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Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters at a Covid-19 press conference. (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters at a Covid-19 press conference. (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

SocietyMay 11, 2020

Covid-19 live updates, May 11: China rebukes Winston Peters, level two to begin Thursday

Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters at a Covid-19 press conference. (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters at a Covid-19 press conference. (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

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.

9.15pm: China issues warning to NZ over Winston Peters’ Taiwan comments

In breaking news, the heat has just turned up a few notches in a simmering diplomatic dispute between New Zealand and China, with Winston Peters coming under fire in a foreign ministry briefing in Beijing.

It follows Peters praising Taiwan’s response to Covid-19, and backing its claim for membership status in the World Health Organisation ahead of a forthcoming assembly.

Reuters touches on it here, but The Spinoff has received a transcript of the briefing, in which foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian does not mince words. Zhao notes that “the New Zealand foreign minister said the country supported Taiwan’s return to the WHO, and said China had assured him that the New Zealand decision would not meet any opposition from China”.

Such a claim was “erroneous”, said Zhao. “The remarks on the Taiwan issue severely violate the One China principle. We firmly reject and deplore it. We have lodged stern representations.”

Zhao added: “The talking up of any suggestion of participation by the Taiwan province in the WHO and the World Health Assembly mask a true intention of seeking independence under the pretext of the virus.” It was a “thoroughly political manoeuvre” by Taiwan, Zhao said. “We urge the New Zealand side to abide by the One China principle and stop its wrong deeds and words on the Taiwan issue, so as to avoid undermining our relations.”

It follows Peters’ comments last week suggesting New Zealand supports the reinstatement to the WHO of Taiwan, which had “something to teach the world and every country, including China”, given its successful response to Covid-19. That promoted the Chinese ambassador to New Zealand, Wu Xi, to issue 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”.

Peters responded by saying that the ambassador should “listen to her master, [foreign minister] Wang Yi, back in Beijing”, who had given him assurances “China does not behave that way”.

8.30pm: Rules for bars clarified

A different emphasis in the rules on bars reopening comes in a press release from the minister of commerce, Kris Faafoi. Earlier today, the prime minister said the rule was, “if the primary purpose is for dining, you can open”. Otherwise, bars would need to wait till Thursday May 21. As laid down in the statement just issued, however: “bars and pubs will be able to open once New Zealand moves to Covid alert level two [this Thursday] so long as they make sure they seat patrons and serve them food with their drinks.”

The statement sets out the rules as follows:

  • Patrons must be seated.
  • Patrons must be served a meal, not just drinks.
  • Serving staff must stick to serving specific tables.
  • Establishments must ensure no more than 10 people per booking.
  • Establishments cannot accommodate more than 100 people
  • Establishments must ensure safe spacing between seated groups.

7.00pm: The day in sum

From Thursday, New Zealand will begin moving into alert level two, with shops, cafes, restaurants, cinemas, playgrounds, and gyms able to reopen. Bars will be able to reopen from next Thursday.

From Monday, all children will be able to return to school or early learning.

Gatherings will be limited to 10 people across the board.

Three new cases of Covid-19 were reported with two linked to the St Margaret’s cluster and the other linked to overseas travel.

NZME announced a bid to buy Stuff for $1. Then Stuff’s owner Nine said it had withdrawn from negotiations with NZME last week. Then NZME rejected Nine’s statement.

SkyCity announced plans to lay off 700 staff. The job cuts were on top of 200 redundancies announced in early April.

Stats NZ figures showed the scale of the economic losses businesses took during lockdown. Retail spending was down $2.6 billion, or 47%, from March, with hospitality the hardest hit sector.

The NZ Nurses Organisation called for urgent safety improvements at Waitākere Hospital. It’s understood that seven healthcare workers at the hospital have now tested positive for Covid-19.

Super Rugby Aotearoa, a domestic form of the Super Rugby competition, will start on June 13.

6.30pm: Today on The Spinoff

Here’s what you need to know about New Zealand’s phased move from alert level three to level two.

Where are we now on the lockdown and the law? Law professor Andrew Geddis explains.

Our new political editor Justin Giovanetti recounts the arduous journey from Canada to Aotearoa mid-pandemic

With the delete Uber Eats campaign gathering pace, Jean Teng asks: what are the alternatives?

NZME and Stuff’s merger saga has reached a bizarre new peak, Duncan Greive explains.

Duncan Greive also looks back at the historic lockdown and the extraordinary comms effort that made it a success.

