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Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. (Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas)
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. (Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas)

SocietyApril 12, 2020

Covid-19 live updates, April 12: 18 new cases; majority support for extended lockdown

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. (Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas)
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. (Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas)

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: Catherine McGregor

6.30pm: The day in sum

There were 18 new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, taking the total to 1,220. Fourteen people are in hospital including five in ICU. One of those is in critical condition.

The Ministry of Health has tightened its guidance on the measures aged care facilities must put in place. The changes come as director general of health Ashley Bloomfield says there were “some deficiencies in the policies and procedures” at the aged care facilities at the centre of three Covid-19 clusters.

New research found that most New Zealanders would be happy for the alert level four lockdown to be extended if that’s what it takes to eradicate Covid-19.

Some schools could re-open on April 29, provided New Zealand comes out of lockdown on April 23, according to education minister Chris Hipkins.

Nearly 500 homeless and vulnerable people have been set up in motel units during the Covid-19 crisis, the government announced.

The government is offering councils extra funding to roll out temporary expanded footpaths and cycleways following the alert level four lockdown.

Police said they’ve recorded 677 lockdown breaches since the government implemented alert level 4 just over two weeks ago

6.20pm: On The Spinoff today

An exclusive new poll showed rising support for government handling of Covid-19

Siouxsie Wiles & Toby Morris explained what we should expect next from Covid-19 – including more tough news

Tess McClure, a New Zealand journalist based in New York, wrote movingly of a great city transformed by the pandemic

Our daily collection of graphs, charts and data visualisations by Chris McDowall showed the state of the Covid-19 outbreak to date

In today’s lockdown letter, Morgan Godfery considered the lost histories of Kawerau, his home town

4.00pm: Uruguay cruise ship passengers arrive home

Thirteen of the 16 New Zealanders who were stranded on a cruise ship off the coast of Uruguay have arrived home, the NZ Herald reports. A chartered medevac flight carrying the New Zealanders who had been aboard the Greg Mortimer touched down at Auckland Airport this afternoon. All went directly to quarantine.

After the first suspected Covid-19 case on March 22 the ship was put on lockdown, with all passengers confined to their cabins. When comprehensive testing was finally carried out last weekend it was found that more than half of the 217 passengers, crew and staff were positive for the coronavirus.

3.10pm: Sam Neill on sharing his lockdown life with millions around the world

If you spend any amount of time on social media you may be among the many people all over the world whom actor Sam Neill has been busy entertaining from his isolation bubble in Australia. He told RNZ’s Jim Mora this morning he’s glad other people are enjoying the quirky videos he’s posting online, “I’m only entertaining myself and if anyone else gets pleasure out of it then that’s fine. I’ve been doing silly stuff on social media for years now with my pig… being stupid and ridiculous is not new to me on social media.”

Neill said he’s happy to be safe in isolation, despite not being able to come home to New Zealand. “Isolation is what’s going to get us through this thing… I think it’s quite fantastic what New Zealand is doing, and I think New Zealand is a beacon of hope for the world right now because we can see that isolation actually works, and that’s extraordinary.”

2.05pm: What the new numbers look like

Here’s an initial chart on today’s cases from Chris McDowall. See his data visualisations of the situation yesterday here and check back later today to see today’s data graphed and charted in full.

1pm: 18 new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand

There are 18 new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, the director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, has just announced. That includes 14 confirmed and four probable cases.

It takes the total cases to 1,330. There are 14 people in hospital, including five in ICU. One of those is in critical condition. No further deaths have been recorded.

This means the 18 days since lockdown began look like this, in terms of new cases: 78, 85, 83, 63, 76, 58, 61, 89, 71, 82, 89, 67, 54, 50, 29, 44, 29, and today 18.

Bloomfield said that of the cases the Ministry of Health has information on, 47% have links to existing cases, and 40% are linked to overseas travel. Only 2% of cases are confirmed to be through community transmission and 11% of cases are still under investigation.

The low number of new cases is promising, said Bloomfield. “It’s encouraging that we are seeing a smaller number of cases, and all New Zealanders should take heart from that, that our collective efforts are paying dividends.”

