Shaun Hendy and epidemiologist Michael Baker said it was too soon to rule out the possibility of undetected community transmission.
The government announced $160 million for Pharmac. The pre-Budget announcement by health minister David Clark said the money was for securing New Zealanders’ access to medicines.
Work & Income admitted it made a mistake denying an Auckland hotel worker a benefit because she’d received a redundancy payout. It now appears the agency has been getting it wrong for decades.
3.16pm: Police record 50 alert level three rule breaches in 24 hours
Police have taken action over 1051 lockdown rule breaches since the government introduced alert level three two weeks ago, according to new stats released to media today. Those figures include 50 breaches of the level three restrictions between 6pm Friday and 6pm Saturday this week. Overall, the cases have resulted in 253 prosecutions, 723 warnings and 75 youth referrals, TVNZ reported.
There have been several reports of questionable adherence to the alert level three restrictions over the weekend, with surfers flocking to Lyall Bay in Wellington, shoppers packing streets in Mission Bay, and parents hosting a children’s birthday party near Tāmaki Drive.
The government is set to announce its decision on when New Zealand can move to alert level two tomorrow. Several experts including the virologist Siouxsie Wiles and epidemiologist Michael Baker have advocated for it to announce more time at alert level three, saying it’s still not clear whether the level three breaches are resulting in undetected community transmission of the virus.
1.55pm: 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.
This is another breakdown showing how the last 24 hours fit into the overall picture.
Below are the case numbers sorted by area. Waitematā remains the district with the most number of Covid-19 cases, followed by Southland, the site of New Zealand’s biggest Covid-19 cluster.
1pm: Two new cases of Covid-19
There are two new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, the Ministry of Health has announced
Both cases are confirmed. One is linked to an existing cluster at the St Margaret’s Hospital & Rest Home in Auckland. The person is a household contact of an existing case, and not a healthcare worker, the ministry said.
Health officials have been receiving criticism after several nurses became infected with Covid-19 while treating patients linked to the St Margaret’s cluster at Waitakere Hospital.
Today’s second case is a person who travelled back to New Zealand from overseas.
This takes the combined total of confirmed and probable Covid-19 cases in New Zealand to 1494.
The number of people who have recovered from Covid-19 is now at 1371, or 92% of all cases. That number is an increase of three on yesterday. There are now just 102 active cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand.
A total of 7287 tests were completed yesterday, bringing the number of tests completed to date to 190,326.
There are two people in hospital with Covid-19. One in is in Middlemore and one in North Shore hospital. Neither is in ICU.
There are still 16 significant clusters of Covid-19 around the country, though four of those are considered closed because 28 days have passed without a new case linked to a reported case.
In terms of numbers of new cases, the last seven days look like this: 0, 0, 2, 1, 2, 2, and today, 2.
Cabinet is set to decide tomorrow on whether the country can transition to alert level two.
12.50pm: Covid-19 numbers to be updated soon
The Ministry of Health is set to send an update on New Zealand’s number of Covid-19 cases at 1pm. The numbers will be sent via press release. There is no media briefing scheduled today.
11.54am: Obama calls Trump administration’s Covid-19 response an ‘absolute chaotic disaster’
Former US president Barack Obama has called his successor Donald Trump’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic “an absolute chaotic disaster” . Yahoo News has obtained a recording of Obama’s conversation with 3000 former members of his administration on Friday where he said the US response to the crisis has been hampered by selfishness and partisanship. “It would have been bad even with the best of governments. It has been an absolute chaotic disaster when that mindset — of ‘what’s in it for me’ and ‘to heck with everybody else’ — when that mindset is operationalised in our government,” he said during the call.
Obama also raised concerns over the US Justice Department’s decision to drop charges against former Trump adviser Michael Flynn and urged association members to back former vice-president Joe Biden’s presidential bid.
11am: Government announces $160 million boost for Pharmac
Health minister David Clark has announced a $160 million funding boost for Pharmac in the upcoming Budget. The extra money will go toward the combined pharmaceutical budget, which funds vaccines, medical devices, and other treatments for DHBs, a statement from Clark says. The money will first and foremost secure New Zealanders’ access to medicines amid global pressure on supply chains, he says. “These are not normal times. Budget 2020 will have a significant focus on economic recovery and rebuilding to support jobs. But at the same time it is vital that we prioritise additional investment in critical services like Pharmac.”
The funding boost takes Pharmac’s medicines budget to $1.045 billion for 2020/21. That has increased $174 million – or 20% – since 2017/18, and the agency has funded 13 new medicines, including six new cancer treatments, in the last year, Clark says.
However, Radio NZ’s Guyon Espiner has identified possible deficiencies in the funding agency’s model in a series of investigations over the last few months. He showed Pharmac made 10,000 New Zealand epilepsy patients switch their medication against Medsafe’s advice, talked to an endocrinologist who called New Zealand’s diabetes drugs “third world”, and reported on cancer patients who have resorted to buying cut-price drugs from India. Most recently, he cast a critical eye on the continued lack of funding for the cancer drug Keytruda.
Meanwhile, National leader Simon Bridges has predicted next week’s Budget will show New Zealand heading for the “deepest recession in a generation” and issued another call for an end to alert level three lockdown. Major banks are forecasting deep government deficits and increases in debt as New Zealand deals with the Covid-19 pandemic. Bridges said the government needs to get more people back to work to stave off further economic devastation.
