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Director of public health Dr Caroline McElnay speaks to the press during a media update. (Photo: Mark Mitchell – Pool/Getty Images)
Director of public health Dr Caroline McElnay speaks to the press during a media update. (Photo: Mark Mitchell – Pool/Getty Images)

SocietyApril 17, 2020

Covid-19 live updates, April 17: Eight new cases, two further deaths; millions for Covid-19 research

Director of public health Dr Caroline McElnay speaks to the press during a media update. (Photo: Mark Mitchell – Pool/Getty Images)
Director of public health Dr Caroline McElnay speaks to the press during a media update. (Photo: Mark Mitchell – Pool/Getty Images)

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.

7.00pm: The day in sum

There are eight new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, and two further Covid-19 related deaths.

The two people who died were a man in his 90s at Waikato Hospital, who was connected to the Matamata cluster, and a woman in her 80s at Burwood Hospital, who was part of the Rosewood rest home cluster.

This brought the total number of Covid-19 related deaths in New Zealand so far to 11, and the combined total of confirmed and probable cases to 1,409.

A new report estimates Māori and Pasifika populations could be facing a Covid-19 infection fatality rate more than twice that of Pākehā

Former minister Peter Dunne told NewstalkZB’s Mike Hosking that he was “incredibly disturbed” that parliament wasn’t sitting during lockdown.

Principals and teachers sought more clarity from the ministry of education on the details of going back to school under level three.

The Health Research Council allocated millions in funding to Covid-19 research in New Zealand.

A group of residents from an Auckland rest home with 15 reported cases of Covid-19 have been moved to hospital, with the DBH saying the precautionary self-isolation of staff had led to a staffing shortage.

6.30pm: On The Spinoff today

The Health Research Council has announced millions of dollars in funding to New Zealand Covid-19 studies. Mirjam Guesgen reports on what exactly these studies will be looking at.

Who’s going to pay New Zealand’s big lockdown bill – and how? Tony Burton argues that the hard choices to come may not be very popular.

The NZIER public good team explains where that $12.1bn stimulus money is coming from, and how the whole thing works.

The Spinoff’s Ātea editor Leonie Hayden writes a powerful personal essay reflecting on life under lockdown.

Access to healthy food is a big issue for Māori whānau during the Covid-19 crisis. Dr Geoff Kira says Māori need Māori solutions at times like this, and he has some suggestions.

Some electorate boundaries have been redrawn ahead of the election later this year. Alex Braae takes a look at what it all means (not really Covid-related, but still interesting).

Finally, if you need some new tunes for the weekend, here are some of our recent local favourites.

5.10pm: Hospital taking in rest home residents

Residents from an Auckland rest home named as one of New Zealand’s Covid-19 clusters are being taken to hospital, the NZ Herald reports. Waitematā DHB confirmed they were assisting with the temporary transfer of up to 20 rest home residents from CHT St Margarets Hospital and Rest Home to Waitakere Hospital after the Herald reported ambulances and security descending on the Te Atatu facility earlier this afternoon. This was to help the rest home “overcome short-term staffing shortage issues”, the DHB said. There have been 15 confirmed cases of Covid-19 linked to St Margarets, and as a result a number of staff are now self-isolating as a precaution.

4.10pm: Auckland Council execs taking pay cuts

Chief executives at Auckland Council are taking a 20% pay cut for the next six months, CEO Stephen Town has announced. That includes the chief executives of council-controlled organisations Auckland Transport, Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED), Panuku Development Auckland, Regional Facilities Auckland and Watercare. Voluntary temporary pay reductions of 10-20% have also been taken by board chairs, directors and other senior executives within the Council. “While this won’t have a big impact on the council’s financial position, it acknowledges that as leaders we need to play our part by showing solidarity with communities and businesses,” said Town, echoing the sentiment of Jacinda Ardern.

In other pay cut news, Stuff reports executives and directors at The Warehouse Group are taking 20% pay reductions, and had proposed temporary cuts to salaries of other staff earning over certain amounts (20% for those over $100k and 10% for those over $60k) in the coming weeks as the company reckons with ongoing closures due to Covid-19.

3.10pm: Report highlights dangers for Māori and Pasifika

Research institute Te Pūnaha Matatini today released a report that estimates Māori and Pasifika populations could be facing a Covid-19 infection fatality rate more than twice that of Pākehā. The report’s estimates are based off calculating the currently known infection fatality rate and factoring in health inequalities such as underlying health conditions, socioeconomic disadvantage, and structural racism in the healthcare system. The report also indicates that the estimated fatality rates (in one scenario, 2.87% for Māori) are likely underestimated due to other factors not considered, such as multi-generational housing that might increase the risk of transmission to older age groups.

