NZ Contact Tracer app (Photo: The Conversation, CC BY-ND)
NZ Contact Tracer app (Photo: The Conversation, CC BY-ND)

SocietyJune 11, 2020

Live updates, June 11: Day 20 of no new cases; Ministry of Health releases review of aged care facility clusters

NZ Contact Tracer app (Photo: The Conversation, CC BY-ND)
NZ Contact Tracer app (Photo: The Conversation, CC BY-ND)

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.

The Spinoff’s coverage of the Covid-19 outbreak is made possible thanks to donations from Spinoff Members. To support this work, join The Spinoff Members here.

7.15pm: The day in sum

There were no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand for the 20th day in a row.

The Ministry of Health released a review into the clusters at aged care facilities, which confirmed that the infections were introduced by staff or visitors, and that three of the five facilities experienced staff cases first.

Cook Islands tourism operators called for the government to open a Pacific travel bubble along with or before the trans-Tasman bubble.

Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer called for a discussion of racist statues and monuments in New Zealand after similar protest-led discussions overseas.

Vodafone reported it was expecting to cut over 100 jobs.

The new $1 billion Commercial Bay retail precinct was opened in downtown Auckland.

The United States recorded its two millionth confirmed Covid-19 case.

4.35pm: Hawke’s Bay buckling under strain of stranded foreigners – Civil Defence

Stranded foreign nationals have descended on Hawke’s Bay in vain hopes of seasonal work, exacerbating a  situation that is becoming unsustainable, according to local Civil Defence controller Ian MacDonald. Describing the situation in the area as like “watching a slow train wreck”, he told RNZ the organisation has been providing emergency accommodation, food and clothing to out of work non-New Zealanders, many of whom have arrived from Queenstown hoping for horticultural work, despite it being “the wrong time of year”.

The stranded group also includes international students at the Eastern Institute of Technology and nearly 1700 workers from Pacific islands whose seasonal work contracts have ended but are unable to get home.

3.35pm: US records two millionth confirmed Covid-19 case

The Johns Hopkins University Covid-19 dashboard has just ticked over its 2,000,000th confirmed US case of Covid-19. A total of 7.3 million confirmed cases have now been recorded worldwide. Brazil has the next highest number, with 772,416, followed by Russia (493,023) and the UK (291, 588).

3.00pm: Vodafone expecting to cut over 100 jobs

Vodafone has announced it expects to cut 5 to 7 percent of its workforce as a result of Covid-19, the Herald reports. This translates to over 100 jobs. “We have been doing everything we can to minimise the impact on our people,” a spokesperson for the telco said, “however unfortunately it is inevitable there will be some job losses to help offset the financial impacts of Covid-19.”

1.45pm: Goldsmith blames lockdown for New Zealand’s worse-than-average OECD forecast

National’s finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says OECD estimates of New Zealand’s GDP falling by 8.9 percent this year show the government’s economic response to Covid-19 hasn’t been good enough. That figure is worse than the OECD average of 7.5 percent, and Goldsmith says New Zealand’s “extremely heavy lockdown” is to blame. “Australia, for example, managed to keep industries like construction operating throughout the lockdown and as a result they will have a smaller economic impact and lower unemployment,” he said today. “The Government urgently needs to put forward comprehensive economic plan to reduce the damage and remove barriers to private sector growth, open the borders safely and start work on high quality infrastructure projects.”

1.15pm: Report into clusters at aged care facilities released

The Ministry of Health has published its Independent Review of Covid-19 Clusters in Aged Residential Care Facilities report, which was commissioned in April by director general of health Ashley Bloomfield.

The review found that all initial infections came from outside the facilities, and two were associated with overseas travel. ESR data showed three out of five facilities had staff cases first.

Among the review’s findings were that “communications and resources provided to aged residential care (ARC) providers and management were at times confusing and not always clear or consistent,” while some facilities reported a lack of available PPE and “relationships with the local DHB infection prevention and control staff were variable.”