How do you strike for the climate when everyone’s stuck at home? Peter McKenzie explains how activists are having to get creative.

How is the world’s largest refugee camp dealing with the threat of Covid-19? Alice Webb-Liddall reports.

Why Sustainable Development Goals should drive the Covid-19 rebuild, according to Mark Thomas.

All Black halfback TJ Perenara says professional players should be playing club rugby too

5.30pm: Legal framework for level two to be debated

A new law establishing a legal framework for alert level two will be introduced and debated tomorrow with the intention of being passed through all stages so it can be enacted by Wednesday, May 13.

“The changes will ensure controls on gatherings of people and physical distancing are still enforceable,” said attorney-general David Parker. “There will be fewer restrictions under alert level two but those remaining still need to be enforceable.”

“We need the legislation in place before level two starts.”

5.00pm: Super Rugby Aotearoa to kick off in just over a month

Following the government’s announcement of an imminent move to level two, Super Rugby Aotearoa, a domestic form of the Super Rugby competition featuring the Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders and Highlanders, will start on June 13, reports Newshub.

Two matches per weekend will be played over 10 weeks, with games initially held in closed stadiums. The opening weekend will see the Highlanders take on the Chiefs in Dunedin and the Blues play the Hurricanes in Auckland.

4.10pm: Phased approach to moving to alert level two to begin on Thursday

Read our news report on the decision here, and Jacinda Ardern’s full speech here

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern has announced that this Thursday, May 14, New Zealand will begin moving into alert level two, with retail, malls, cafes, restaurants, cinemas, playgrounds and gyms able to reopen as long as they follow the physical-distancing and hygiene requirements set out last week. Moving around the country will be permitted, and health services will restart. Bubbles can be broken, but catch-ups with friends or family should be limited to 10.

Next Monday, May 18, all children will be able to return to school or early learning and next Thursday, May 21, bars can open. “We have left bars till last because they do pose the most risk,” said Ardern.

The “few extra days” on top of the initial two-week period set out for level three provided “a chance to lock in the data from level three and feel more secure that we’re ready for this move”, said Ardern. “Overall, though, the upshot is that in 10 days’ time we will have reopened most businesses in New Zealand, and sooner than many other countries around the world.

“But that fits with our plan. Our plan was go hard, and go early, so we can get our economy moving again sooner, and so we can get the economic benefit of getting our health response right. So far, we have,” she said.

“We all know there’s more to do. We may have won a few battles, but we have not won the war.”

She acknowledged the sacrifices New Zealanders had made over the past six and a half weeks under levels four and three, particularly those who had lost loved ones and been unable to hold funerals. Ardern also mentioned those who had cancelled weddings, kids who had missed birthdays, people who had lost jobs or had their businesses suffer. “For all of that, Kiwis from all walks of life were resolute and determined,” she said.

“We knew this was a war we could eventually win, but only if we acted together, so we formed a team and we created a wall of protection for one another.”

The rules

Setting out the “golden rules” of level two, Ardern said, “From Thursday when you wake up, play it safe.” The rules are:

On Friday afternoon document dump

Asked about the government’s unprompted release of thousands of Covid-19 documents on Friday afternoon, and the subsequently leaked internal memo sent from the prime minister’s office to all ministers instructing them not to speak to media about the document dump, Ardern said, “I wouldn’t characterise it as [a gag order], keeping in mind that the discussion we’re having here is over the release of over 300 documents and the whole purpose, of course, was to provide them transparently and then be available to answer questions on them as I am, as Dr Clark has, and Minister Shaw has.”

Ardern said the memo was “not the language I would’ve used in an email, but you’d expect that I don’t craft all of the emails sent out by people that work in my team”.

“I don’t know that anyone would accuse me of not having been available, given how available I seek to make myself, she said, adding that, “I absolutely hear the feedback people have given around signalling earlier when they’re [documents] are coming… so we’ll look to do that in the future.”

Winston’s take

In a press release, deputy prime minister Winston Peters said, “For the millions of New Zealanders who stayed at home under alert levels three and four, at great personal sacrifice, this announcement will come as great relief.

“Their sacrifice has ensured we can move with confidence into alert level two, rather than a nonsensical, half-baked level 2.5 as suggested by the National Party,” he said. “New Zealand First appreciates that many businesses are struggling, and, alongside their workers, have put in a Herculean effort to support our nationwide fight against the virus’ lethal potential.”