Yesterday 2,421 tests were processed, a “quieter” day owing to the holiday weekend, said Bloomfield. In total 61,167 tests have been completed. He said he hoped to see a boost in testing “after the quiet period over Easter.” Analysis of regional testing was under way to ensure there there are not pockets of the country where Covid-19 might have gone undetected.

Bloomfield confirmed that the man who died in Wellington on Friday had been at the Bluff wedding.

He said aged residential care facilities are a “key setting” in the fight against Covid-19. There are three significant clusters of the virus, and several recent deaths, linked to aged care facilities in New Zealand.

The Ministry of Health had updated its guidance on the measures aged care facilities have to put in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19 yesterday, he said. Units are being asked to put clear policies and procedures in place for how to deal with suspected or confirmed cases of the virus. Staff who had any symptoms of sickness or who had been in contact with a probable case of Covid-19 had been asked not to come to work.

He said the Ministry of Health has been working closely with the aged care sector, and would consider testing asymptomatic people in these facilities to get a picture of how the direction is spreading, but this would be left to the judgement of the medical officer of health of the area.

Bloomfield said the new guidance issued to aged residential facilities came after public health officials investigating three clusters found failings. “What we have found when public health staff have gone into investigate the clusters, that there have been some deficiencies in the policies and procedures.”

He clarified some details around a new cluster of Covid-19 cases linked to a Spectrum Care facility for the intellectually disabled in Auckland. He said the cluster originated in the community and led to a person being cared for by Spectrum getting infected. Only five of the cases in the cluster were people who received care from, or worked at, Spectrum. All other cases in the cluster were people who contracted Covid-19 in the community, Bloomfield said. “And I can say that the Spectrum Care staff have followed all appropriate actions including self-isolating staff while they recover.”

The so-called Spectrum cluster is “probably better described as a community cluster that involves some people working at Spectrum care,” he said.

Asked about the lack of detail on the Auckland party cluster, Bloomfield said that unlike the Bluff wedding, it was a “well bounded private event” and there were neither people travelling from around the country nor venue staff involved. “We’ll keep reviewing it … But all the people who are associated with it have been identified and put into isolation and anyone who becomes symptomatic is being tested, so there is no sense there would be risk of wider transmission.”

Health officials are proactively managing the case of a supermarket worker with Covid-19 who lives in a flat with nine other people in Flaxmere, Bloomfield said. The worker’s infection was not linked to his workplace, he said. “My understanding is that the index case there had travelled to another place, and it might have been Queenstown.”

Three staff members at Waikato DHB have now tested positive for Covid-19, with all cases linked to a Hamilton nurse who contracted the virus. Bloomfield said the patients on the ward where the nurse had been working were being monitored, but none had shown signs of having Covid-19. “There’s no evidence to suggest that any of the people on the ward are infected, and so it seems that the staff had got the infection from outside of the workplace.”

He said 847 breaches of lockdown procedure have been reported so far, resulting in 109 prosecutions, 717 warnings and 21 youth referrals. “The police have been very active over Easter weekend stopping cars and with a high presence in the community.”

Yesterday, 257 people arrived in New Zealand, all of whom went into either quarantine or managed self-isolation in a hotel, Bloomfield said.

Bloomfield also encouraged the public not to delay seeking care if they have illness or injuries that are not Covid-related. “We have seen stories of a drop off in emergency department presentations and I’ve just seen a report from Healthline showing that many people who are calling have got quite serious symptoms when they call. People should not be afraid of seeking care nor should they delay doing that.” He said emergency departments and health facilities have processes in place to ensure patient safety.

12.55pm: Watch today’s Ministry of Health livestream here

12:50pm: Police blast ‘idiotic’ road trippers

We’ve still almost two weeks to go, at best, but for dumb lockdown behaviour it’ll be hard to beat today’s story of three stranded South Island joyriders. According to a police officer quoted on Stuff, the Dunedin trio set off for a road trip to Blenheim for “no other reason than something to do”, were warned about breaching the lockdown rules in Blenheim, and then ran out of petrol – and money – in Timaru, 200km from home. “They didn’t even have a cellphone between them,” the police officer said.

