Passengers evacuated from the Greg Mortimer liner wave at Uruguayan airport personnel before boarding the medically equipped plane returning Australian and New Zealand passengers to their homes, April 11. (Photo: EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)
Passengers evacuated from the Greg Mortimer liner wave at Uruguayan airport personnel before boarding the medically equipped plane returning Australian and New Zealand passengers to their homes, April 11. (Photo: EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)

SocietyApril 11, 2020

Covid-19 live updates, April 11: stranded cruise ship Kiwis coming home

Passengers evacuated from the Greg Mortimer liner wave at Uruguayan airport personnel before boarding the medically equipped plane returning Australian and New Zealand passengers to their homes, April 11. (Photo: EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)
Passengers evacuated from the Greg Mortimer liner wave at Uruguayan airport personnel before boarding the medically equipped plane returning Australian and New Zealand passengers to their homes, April 11. (Photo: EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)

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.

On the afternoon shift: Leonie Hayden

6.30pm: The day in sum

New Zealand sadly recorded its third and fourth Covid-19-releated deaths; a man in his 80s connected to the Rosewood rest home cluster, and a man in his 70s. Details surrounding the second death have not yet been released for privacy reasons. Our thoughts go out to their whānau.

29 new cases of Covid-19 were outnumbered by 49 recovered cases overnight.

More light has been shed on one of the two “mystery” Auckland clusters, revealing that it is an outbreak at a Spectrum Care day service for people with intellectual disabilities.

The global death toll passed 100,000.

Google and Apple have announced they are teaming up to accelerate and automate contact tracing of those who have been in contact with a cellphone user who signals that they have tested positive for Covid-19.

New Google mobility data showed New Zealanders are still following the level four lockdown rules.

South Korea reported 91 patients thought recovered from Covid-19 as testing positive again. A Cambridge University virologist on RNZ Saturday Mornings thought it more likely to do with imperfect testing methods and the prevalence of “false negatives”.

An NZ Herald profile of Ashley Bloomfield revealed that he was subjected to interrogation by Kim Hill as part of the interviewing process for the job of director general of health.

6.10pm: Winston Peters confirms stranded Kiwis are on their way home

Sixteen New Zealanders stranded on a cruise ship off the coast of Uruguay, where more than half the passengers tested positive for Covid-19, have boarded their flight home, foreign minister Winston Peters says.

On Thursday, Uruguay’s foreign minister promised the evacuation of 112 Australian and New Zealand passengers from the stranded cruise ship would take place “under strict sanitary measures”.

A medivac charter flight carrying the passengers, which was arranged by cruise operator Aurora Expeditions, took off a short while ago from Montevideo, Uruguay. The flight is scheduled to land in Melbourne tomorrow morning. 13 New Zealanders will then fly from Melbourne to Auckland airport, with three Australia-based New Zealanders remaining in Australia.

5.55pm: Today on the Spinoff

Covid-19 New Zealand cases mapped and charted for April 11 by Chris McDowall

A New Zealand doctor reports from the frontline of a London hospital: ‘The situation is getting dire’

Emily Writes recommends other “riveting yet deeply uncomfortable”  docos you should watch now you’ve finished Tiger King

Ashleigh Young laments that she isn’t as inspired by walking as many of her literary heroes are. “It feels like there is an inner circle of walking that I can no longer break into, some pleasure I have become too stupid to feel. Maybe it’s the internet’s fault.”

“If you love your parents, lock them up!” and other weirdly aggressive Covid slogans from China

4.25pm: Bauer among nominees for Voyager Media Awards

The Voyager Media Awards, New Zealand’s annual knees-up for newspapers, magazines and online media, has begun to drip feed its finalists for 2020. Nine of the 23 magazine nominations are for Bauer Media, including best magazine for Metro. Bauer announced it would be closing down its New Zealand operation on April 2.

After the government ruled that non-daily print media were not permitted to publish through the level four lockdown, the German-owned publisher of such stalwarts as the NZ Listener, New Zealand Woman’s Weekly and North & South, informed staff the shut down would be effective immediately.

Contradictory claims followed from the minister responsible for media, Kris Faafoi, Bauer and the Magazine Publishers Association about whether the company had sought any Covid-19 response assistance.

