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The Covid-19 testing centre in Ōtara (Photo: RNZ/Dom Thomas)
The Covid-19 testing centre in Ōtara (Photo: RNZ/Dom Thomas)

SocietyApril 18, 2020

Covid-19 live updates, April 18: 13 more cases of Covid-19; today’s numbers charted

The Covid-19 testing centre in Ōtara (Photo: RNZ/Dom Thomas)
The Covid-19 testing centre in Ōtara (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: Leonie Hayden

7.00pm: The day in sum

There are 13 news cases of Covid-19, with no related deaths, and a further 51 recovered cases.

The government announced it would invest $200m into PPE.

All the targeted testing conducted in Queenstown, Waikato and Canterbury, to determine any undetected community transmission, has so far returned negative results.

The Ministry of Health is said to be delaying a report detailing the shortcomings of its contact-tracing and surveillance capabilities.

The Ministry of Education, after initially announcing that schools would reopen but attendance would be voluntary under level three, today clarified schools will be able to enrol students only if no one is available to care for them at home.

A Whanganui man has been sentenced to one month in prison for repeatedly breaching the level four lockdown restrictions.

6.45pm: On The Spinoff today

Siouxsie & Toby are back to answer your questions about contact tracing.

Duncan Greive talks to pillars of the magazine industry about their snub by the Epidemic Response select committee and being the only remaining product sold in supermarkets that is banned from production.

New Google mobility data shows New Zealanders are still abiding by the rules of alert level four.

Director of Auckland gallery Objectspace, Kim Paton, has written about being reminded of the power of making.

Kate Whitaker from the Classification Office says with porn consumption at record numbers, it’s a good time for an awkward talk with your kids.

Another piece from Spinoff boss Duncan Greive, taking an optimistic look at the ways different sectors can make New Zealand’s elimination of Covid-19 work to their advantage.

6.10pm: SkyCity asks employees to donate to redundancies

SkyCity Entertainment have asked staff to donate to a fund for the 200 of their colleagues who were made redundant in early April. SkyCity CEO Graeme Stephens, who earned $1.5 million in his first year in the role, told staff in an email that it was to “essentially assist former employees that are battling with financial hardship and for whom a redundancy cheque is just not enough to cope.” The hardship fund, under the umbrella of the SMILE Fund, is already at $1 million in donations from salary cost savings by senior staff.

The fund will distribute grants and interest free loans. “In both instances, the individual will need to meet certain criteria to demonstrate genuine hardship,” the email reads.

SkyCity has received a wage subsidy of $15.4m covering 2365 staff. In the year ending June 30 they reported a profit of $173 million as well $450 million for the sale of assets including carparks and the company’s Darwin operation.

5.00pm: Government contact-tracing might not be up to scratch ahead of D-Day

NZ Herald is reporting that the government may be delaying the release of a report damning its contact-tracing capabilities. Director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, confirmed on Wednesday he had received the report from University of Otago infectious diseases physician, Ayesha Verrall. NZ Herald’s Isaac Davison and Kirsty Johnston say the delay in publicly releasing it “indicates the ministry is still scrambling to improve its tracing capabilities before Monday’s Cabinet meeting.”

Read the full story on NZ Herald

4.30pm: Today’s numbers, charted

Here are the top-line numbers from today, with 13 new cases.

Active and recovered cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, April 18. (Graph: Chris McDowall)

The full set of charts, graphs and data visualisations for April 18 is now available (funded by the generosity of The Spinoff Members).

Read the full post on The Spinoff

2.30pm: The country that sings together…

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra has invited everyone to join together for a mass performance of the love song ‘Pōkarekare Ana’ at 3pm today. The event is in partnership with composer Ngatai Huata and the whānau of Pareire Tomoana, who arranged the popular version of the song in 1917. Before the performance starts, there’ll be a countdown on the orchestra’s Facebook page and participants are encouraged to belt it out and use any instruments to hand – music and lyrics can be found here.

Watch it live here

1.20pm: 13 more cases of Covid-19; no further deaths

There are just 13 new cases of Covid-19, with five probable and eight confirmed. The new combined total of confirmed and probable cases is 1422, the Ministry of Health announced today via media release.