The 10 recommendations included in the review include the development of a national outbreak management policy, the development of protocols for the rapid formation of a regional ARC incident management team (IMT), and psychosocial support for staff and resident wellbeing. The review also recommended reviewing infection prevention and control (IPC) standards and developing a national IPC strategy for the ARC sector.

The ministry’s media release said:

The report includes a number of recommendations for improvements which the Ministry will be seeking sector feedback on.   Following this feedback, the approach, priorities and agreed actions can be confirmed.

Both the independent reviewers and the Ministry have acknowledged the work of staff and others involved in aged residential care to protect a vulnerable group of the New Zealand population, and in preventing and managing the cluster outbreaks.

The Ministry also recognises the willingness of the sector to participate in the review and to put in place measures to limit further clusters or infections.

The review examines in detail five clusters, as well as looking at a similar number of facilities which were largely unaffected.

The panel report has confirmed that the infections were introduced to the facilities by staff or visitors.  ESR data shows that three facilities experienced staff cases first.

The key focus of both the reviewers and the Ministry is to improve systems to prevent similar occurrences.   Addressing faults in our systems reinforces the quality improvement focus used throughout health and disability services. No blame is being attributed to any staff involved.  

The Ministry will be seeking feedback from aged care representatives, DHBs and PHUs on feedback on the Review recommendations over the next three weeks to inform a response and an agreed action plan for improvement.

1.05pm: Day 20 of no new cases

For the 20th day in a row there are no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, the Ministry of Health has announced.

Yesterday laboratories completed 3,350 tests, bringing the total number of tests completed to date to 301,882. This represents 6% of the New Zealand population.

The NZ Covid Tracer app has now recorded 546,000 registrations, an increase of 5,000 since this time yesterday.

12.15pm: Government announces new spending on health, water

The government has announced a $211.4 million investment to address growing demand at Manukau Health Park this morning. The funding will increase theatre and outpatient capacity, allow Manukau Health Park to become a new radiology hub and pay for a fully integrated breast screening service and an expanded renal dialysis hub. “We know there are long standing problems with facilities and infrastructure at Counties Manukau DHB. This significant investment is part of an ongoing programme of work to upgrade and remediate facilities,” said health minister David Clark.

Meanwhile deputy prime minister Winston Peters and regional economic development minister Shane Jones announced a further $37.5 million investment toward construction on a water storage site at Ngawha in Northland, which could now begin in September after months of technical assessment. “We recognise the value of providing more upfront investment to get these projects moving ahead and lift regional productivity significantly in a much shorter time frame,” Jones said.

Peters and Jones also announced and additional $4.5 million in funding to complete the Hundertwasser Art Centre and Wairau Māori Art Gallery in Whangarei.

11.30am: WHO says improved contact tracing would eliminate need for future lockdowns

The WHO would advise against further lockdowns if a second wave of Covid-19 hits New Zealand, the organisation’s head of planning for the Western Pacific region, Dr Matthew Griffith, has told RNZ. Instead, we need to make sure contact tracing systems are up to scratch. “If we have really good systems of contact tracing … we don’t have to do these heavy measures again,” he said. “[New Zealand] still needs to be preparing contact tracing systems in case there is a surge in cases, and the public needs to maintain that individual responsibility.”

Griffith said now is not the time to get complacent, citing the examples of new clusters emerging in South Korea and Japan.

11.15am: Māori Party calls for inquiry into New Zealand’s racist monuments

The past week has seen a statue of slave trader Edward Colston toppled and rolled into a river in Bristol, and a statue of Christopher Columbus beheaded in Boston. Now, Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer says it’s time New Zealand takes a look at its own public symbols of racism and oppression. 