2.55pm: Economic dashboard released

Treasury has just released the first of its weekly economic dashboards, with a range of graphs and data showing how the country and its economy is coping with Covid-19. They show, among other things, that road traffic and retail spending is way down, while jobseeker support benefit numbers are way up. You can view it all on the Treasury website here. On the topic of graphs, check out today’s fresh set of Chris McDowall’s daily Covid-19 graphs for The Spinoff here.

2.45pm: Peters announces Fiji flight

A New Zealand Defence Force Hercules will be flown to Fiji tomorrow to deliver emergency relief supplies to communities hit by tropical cyclone Harold last week, and pick up New Zealanders who have been unable to make it home on commercial flights since both countries entered lockdown. The areas worst affected by the storm were Fiji’s outer islands, including the Lau Group and Kadavu, said foreign affairs minister Winston Peters when announcing the flight today. The United Nations estimates over 70,000 people have lost homes and crops as a result of the tropical cyclone, with a further 300,000 suffering damage. The NZDF Hercules would be delivering family hygiene kits, shelter tool kits, tarpaulins, satellite phones and portable generators, said defence minister Ron Mark.

2.15pm: Survey highlights nurses’ concerns over PPE, infection

A newly-released survey of 500 registered nurses shows there is a high level of concern around access to adequate PPE and the possibility of on-the-job infection from Covid-19. Almost 20% of nurses surveyed by the Nurses Society of New Zealand (NSNZ) felt they did not currently have reasonable access to PPE in their workplace, and a third reported dissatisfaction with PPE guidelines and workplace policies and practices. Nearly all respondents expressed some degree of worry about occupational infection, with only 3.8% saying they were “not at all” concerned. Despite this, the survey also indicated strong support from nurses for the government’s response to the epidemic. “That high level of support is not surprising, because the ‘go hard and go early’ approach is evidence-based, and it appears to be working,” said NSNZ director David Wills.

1.25pm: The latest numbers, in graph form

Here are the top-line numbers from today, with eight new cases.

The latest numbers for April 17 (Graph: Chris McDowell)

1.05pm: Eight new cases, two further deaths

There are just eight new cases of Covid-19, with six probable and two confirmed. All of them are linked to existing cases and clusters.

The new combined total of confirmed and probable cases is 1,409.

However, there have been two further deaths. One was in Waikato Hospital, a man in his 90s who died yesterday. His case was linked to the Matamata cluster.

The second was a woman in her 80s who died in Burwood Hospital yesterday. She had previously been a resident of the Rosewood rest home, which has now been linked to seven deaths.

Director of public health Dr Caroline McElnay said she was unable to make predictions on further deaths in the Rosewood cluster.

“We have got a number who are confirmed or probable cases. This is a group who have been frail and vulnerable from the outset, and we can’t predict or say in this age group, and with the frailty they have, you can get deterioration quite quickly.”

New Zealand’s total number of confirmed Covid-19 deaths is now 11. There are 816 reported cases who have recovered.

There are currently 14 people in hospital, including three in ICU; this is no change from yesterday. Two of these patients remain in critical condition.

No further information was given on the death at home in Invercargill reported earlier in the week.


4,241 tests were processed yesterday, bringing the seven-day rolling average to 2,674. There has been a total of 74,401 tests completed to date.

DHBs including Queenstown, Waikato, and Canterbury are organising mobile clinics throughout their communities.

Yesterday, 343 workers and customers were tested at a Queenstown Pak’nSave. Results for around half of these tests have already been returned, and all have come back negative.

“This additional and targeted testing will add to the total pool of tests done, and give us overall confidence in our data,” said McElnay. “We encourage anyone with Covid-19 symptoms to get tested, and we continue to encourage DHBs to support people in getting tested.”

McElnay said there would be further community testing done, and confirmed South Auckland would be a community they would like to test in.

To date, 128 healthcare workers have been reported to have Covid-19, with about half infected outside the workplace.

McElnay said investigations were ongoing as to the source of infection within healthcare environments.

One nurse was allegedly infected while wearing full PPE. “We haven’t fully investigated the source of infection for this nurse,” said McElnay. “We certainly encourage and support the use of PPE.”

Moving out of lockdown?

On Monday, Cabinet will discuss whether some or all of the country will move down to alert level three, but finance minister Grant Robertson urged us to remember that this decision has not yet been made.

“Despite the release of information yesterday about alert level three, it is important to remember that New Zealand still is at alert level four.”