There are now 867 reported cases of Covid-19 who have recovered – an increase of 51 on yesterday.

Yesterday a record number of Covid-19 tests were processed, with the new high being 4,677 tests. The rolling seven-day average is 2,905, and 79,078 total tests have been processed to date.

That means the 24 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, 18, 19, 17, 20, 15, 8 and today 13.

Today there are 20 people in hospital with Covid-19. There are three people in ICU – one each in Middlemore, Dunedin and North Shore hospitals. Two are in critical condition.

The targeted testing announced earlier in the week, to determine any undetected community transmission, has so far taken place in Queenstown, Waikato and Canterbury.

In Waikato, 308 people were tested in Otorohanga, Hamilton, Matamata, Cambridge, and Te Awamutu. Those tests all returned negative results, as have those connected to a Queenstown Pak n Save. Canterbury has also returned negative results on all its targeted testing to date.

Today testing continues in Auckland, beginning at 8am this morning at two supermarkets.

12.00pm: Some blue sky thinking about what lies ahead

If you’re looking for reasons to be (mildly) optimistic, this piece by The Spinoff’s Duncan Greive, the first of a series, examines opportunities for different sectors in a post-lockdown, medium-term future. Covering sport, tourism, film and live music, it’s full of big ideas that would have seemed implausible two months ago, but now might be the key to alleviating some of the suffering ahead.

“For all the economic trauma coming, it’s by no means all bad news. We are almost alone in pursuing an elimination strategy, which could make us an outlier of one among the developed world for some time. For many of the industries hardest hit by this, both locally and internationally, the prospect of getting back to work anywhere will be attractive. There is a chance New Zealand can be where a lot of things impossible elsewhere in the world continue to happen.”

Read the full story on The Spinoff

11.40am: UN warns African death toll may soar

Covid-19 could kill at least 300,000 people in Africa and push nearly 30 million into poverty, according to a report from the UN Economic Commission for Africa released on Friday. So far there have been almost 1,000 deaths and almost 19,000 infections across Africa, much lower rates than in parts of Europe and the US. However after a sharp spike in cases over the past week, the WHO has warned that Africa is likely to become the next epicentre of Covid-19. More than a third of Africa’s population lacks access to adequate water supplies and nearly 60% of urban dwellers live in overcrowded conditions where the virus could thrive, the BBC reported.

Most African countries also have fragile and overwhelmed healthcare systems, which lack the resources and equipment needed to deal with a pandemic. The UN Economic Commission for Africa has called for a $100bn safety net for the continent, including halting external debt payments.

11.20am: More than 2,000 teams furiously film-making this weekend, lockdown style

At this very moment, 2,111 bubble-bound teams across the country are creating mini movie masterpieces. The Vista 48hours entrants were given their requirements at 7pm last night and have until 7pm tomorrow night to deliver a completed three-minute film, while complying with all the alert level four lockdown constraints we’ve become so familiar with over the past few weeks.

It was free to enter this year’s lockdown Vista 48hours film-making competition, which, combined with the fact there’s not a hell of a lot else to do right now, attracted nearly quadruple last year’s entries. The finished films will be shared via the 48hours Facebook group and The Spinoff will select and profile our favourite seven films, screening exclusive behind-the-scenes material and interviewing the teams behind the films.

The judging panel, including Sir Peter Jackson, will select finalists to be screened on TVNZ2 in a one-hour awards special on Friday, May 8, at 9.30pm. The top film will be awarded $5000, from a total prize pool of $10,000.

10.20am: US antibody tests suggest infection far more widespread than official numbers indicate

Research conducted in Santa Clara County, in the Bay Area of California, appears to confirm the suspicion that Covid-19 might have been far more widespread than the number of positive tests indicate. CNBC reports that researchers led by a team from Stanford have tested 3,330 volunteers for the presence of antibodies that indicate exposure to the Covid-19 virus. They found an unadjusted prevalence of antibodies of 1.5%, and a population-weighted prevalence of 2.8%, a far higher level than official figures indicate.