12.39pm: Majority support for extended lockdown

Most New Zealanders would be happy to have the alert level four lockdown extended if that’s what it takes to eradicate Covid-19, new research says. Research NZ partner Emanuel Kalafatelis told Radio NZ a recent survey carried out by her organisation showed 60% of people support adding another two weeks to the lockdown, while 14% don’t support the move and 26% don’t know.

The research also showed 72% of people back a 10pm curfew and 85% want stronger police action to deter lockdown rule-breakers. “There’s a lot of debate at the moment about the health imperatives versus the economic imperatives, but I think what these results are telling us are that people are wanting this to be dealt with obviously once and for all and so they’re prepared to put up with some pain,” Kalafatelis said.

11.55am: Isolation extended in Italy, but hope on horizon

Several countries have extended their isolation periods recently as the fight against the spread of Covid-19 continues. Among them, Italy, which was due to end its isolation on April 14, has now extended it until May 3.

Though the restrictions are continuing, the number of new Covid-19 cases in some of the worst-hit countries has been decreasing, with Italy, Spain and Iran all reporting drops in infection numbers over the past five days. These graphs from Johns Hopkins illustrate how the situation is improving.

Meanwhile, some European countries have announced they’re loosening Covid-19 lockdown rules, with Denmark and Norway set to reopen kindergartens and schools after Easter, and Austria planning to reopen some small stores if its number of cases remains stable, CNN reports.

11.40am: Property investors say they’re struggling with new rules

Property investors are warning they may have to sell their rental homes due to rules preventing them from replacing tenants, raising rents and carrying out no-cause evictions during the Covid-19 lockdown. Landlords aren’t allowed to evict tenants during the lockdown unless they’re more than 60 days behind on rent or causing serious damage to the property, under new regulations introduced by government. A survey of New Zealand Property Investors Federation members found 2% of their tenants had stopped paying rent, and 6% had left their rental properties during the alert level 4 lockdown, Stuff reports.

The economist Tony Alexander says many “Ma and Pa investors” are struggling with a lack of rental income, coupled with ongoing mortgage payments, and may put their properties on the market once lockdown ends. That could benefit more well-capitalised property investors with sights on the longer term, he says. Pukeko Rental Managers director David Pearse told Stuff he was predicting a “mass sell-off” of rental properties.

The landlords’ plight hasn’t engendered sympathy from all quarters. “Maybe when we rebuild from this crisis it can be through something more socially useful than hoarding land and extorting those who don’t have it,” wrote the political commentator Neale Jones. Others noted that any of the houses being sold were likely to go to other property investors and remain on the rental market.

10.33am: Some schools could reopen April 29

Some schools could re-open on April 29, provided New Zealand comes out of lockdown on April 23, education minister Chris Hipkins says. Hipkins confirmed the provisional start date for face-to-face lessons in an appearance on TVNZ’s Q&A this morning. However, he warned that many schools would remain closed for much longer. “We’ve got to make sure we have a really good understanding of all the risks involved in re-opening schools and early learning services as we go down that road, so that’s not necessarily all going to happen as we go from level four to level three,” he said.

Chris Hipkins speaks to Q&A host Jack Tame.

Hipkins separately announced the support government is providing to help students learn from home. Only about half of schools are set up for distance learning using the internet, according to a survey carried out by the Ministry of Education. Efforts to enable distance learning for the remainder of students include delivering devices and better internet access, funding two television channels to broadcast educational content (including one featuring Suzy Cato), and delivering online resources for homeschooling, Hipkins says. “We are taking action to support new connections and resources for students at all schools.”

9.25am: Motel rooms set up for the homeless

Nearly 500 homeless and vulnerable people have been set up in motel units during the Covid-19 crisis, the government has announced. Housing minister Megan Woods says 962 motel units in 15 towns and cities have been secured for vulnerable people, and 496 units of those are now occupied. “In the last two weeks there has been a massive effort to connect people who are homeless and living rough, with accommodation and social services. Many have been living on the streets or in unsuitable places where social distancing was not possible,” she says.

