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Covid-19 live updates, May 17: Preparing for school; one new case; more 5G cell towers attacked

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.

5.45pm: The day in sum

There was one new case of Covid-19 in New Zealand, a household contact of an earlier case linked to the Rosewood rest home cluster in Christchurch.

The total number of active cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand fell to 45.

Telcos warned of potential internet outages after two more 5G cellphone towers were set on fire in Auckland. 5G has been erroneously linked to the spread of coronavirus by some conspiracy theorists.

Finance minister Grant Robertson announced a $265 budget package aimed at helping sports organisations survive the pandemic.

A drive-in Sunday service at Destiny Church went ahead as planned in a self-described act of “civil disobedience” by bishop Brian Tamaki.

4.45pm: Back to the office, back to school

A strange feeling will be sweeping many households in New Zealand about now as they ready for a return to something approximating normal in the morning. With that in mind, the Ministry of Health has updated its collection of mental health and wellbeing resources, which can be found here.

“We’re moving to a new phase where many of us are heading back to work and school for the first time in a while,” is the ministry advice. “While some of us will be looking forward to being around people again, it might also feel strange and some people may feel anxious. These feelings are completely normal. It’s OK to notice that it feels different and to reach out to someone to talk about it or to look for useful tips and guidance online.

And: “It’s also a really good time to start a daily wellbeing routine that can help keep you feeling physically and mentally fit. Looking after your mental wellbeing every day helps make coping with tougher times easier.”

For children, parents and teachers, clinical psychologist Jacqui Maguire has the following advice, issued via the Science Media Centre:

“Some children will be so excited about the restart of school they won’t sleep the night before. Others may experience anxiety upon return or grief that lockdown and family time has ended. Conversely, some children may return indifferent, as if the last six weeks didn’t occur. It will be important for teachers to gain awareness of how their students are adapting so they can put appropriate support measures in place. This will require 1:1 time with each student, which I acknowledge will put additional requirements on teachers.

“In an age appropriate manner, it is advised teachers normalise the variety of emotional reactions their students may be having, and to encourage respect for their peers’ differences through this time … It is also important teachers are aware of their own emotional responses as they return to school. Emotions are contagious, and whilst it is understandable some may be anxious, we don’t want this imposed on children. It would be helpful for schools to encourage peer support and professional supervision if required. Teacher self-care should be actively promoted, and activities like mindfulness could be undertaken during class time to benefit the teacher and students.

“Lessons from the Christchurch earthquakes would also advise schools to set realistic expectations, actively building in time for psychological transition rather than expecting an automatic return to routine. Whilst we might be anxious to ensure our students don’t academically suffer as a result of Covid-19, initial focus on emotional wellbeing will, in the long run, equal a faster return to optimal learning conditions. After all, 2020 is not a usual academic year for students or teachers. And when we are faced with the unusual, we have to flex and adapt to move forward well.”

3.15pm: The ‘real reason’ Alan Jones retired last week

Australian radio personality Alan Jones pulled stumps on a long and extremely polarising career last week, right in the middle of a two-year, $8 million contract. He cited his poor health as the reason, but a story published today by the Sunday Telegraph (paywalled, but the Herald has the tea) suggests what most people probably suspected: his departure had more to do with advertisers jumping ship in response to his “shocking” opinions. Specifically, comments he made about New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern last year, calling her a “complete clown” and suggesting her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison “shove a sock down her throat”, appear to have been the major catalyst. Jones has a long track record of making cretinous comments.

2.30pm: On The Spinoff today

You may have read an excerpt published on The Guardian last weekend from the book Humankind by Dutch historian Rutger Bregman, who claimed to have discovered the “real Lord of the Flies”. The problem is, writes Meleika Gesa, this retelling erased the voices of the boys themselves and the Tongan values and knowledge systems that prepared them for survival.

Call it unity, or solidarity, or kotahitanga, Covid-19 made us realise something we’ve known all along: we are all responsible for one another. There is a chance we can now act with common purpose to address intergenerational inequality. For older people, this means curtailing some of our choices, writes public health expert Charlotte Paul.