He asked that everyone continue to be compliant with alert level four restrictions.

Treasury scenario reports are recommending the government continue to be cautious about our emergence from lockdown, said Robertson.

“A little longer now spent at level four or level three is ultimately better for the economy than an early exit and a potential return to lockdown later on,” said Robertson. “From a health and an economic perspective, what we’re doing is working.”

Robertson said that despite signs lockdown was working, we shouldn’t start preparing to transition to level three until we get the go ahead from government.

“I don’t think we should get ahead of ourselves. We still have two or three more days of data to go before we reach our decision.”

“I note the news overnight that the UK government extended its lockdown for a further three weeks. Other countries have made similar decisions, such as France, Australia, India and Japan.

“None of that is intended to signal Monday’s decision, I share it with you simply as a reminder that this is a long game – a marathon, not a short sprint.”

The reopening of schools is an ongoing issue, with some parents needing to return to work and others feeling it would be unsafe to send their children to school.

The ministries of health and education are working together to create a solution that puts public health at the fore but also accommodates the needs of both children and parents.

“I believe parents will ultimately make the right decision for their children. I trust them to do that,” said Robertson.

The ACT Party has today accused the government of putting a ban on hunting at level three, however Robertson said that was not the case. He said a suggestion there was a ban on hunting was due to an earlier error on the website, and that they’re still considering whether or not it can take place at level three.

Robertson confirmed that he is a sports fan like the rest of us, but said we would not be seeing any national sports any time soon.

“At level three, there really isn’t the scope for that. We want people to stay in their bubbles still,” he said. “When it comes to level two, there is further work to do about what is possible.”

Wage subsidy

Robertson also updated the figures on the wage subsidy scheme. $9.9bn has been paid out to date, supporting 1.6 million workers.

On complaints that some employers had been rorting the wage subsidy, Robertson said there are a large number of complaints, “and they need to be thoroughly investigated.”

“We’ve been extremely clear that the purpose of the wage subsidy scheme is for money to reach employees and make sure that they stay attached to their business, so those accusations are being investigated, and I’d be very disappointed if businesses have misused that scheme.”

12.50pm: Watch live – daily update on case numbers

Today, director of public health Dr Caroline McElnay will be joined at the daily update by finance minister Grant Robertson. Watch it here:

11.15am: In other news, the new electorate boundaries are out

Because the population of New Zealand isn’t normally forced to stay in exactly one place for extended periods of time, the Representation Commission changes the boundaries and the names of electorates every five years. The latest round has just been released, and will be in place for 2020. Read a full explainer by Alex Braae here.

11.00am: Millions in science funding announced to study Covid-19

The effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus treatment and the Māori response to the pandemic are among the subjects of a slew of new New Zealand studies into Covid-19 and its impacts.

Studies designed to aid the national and global fight against coronavirus – including three clinical trials – are set to get underway in New Zealand, thanks to more than $3.8m in funding from the Health Research Council of New Zealand and the Ministry of Health.

The 13 studies cover aspects of the coronavirus pandemic including diagnostic testing, genetic sequencing of the virus, treatment, addressing social inequality throughout the lockdown and beyond, and the role of kaumātua in pandemic responses.

Read the full report by Mirjam Guesgen on The Spinoff here.

10.30am: Food insecurity for Māori in focus

New on The Spinoff: Access to healthy food is a big issue for Māori whānau during the Covid-19 crisis. Dr Geoff Kira (Ngāpuhi), a public health senior lecturer at Massey University’s School of Health Sciences, says Māori need Māori solutions at times like this, and he has some suggestions. Read the full piece here.

9.55am: WWJD? (if J stood for John Key)

In an interview with a golf podcast, former PM Sir John Key has outlined his fears for how deep the impending recession will be, and discussed the comparative advantages and disadvantages facing New Zealand. In comments picked up by the NZ Herald, Key said the relative isolation of New Zealand had become a position of strength, because it meant that borders could more easily be closed. He also argued that golf tourism could be an effective way of bringing big-spending visitors back once the borders reopened.

On the question of whether he misses the top job and would want to be there now, Key said “I don’t overly miss it when I’m not there.”

“Sometimes I look at Jacinda on TV and think, ‘oh yeah I’ve kind of done that or seen this’, and when I’m out for a walk a lot of people quite often say, ‘oh, I bet you’re pleased you’re not there now.’ I don’t wish I was there, but I don’t think if I was there I’d be worried about it.”