The finalists so far are published here.

3.50pm: DHBs worried about ED numbers dropping

The number of people presenting at hospital emergency departments in Auckland and Northland has halved in recent weeks, prompting concern that sick people are leaving it too long to seek emergency treatment. “Our message is that it’s OK to come to our EDs if you have a real health emergency,” said Dr Dale Bramley, Waitematā DHB CEO and northern region Covid-19 response lead, in a press release. “For emergencies, people shouldn’t hesitate to call 111 or present at any of our emergency departments. Our teams are there to provide care and that doesn’t change because we are in the lockdown period. This message is particularly important for our older people, who often don’t like to make a fuss. The sooner we are able to intervene, the better your health outcome will usually be.”

Bramley also said people needn’t be worried about being infected with Covid-19 if they came to hospital. “We are triaging people on arrival in order to keep people who are under suspicion for Covid away from other patients and we are using all appropriate personal protective equipment. Don’t delay reaching out for emergency help due to fear of being infected with Covid.”

2.20pm: Councils suspend recycling services during level four lockdown

A number of New Zealand councils have suspended their recycling services during alert level four. The councils of Dunedin, Hamilton, South Waikato, Nelson, Wellington and Christchurch announced on their websites that the changes would be in effect during level four lockdown and are encouraging residents to either stockpile clean recycling until the services resume or put it in the rubbish bin to be diverted to landfill.

Western Bay of Plenty District Council and Nelson Council have both said that mixed recycling will continue to be collected, however some recyclable materials such as paper, cardboard, tins and plastics will not be recycled and will be treated as general waste and sent to landfill. Wellington City Council advised residents to stockpile clean glass while putting milk bottles in the rubbish bin.

“Kerbside recycling is postponedThis is so we can concentrate on essential collection services and keep the landfill operational,” the website said.

Most district and regional councils in New Zealand send their recycling to facilities where the materials are sorted through by hand, posing a potential health risk of Covid-19 contamination for the workers involved. Auckland Council will be continuing its recycling collection however, which it deems an essential service. This is most likely because recycling material is sent to the VISY processing centre to be sorted by machine, rather than by hand.

1.45pm: What the new numbers look like

The latest from Chris McDowall. More of his data visualisation work here.

Total active and recovered Covid-19 cases in New Zealand, April 11. (Image: Chris McDowall)

1.05pm: Two more Covid-19 related deaths; 29 new cases

There have been two more deaths linked to Covid-19 in New Zealand, Caroline McElnay, the director of public health, has announced, bringing the total to four. “The families of both people will be in the country’s thoughts in this very difficult time and we extend our sympathy to them,” she said.

Both people died yesterday, one, a man in his 80s, at Wellington Public Hospital, and one, a man in his 70s, at Burwood Hospital in Christchurch. The Christchurch man was part of the Rosewood rest home cluster, which the woman in her 90s who died yesterday was also linked to. McElnay said there are 30 cases at Rosewood, a combination of confirmed and probable, and that is made up of 13 residents and 18 staff plus two other cases who are connected through close contact. The man who died in Wellington was also linked to a cluster, but McElnay said details of the cluster would not be revealed today to allow his family more time to grieve. Moe mai rā.

There are 29 new cases: 20 confirmed and nine probable.

This means the 17 days since lockdown look like this: 78, 85, 83, 63, 76, 58, 61, 89, 71, 82, 89, 67, 54, 50, 29, 44, and today 29.

McElnay said 422 cases had recovered, an increase of 49 on yesterday, “and we continue to report more people recovered than new confirmed cases”. The combined total of confirmed and probable cases is 1,312. There are 15 people in hospital with Covid-19, including five in ICU, one each in Wellington, Middlemore, Hawke’s Bay, Dunedin and North Shore hospitals. One ICU patient in Dunedin is in critical condition.

Despite it being Good Friday, yesterday 3,061 tests were carried out, bringing the total of tests to 58,746.

There are now 13 “significant clusters”. The three largest clusters remain Matamata, which now has 70 cases; Bluff with 85; and Marist College, Auckland, also with 85.

The new cluster is an aged care facility in Christchurch known as the George Manning.

