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.
7.30pm: The day in sum
No new cases of Covid-19 were reported – 45 active cases remain.
Two people are in hospital: one at Middlemore and one at North Shore Hospital. Neither is in ICU.
Schools reopened for the first time in weeks, as well as many workplaces across the country.
New Zealand’s population reached five million in March, according to provisional data from Stats NZ.
There have been 983 reports of alert level two breaches so far.
A government-approved contact tracing app will be unveiled on Wednesday, Jacinda Ardern announced
A new political poll shows Labour and Ardern well-ahead of its competitors.
7.10pm: Air New Zealand to cut 300 more jobs
Air New Zealand has told staff it plans to slash 300 engineering and maintenance jobs, according to E tū union. The NZ Herald reports that in response, union members are calling for the company to bring back work sent offshore to Singapore in 2015 to protect jobs in New Zealand. However, an Air New Zealand spokeswoman said there were no plans to bring offshore engineering work back to New Zealand.
6.30pm: Today on The Spinoff
Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris explain why it’s probably a good idea to avoid noisy places
David Farrier on how 5G and Covid-19 mixed to make a toxic conspiracy cocktail
Michael Andrew went to Rainbow’s End over the weekend as it returned to business for the first time in weeks
Alice Neville and Jean Teng report on the tough start to alert level two for hospitality
The wage subsidy is for those in need. Don’t abuse it, writes philosophy lecturer Vanessa Schouten.
More funding is welcome, but the budget was still a missed opportunity for Māori, writes Missy Te Kanawa.
MAALA talks about his new lockdown-ready album
6pm: Poll shows Labour and Ardern surging ahead
The latest Newshub-Reid Research poll shows Labour surging ahead of its competitors at 56.5% – up by 14 points. Meanwhile, National is down at 30.6%, as are the Greens (5.5%) and NZ First (2.7%).
In an election, that would give Labour 72 seats – enough for the party to govern alone – while National would get 39, resulting in at least 16 MPs losing their jobs. The Greens would get seven seats while Act would get two if it won in Epsom.
Further adding salt to National’s wounds, Jacinda Ardern’s popularity as prime minister has skyrocketed to 59.5% leaving Simon Bridges languishing at 4.5%. Judith Collins polled not too far behind at 3.1%.
3.40pm: Customs investigation into Ruby Princess visit
Customs is carrying out an investigation into the Ruby Princess cruise ship, which has been linked to several of New Zealand’s Covid-19 cases, prime minister Jacinda Ardern has revealed. The Carnival Cruises vessel visited five New Zealand ports between March 11 and 15 before returning to Australia. It has been linked to 16 Covid-19 cases in the Hawke’s Bay and 14 cases in Napier. More than 600 people on the ship tested positive for Covid-19, and 21 have died.
Ardern today said Customs was undertaking an investigation into whether the ship fulfilled all its obligations during its visit. “They’re looking to establish whether any offences were committed,” she said. “Other than that I can’t say anything more.”
3.15pm: $278.2 million boost for ECE
The government is giving a $278.2 million funding boost to early childhood education, restoring a 100% funding band for learning centres that are fully staffed with qualified teachers. Ardern announced the extra funding at today’s post-Cabinet press conference alongside education minister Chris Hipkins. Following last week’s announcement of a pay boost for ECE teachers, Ardern said the government was reinstating the higher funding rate to help retain jobs for skilled staff. “At a time when we may see lower demand for early learning services, this will encourage centres to keep fully trained teachers in work,” she said.
NZEI Te Riu Roa issued a statement saying it is ecstatic with the announcement. Funding was reduced for ECE centres in which all staff were qualified teachers in 2010. Services were only funded for up 80% of staff being qualified. Kindergarten teacher and NZEI Te Riu Roa ECE representative, Virginia Oakly, said members had been involved in various campaigns to restore the funding over the last ten years, including the most recent ‘Every Child is Worth It’ campaign, and the extra money would make a big difference. “The real winners will be our tamariki – qualified teachers make a huge difference in the quality of early childhood education and this has a lifelong positive impact for young learners.”
Meanwhile, education minister Chris Hipkins said that early indications were that around 80% of pupils attended school under new alert level two rules today, while 53% of children attended early learning centres.
3pm: Ardern to reveal contact tracing app
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern has announced that she will unveil a new government-approved contact tracing app on Wednesday. The app was developed by designers contracted by the Ministry of Health, and is intended to bolster existing contact tracing efforts, rather than replace them, she said. “It is intended to aid and support physical contact tracing measures, not to replace them by any means. While there are other similar apps in this space we wanted to give greater certainty about data collected, which this app delivers.”