“They weren’t put there to remember history, they were put there to glorify [their acts] and to assert their stamp on the land and that stamp’s no longer acceptable,” she told Stuff. On RNZ’s Morning Report, Ngarewa-Packer said there should be a conversation around colonial monuments and place names first, and the conversation should be led by Māori along with the government. “Not to have the discussions and not to act is no longer acceptable, and that’s been voiced across the globe.”

10.30am: Auckland’s new Commercial Bay precinct opens

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern and Auckland mayor Phil Goff attended the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Commercial Bay precinct on Auckland’s Queen street this morning. The $1 billion retail development is opening at a tough time for retailers, particularly those in the country’s CBDs, with foot traffic and spending reportedly down 40% in Auckland’s CBD in the first two days of level two.

“When we started building four years ago we probably would have preferred not to be opening amid a global pandemic,” Scott Pritchard, the CEO of Precinct Properties, which owns Commercial Bay, told The Spinoff’s Michael Andrew ahead of its opening. “But at the same time you’ve got to play the cards you’re dealt.” 

Read the full story on The Spinoff

10.00am: 100 days until election

There are now 100 days until the election on September 19, where New Zealanders will vote not just for the next government but in two referendums, on euthanasia and cannabis. After being sidelined by Covid-19, the campaigns for both sides of each issue are now starting to pick up steam, reports RNZ’s Yvette McCullough. To put this measure of time in perspective, 100 days ago New Zealand had just one confirmed case of Covid-19.

9.00am: Calls for Cook Islands travel bubble

Tourism operators in the Cook Islands are calling for the New Zealand government to resume travel between the two countries, and say it could be done before any trans-Tasman bubble gets off the ground. The Cook Islands is one of the few countries in the world to have not recorded a single case of Covid-19, but has been hit hard economically by the disappearance of tourism. 

“We don’t need a financial bailout, we just need to get back to tourism,” Tata Crocombe from the Rarotongan Beach Resort & Lagoonarium told RNZ’s Morning Report. He said there doesn’t seem to be a logical reason why travel between the two countries can’t resume today, and it could serve as a test before opening travel bubbles with other countries.

Act Party leader David Seymour said the current restrictions on Pacific travel were a “needless cost” and likened it to the closure of butchers and bakeries under alert level four. “If you can fly from Auckland to Invercargill it’s not obvious why you can’t go to Rarotonga,” he said.

8.15am: Documents reveal Covid cluster rest home’s failings

Documents released under the Official Information Act reveal the failings of Christchurch’s Rosewood rest home in dealing with the outbreak that led to 12 of New Zealand’s 22 Covid-19 related deaths. The Herald reports health authorities were “exasperated” by a lack of contact from the rest home’s owner, while staffing shortages left the rest home in breach of its cleaning, food and laundry service obligations. 

A Ministry of Health review into the six New Zealand rest homes that have had Covid-19 cases is due to be released later this week. Aged Care Association chief executive Simon Wallace told the Herald it was important to wait and see the findings of the review. “My understanding of that is it will be looking at the role of all the parties involved in all of those clusters – that’s the rest homes, the public health units, and the district health boards,” he said.

Read the full story on the Herald

8.00am: National goes cold on ‘Strike Force Raptor’ idea

National appears to have gone cold on Simon Bridges’ plan to establish an elite police force to target gangs, with the party’s police spokesperson Brett Hudson telling RNZ “I’m not sure that it was ever envisaged that we would have a unit that would be called [Strike Force Raptor] or anything similar to that.” In November last year Hudson issued a media release titled “Strike Force Raptor Unit proposed to tackle gangs”. 

Hudson told RNZ his party’s police policies were currently under review, but would be “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime, and [ensure] that police are properly resourced to be able to deal with that,” while also taking a “social investment” approach to crime prevention.