4.00pm: Ardern to announce alert level shift – watch here

3.45pm: Prime minister to announce alert level shift at 4pm

Cabinet will have decided by now if and when New Zealand will move from alert level three to alert level two. Jacinda Ardern is expected to announce the decision in her post-cabinet press conference from the Beehive at 4pm, at which director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield will also be speaking. We’ll have the live stream here and be providing rolling updates.

3.05pm: The latest data, charted

Today’s numbers show recovered cases of Covid-19 continuing to vastly outnumber active cases. 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 cases sorted by area. Waitematā remains the district with the most cases, adding two more today.

2.50pm: Fears Covid-19 spreading through the White House

There are fears Covid-19 is spreading rapidly through the White House, with one top Trump administration official telling media he’s now scared to go to work. Vice-president Mike Pence and coronavirus task force member Anthony Fauci are among those who have already been forced into quarantine after two White House employees – Pence’s press secretary Katie Miller and a valet to president Donald Trump – tested positive for the virus. Kevin Hassett, a top economic adviser to Trump, told CBS’s Face the Nation program he wears a mask to work, adding that it’s a “cramped” place where people are regularly in close contact. “It is scary to go to work,” he said. “I think that I’d be a lot safer if I was sitting at home than I would be going to the West Wing.”

The outbreak and subsequent lockdown measures at the White House come as Trump makes repeated calls for Americans to return to work in the face of warnings from public health officials.

1pm: Three new cases of Covid-19, number of active cases dips below 100

There are three new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, the Ministry of Health has announced. This takes the combined total of confirmed and probable Covid-19 cases in New Zealand to 1497.

Two of the new cases are nurses at Waitākere Hospital. Both are linked to the St Margaret’s Hospital & Rest Home cluster in Auckland. 

At least five healthcare workers at the hospital had already tested positive for Covid-19 after patients from St Margaret’s were transferred there for care on April 17 and 18. Groups of more than 50 workers have been stood down after possible contact with an infected co-worker on two separate occasions. The two nurses who just tested positive had been asymptomatic during their stand-down period, which they spent in isolation at home.

Strong precautionary measures are in place to limit further spread of the virus at the hospital, the Ministry of Health said. The NZ Nurses Organisation this morning called for urgent action to help Waitākere Hospital employees feel safe at work.

Today’s other case was a person returning from overseas travel. 

The number of people who have recovered from Covid-19 is now at 1386, or 93% of all cases. That is an increase of 15 on yesterday. There are now just 90 active cases of the virus in New Zealand. It’s the first time the country’s number of active Covid-19 cases has dipped below 100 since March 22.

A total of 3865 tests were completed yesterday, bringing the total number of tests completed to date to 194,191.

Two people are in hospital with Covid-19, One is in Middlemore and one is in North Shore hospital. Neither are 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. 

In terms of numbers of new cases, the last seven days look like this: 0, 2, 1, 2, 2, 2, and today, 3.

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern is set to give an update at 4pm on Cabinet’s decision on when to move the country down to alert level two.

12.50pm: Update on Covid-19 numbers expected soon

Today’s update on New Zealand’s Covid-19 numbers is expected to be sent at 1pm. The numbers will be sent via press release from the Ministry of Health. There is no media briefing today, though prime minister Jacinda Ardern will take questions from reporters at 4pm, when she announces Cabinet’s decision on when to shift the country to alert level two.

12.40pm: NZME insists it is still exclusive with Nine

In an update to two earlier posts, NZME insists it is still in an exclusive negotiation to acquire Stuff, and its owner Nine’s decision to back away from the table is not valid. NZME this morning announced to the NZX that it was looking to buy Stuff for $1 by the end of May. Stuff’s owner Nine responded that it had ceased negotiations with NZME last week. It was understood to be “surprised” by the statement.

Now NZME has released a new statement to the NZX saying its view is that it’s still in a binding exclusive negotiation with Nine. “[NZME] does not accept that exclusivity has been validly terminated,” the statement says.

The Spinoff’s managing editor Duncan Greive has written about this morning’s back-and-forth saga here. His story, posted less than half-an-hour ago, is already out-of-date.

11.45am: SkyCity making 700 more workers redundant

SkyCity has announced it is making 700 more staff redundant as it faces a weaker economic outlook in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. The company had already made 200 staff redundant early in the alert level four lockdown. Its chief executive Graeme Stephens said in a statement that factors including a weaker global economy, restrictions on mass gatherings, and long-term travel restrictions meant that SkyCity had to become a smaller, domestically focused company. “At SkyCity we are a family and it is incredibly tough to say goodbye to valued team members, however, we need to ensure our business is best prepared to operate in the new environment,” he said.