More light has been shed on the two “mystery” Auckland clusters. One previously labelled “workplace” has been revealed to be an outbreak at a Spectrum day activity centre, a support service for people with intellectual disabilities of all ages (rather than a “daycare”, as it was described by McElnay).

The second, with 35 cases, is linked to a party in Auckland. “All I can say is it was a private social event,” explained McElnay. She said the function was well in advance of lockdown and was a case of ongoing transmission – a number of people were infected at the function and then passed the virus on to their contacts.

McElnay said three Waikato Hospital nurses have now tested positive for Covid-19. As to whether they contracted the virus at work, she said investigation was ongoing, but she believed the nurses had connections outside of the hospital.

Watch the media briefing here.

12.35pm: New Zealanders to be evacuated from cruise ship off Uruguay

A group of 16 New Zealanders stranded on a cruise ship off the coast of Uruguay, on which more than half the passengers have tested positive for Covid-19, will board an evacuation flight later today. The New Zealanders will join Australian passengers on a chartered medical flight to Melbourne, due to arrive early tomorrow morning, and then transfer to a flight home, where they’ll be put into quarantine.

Meanwhile, MFAT hopes a flight chartered to evacuate New Zealanders in Peru will fly out on Tuesday. About 50 people have registered for the flight, which will transit via Chile to pick up some more New Zealanders. The flight will cost about $5000 per person, with the government underwriting some of the cost.

Read the full story on RNZ

12:05pm: Briefing to go ahead today

After advising media that there will be no briefing today, the director of public health, Caroline McElnay, is now scheduled to deliver an update at 1pm. Details to follow.

11:55am: A virologist disputes patients testing positive after recovery from Covid-19

A consultant clinical virologist at Cambridge University has said that the concerning reports from South Korea about people having recovered from the coronavirus only to test positive again were likely due to the ineffectiveness of the Covid-19 test, which can easily produce “false negatives”.

“They reflect probably that the test isn’t great. And the way in which we are sampling people for the virus isn’t perfect,” Dr Chris Smith said on RNZ’s Saturday Morning. He said the test can return false negatives because often too little tissue is taken from the lungs or throat in the swab. This results in a patient appearing to have completely recovered (testing negative) from the virus, when in fact it was present all along. However, he said that even if the virus was still present in recovering patients, their antibodies were likely mounting a response which would eventually provide at least short-term immunity from Covid-19. “I’m confident that people who are fighting this off are making neutralising antibodies that will give them at least short term protection.”

He said there was no reason that there wouldn’t be long term protection but due to the fickle nature of coronaviruses more data would need to be collected over a longer time frame.

11.45am: NZ Herald publishes a superb profile of Ashley Bloomfield 

The NZ Herald has published a revealing feature on New Zealand’s suddenly-very-high-profile director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield. While the good doctor didn’t participate (making it a donut, in the journalistic parlance), many former colleagues did, revealing what writer David Fisher rightly characterises as a career spent building inexorably toward this moment.

This passage is particularly revealing, in part because who knew Kim Hill moonlit as a private as well as public interrogator of those destined for high office?

“The hunt for a new, permanent director-general was extensive. There were 27 candidates who applied. Of those short-listed, they faced an interview panel of four, and an hour on the end of a Kim Hill inquisition, with psychologists looking on.

“Ultimately, it was Bloomfield who took over. “I thought he would be perfect,” says Northland District Health Board chief executive Dr Nick Chamberlain. “I encouraged him to take it and I’m sure others did as well. Ashley was the perfect mix of having worked in the ministry, being a public health physician and having then worked in DHBs and done a good job there as well. He also knew the machinery of government and how government works. So he went eyes open as well.”

Read the full story on NZ Herald here (no paywall)

10.55am: Defence Lawyers Association calls delay of jury trials through August ‘devastating’

Earlier this week chief justice Helen Winkelmann extended the shutdown of jury trials until July 31 in response to the Covid-19 crisis. RNZ reports Elizabeth Hall from the Defence Lawyers Association as saying it could cause year-long delays in some cases, with defendants potentially pleading guilty rather than waiting for a jury.