“These prevalence estimates represent a range between 48,000 and 81,000 people infected in Santa Clara County by early April,” the study’s abstract reads, suggesting that the number of those infected with Covid-19 is “50-85-fold more” than the number of confirmed cases in the region.

The tests are not a definitive proof by any means, and do not indicate immunity. However they lend weight to a growing suspicion that the virus is far more widespread than official numbers indicate. Former head of the FDA Scott Gotlieb (here’s an excellent podcast interview with him on the Ezra Klein Show) cited the story in saying “overall we’re probably diagnosing one in 10 to one in 20 infections”.

9.30am: How does NZ compare to the US on Covid-19 unemployment?

Interest’s Jenee Tibshraeny has examined the latest unemployment numbers from the Ministry for Social Development, showing that 167,639 were on jobseeker support, New Zealand’s main unemployment benefit, an increase of 6,424 in the week to April 10 and 9,470 in the week to April 3. “The number of people on Jobseeker Support was 16% higher as at April 10, compared to a month prior. As at April 10, 5.6% of the working-age population was receiving Jobseeker Support, compared to 4.9% at the beginning of the year.”

This relatively small increase in unemployment compares favourably with the soaring numbers out of the US, which has seen an extraordinary 22 million file for benefits in the past four weeks, more than 10 times the previous record. By comparison, New Zealand government efforts to encourage employers to keep people in work have been largely successful, though the scheme is coming at an enormous cost. “MSD has paid out $9.9 billion in wage subsidies to support 1.6 million people as at April 17,” Tibshraeny writes. “Around 60% of people in employment are being supported by the subsidy.”

Given that the public sector directly employs around 18% of New Zealanders, that figure indicates around three quarters of all private sector firms have accessed the wage subsidy.

Read the full story on Interest

9.15am: Month in prison after breaches of lockdown

RNZ reports that a Whanganui man has been sentenced to one month in prison for repeatedly breaching the level four lockdown restrictions. The man, 38, had been verbally warned on five separate occasions, according to Central District commander superintendent Chris de Wattignar. The sixth time he was discovered to have travelled some distance from his home led to his prosecution.

“Our first step has been to educate people on the rules, but if people continue to break them as in this case, police can use their discretion to warn people, or if necessary arrest them,” de Wattignar said. There have been 2078 breaches during lockdown and more than 200 prosecutions.

8.50am: Auckland cruise terminal on hold – councillor calls for it to be scrapped entirely

A controversial $30m wharf extension into Auckland’s harbour was put on hold by council developers Panuku in December to allow for discussion of how it fit into a broader waterfront strategy. Now Auckland councillor Chris Darby is arguing that it should be scrapped entirely.

“The tide has gone out on international tourism with, one category hit harder than any other,” Darby told the Herald‘s Anne Gibson. “Now referred to as floating petri-dishes of disease, the attraction of taking a cruise ship in your golden years has hit lowest astronomical tide.”

The extension was originally budgeted at $16.9m, and meant to open in late 2020 ahead of the America’s Cup, which would have allowed the largest 320m-plus cruise ships to dock. With both the Cup and the cruise industry imperilled due to Covid-19, the case for the wharf extension is far harder to make, says Darby.

7.45am: Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris on contact tracing

Illustration: Toby Morris

The scientist and illustrator who have done so much to elevate our understanding of important elements of the Covid-19 crisis return with a new collaboration covering contact tracing. It’s fascinating, and answers questions we’re likely to have all asked ourselves at times, especially as we head toward the end of the initial lockdown period, and approach Monday’s announcement. (A reminder: all Toby and Siouxsie’s work is funded by The Spinoff Members.)
Here’s a sample:

How many people might still be incubating the virus?

One of the deciding factors is likely to be how the number of actual daily cases is tracking compared to the modelling predictions. That will give them some idea of how many people could be expected to have the virus but not know it when we come out of lockdown. This number is important because of how cases can so easily grow exponentially.

Remember, people are infectious for a couple of days before they have symptoms and the first few days they are unwell. That means each person with the virus can start off a chain of transmission that can grow exponentially. And because it can be two to 10 days before people start to show symptoms, it could take a few weeks before we start to realise those chains are happening. And then – potentially – we may have to go in to lockdown again to get them back under control.