7.40am: Updates from today’s edition of The Bulletin

Dozens of hospital buildings are in a poor condition, a new stocktake has found. Radio NZ’s Phil Pennington has a detailed report on where the buildings in the worst conditions are, and what the stocktake was assessing – among the concerns gauged was earthquake risk, the presence of asbestos, electricity and general infrastructure services, and fire separation. The asbestos figures were particularly stark, with 117 buildings around the country having a high asbestos risk, and many more with a lower (but still present) risk. There are also serious concerns about the infrastructure at many – the example of Wellington Regional Hospital was particularly telling here, with the heating system, water system, and general building management systems all in a bad way. Around the country, ICUs and emergency departments are more likely than not to be in a poor condition.

On the point about earthquake risk, the report doesn’t appear to have taken in the absolute latest advice. That comes from a report by Stuff’s Thomas Coughlan, with confirmation that the ‘yellow chapter’ standards haven’t been applied in this stocktake – if you’ve forgotten what the yellow chapter bit means, it’s worth going back and reading this excellent report on the subject from the NZ Herald’s Georgina Campbell. It isn’t currently part of building regulation – rather, it represents the latest thinking in engineering and building safety. But what it means in practice here is that dozens of hospital buildings are officially earthquake prone, and the true scale of the problem could be higher.

In reaction to the stocktake, health minister David Clark spoke to Newstalk ZB and said money had been set aside to address the problem. He initiated the stocktake several years ago, and said this information was needed to prioritise the most urgent projects. And in some cases, Clark said whole new hospitals and facilities will have to be built, and a range of projects were underway. Infrastructure NZ put out a release welcoming the transparency of the stocktake, and their release also got into the sorts of costs fixing it will take. Approximately $14 bn will be needed, up billions of dollars from a decade ago when a previous estimate was made. They say what is needed now is a decade long funding commitment “for the largest health capital investment in decades.”

The issue of colonial era statues, and what they represent, is set to get a serious airing in New Zealand. There’s a legitimate debate about whether many of them should stay up, and the fraught story has been covered with real sensitivity by the NZ Herald’s Michael Neilson. At the heart of the matter – some of the Europeans who have been honoured by the statues committed serious and unforgivable wrongs against Māori, and against others who were brought to New Zealand against their will. The PM has also spoken about it, saying that decisions on individual monuments should be up to individual communities.

A story that underlines one of the major issues with the now-scrapped police Armed Response Teams: Radio NZ’s Jordan Bond reports that over the course of the six month trial, more than half of all arrests and use of force incidents involved Māori. That’s a wildly disproportionate share compared to the wider demographics of the country, even accounting for the fact that the trial took place in only a few regions. The figures come from a wide range of data that has been proactively released by the police in light of the trial coming to an end. Meanwhile, Radio NZ’s Hamish Cardwell reports police are refusing to give more details about a potential increase in the use of sponge-capped bullets – theoretically a non-lethal weapon which still have the potential to cause serious injury and death.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.30am: Yesterday’s key updates

The Ministry of Health announced no new cases of Covid-19 for the 19th day in a row, and said an update to the Covid Tracer app was about to be released.

The government’s financial statements revealed a $12.8bn deficit, which was less than forecast.

Air New Zealand, which is under fire for refusing to refund people for cancelled flights, announced it had given 15,000 refunds for compassionate reasons.

Tourism minister Kelvin Davis announced a $1.5 million recovery package for Whale Watch Kaikōura.

Immigration minister Iain Lees-Galloway said the government was working on how to get 10,000 migrant residents of New Zealand home.

Auckland Emergency Management announced it was closing its Covid-19 welfare helpline and distribution centre at Spark Arena.

New research suggested nearly a third of New Zealanders were growing more sceptical of vaccination.

A report into the state of New Zealand’s hospitals showed many facilities were in “poor or very poor” shape.

The extension to the wage subsidy scheme kicked in today, with finance minister Grant Robertson saying there would be no further extensions after it ends on August 9.

A private funeral for George Floyd, the African American man whose death at the hands of white police sparked a global movement, was held in Houston, Texas.

Read yesterday’s live updates here

Keep going!