8.45am: Dozens of bodies found in US nursing home

A diabolical story out of New Jersey, where an anonymous tip has led to the discovery of more than a dozen previously unknown deaths at a nursing home, reports Stuff. So far 68 deaths have been linked to the facility, mostly residents, but including two nurses. The governor of the state expressed outrage that a room had been turned into a ‘makeshift morgue’, but the story illustrates a clear truth about the outbreak in the US right now – there are too many people dying, too quickly, for the capacity of existing systems to handle.

8.20am: Principals want more info on reopening

School principals are asking the Ministry of Education to provide further information about who will be allowed to return to school in alert level three.

RNZ spoke to Otorohanga College principal Traci Liddall, who said the current advice allowing would mean teachers, who haven’t yet had a break, will be doing double the work, teaching classes both in person and online. “There need to be some stronger parameters around it, whatever that looks like it needs to be really clear. At the moment it’s so grey I’ve already had teachers contacting me in tears saying they don’t know how they’re going to manage it.”

She said it’s not only harder for the teachers, but could be a safety issue for students. “Does it mean that they’re going to be at school every day? Or does it mean that they’re going to turn up when they feel like it? How do we manage who is meant to be here? How do we even mark the roll? What if mum thinks they’re at school but actually they’ve gone off with their mates but we don’t know because we think they’re still in lockdown?”

8.00am: Peter Dunne ‘incredibly disturbed’ by democracy in lockdown

Former United Future leader and minor supporting partner of multiple governments Peter Dunne has creatively compared the current process of government to George Orwell’s 1984. “I’d never thought I’d see a day in New Zealand where New Zealanders actively snitch on each other,” he told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking. He launched into a blistering critique of the special Zoom committee standing in for parliament during the lockdown, saying “ it’s really reviewing the decisions that have been made, not having input into those decisions. That I find incredibly disturbing.”

Dunne also strongly criticised the daily press conferences, wherein the press gallery takes the lead in interrogating government representatives. When asked by Hosking what process he would have advocated for, Dunne replied “I’d have made sure that parliament was sitting… the daily statements around numbers would have been made to parliament, not to a press conference.” 

Finally, Hosking asked a question many longtime parliamentary observers have been wondering – how was Dunne’s hair handling lockdown. “I am just letting it do what it always does – its own thing.”

7.00am: The Bulletin wrap of the morning’s NZ news

Taken from our essential daily 7am news roundup – sign up for The Spinoff’s newsletters here

The latest major report on freshwater quality has shown our rivers and lakes are still in a perilous state. As the NZ Herald reports, the stats revealed in the environment ministry’s Our Freshwater 2020 are dire. Nearly every body of water in a populated area is breaching quality guidelines, and three quarters of native species are at risk of extinction. The problems are widespread in both urban and rural areas, and human activity is the cause.

This year’s report has placed a greater focus on climate change than previous years, writes Waikato University professor Troy Baisden on The Conversation. That’s because of the increasing impact of drying soils, and retreating glaciers. There is also an alarming detail – picked out by this story by Stuff’s Michael Daly – about the increasing presence of non-natural chemicals in groundwater. What makes it so alarming is that we don’t know an awful lot about the effects these chemicals have on environmental and human health.

Covid-19 has prevented some of the work needed to address these problems. Local Democracy Reporter on the West Coast Lois Williams has looked at community groups who have had to stop work because of the lockdown, with that work focused on setting standards which the waterways would have to be kept to. But one thing the story notes – the local regional council isn’t heavily resourced to monitor and enforce standards.

All of this creates a political problem for the government, who have been under pressure from the farming lobby to halt their push to improve water quality.That’s the focus of this illuminating behind the scenes piece from Politik this morning, which has used the OIA to uncover how tense the battle over standard-setting has become between those groups on one side, and the ministry on the other. Cleaning up water has been a huge focus for this government, particularly for their key minister David Parker, but right now – with food exports basically being the economy’s lifeline – they’re in a much weaker position to act decisively on this sort of report and force through much stronger standards.

If you’re a new reader of The Spinoff, you might still be confused about who or what we are. Welcome, it’s great to have you here, and to explain how we operate, managing editor Duncan Greive has written this explainer. And if you’ve been making a contribution in the form of Spinoff Members, we’re very grateful for it, and will be using those contributions to produce more high quality writing and journalism.

We got a much clearer picture yesterday of what level three will look like, if we do in fact move into it next week.Here’s a piece on The Spinoff that explains what will change, and what won’t. A bit of a spoiler – there’s much more on the side that’s not really changing, and it certainly won’t feel like a return to normal life. But there will be some no-contact businesses opening up again, and schools will partially reopen at the end of the month (again, if the decision to move to L3 happens.)

