Blues fans at Eden Park during the team’s last game, against the Lions, on March 14. (Photo: Getty Images)
Blues fans at Eden Park during the team’s last game, against the Lions, on March 14. (Photo: Getty Images)

SocietyJune 14, 2020

Live updates, June 12-14: Zero new Covid-19 cases for 23rd straight day as crowds gather

Blues fans at Eden Park during the team’s last game, against the Lions, on March 14. (Photo: Getty Images)
Blues fans at Eden Park during the team’s last game, against the Lions, on March 14. (Photo: 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 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.

June 14

7.30pm: The day in sum

  • Thousands turned out for Black Lives Matter marches in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin. RNZ has a roundup here.
  • 43,000 people packed undistantly in to Eden Park to watch the Blues beat the Hurricanes 30-20.
  • There were zero new Covid-19 cases for the 23rd day in a row.
  • Todd Muller delivered a stall-setting speech at his local rugby club in Te Puna. The speech, which you can read here, used the word “love” 17 times.

2.30pm: Covid-19 health spending announced

The health minister, David Clark, has announced new allocations of spending for health services’ DHB response during a visit to Wellington Hospital. It includes $37m for coronavirus testing and for around $30m midwives, hospices and pharmacies which “maintained vital services for New Zealanders during the outbreak”.

It breaks down like this:

  • $37 million for Covid-19 testing
  • $18 million for 365 critical community pharmacies
  • $5.48 million in funding for midwives
  • $10 million for DHB ventilator and respiratory equipment
  • $7.33 million to support hospices
  • $14.8 million to support the National Telehealth Service
  • The funds come from the multi-billion Covid-19 Recovery and Response Fund announced in the budget.

In an interview on Newshub Nation yesterday, Clark accepted there was institutional racism in the health system. He also said that the long-awaited Simpson review, which has been on his desk since last month, and may recommend a major overhaul or scrapping of the DHB system, will be released in the next few weeks.

1.30pm: Black Lives Matter demonstrations under way

A large crowd, slightly smaller than a fortnight ago, has gathered in Aotea Square.

Aotea Square. Photo: Amber Easby

1.20pm: Muller pushes economic credentials

In a speech at his local Te Puna Rugby Club, Todd Muller has attempted to set the stage for his leadership of the National Party. He namechecked Sir John Key, Bill English and Steven Joyce as his models, and stressed employment and the economy were his focuses, according to a media statement.

In foretaste of the line you’re likely to hear through the campaign, he said: “New Zealanders trust National governments to come to power at times of economic crisis and to steer New Zealand safely through them. However proud we are of how our Team of Five Million addressed the health crisis, we cannot risk a Labour Government being in charge of the economic and unemployment crisis ahead.”

National Party livestream via Facebook

1.00pm: Day 23 of zero new cases of Covid-19

On an afternoon of big crowds the reassuring news just in from the Ministry of Health is that for 23rd consecutive day there are no new cases of Covid-19, which means we remain on zero active cases and can confidently claim to be a Covid-free country.

It means there are still 1,154 confirmed cases, as reported to the World Health Organisation. The total of confirmed and probable cases remains at 1,504.

Yesterday 2,487 tests were processed, bringing the total completed to date to 310,297.

10.00am: The day ahead

The 1pm number updates continue (even if they’re not what they used to be) and with a bit of luck we’ll be reporting in a few hours a 23rd day of no new cases.

It’s an eventful 1pm. Also at 1pm, Black Lives Matter solidarity marches get under way in Auckland (Aotea Square) and in Wellington (Civic Square).

And at the same time, the National Party leader, Todd Muller, gives a speech. After a hellish first few days in the role, Muller will be hoping to in effect relaunch his leadership, and it looks like he’ll aim to do so by shifting focus to social deprivation, framing himself as the compassionate conservative for our times. “People want to understand where you’ve come from, what your values are, your life experience and core political beliefs, what prime minister do you plan to be? That’s what I lay out in fair detail,” he told the Herald. He’ll be speaking, naturally, at his local rugby club.

Later this afternoon, New Zealand’s success in stamping out Covid-19 will be beamed around the globe. Eden Park will host the biggest mass gathering in New Zealand, and the world, since god knows when, with a 45,000 sell out for the Blues versus the Hurricanes in Super Rugby Aotearoa. Last night saw 22,000 fill the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin to watch the Highlanders edge the Chiefs by one point.

June 13

1.00pm: Day 22 of no new cases

For the 22nd day in a row there are no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, the Ministry of Health has announced.