Ardern confirmed that the contact tracing app would keep users’ data on their own devices, “rather than adding it into any broader repository”. “This is simply a way of recording where you have been … It is for you, on your device, it is your data and your information,” she said. The government has not yet abandoned the idea of using a contact tracing app like those used in Singapore and Australia.
The prime minister is carrying out her regular Monday post-Cabinet press conference alongside education minister Chris Hipkins.
2.50pm: Restaurants decry last-minute rule changes
Last-minute rule changes are making life difficult for food businesses trying to get back up-and-running during alert level two, according to the Restaurant Association. A new survey carried out by the association shows 30% of its members opened for the first time since lockdown began over the weekend, with 24% of them reporting reduced revenue. Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said a public health order issued the day before level two was instituted was different to what her association had worked on with health officials. “Our association has spent a significant amount of time writing guidelines for the industry to give each type of business time to understand its compliance responsibilities and make the necessary operational changes. However, last minute changes to rules without sufficient notification have made the first weekend incredibly challenging for our businesses.”
A rule making it mandatory for diners to be catered to by a single server has been particularly problematic, given changeover of staff between shifts, rest breaks and the demands of serving larger groups, Bidois said. It had previously been assumed the single server rule only had to be implemented where possible, she said. “The additional costs required to lay on more staff is increasing wage bills and with fewer tables to serve, for many it’s making the cost of reopening too high.” Bidois was also asking for more clarity on whether restaurants could offer counter service for dine-in orders.
Retail outlets and restaurants were also confronted with a late rule change loosening their requirements for contact tracing. They are now only required to implement physical distancing measures, rather than contact trace all customers.
2.10pm: Today’s data, charted
The latest zero increase in Covid-19 cases fits with an encouraging trend. New infections have slowed to a virtual standstill, and recovered cases continue to vastly outnumber active cases. Here’s the latest data, charted by David Garcia.
Waitematā continues to have the most Covid-19 cases in the country. It is home to the St Mary’s Hospital & Rest Home cluster, which includes seven infections among healthcare workers at Waitākere Hospital.
1.30pm: Marist cluster contained – Bloomfield
Health officials are confident that an outbreak of Covid-19 cases at Marist College is contained and the school is safe to reopen, director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said. The Auckland college was the site of the second biggest cluster of Covid-19 cases, with 96 infections connected to the school community. That includes one confirmed case from the second day of alert level two. Bloomfield said widespread testing has taken place among students, parents and teachers, and the recent case was thought to be from weeks ago. He defended a decision to allow the school to reopen for alert level two. “It was quite clear that the infections had happened some weeks previously, and the view was that there was no ongoing infection within that community. That cluster has been well contained now.”
1.20pm: 983 reports of alert level two breaches
There have been 983 reports of possible breaches of the alert level two rules, said police commissioner Andrew Coster. Of those about 700 related to businesses and 250 to mass gatherings. Many of the complaints related to retailers and a lack of contact tracing. Coster reiterated that contact tracing is not required for customers, but only workers, at retailers. He said that a total of 30 breaches had been recorded, with 29 warnings issued and one prosecution. There had been no entry of premises using the warrantless powers granted under an act passed under urgency last week.
Coster was also asked a series of questions about the trial of controversial facial recognition software Clearview AI, reiterating that it was a limited trial that mostly involved undertaking searches on police volunteers. He says it shouldn’t have occurred without sign-off, but asserted that his officers had the best of intentions. A “stocktake” has been commissioned of the trial.
1.15pm: Bloomfield defends limits on faith gatherings
Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield defended limits on the size of faith-based gatherings under alert level two, which have recently been the subject of protests from Destiny Church’s Brian Tamaki and other religious leaders. He said health officials had generally received “fantastic support” from church organisations throughout lockdown and into alert level two. Allowing churches to have larger gatherings was deemed to be too risky as the country moved out of lockdown, he said. The limits would be reconsidered by Cabinet next Monday. “I know that many people including those of faith want to move as quickly as possible to increase the size of gatherings. I know how important it is for people to practice their faith together.”
Bloomfield will take part in a meeting of the World Health Assembly tonight, where New Zealand is one of 62 countries which have co-signed a resolution calling for an independent investigation into the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic. He said the resolution was about global solidarity, and expected it to be adopted unanimously. “The purpose of the resolution is to agree, at a high level, on the future of work to be undertaken on Covid-19 by member states. One example is to ensure fair distribution of vaccines,” he said.
