A Covid-19 testing clinic in Auckland (Photo: Greg Bowker/Getty Images)
A Covid-19 testing clinic in Auckland (Photo: Greg Bowker/Getty Images)

SocietyMay 15, 2020

Covid-19 live updates, May 15: one new case of Covid-19

A Covid-19 testing clinic in Auckland (Photo: Greg Bowker/Getty Images)
A Covid-19 testing clinic in Auckland (Photo: Greg Bowker/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 two – 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.

7.00pm: The day in review

  • There was one new case of Covid-19, ending the three-day streak of zero cases. The case was linked to the Marist cluster and was identified through “follow-up” testing of the school community.
  • Responses to yesterday’s budget continued to roll in today. Read a full range of responses here on The Spinoff.
  • The controversial Public Health Response Act, which was rushed through parliament this week, has been sent back to select committee for review after being passed. This comes after widespread criticism of the powers of entry it would grant police.
  • Today marked the one-year anniversary of the Christchurch Call, where heads of state and members of the tech sector pledged to develop regulations for violent and extremist online content.
  • Finance minister Grant Robertson succumbed to grillings by both Kim Hill and Katherine Ryan on RNZ this morning, where he defended the $20 million of unallocated funds.
  • Law professor Jane Kelsey spoke out against the treatment of Māori in the rush to draft emergency legislation for the Public Response Health bill.
  • The global Covid-19 death toll surpassed 300,000. 

3.55pm: Controversial alert level two bill sent to select committee

The Covid-19 Public Health Response Act, rushed through parliament this week to enable the enforcement of alert level two, has been referred to parliament’s Finance and Expenditure Committee for review.

It follows widespread criticism of the warrantless entry provisions, especially from Māori, and questions over the limited scrutiny of the legislation. The committee will report back by July 27.

“That will allow the House to take into account the advice of the committee before it makes the decision whether to continue with the law for another 90 days – or longer if the house decides,” said the attorney general, David Parker.

2.30pm: Today’s cases charted

Thanks to Chris McDowall and our Members.

1.05pm: One new case of Covid-19; no further deaths

Breaking the three-day run of zero cases, today the Ministry of Health is reporting one new case of Covid-19. There are no additional deaths to report.

This means New Zealand’s combined total of confirmed and probable cases is now 1,498, of which 1,148 are confirmed.

Today’s confirmed case is linked to the Marist cluster in Auckland and was identified through recent follow-up testing of the school community. The person first had symptoms nearly two months ago and had a previous negative test. The result is considered a ‘weak positive’ and the person, who has been in isolation through the lockdown period, is not considered infectious now.

There are now 1,421 people reported as having recovered from Covid-19, an increase of 10 on yesterday. This is 95% of all confirmed and probable cases.

There are now just 56 active cases across the country.

Today there are two people receiving hospital level care for Covid-19 – one each in Auckland and Middlemore hospitals. Neither are in ICU.

There were 7,174 laboratory tests processed yesterday, which brings the total number of tests completed to 216,787.

12.40pm: Health care sector reacts to 2020 budget

This year’s budget provides almost $5.6 billion for the health sector, including $3.9 billion toward operating funding for District Health Boards (DHBs). This is a record investment in DHBs, which are responsible for funding public health facilities in their district, including GP clinics, dentists, and rest homes.

Sarah Dalton of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists told Stuff the funding for DHBs was a “welcome shot in the arm”, and said the health system had been “teetering on the edge”.

“It is pleasing to see the Government acknowledging that historical underfunding, but our health system has been operating in a hole for so long, it will take a lot more than one budget to climb out,” she said.

In contrast, the Royal College of General Practitioners says it’s “disappointing” to see general practice left out of the budget. “While some [of the $3.9 billion] will trickle down to GPs who provide planned care after operations, it’s not likely to provide support to the struggling sector that was on the frontline of the Covid-19 defence,” said the College.

“The budget also hasn’t acknowledged that GPs will also be dealing with a huge number of patients with deferred care and will require support to cope with the demand.”