SkyCity has received a wage subsidy of $15.4m covering 2365 staff. In the year ending June 30 it reported a profit of $173 million as well as $450 million for the sale of assets including carparks and the company’s Darwin operation. Stephens earned $1.5 million in his first year in the role. The company asked staff to donate to the 200 of their colleagues who were made redundant in early April. The Smile Fund received at least $1 million in donations and cost savings passed on from pay cuts for senior staff.

11.35am: Stats NZ figures show scale of lockdown hit to business

New figures from Stats NZ show the scale of the economic hit the business sector has taken during the Covid-19 lockdown. Retail spending across the country dropped $2.6 billion – or 47% – from March to April this year, as non-essential businesses closed in compliance with the government’s alert level four restrictions, Stats NZ said today. Retail statistics manager Kathy Hicks says the drop is equivalent to each person in the country spending about $520 less in April than they did in March.

Stats NZ figures showing the drop-off in card spending over April.

Unsurprisingly the hospitality sector was hardest hit, recording a $814 million, or 95%, spending drop on April 2019 levels. Spending on both eating out and accommodation away from home was almost non-existent in April, Hicks says. Travel agency and tour arrangement services actually fell into negative sales numbers, as the value of refunds exceeded that of purchases, she says.

Stats NZ figures showing the hospitality sector’s precipitous sales drop-off during lockdown

The furniture, hardware, and appliances sector also suffered a huge fall in revenue, with sales down just over $1 billion, 72 percent, from March this year. Supermarkets and grocery stores accounted for 80% of all retail sales during April, mainly because they were allowed to trade for the entire month, Hicks says.

10.35am: Stuff’s owner says it ceased negotiations with NZME

An update on that last entry: Stuff’s owner says it actually ceased negotiations with NZME last week. Victoria Buchanan, a spokeswoman for Australia’s Nine Network, said the company terminated discussions with the Herald and Newstalk ZB owner days before it announced its bid to acquire Stuff for $1 to the NZX this morning.

Stuff understood that Nine was “surprised” by NZME’s announcement. Nine was planning to make a statement to the NZX this morning.

The Spinoff understands that many workers at Stuff, NZME, and in the wider media are also surprised by this morning’s news, asking questions like “what is going on?” and “how is this happening?”.

9.50am: NZME making bid to buy Stuff for $1

NZME is asking the government to pass urgent legislation allowing it to buy Stuff for $1 within three weeks, the New Zealand Herald reports. The company, which owns the Herald and radio stations including Newstalk ZB, says the acquisition would save journalism jobs. It wants to complete the transaction by May 31, and is asking for enabling legislation from the government to allow the move. “NZME believes that the New Zealand media sector is too small for the current number of quality participants and consolidation is urgent in the face of dramatically declining advertising revenue and current general economic conditions,” NZME said in an announcement to the NZX.

The NZX announcement said NZME had entered an exclusive negotiation with Stuff’s owner, the Australian news network Nine. This is the latest development in NZME’s multi-year effort to acquire Stuff. The Commerce Commission turned down a proposed merger between the companies, colloquially referred to as StuffMe, in 2017. That decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal in 2018. Since then, NZME has modified its bid, offering to hold Stuff in a subsidiary company that would protect publications and keep staffing at agreed levels.

9.20am: PM’s office addresses leaked email

A leaked email which told ministers to dismiss media questions about the government’s Covid-19 response was a “clumsy instruction”, the prime minister’s office has told Stuff . Thomas Manch has new detail on the email from the prime minister’s senior advisor Rob Carr, which was leaked after the government carried out a widely criticised Friday afternoon document dump. The email instructed ministers to “dismiss” questions about the Cabinet papers provided in the dump, saying the public had confidence in the government’s response. It said ministers could provide brief written responses to media questions, but those had to be signed off by the prime minister’s office.

Manch’s report says Carr’s email was mistakenly forwarded to public servants by someone in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC). An hour after it was sent, a DPMC staffer followed up with an email saying it was sent in error and asking the public servants to delete it. However, the email was leaked to media.

A spokesman for the prime minister told Stuff the email was “more about not re-litigating the past”. “It shouldn’t have been framed as dismissing … It was more a clumsy instruction,” he said. The spokesman insisted the government had been transparent during the Covid-19 response, saying prime minister Jacinda Ardern had fronted almost daily press briefings and carried out more interviews than usual. Government ministers were also available for media interviews every day, the spokesman said.