Yesterday laboratories completed 2,978 tests tests, bringing the total number of tests completed to date to 307,810.

The NZ Covid Tracer app has now recorded 552,000 registrations, an increase of 2,000 since this time yesterday.

12.50pm: First 40 days of blanket quarantine at border cost almost $50m

The first 40 days of quarantining or isolating all people entering New Zealand cost almost $50 million, reports the Herald. From April 1o to May 19, 7,755 people were housed and monitored in hotel rooms, at an average cost of $6,200 per person.

According to Ministry of Health data viewed by the Herald, 12 of them tested positive for Covid-19 during that period. All but one had arrived from Australia, while the other person had flown in from the US.

Read the full story on the NZ Herald

12.40pm: Prioritise Pacific Islands for travel bubble, says public health expert

On The Spinoff today, public health expert Collin Tukuitonga adds his voice to calls for New Zealand to prioritise forming a travel zone with the Covid-free Pacific Islands before considering a trans-Tasman bubble. The health arguments are sound, and the economic and cultural imperatives are clear, writes Tukuitonga.

Read the full story on The Spinoff

10.45am: Brazil’s death toll overtakes UK’s

Brazil’s Covid-19 death toll has overtaken Britain’s to become the second highest in the world, reports the Guardian. Its death toll rose to 42,000 overnight. Only in the US, where the official death toll stands at more than 116,000, have more died.

According to the British government, 41,481 lives have been lost in the UK since late January although the number rises to more than 50,000 when suspected cases are included. Brazil’s death toll is also considered an underestimate. Medical experts have criticised what they call Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s calamitous response to the pandemic.

June 13, 7.45am: Yesterday’s key stories

The Ministry of Health said PPE bought from overseas, including 4.9 million face masks, could be non-compliant.

New Zealand had no new cases of Covid-19 for the 21st day in a row.

The government announced a major loosening of New Zealand’s closed borders, revealing that border exemptions had been granted to two America’s Cup teams.

MediaWorks posted a $25.14 million loss.

Hamilton City Council removed a bronze statue of Captain John Hamilton from Civic Square after a formal request from Waikato-Tainui.

The Creatives in Schools programme got a $4 million funding injection in the hope it will provide work opportunities for artists impacted by Covid-19.

June 12

3.30pm: Māori news service proposal concerning to journalists

Māori development minister Nanaia Mahuta has released the findings of her Māori media sector review: she proposes the formation of a single Māori news service, centralised at Māori TV. The proposal has concerned many journalists, who fear a single news service could be the end of television shows like Te Karere, Marae, and The Hui. Mahuta told Radio Waatea the proposal was designed to start a conversation.

Duncan Greive has more here.

3.00pm: Ministry of Health says 4.9 million masks potentially non-compliant

The Ministry of Health has said PPE bought during New Zealand’s Covid-19 crisis could be non-compliant with its standards. Global demand for PPE in March was high, meaning the government had to source masks and other protective equipment quickly, and sometimes from suppliers it would not normally use.

The concerns around 4.9 million masks relate to inconsistencies in labelling and certification. While the items are on hold for use, it’s not confirmed that they are non-compliant.

DHBs that have received these masks have been alerted, and instructed to put the items’ use on hold until further quality checks can be completed.

The ministry said there is currently enough PPE in the country for our needs; the national store and DHB reserves combined total around 50 million masks. Another 90 million are on order.

1.40pm: Government ‘too slow’ on international students – National

The National Party says the government is not doing enough to allow overseas students into the country. “If it doesn’t move quickly, New Zealand is at risk of missing out on international students for the second half of 2020, which will cost the economy hundreds of millions of dollars,” said deputy leader Nikki Kaye in a statement.

Earlier today (see 12.30pm), the immigration minister, Iain Lees-Galloway, said there was work under way on creating “an isolation system that could support further opening of New Zealand’s borders, for example for current holders of temporary work visas and international students”. But there was insufficient urgency, said Kaye.

“International students contribute about $5 billion a year to the New Zealand economy and support around 50,000 jobs … Education providers have suffered a significant financial loss. Some estimates suggest our universities could see a combined loss of up to $400 million in revenue a year if they are not able to bring in international students.”

National says it wants to see “a health check prior to departure and two lots of testing when entering and exiting quarantine in New Zealand and would be paid for by the students”.

Meanwhile, the loosening of border conditions has been welcomed by ExportNZ’s Catherine Beard. “This is a good move from government in recognising the critical importance of being able to facilitate people through our border in a way that manages and mitigates risk, and it will have a real and significant impact on New Zealand’s economic recovery,” she said.