“The people who are awaiting trial are presumed to be innocent,” said Hall. “So the risk is that people who are in fact innocent feel the pressure to plead guilty just to get it over and done with, because they can’t bear waiting and because they may end up being in custody longer waiting than if they just pleaded and got it out of the way.”

Hall said extending the suspension of jury trials would have a “devastating impact” on victims, witnesses and defendants. “That is the prosecution not being able to continue because of the unfair way that people have to wait so long for their hearings. So we’re going to need to see whether New Zealand adopts that line as well and starts to be proactive in culling some of the cases that need to be heard.”

Read the full story on RNZ

10am: NRL at loggerheads with NSW health minister over restart for league

The NRL has been one of the most bullish sport leagues in the world when it comes to a return post-Covid-19, with chair of the Australian Rugby League Commission, Peter V’Landys, saying it would return on May 28. Yesterday however NSW health minister Brad Hazzard said that there had been no contact between the NRL and his officials, a position backed up by the state’s deputy chief medical officer. Newshub reports that V’Landys remains resolute.

“It’s in the NSW public health order that we are exempt,” Newshub reported him as saying. “We also received a letter last Wednesday from relevant government authority confirming we can train and play. This is the mistake everyone has made. It is seven weeks away. In that seven weeks there will be some form of relaxation of the social distancing measures. Rugby league, like it or not is a workplace. Other workplaces are continuing to operate. The risk now is minimal.”

The NRL has discussed various ideas about how it might return, including teams all living at a locked-down island resort for long enough to play out the rest of the season, according to one proposal floated by the committee tasked with finding ways to salvage the sport after it was shut down by Covid-19.

9.30am: Fresh Google mobility data shows NZ retaining strong compliance

NZ Transit, workplace and residential data (image: Google)

Google mobility data covering most of the second week of lockdown shows New Zealand continuing to comply with the rules imposed by the level four lockdown. Compared with week one, the country is near identical in the six categories reported on by Google’s global mobility data, and remains behaviourally far closer to nations like Italy and Spain, which have been hit hardest by Covid-19, than those with more patchwork guidance on the issue, like the US.

The one notable exception is Wellington, which has had a comparative surge in park usage compared to last week. In week one it had shown a lower propensity to stay away from parks, at -63%, versus the national average of -78%. That gap has widened considerably in week two, with the national average moving marginally to -74%, while Wellington’s rose to just -40%.

Read the full story on The Spinoff

8.40am: Global death toll passes 100,000, US eyes May 1 reopening of the economy

A grim milestone this morning, as the global death toll surpassed 100,000, nearly double the 58,000 recorded just a week ago. The US is on the verge of passing Italy for the most deaths linked to the virus, with 18,330 to 18,849. Despite the mounting toll, US president Donald Trump is said to be targeting May 1 to reopen the economy, according to a Washington Post report. This is in line with his public hints, where despite shying away from naming a date, he appeared bullish on one coming soon. “Hopefully, we’re going to be opening up – you could call it opening – very, very, very, very soon, I hope,” Trump said at his daily briefing.

While he has shied away from publicly naming May 1, the day after formal guidelines end on April 30, the Post reports a number of aides as confirming his interest in that date, tallying with a public affirmation of a May target from treasury secretary Stephen Mnuchin. The Centre for Disease Control’s Anthony Fauci sounded a note of caution, however, appearing to suggest that the month’s end would be a good time to reassess, rather than reopen. “I think that’s going to be a good time to look and see how quickly can we make that move to try and normalise,” Fauci told CNBC. “Hopefully by the time we get to the summer, we will have taken many steps in that direction.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the WHO, was far more cautious on prospects for reopening the world’s economies. “I know that some countries are already planning the transition out of stay-at-home restrictions,” he said at a press conference in Geneva. “WHO wants to see restrictions lifted as much as anyone. At the same time, lifting restrictions too quickly could lead to a deadly resurgence. The way down can be as dangerous as the way up if not managed properly.”