“We may have flattened the curve as a nation but with 1000 people a day joining the dole queue and employers deciding whether they battle on or give up, it is clear lockdown has gone on too long,” he said. “We need to get New Zealand working again.”
10.25am: Michael Baker rejects Swedish expert’s lockdown warning
Michael Baker has defended New Zealand’s lockdown measures after Sweden’s former state epidemiologist called tough Covid-19 restrictions “all but futile”. Johan Giesecke told newspaper DN that New Zealand may have to quarantine arrivals at its border until a Covid-19 vaccine is developed – a process he said could take up to 10 years. He advocated for an approach like Sweden’s, which has mostly forgone the restrictive lockdown policies adopted by its neighbours Norway and Denmark. Sweden has a much higher death toll than those countries to date, but Giesecke predicts that will even out as restrictions are loosened.
Speaking on Radio NZ this morning, epidemiologist Michael Baker said Sweden’s approach may make some sense in Europe, where Covid-19 continues to run rampant. But New Zealand is in a different position, he said. “The way they’ve described it, it is plausible that it might be the best option. In New Zealand our situation is different because we have a chance at eliminating the virus,” he said.
Baker joined experts including Siouxsie Wiles in calling for the government to extend alert level three lockdown measures by a week. Alert level two carries dangers, particularly because it allows gatherings of up to 100 people with alcohol served, and New Zealand could do with more time to make sure no undetected community transmission is occurring, he said. “Obviously we want to get to alert level two as fast as possible… everyone’s ready for that. But at the same time we can’t jeapordise this huge success we’ve achieved in New Zealand.”
8.45am: Work & Income gave wrong advice for decades – report
Work and Income appears to have spent decades giving people the wrong advice on when they can access benefit support, Radio NZ has reported. On Friday, the agency admitted it was wrong to reject a benefit claim from Auckland hotel worker Mary due to the fact she had received a Covid-19 redundancy payout. Its reversal came after Radio NZ pointed out that redundancy shouldn’t be a factor when deciding benefit entitlements, according to the Social Security Act.
Radio NZ appealed for people who had faced a similar situation to Mary to get in touch after its first story emerged. It was “inundated” with emails highlighting cases dating back to the 1990s, the report says. Those included the case of a 63-year-old man who was told he had to wait 16 months until his redundancy ran out before he could get a benefit in 2018, and a sole parent who had to live on their $20,000 redundancy payout after losing a hospital job in the early 2000s.
Up until Friday, Work and Income’s site reportedly said benefit payments would only start once a person’s redundancy ran out. Social development minister Carmel Sepuloni issued a limited statement in response to questions from Radio NZ, but there should be more to come on this story. Read the full report from Glen Scanlon here.
8.25am: Police, academics voice concerns about level two shift
Police and academics are voicing concerns about New Zealand’s potential shift to alert level two, as more reports emerge on potential breaches of the alert level three rules. Stuff reported yesterday on hundreds of surfers descending on Lyall Bay to make the most of a warm autumn day in Wellington. Surfing is permitted at alert level three as long as it’s within 200m of the shoreline and social distancing is maintain. The Herald headed to Tāmaki Drive in Auckland, where it found “scores” of people crowding the shared path and showing questionable adherence to social distancing measures. One woman was hosting a birthday party for her 12-year-old son. “We do know we probably are a little borderline with the rules, but are still going ahead anyway,” she told the paper.
Te Pūnaha Matatini Professor Shaun Hendy, who has carried out modelling on the spread of Covid-19, told the Herald moving down to alert level two was risky, as the level three rule breakers could be spreading undetected cases of the virus in the community. For example, an asymptomatic person could have passed on the virus in the crowd that developed outside a BurgerFuel on Auckland’s North Shore on the first day of alert level three, he said. “The chains of transmission can persist for some time, and there seem to be a small percentage of people who don’t seem to develop symptoms at all and can still be infectious.”
Police are worried that people will flood to bars and restaurants when the government shifts us to alert level two, the Herald reports. Morgan de la Rue, head of Auckland police’s alcohol and harm prevention unit, told the paper it would be much more difficult to manage social distancing and contact tracing at the lower level. “People are sick up of being cooped up, so bars will be swamped but all we can do is hope for the best and plan for the worse,” de la Rue said. “You saw how people reacted when takeaways became available. So if you add alcohol into the mix with people going out drinking after being in lockdown for so long there is a potential for things to turn quite bad.”
8.03am: UK set to announce 14-day quarantine for new arrivals
The UK is finally planning to introduce rules requiring anyone arriving in the country to go into self-isolation for 14 days. Travel sector representatives are complaining that the move, predicted to be announced tomorrow, will devastate their industry. The Independent is warning it will “wreck holidays“.
However its chief travel correspondent has also noted that “almost every country in the world has a lower infection rate than the UK”. Countries including Singapore and Australia have already introduced tough border controls, with Singapore requiring all new arrivals to spend 14 days in a hotel room or other accommodation provided by the government. New Zealand introduced a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all new arrivals on April 9. The UK has more than 215,000 recorded cases of Covid-19 and more than 31,000 deaths.
8.00am: Yesterday’s key stories
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.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.