11.45am: Jane Kelsey calls emergency legislation “tone deaf”

Law professor Jane Kelsey has penned an opinion piece for the NZ Herald on the Public Health Response bill, saying it’s “tone deaf” to Māori.

The piece examines the history of emergency coercive legal powers that have been used abusively toward Māori, citing the invasion of Parihaka and police raids in Te Urewera. She says getting buy-in to the current bill “requires the utmost sensitivity to fears of how they may be used and abused” and that the government’s knee jerk reaction to Māori concerns over police being granted power of entry to marae has destroyed the goodwill that had been established around police cooperating with iwi on community checkpoints.

She says health minister David Clark ignored recommendations to use a Treaty framework when drafting the legislation and will have another “Foreshore and Seabed” debacle on his hands if he doesn’t move into damage control quickly.

Read the full story on the NZ Herald

11.05am: Amnesty International welcomes refugee sponsorship funding

Yesterday’s budget includes funding to extend the Community Organisation Refugee Sponsorship (CORS) pilot for a further three years, a programme that is complementary to the existing refugee quota.

The initial pilot has successfully seen 23 people reestablish their lives in New Zealand.

Executive director of Amnesty International Aotearoa, Meg De Ronde says, “We’re thrilled with the news that the government has responded to public demand for community sponsorship of refugees. Everybody deserves the dignity of a safe place to call home. What we’ve seen and heard from community groups and newcomers over the past two years has been truly heartwarming.”

Community groups such as sports teams, businesses, churches or social enterprises will be able to sponsor families and commit to a range of supports.

10.50am: Anniversary of the Christchurch Call

Today marks the first anniversary of the Christchurch Call, a response to the mass murder at two Christchurch mosques last year, a massacre livestreamed by the killer. Jacinda Ardern and French president Emmanuel Macron brought together heads of state and leaders in the tech sector to discuss the regulation of online content

Project lead for the Inclusive Aotearoa Collective Tāhono, Anjum Rahman, writing for The Spinoff, says these regulations have received little attention amid a global health crisis but violent extremist activity has not stopped.

Read more on The Spinoff

10.00am: More from Robertson

A longer interview with RNZ’s Katherine Ryan, a full 25 minutes, put the spotlight on almost all aspects of the budget, from welfare, environment, housing and retraining to elective surgery.

When asked if the government’s approach to debt and projected unemployment numbers was optimistic, Robertson conceded that “economic forecasts are more of an art than a science at the best of times”. However, of the three scenarios presented by the Treasury, the government chose the model that saw unemployment coming down in the next couple of years.

On the issue of how and when the “intergenerational debt”, estimated at 53% of GDP by 2023, will be repaid, Robertson said the 10-year projection period should see it return to its current rate.

“What the Public Finance Act obliges me as minister of finance to do is put in long-term projections, [and] that sees that figure fall to around 40% by the end of the 10-year projection period. That’s the result of the fact that we do believe the investments we’re making are going to sustainably grow the economy.”

He said more “radical” decisions will need to be made over time. “Even at 53% we will have among the lowest debt in the developed world.”

New Zealanders, as pointed out by Ryan, carry a high level of private debt relative to the rest of the world. Robertson countered that is the reason the government takes on debt as it can borrow cheaply and pay it back over time. He said for now he’s comfortable with the high level of debt as it’s unavoidable.

“The lessons I remember from the late 1980s and the early 1990s, is the damage that can be done to the next generation if they’re growing up in households where their parents don’t have a job or there isn’t enough money to put food on the table,” he told Ryan.

“It’s a scarring that I’m just not prepared to put up with.”

Listen to the full interview on RNZ

8.50am: Finance minister defends the $20 billion pot

RNZ’s Kim Hill grilled finance minister Grant Robertson earlier this morning on the $20 billion in unallocated funds announced in yesterday’s budget, asking if it would go towards benefits or child poverty. Robertson was noncommittal but quick to point out the benefit increase and increased winter energy payments as part of the government’s Covid-19 response, as well as continued support for the food in schools programme.