8.10am: South Korea reports 91 patients thought recovered from Covid-19 as testing positive again

A concerning report from Reuters this morning says 91 patients who were considered recovered from Covid-19 have tested positive again, according to Kim Woo-joo, professor of infectious diseases at Korea University Guro Hospital. It’s too early to say what this means – the most likely explanation is that patients have ‘relapsed’ rather than being reinfected, or the virus could continue to exist in the patients, without necessarily posing a danger to themselves or others. Nonetheless, it remains a major concern, given its potential impact on countries pursuing a herd immunity strategy. Epidemiological studies are continuing to attempt to understand what is behind the results. South Korea remains a global success story in terms of its control of the virus, with 27 new infections announced yesterday, down from a peak of 900 in late February.

Later this morning Dr Chris Smith, a clinical virologist at Cambridge, appeared with Kim Hill on RNZ, and suggested the results were more likely to be false positives, as the tests for Covid-19 remain unreliable.

6.10am: Apple and Google in unprecedented partnership to trace Covid-19 contacts

Tech giants Google and Apple have announced they are teaming up to accelerate and automate tracing of those who have been in contact with a cellphone user who signals that they have tested positive for Covid-19. The pair, which dominate the market for cellphone operating systems, announced this morning that they are working on a system which would log user interactions using bluetooth technology, automatically alerting users when someone with whom they have recently been in close proximity indicates that they have tested positive for the virus.

“All of us at Apple and Google believe there has never been a more important moment to work together to solve one of the world’s most pressing problems,” they said in a joint statement. “Through close cooperation and collaboration with developers, governments and public health providers, we hope to harness the power of technology to help countries around the world slow the spread of Covid-19 and accelerate the return of everyday life.”

The tech giants’ huge advantage is the scale of market penetration, as Apple and Google dominate the world’s smartphones, with a combined market share of around 98%. Yet this is not currently envisaged as being incorporated into a system update, but a new app which users would have to download. While both firms underscored that both identity and whereabouts would be anonymised, some are likely to mistrust both governments and tech companies on privacy. There is also the risk of unnecessary alarm or misuse, with a user unable to know which of their recent contacts had tested positive.

Other challenges are more technical, not least of which is the variable range of bluetooth. The technology is typically used to link devices with speakers, headphones or keyboards, and can often pass through walls or floors, or from one end of a train carriage to another. The danger of the exaggerating risk posed can be diminished by overlaying the amount of time devices spent in proximity with one another, as a similar system in use in Singapore does. Its government has an app called TraceTogether, which New Zealand has shown interest in, an opt-in system has had a relatively low uptake – one million users, in a population of six million, have installed it. This is well below the three quarters of a population considered the minimum for it to be an effective weapon against the virus. Additionally, Apple and Google were at pains to say that this would be in support of, rather than a replacement for, a more manual contact tracing process.

The announcement underscores the scale of this challenge, and the potential of technology to play a part in the fight against it. Under normal circumstances such a collaboration would be not just commercially untenable, but potentially subject to anti-competitive scrutiny. Yet the threat posed by the pandemic has forced arguably the world’s most fierce business rivalry to band together.

6.05am: The day ahead

There is no briefing scheduled at this stage for today. None was scheduled for yesterday, either, though that was changed mid-morning, which may have been so that the news of a second Covid-19 linked death could be conveyed in person. Either way, we’ll keep you posted on the latest news and numbers.

6.00am: ‘What NZ’s coronavirus response can teach the world’

Two of the most prominent public health experts in New Zealand’s Covid-19 response have penned an op-ed for the Guardian. Michael Baker and Nick Wilson of the University of Otago write: “New Zealand now appears to be the only ‘western’ nation following an articulated elimination strategy with the goal of completely ending transmission of Covid-19 within its borders.”

The approach is one that could work in a number of other nations, write the authors, who hail “the brilliant, decisive and humane leadership of Jacinda Ardern”, which was “instrumental in New Zealand’s rapid change in direction with its response to Covid-19 and the remarkably efficient implementation of the elimination strategy”.

They add: “The lockdown does, however, have massive short-term social and economic costs for New Zealand, and will be particularly tough for those with the least resources, including Māori and Pacific populations and low-income New Zealanders.”

A number of international outlets including the Washington Post and CNN have hailed New Zealand’s “elimination strategy” in recent days. As Baker and Wilson note, however, “it is far too soon to claim victory”.

5.45am: The key stories from yesterday

  • 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 rate 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.

Catch up on all of yesterday’s main stories here.

Keep going!