In terms of other updates from yesterday, as always our live bloggers have got through a towering mountain of news. Some of the key stories include a mercy flight from the Philippines being announced, trade minister David Parker being questioned on the country’s export position, and another day of new cases in the low double-digits.

On the question of schools, there has been a bit of controversy over the partly open, partly closed position. The NZ Herald reports some teachers feel like they’re being treated as “babysitters”, and that schools being open at all is inconsistent with the wider principle of restricted interpersonal contact underpinning level three. On that point, the PM has stressed that the best option for kids is still distance learning, providing they’re able to do it

It’s a pretty bad time right now to be a property investor, reports Dileepa Fonsecka for Newsroom. A large decline in house prices is predicted, both as a result of the economic downturn, and because all of a sudden population growth and tourism oriented services like AirBnb have been basically halted. One property manager says his peers around the country are currently in denial about how bad things will really get for the industry.

We’ve had some quantitative analysis of what different countries have done to tackle Covid-19, personally I reckon this is an outstanding piece of qualitative work. Matteo Di Maio at the Cambridge and Te Awamutu News has looked at the social aspects of how life has changed in Cambridge’s sister city of Le Quesnoy. The lockdown there is very similar to ours, with the town’s tourist attractions and small businesses having to shut up shop. Their community has also come together strongly, with massive numbers of volunteers to help produce PPE, and nightly claps for health workers.

Aucklanders water use has got to come down. The NZ Herald reports that reservoir levels are now below 50% capacity, and if Watercare had the ability to enforce restrictions right now, they’d be doing it. It’s looking really bad at this stage for next summer, and if we have another dry one the restrictions in place will have to be pretty severe.

Lucy Xia at Te Waha Nui has reported on a call from a beekeeper to protect wild hives, that people sometimes find on their property. The message being sent is that rather than trying to kill the hive, they can instead be safely removed, so that the bees can continue to pollinate plants. After all, if we don’t have pollination, we don’t have food.

Right now on The Spinoff: Tony Burton writes about the difficult choices ahead about how to pay for current stimulus spending. Isabella Lenihan-Ikin from the NZUSA criticises the government offering support for students in the form of more debt. The Business is Boring podcast speaks to the founder of a company which has always worked remotely, to get some tips for those who have only started recently. Alice Webb-Liddall writes about a Callaghan Innovation prize for businesses trying to cut down the amount of waste that goes to landfill. And Emma McInnes writes about the glory of streets made safe for walkers and cyclists, with few cars on them.

6.30am: NY, UK extend lockdown to May 15

While some regions begin opening up, others are significantly extending lockdowns, with both New York and the UK announcing extensions through May 15. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, deputising for Boris Johnson while he recovers from Covid-19, said the UK risks “a second peak in the virus,” he told reporters. “The worst thing we can do now is to ease up too soon … so the current restrictions will remain in place.” Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York picked the same date, talking about the scale of what Covid-19 was doing to his state. “This is going to be a moment of transformation for society, and we paid a very high price for it.”

The extensions came despite the economic devastation coming into sharp relief. Another 5.2m filed jobless claims in the US, bring the four weeks total to 22m – essentially wiping away the entirety of US jobs created in the nine-and-a-half years of economic growth following the GFC, in the space of one cataclysmic month. At the same time, the US$349bn small business loan package, which allowed firms of fewer than 500 employees to borrow without having to repay should they keep staff in jobs, has already run out of money. Economists suggest for it to be effective it would need to be tripled to roughly US$1tn. Meanwhile some US banks are withholding the stimulus cheques mailed out to customers on the grounds that their accounts were overdrawn.

Still, the virus continues its progress around the world. Confirmed cases just surpassed 2.1m worldwide, with US’s 641,000 infections more than the next four countries (Spain, Italy, France and Germany) combined – though it should be noted that the results are broadly similar on a per head of population basis.

6.00am: Yesterday’s key NZ stories

There were 15 new cases of Covid-19 and no new deaths. As of 9am yesterday, New Zealand’s case total stood at 1,401.

The prime minister gave details on the rule changes we can expect when the country moves to level three. It is thought that an announcement on the alert level change will be made on Monday.

Staff of media company Stuff who earn over $50,000 were asked to take a 15% pay cut for 12 weeks.

Air NZ international cabin crew were told that almost 1,000 of them will lose their jobs, including all who work on the Boeing 777 fleet.

Winston Peters announced a mercy flight to bring New Zealanders home from the Philippines this weekend.

Countdown opened its first e-store, a supermarket in Penrose that has been converted to fulfil online grocery orders across the Auckland region.

Read more on yesterday’s live updates.

Keep going!