As New Zealand has confronted the challenges of this unprecedented crisis, Indian sub-continental community organisations extended their hands to society at large, writes Gaurav Sharma, editor of the Multicultural Times.

These text conversations (warning: explicit content) with clients prove sex workers are surely New Zealand’s most under-acknowledged public health educators.

The Luminaries makes its TV debut tonight, courtesy of BBC and TVNZ. But does it make the transition from the page unscathed? Linda Burgess reviews.

1.45pm: Today’s data, charted

Encouraging trends continue. Today the number of active cases in New Zealand is down to 45.



1.15pm: Robertson announces $265m package for sports

The sports industry will receive a $265 million dollar boost over the next four years to help  survive the effects of Covid-19, finance minister Grant Robertson has revealed in a post-budget announcement today. The package will allow sports at all levels to “remain viable, get stronger and adapt” in the face of significant revenue loss as funding sources dry up. The $265 million breaks down like this:

  • $83 million in short-term support to help sport and recreation organisations at all levels survive the initial impact of Covid-19
  • $104 million to help the sector rebuild in the medium term, including helping organisations make changes to operate successfully and support new operating models
  • $78 million to modernise the sector by finding innovative ways to deliver play, active recreation and sport using new technology and research

12.45pm: One new case of Covid-19 in NZ

There is one new case of Covid-19 in New Zealand, the Ministry of Health has just announced. It is linked to the Rosewood cluster in Christchurch. There are no additional deaths reported.

The new confirmed case is a household contact of an earlier case at the Rosewood rest home.

This takes New Zealand’s combined total of confirmed and probable cases to 1,499, of which 1,149 are confirmed cases, the number that is reported to the World Health Organisation.

Five further people are reported as recovered, bringing the total to 1,433 people, or 96% of all confirmed and probable cases. The number of active cases is 45.

Two people receiving hospital-level care for Covid-19, in Auckland and Middlemore hospitals. Neither is in ICU.

Yesterday 4,211 tests were processed, bringing the total to 228,148.

New cases of Covid-19 reported in the days since New Zealand went into alert level four on March 26 (deep breath): 78, 85, 83, 63, 76, 58, 61, 89, 71, 82, 89, 67, 54, 50, 29, 44, 29, 18, 19, 17, 20, 15, 8, 13, 9, 9, 5, 6, 3, 5, 5, 9, 5, 3, 2, 3, 3, 6, 2, 0, 0, 2, 1, 2, 2, 2, 3, 0, 0, 0, 1, 0, and today 1.

12.30pm: New Covid-19 case numbers expected soon

The Ministry of Health is set to deliver an update on New Zealand’s Covid-19 case numbers at 1pm. There are no daily briefings now that the country has dropped down to alert level two. Yesterday, for the fourth time in five days, New Zealand recorded no new cases.

12.00pm: Swedish epidemiologist doubts New Zealand’s approach

Swedish epidemiologist Johan Giesecke has warned that Covid-19 will “come back and haunt [New Zealand] in the long run” if a successful vaccine is not found soon. Speaking to Jim Mora on RNZ’s Sunday Morning, he said lockdowns merely “[pushed] cases and deaths into the future”.

Giesecke stopped short of saying New Zealand was wrong to attempt to eliminate the virus with lockdowns and strict border controls, but did say the same approach wouldn’t have worked in Sweden. He agreed with New Zealand epidemiologist Michael Baker, who has said we will know in a year’s time who was right and who was wrong.

Waiting on a vaccine to arrive was risky, however, as getting a vaccine to market “takes much longer than anyone thinks it does”. Natural infection offers better, broader immunity than a vaccine, he said, and if natural infection of Covid-19 doesn’t give immunity then it will be hard to find a vaccine that does.

Listen to the full interview on RNZ

10.30am: Destiny Church service goes ahead

Destiny Church has held a service this morning, albeit with restrictions in place to avoid getting in trouble. Around 100 people gathered in the church in Wiri this morning, Stuff reports, but were all spaced out in groups of 10 or fewer. A Destiny spokesperson told the Herald everybody inside the church was necessary to the running of the service, including a video team and a small audience. Everyone inside the church had been tested for Covid-19, they said.