Repeating an accusation by National’s Simon Bridge, Hill asked if the discretionary funds would be “spread around just before the election”. Robertson denied this would happen, saying the funds would be held in case of secondary infection, or to put towards the long-term rebuild of New Zealand. ”Much of that expenditure will happen well past the election, because this is a one in 100 year event and requires significant investment over a long period of time,” Robertson said.

The finance minister said the government was reluctant to use the funds as “helicopter money” as there was a risk people would use it to pay off debt rather than stimulate the economy.

Read more of our Budget 2020 responses on The Spinoff

8.10am: WHO says global impact on mental health likely

The Covid-19 pandemic is highlighting the need to urgently increase investment in services for mental health or risk a massive increase in mental health conditions in the coming months, according to a policy brief on mental health issued by the United Nations yesterday.

“The impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health is already extremely concerning,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organisation. “Social isolation, fear of contagion, and loss of family members is compounded by the distress caused by loss of income and often employment.”

The brief found that frontline health-care workers, children and adolescents are at particularly high risk. Other at-risk groups are women, particularly those who are juggling home-schooling, working from home and household tasks, older people and people with pre-existing mental health conditions.

7.45am: International headlines overnight

The global death toll has passed 300,000 people, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University. Around a quarter have occurred in the United States, where fatalities continue to climb at a rate of around 1,500 a day.

Latin American countries are also experiencing a spike. CNN reports Brazil, Mexico, Ecuador and Peru have seen significant outbreaks.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson announced loose plans to reopen the country on Sunday. The plan has been deemed by many as confusing, while the death toll in the UK has continued to climb by several hundred people a day.

China is re-introducing restrictions after two cities reported new cases of the virus.

The executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies programme has warned that Covid-19 may be here to stay, joining the mix of viruses that kill people around the world every year.

6.15am: The budget, weighed up

We’re getting used to weighing up numbers of national significance every day, and yesterday’s zero new cases of Covid-19 was something to celebrate. A fourth consecutive day today will be a very good way to roll into an alert level two weekend. But yesterday brought a cavalcade of numbers, in the form of the budget Grant Robertson never thought he’d be presenting.

The centrepiece of his “once in a generation” budget was a $50bn Covid-19 recovery fund. For a breakdown of what’s in that fund, which includes a $20bn yet-to-be-allocated war chest, see this explainer.

This might have been an extraordinary budget, but as ever it means a lot of different things to a lot of people. Read 20 perspectives on the budget in our hot-take roundtable here.

Business NZ gave the budget a 7.5 out of 10. For more of what business leaders reckoned, see here.

For the take from small business, read our report here.

Union leaders said there was plenty to love, but with some stern reservations.

The tourism sector is deeply disappointed with what was on offer. One operator calls it “a crock” and is calling for the minister’s resignation.

Hospitality NZ has said the budget “falls well short of what is needed”, but local businesses we spoke to are more upbeat.

Read our roundup of the parliamentary debate yesterday, including Winston Peters being Winston Peters here.

For a reminder on what alert level two means, here’s our bumper FAQ.

6.00am: Yesterday’s key stories

For the third day in a row, there were no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand.

The 2020 budget was unveiled by finance minister Grant Robertson, who described it as a “once in a generation” budget.

Described by Jacinda Ardern as the “jobs” budget and by others as the “rainy day” budget, its biggest numbers included a $50 billion Covid response fund and a $4 billion business support package, featuring an extension of the wage subsidy scheme

Opposition leader Simon Bridges slammed the budget and criticised Labour, as is his job, saying that “spending [was] the easy part”.

The budget announcement triggered an avalanche of takes from various commentators, ranging from “the budget is very good” to “the budget is very bad, I hate it!”

Tourism minister Kelvin Davis was perhaps the politician under the most pressure in the immediate aftermath of the budget, receiving heavy criticism from tourism operators underwhelmed by the budget’s $400 million tourism support package.

The move from alert level three to alert level two saw more people return to work, while shops, restaurants and cafes reopened their doors to customers. Barber shops and hair salons were especially busy.

Read yesterday’s live blog here


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