1.00pm: No new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand for 21st day straight

It has now been 21 days since the last new case of Covid-19 was reported in New Zealand, and there remain no active cases, the Ministry of Health has announced.

New Zealand’s total confirmed and probable cases remains at 1,504, with the number of recovered cases 1,482. There are no deaths to report and one in is in hospital with Covid-19.

Another significant cluster has closed, bringing the total number of significant clusters closed to 10. Yesterday 2,950 tests were completed, bringing the total to date to 304,832.

12.30pm: Major relaxing of border restrictions announced, including allowing America’s Cup teams in

The government has announced a series of exceptions to New Zealand’s closed borders. In addition to the removal of the requirement that partners and dependants of NZ citizens and residents must travel together when returning home, which was flagged earlier in the week, the changes include allowing maritime vessels into the country “where there is a compelling need” and allowing entry for diplomats taking up new posts.

In announcing today’s new rules, the government revealed that border exemptions had been granted to two syndicate teams that will challenge Emirates Team New Zealand for the 36th America’s Cup being held in Auckland in March 2021. The government had come under fire from the National Party and others for granting “essential worker” exemptions to film crews for the blockbuster Avatar sequels, but not to sailors competing in the America’s Cup, who are estimated to contribute more than $100m to New Zealand’s economy.

Team American Magic will bring a total of 102 workers, along with 104 family members, to New Zealand, today’s statement from the government announced, while INEOS Team UK will bring in a total of 86 workers, 128 family members and one nanny. Syndicates are expected to be in New Zealand for up to 10 months. “Approving these border exemptions allow the teams to start setting up their bases, and carry on key design and boat testing that can be progressed from our shores in New Zealand,” economic development minister Phil Twyford said in the statement.

New criteria for workers required for projects of significant benefit to the economy – the exemption under which the Avatar crew entered the country and under which the America’s Cup teams will – were revealed in today’s announcement. “We expect demand to increase as the economy starts up again,” said Twyford. “We need to balance demand for specialist and critical workers while supporting a rapidly changing labour market.”

The new criteria is separated into whether the work in question is short-or long-term, and Twyford said the threshold for entry for remained very high. “Businesses should ensure no alternative options are available before applying.”

Everyone entering will still be required to complete 14 days of mandatory isolation or quarantine, said immigration minister Iain Lees-Galloway in the statement, but for the maritime vessel exemption, crew will self-isolate on the journey to New Zealand.

The changes relating to partners, other essential workers and diplomats will be in effect by the end of next week, with the maritime changes in place later in June.

To enter New Zealand under the “Other Essential Worker” category, an employer must demonstrate the person meets the following criteria:

For a short-term role (less than six months):

  • The worker must have unique experience and technical or specialist skills that are not obtainable in New Zealand, or
  • The work must be significant in terms of a major infrastructure project, or event of national or regional importance, or government approved programme, or in support of a government-to-government agreement, or have significant benefit to the national or regional economy, AND
  • The role must be time critical (eg if the person does not come to New Zealand, the project, work or event will cease or be severely compromised, or significant costs will be incurred).

For a longer-term role (more than six months), the worker must:

  • meet one of the short-term criteria AND
  • earn twice the median salary (as an indicator of high skills), or
  • have a role that is essential for the completion or continuation of science programmes under a government funded or partially government-funded contract, including research and development exchanges and partnerships.
  • have a role that is essential for the delivery or execution of a government approved event, or programme that is of major significance to New Zealand.

11.40am: Hamilton statue goneburger

And just like that, it’s gone. Mere hours after announcing it would remove the bronze statue of Captain John Hamilton from Civic Square after a formal request from Waikato-Tainui, Hamilton City Council has done it, reports RNZ. The Herald reports that about 50 people gathered to watch the removal, a few cheering as it was lifted onto a truck and taken away.

Around the world, statues, monuments and place names forged in colonialism and racism are coming under scrutiny after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked a wave of protests. (See 9.50am update and this story for more.)

The statue being removed this morning (Photos: David Ritchie)

11.30am: MediaWorks posts $25m loss

MediaWorks has posted a $25.14 million loss, reports the Herald, with the TV and radio group saying material uncertainties affecting earnings may cast “significant doubt” on its ability to continue as a going concern.

The loss was revealed in financial statements for the year to December 2019, thus will not reflect any of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic that has taken a big chunk out of media firms’ advertising revenues since March. It has risen from $5m in 2018, reports Stuff.