8.45am: Nurses call for urgent safety action at Waitākere Hospital

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation is calling for more urgent action to protect nurses at Waitākere Hospital. At least five healthcare workers at the hospital have tested positive for Covid-19 since patients from the St Margaret’s Hospital and Rest Home cluster were transferred there on April 17 and 18. One nurse became seriously ill and had to be admitted to hospital. Groups of more than 50 staff have had to be stood down on two separate occasions after having potential contact with a Covid-infected co-worker.

In an interview on Morning Report this morning, NZ Nurses Organisation spokeswoman Kate Weston said the hospital hadn’t done enough to reassure nurses they were safe. An investigation had been carried out into potential safety failings at the hospital, but its results had not yet been released, she said. “The issues are likely to come back to PPE. The type, the availability. We don’t know for sure what that is but we need to be making plans right now to make sure that nurses feel safe and are safe.”

Weston said it was possible problems had arisen when the hospital switched suppliers for their N-95 protective masks, but said she wasn’t certain on that point. She called for a WorkSafe investigation to go alongside the one carried out by Waitematā DHB.

Waitākere Hospital’s managers have received criticism for allowing nurses to transfer between caring for Covid-19 patients and working on other wards. Weston said several nurses had raised concerns about the practice. “They expressed a preference actually to stay with the Covid patients. So they weren’t shying away from their duty or their need to care. They were wanting to protect themselves and others by not being moved about,” she said. “They’re doing their job. They deserve to be safe. What’s happened that they have developed Covid?”

8.05am: Boris Johnson loosens lockdown rules, introduces alert system

UK prime minister Boris Johnson has announced a gradual loosening of his country’s Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. In an address to the nation this morning, Johnson urged people to go back to work if they can’t do their jobs from home. A rule restricting exercise to a single one-hour outing per day was scrapped. People are now allowed to go out as much as they want and meet as long as they stay 2m apart. However, many lockdown constraints stay in place. Bars and cafes remain closed. People are urged to stay off public transport. Border arrivals are set to be quarantined.

Johnson said these were just first tentative steps. He introduced a five-tier alert system similar to the one New Zealand instituted six weeks ago, and said that under today’s announcement, the country was moving from alert level four to alert level three. “This is not the time simply to end the lockdown this week. Instead we are taking the first careful steps to modify our measures,” he said.

The UK’s official Covid-19 slogan was also changed from ‘stay at home’ to ‘stay alert’ as part of today’s changes. The move has been widely mocked on social media and criticised by politicians including Labour leader Keir Starmer. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said adopting the new slogan could have dire consequences. “For Scotland right now, given the fragility of the progress we have made, given the critical point we are at, it would be catastrophic for me to drop the ‘stay at home’ message, which is why I am not prepared to do it,” she said.

5.10am: Decision day for alert level shift

Today cabinet will determine if and when New Zealand will move from alert level three to alert level two. For more on that decision, see Toby Manhire’s post here. Also new on the site, Duncan Greive has assessed the extraordinary communications effort by the Ardern government here. And a big welcome to The Spinoff’s new political editor, Justin Giovannetti, whose arrival on our team, and to New Zealand, has been, well, unorthodox.

5.05am: $183 million boost to family violence support services

The government has announced more than $183 million in extra funding for services supporting family violence and elder abuse victims. Jan Logie, under-secretary to the minister of justice, said the extra money in Budget 2020 will go to services by Māori for Māori, agencies supporting victims of elder abuse, and programmes for people who use violence and want to change their behaviour. A further $19.9 million will go toward making sure cases of non-fatal strangulation can be properly investigated, and victims have access to trauma support services.

“Refuges, helplines, crisis services and many other organisations sit at the heart of our response to families who are experiencing violence,” Logie said. “At a time of national crisis we have never needed them more. We know this crisis has increased pressure to New Zealand families and that more victims are isolated.”

The Budget initiatives announced today are:

  • $183 million over the next four years for specialist family violence services. That includes:
    • $142 million for services supporting victims of family violence
    • $16 million for services to help perpetrators stop inflicting family violence
    • $25 million in support for victims of elder abuse
  • $19.9 million to ensure victims of non-fatal strangulation can access trained medical trauma support practitioners and for forensic services necessary to gather the evidence needed to prosecute offenders.

5am: Yesterday’s key stories

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.

Read more in yesterday’s live updates here.

Keep going!