Read the full story on The Spinoff here

7.30am: School won’t be voluntary after all

A rather large change to the initial level three announcements this morning, with the NZ Herald reporting the Principal’s Federation’s Perry Rush as saying he had been given a new communication from Iona Holsted, head of the Ministry of Education, essentially scrapping the voluntary designation for schooling. “I did have a clarification today that the term ‘voluntary’ is muddying the waters. It’s not a voluntary return to school,” he said. “It’s ‘If you need to be at school, you can’. Voluntary implies want; need is if you have to be there. That was unequivocally communicated by Iona.”

The Herald has a rundown of how the information changed on key public sites, with first the MoE website and then, some hours later, the official Covid-19 website changing to reflect the new rules. Other changes include: Strict health rules must be followed including hand sanitiser in all classes and daily disinfecting of all surfaces. Physical education cannot allow children closer than two metres. No balls, ropes or sticks. Special schools and after-school programmes remain closed. New rules for early childhood include more space per child and lifting the minimum temperature from 16C to 18C.

The ECE changes are very significant, as it’s an area the sector has lagged in for years, as this Noted story makes clear.

6.40am: China shows difficulty of economic life post-lockdown as Trump endorses ‘liberate’ protestors

A fascinating story from the Washington Post this morning covers the halting re-emergence of Chinese hot pot chain Haidilao, which has just had to back down from a relatively small increase in prices, prompted by extra costs associated with protecting customers. It looks at the difficulties of Sichuan hot pot – where customers cook their own meat and vegetables in a central broth – in a post-Covid-19 world, as well as the cultural place of hot pot, and the tension between. It comes as China’s first quarter GDP figures were announced, showing its economy contracted by -6.8% – an astonishing figure, in a country which has reported decades of smoothly linear growth, mostly well north of 5%. The two stories, one micro, the other macro, show just how complex post-lockdown life will be in the Covid-19 era.

That complexity and subtlety is not something US president Donald Trump seems overly concerned with. The growing trend of protestors in state capitols demanding the freedom to return to work, despite lockdown and a huge number of Covid-19 cases, has been boosted by a series of tweets through the night saying “liberate” followed by various states, culminating in one reading “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” The tweets run against what was widely seen as a backdown of his earlier claim of the power to reopen the country should he wish. The US remains the global leader in cases and deaths, as this chart from Johns Hopkins shows.

Data and chart from Johns Hopkins, linear scale

The global number of confirmed cases stands at 2.2m, while the death toll is a few short of 150,000, an increase aided by China sharply revising up its death toll in Hubei to count non-hospital deaths attributed to the virus. The Guardian has a wrap of more key stats and stories from around the world.

5.00am: $200m PPE investment announced

The government is investing $200 million to ensure ongoing supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers, Minister of Health David Clark has announced this morning. He said $140 million of that had already been spent on orders this week.

“Already we have around 20 million masks, 9.4 million pairs of gloves, 1.2 million aprons and other items of PPE in stock – but we know we will need more in coming months,” Clark said, adding that the government was expecting delivery of around 75 million items of PPE into the country over the next two months. “That includes 17 million masks, more than two million gowns and coveralls and 13.8 million gloves.

The announcement comes after a survey of nurses released yesterday showed a high level of concern around access to adequate PPE.

Other investments announced by the Ministry of Health this morning include $26 million to support residential aged care providers keep Covid-19 out of their facilities, a boost of $35 million to the Pharmac budget for essential medicines and a further $15 million to the government’s ‘Unite Against Covid-19’ public health campaign.

Clark said he had asked Ministry of Health officials to consider what financial assistance may be required to assist other health and disability providers meet the costs of preparing for Covid-19.

5.00am: Yesterday’s key NZ stories

There were 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.

Earlier in the day, former United First leader Peter Dunne told NewstalkZB’s Mike Hosking that he was “incredibly disturbed” that parliament wasn’t sitting during lockdown.

Principals and teachers sought more info 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.

Read more on yesterday’s live updates

Keep going!