MediaWorks, which owns TV station Three and radio brands The Edge and The Rock, is in negotiations with parties who have expressed an interest in buying the business, notes on the financial statements say. Last week, after speculation emerged that it was close to sale, MediaWorks told staff that there were multiple interested parties, but talks had not progressed to the point where the business was near sale.

“The directors recognise material uncertainties exist over the group’s ability to renegotiate its lending terms with the lenders and to meet the terms of any revised agreements ongoing,” say notes on the financial statements filed to the Companies Office today. “These uncertainties may cast significant doubt on the group’s ability to continue as a going concern. If the group is unable to continue as a going concern it may be unable to realise the value of its assets and discharge its liabilities in the normal course of business.”

11am: $4m boost for art in schools

The Creatives in Schools programme is getting a $4 million funding injection in the hope it will provide work opportunities for artists impacted by Covid-19.

The programme, which began this year, involves artists and creative practitioners partnering with schools and kura to share their skills. The funding will expand the programme from 304 to 510 projects by 2023, the government says, and will provide work opportunities for up to 750 creatives, an increase of 300.

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern, who is also the minister for arts, culture and heritage, announced the funding increase with education minister Chris Hipkins today. The new funding is on top of $7.16m announced last year to fund the programme from 2020 to 2023, and sits alongside the wider $175m creative sector support package announced in last month’s budget.

9.50am: Hamilton City Council to remove Captain John Hamilton statue

Hamilton City Council is to remove the bronze statue of Captain John Hamilton from Civic Square after a formal request from Waikato-Tainui. In a post on the council website, chief executive Richard Briggs said, “We know this statue is contentious for a number of our community members. It is the right thing for the council to take the opportunity to look at the long-term plan for this artwork and determine where and how it might fit in to the city’s future.”

Around the world, statues, monuments and place names forged in colonialism and racism are coming under scrutiny after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked a wave of protests. In a post on The Spinoff today, Anjum Rahman called for the removal of the Hamilton statue (and four others made similar calls in relation to other problematic statues and names).

Huntly kaumātua Taitimu Maipi had told Stuff he was going to tear down the statue at a protest in Civic Square tomorrow. The bronze statue of Captain John Fane Charles Hamilton, a naval commander who led a detachment of the 43rd regiment at the Battle of Gate Pā in Tauranga during the New Zealand Wars, was originally gifted to Hamilton City by the Gallagher Group in 2013, which was created by Margriet Windhausen.

The likelihood that the statue would be vandalised was also taken into account, Briggs said about today’s decision. “The statue is firmly embedded into Civic Square and sits on top of the Garden Place underground carpark. If the statue were to be forcefully removed from its current position, as has been indicated, it could severely undermine the integrity of the building below it. We can’t allow for that to happen so the removal of the statue will be coordinated in a professional and responsible manner.”

Briggs said the council had been working with Waikato-Tainui for more than a year on a project to review culturally sensitive place names and sites. “We understand this work is vitally important in raising awareness to cultural harm which has taken place.”

Hamilton mayor Paula Southgate supported the removal of the statue, saying,“I initially raised my concerns with John Gallagher [of the Gallagher Group] in November of last year and have spoken to him again recently. He was very understanding and receptive to having this discussion.

“We can’t ignore what is happening all over the world and nor should we,” said Southgate in the post on the council website. “At a time when we are trying to build tolerance and understanding between cultures and in the community, I don’t think the statue helps us to bridge those gaps.”

8.45am: Extreme gaps in British contact tracing data

A week in, Britain’s new contact tracing scheme still has seriously big gaps to fill. The Guardian reports that out of the 8117 people to have tested positive for Covid-19, the system had only succeeded in reaching 5,407 people to get the names and numbers of those they had been in close contact with. In fairness to the UK, the scale of the challenge they now face is enormous, with more than 291,000 confirmed cases since the outbreak began.

8.05am: US shares plunge again

In what has been a deeply volatile year for the US stock market, the Dow Jones has plunged again, and is on track for the worst trading day since the last major drop in March. CNBC reports it has hit stocks that are exposed to Covid-19 particularly hard, like airliners or cruise ship companies, in part because the process of economic reopening in the US has resulted in a surge of new cases, hospitalisations and deaths. The worst part about that is that it can’t really be described as a ‘second wave’ – because the first wave of cases never really went away. Meanwhile, Californian officials say there are no plans to slow down their reopening drive, even as cases rise, reports the Los Angeles Times.