Government officials worked with housing providers, iwi and Māori organisations, local government and social services to find people who needed accommodation. Those groups are also giving people with food parcels, hygiene packs and sometimes phones. “I’m hearing a lot of heart-warming stories about people who have not had decent shelter let alone a bed to sleep in, for a very long time, being moved into accommodation and feeling incredibly relieved to have somewhere to live,” Woods says.

9.12am: Police record 677 lockdown breaches

Police say they’ve recorded 677 lockdown breaches since the government implemented alert level four just over two weeks ago. Of the people caught breaking the rules, 84 are being prosecuted and 582 have been let off with a warning.

Officers have set up checkpoints around the country over Easter weekend, in an effort to stop people heading away to their baches and second homes.  New police commissioner Andrew Coster said the enforcement efforts were aimed at taking pressure off emergency services and decreasing the risk of Covid-19 spreading across the country. “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,” he said in a statement.

8.10am: Government to fund pop-up cycle paths and walkways

The government is offering councils extra funding to roll out temporary expanded footpaths and cycleways following the alert level four lockdown. Associate transport minister Julie Anne Genter says the move is aimed at allowing pedestrians and cyclists to keep two metres of physical distance as New Zealand moves down through alert levels. “Some of our footpaths in busy areas are quite narrow. Temporary footpath extensions mean people can give each other a bit more space without stepping out onto the road,” she says.

Several cities around the world, including New York, Berlin, and Vancouver, have closed streets to cars and established temporary cycle paths during their Covid-19 lockdowns. New Zealand councils who want to set up their own pop-up pedestrian and cycle zones can apply to have 90% of their project costs covered by the Innovating Streets for People pilot fund, which was set up to fund tactical urbanism projects, Genter says. The fund’s $7 million budget has been expanded to accomodate the potential applications, with money redirected out of a fund for strategic cycleways that councils have underspent by more than $100 million, Stuff reports. Planning for the changes can begin now, but work isn’t allowed start on the projects until alert level four ends.

Transport and urbanism advocacy group Greater Auckland has been leading a call for pop-up cycleways and walkways during the Covid-19 crisis for several weeks. Despite the pressure, Auckland Council and Auckland Transport haven’t announced any extensions to the city’s pedestrian and cycle network. Meanwhile, Hamilton City Council has pitched a $1.5 billion set of environmentally friendly projects to the government to help the city recover after the pandemic. The package would include an extensive network of separated cycleways.

7.57am: Queen records debut Easter message

The Queen has recorded her first ever Easter message, assuring people that Covid-19 “will not overcome us” and reminding them of the importance of staying apart during the holidays. The monarch began the two-minute address speaking on the tradition of lighting candles for religious festivities, saying they symbolised “light overcoming darkness”.

This latest message marks a rapid escalation in the number of globally broadcast addresses from the Queen. It comes just days after she released an address on Covid-19, where she thanked health workers and urged resilience during the crisis. At the time, that was just her fifth public address outside of her annual Christmas message.

7.43am: US overtakes Italy for world’s highest Covid-19 death toll

The US has overtaken Italy as the country with the highest death toll from Covid-19. There have been 19,701 deaths in the US, according to recent figures from John Hopkins University. Italy’s government has reported 19,468 deaths. The grim milestone comes amid spiralling infection rates in the US. It now has more than 500,000 Covid-19 cases. New York state alone has more people with the disease than any other country, CNN reports.

Meanwhile, the UK recorded its highest daily death toll yesterday. Its health secretary, Matt Hancock, reported that 980 people had died on Thursday (UK time), bringing the total UK death toll to 8958 people. On a different note, UK prime minister Boris Johnson was recently moved out of intensive care and is now taking short walks as he recovers from the virus, the BBC reports.

7.36am: The key stories from yesterday

New Zealand sadly recorded its third and fourth Covid-19-related 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.

16 New Zealanders stranded on a Covid-19 stricken cruise ship off the coast of Uruguay finally boarded a flight home.

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.

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

Keep going!