Most worshippers parked up in their cars and watched the service broadcast on big screens outside the church, tooting their horns at the appropriate moments. Church security ensured everybody stayed in their cars, while contact tracing details were taken inside. Controversial church owner Brian Tamaki had earlier called the restrictions on churches a “breach of rights” and called today’s service an act of “civil disobedience” in the face of restrictions. Many other churches in New Zealand have successfully delivered services online during lockdown.

10.00am: Baker repeats call for mass masking

Will the easing of restrictions under alert level two lead to a resurgence in cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand? “We’ll know the answer one way or another in the next 2-3 weeks,” University of Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker told Jim Mora on RNZ’s Sunday Morning. Baker has been one of the strongest local proponents of “mass masking” in high-contact situations like public transport, and said that “over time the evidence is getting stronger” that mass masking is the way to go. He said some studies have shown that 60-80% of the population wearing masks in high-contact situations could be as effective as a lockdown.

9.00am: The Bundesliga is back, baby

Sports fans got a taste of what the immediate future will look like as Germany’s Bundesliga became one of the world’s first major sporting leagues to resume overnight. The spectacle of games played in empty stadiums with socially-distanced goal celebrations was described by The Guardian’s Barney Ronay as “the new abnormal normal”. The BBC has a good run-down of the sort of strangeness we might encounter when professional sports resume in this part of the world later in the month.

8.30am: Two more 5G cell tower fires

Police are investigating after fires at two more cell tower sites in Auckland last night. The two fires in the suburb of Manurewa are the latest in a string of suspected arson attacks on 5G cell tower sites, which conspiracy theorists have linked to the spread of coronavirus. There have been at least 16 suspicious fires at cell tower sites in New Zealand in the last six weeks, the Herald reports.

8.15am: Restaurant group lays off 150 staff

Good Group, the hospitality chain that runs upmarket Auckland and Queenstown restaurants like White and Wong’s and Botswana Butchery, has made more than half of it’s workforce redundant, despite claiming $2.3 million in wage subsidies less than 12 weeks ago. The Herald reports that many of the laid off staff are migrant workers who are now unable to find new jobs as their visas are invalid, and who don’t qualify for welfare. They were paid for less than five of the 12 weeks covered by the wage subsidy scheme.

Good Group owner Russell Gray took a “glass half full” approach, telling the Herald that “by prudently managing through this crisis” the company had actually “saved 150 jobs” of the staff who weren’t made redundant.

Read the full story on the Herald

8.00am: Contact tracing confusion as shops reopen

As people head back to the shops in the first weekend of alert level two, there’s been some confusion around retailers’ contact tracing requirements. That’s because the rules were changed at quite late notice on Wednesday to say shops no longer need to collect contact details from customers, as long as they keep them two metres apart. Retail New Zealand chief executive Greg Harford said the rule change meant some shops would still be collecting people’s details when they don’t need to. “Right through the Covid-19 crisis we’ve seen government make announcements that retailers have tried to comply with, and then things have changed very quickly … and right through the process I think retailers have been confused, and desperately looking for clear information,” he said. Cafes and restaurants are still required to collect contact tracing details.

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

There were no new cases of Covid-19 recorded in New Zealand today, and no further deaths. The number of active cases dropped below 50.

Australia saw coronavirus cases spike as lockdown restrictions ease, with 30 cases reported on Friday, the highest in almost a month.

The US House of Representatives narrowly approved a $3 trillion Democrat-crafted bill to provide more aid for battling Covid-19 and stimulating the economy.

Auckland’s water restrictions kicked in, and 35 people were reported for breaching them.

For the first time in seven weeks, New Zealanders kicked off something approaching a normal weekend. People headed out to cafes, and even Jacinda Ardern got turned away from one that was at capacity.

Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro lost his second health minister within a month.

Read yesterday’s live updates here



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