7.35am: Aged care crisis

The aged care sector, which was already facing significant challenges as a result of Covid-19, say their profession faces acute shortages if pay rates are not brought up to parity with DHB colleagues. Radio NZ reports there are currently more than 300 vacancies for such positions, many of which require the same qualifications and skills as those working for DHBs, but pay significantly less. That lower workforce is still expected to look after the 40,000 people in aged care facilities.

7.30am: Yesterday’s key updates

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.

Read yesterday’s live updates here

7.25am: Updates from today’s edition of The Bulletin:

A review has found that the rest home with the most Covid-19 deaths breached their obligations, reports Stuff’s Mariné Lourens. The breaches at Rosewood related to care of residents, and protection of staff. There were also concerns that the owners of the facility weren’t responsive to concerns, and an acting manager was put in place by the Canterbury DHB. That particular cluster ended up causing 12 deaths, just over half of the total fatalities from Covid-19 in the country.

Police commissioner Andrew Coster has confirmed the force has no plans to use rubber bullets as a crowd control tool, reports Radio NZ’s Hamish Cardwell. Their use in the US over recent weeks has been deeply ugly, and there were fears that Coster had previously hinted that they might end up being used here on protesters. Coster has now clarified his earlier remarks on the subject, saying “we have no immediate plans to roll out any further tactical options for the frontline.”

Otago University is forecasting millions of dollars worth of losses this year, and to not return to a normal balance sheet until at least 2022, reports the ODT. That’s based on several assumptions, including that the border will remain closed for the rest of the year, and because of that it’s clear that any budgets will have to deal with significant uncertainty. The major dip in income has come from the loss of international students, which pretty much all universities are desperate to see return right now.

The ties between Rocket Lab, NZ authorities and America’s most secret military and intelligence agencies are deepening, reports Ollie Neas for The Spinoff. The space technology company is widely acknowledged to have launched a significant number of rockets on behalf of US military interests from New Zealand, but what’s new about this one is the involvement of the National Reconnaissance Office, the US spy agency responsible for surveilling earth from space for America’s military and intelligence agencies. We as the public still have no idea what the purpose of the NRO launch from Mahia in January was, nor do we have any idea what the purpose of launches scheduled for the near future are either.

The Māori Party has called for an inquiry into whether colonial monuments that symbolise racism and oppression should be changed or removed. Co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer was given a challenging interview on the subject by Newstalk ZB’s Heather du Plessis-Allen, who put up counter arguments such as why it should be limited simply to the colonial era, rather than encompassing all potentially problematic monuments. The response was that as tangata whenua, Māori can and should speak about what happened here during that era, but should not try and speak for other people. It is also important to stress that what is being proposed is that statues would be moved peacefully, rather than torn down. As to which particular statues should be looked at, The Spinoff has asked a group of people for their views.

The fireworks at media company NZME’s annual shareholder meeting all took place a few minutes before it actually got underway. Stuff’s Tom Pullar-Strecker reports chairman Peter Cullinane resigned before it started, after learning that a group of Australian-based shareholders were unimpressed with the company’s share price, and lack of dividends being paid out. Apart from that, the main bit of interest for news consumers was the announcement that digital premium subscriptions to the NZ Herald now number 36,000, with another 34,000 print subscribers taking one up. There was also an indication that a bigger push will be made around business news – already an area of strength for the paper, and seen as a driver for new subscription revenue.

There’s increasing concern about the welfare of hundreds of foreign nationals in Hawkes Bay, who can’t get decent work or accommodation. Radio NZ’s Anusha Bradley reports that while Civil Defence is able to provide support for some, long term it isn’t going to be a solution, because the organisation will need to refocus on emergency preparedness. Similar situations are reportedly happening in Canterbury and the Bay of Plenty.

Air New Zealand could be looking at a capital raising programme aimed at institutional investors, potentially in Australia, reports Interest’s David Hargreaves. If that were to occur, it could mean the government would have to take part, in order to maintain a 51% stake, or end up holding a lesser proportion of the airline. It could also be a way for Air NZ to avoid having to draw on a $900 million government loan that has been offered, but not yet accepted. Either way, it’s a very tough time for the airline, which has suffered a PR hammering in recent weeks because of their decision to offer credit instead of refunds to thousands of people who had tickets cancelled.

The deputy chair of the Southland Regional Council is under investigation over an alleged breach of farming rules, reports Newsroom’s David Williams. Dairy farmer Lloyd McCallum has stepped aside from his role on the regulatory committee while the investigation is underway, which relates to the alleged feeding of cattle on a stony riverbank. The investigation will be a fascinating case study in how power works on regional councils, which in the regions typically have a strong presence of farmers on them.

Keep going!