1pm: No new cases of Covid-19
There are no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield has announced.
This means New Zealand’s combined total of confirmed and probable cases remains at 1499, of which 1149 are confirmed cases. That latter number is reported to the World Health Organisation.
The number of people who have recovered from Covid-19 is still 1433, or 96% of all cases. There are 45 active cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand.
No further people have died from the virus.
Health workers processed 2570 tests yesterday, bringing the total number of tests completed to date to 230,718.
There are two people receiving hospital-level care for Covid-19. One is in Middlemore, and one is in North Shore Hospital. Neither is in ICU.
There are still 16 significant clusters of Covid-19 around the country.
The new cases of Covid-19 reported in the days since New Zealand went into alert level four on March 26 are as follows (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, 1, and today, 0.
12.50pm: The livestream for today’s briefing
Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield and police commissioner Andrew Coster are set to deliver an update on New Zealand’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic at 1pm. You can watch the Ministry of Health livestream here:
11.40: Return of the (non)-daily briefing
Director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield and police commissioner Andrew Coster will front a briefing on the national response to the Covid-19 pandemic at 1pm today. This is the first briefing from Bloomfield since the country moved to alert level two on Thursday, with updates on Covid-19 case numbers now generally issued via press release from the Ministry of Health. Prime minister Jacinda Ardern won’t attend the briefing but will take questions at her post-cabinet press conference at 3pm.
11.15am: There are now 5 million of us
New Zealand’s population reached 5 million in March, according to provisional data from Stats NZ. Population insights senior manager Brooke Theyers said reaching the landmark is “a significant event for New Zealand.” “It is also the fastest million in our history, taking 17 years after reaching 4 million in 2003.” It appears the Covid-19 pandemic has been a factor in New Zealand reaching the population mark. Theyers said net migration was high as New Zealanders who had been living overseas returned home during the pandemic. “At the same time, New Zealand citizens may have been unable or reluctant to head offshore.”
Before we set March 2020 down in our calendars as a month to celebrate, Theyers did issue a word of caution. A precise date for when New Zealand reached the 5 million population mark will only be available once statisticians fully incorporate the 2018 Census data later in 2020, she said. “This could see the milestone date move slightly earlier or later than March 2020.”
10.50am: Cell tower attacks may put lives at risk – expert
A series of attacks on cell phone towers across New Zealand may be putting lives at risk, a telecommunications expert has told RNZ. Anti-5G conspiracy theorists are suspected of carrying out 17 arson attacks on cell towers over the last three months, with three further incidents over the weekend. Telecommunications Forum chief executive Geoff Thorn told Morning Report the attacks, many of which have taken place in remote areas, may limit some people’s ability to access the 111 emergency number. “The industry’s done a lot of work to keep communications going in those areas but at the same time there is a potential for people making calls to emergency services not being able to get through,” he said.
Thorn advised those who are concerned about 5G to access information from the office of the prime minister’s chief science advisor. “There’s no evidence that we’ve seen that 5G is bad for humans,” he said. But as David Farrier pointed out this morning, that information, however credible, is unlikely to reach or sway many of the people who are being funneled mountains of 5G misinformation on Facebook. His inside look at the groups claiming 5G causes Covid-19 shows a large and growing community becoming increasingly radical, despite Facebook’s claim to be cracking down on false information and conspiracies.
9.30am: Ardern not interested in blaming China for pandemic
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern says she’s not interested in blaming China for Covid-19, after New Zealand signed on to call for an independent investigation into the global response to the pandemic. A draft resolution signed by 62 countries including New Zealand, India, the UK, Mexico, and Australia is set to be put to the World Health Assembly as it meets today and tomorrow. It calls on World Health Organisation director general Tedros Ghebreyesus to investigate the pandemic response, “including the actions of WHO and their timelines pertaining to the Covid-19 pandemic”.
The resolution doesn’t mention China by name, but concerns have been raised that it could be seen as an effort to pin the blame for the pandemic on Beijing. Australia has been pushing for a probe into China’s handling of the outbreak, which has led to cooling diplomatic relations between it and the Chinese government.
In an interview on Radio NZ this morning, Ardern confirmed the government had signed on to the resolution, saying it did so because it wants to glean as much information as possible on how to best respond to Covid-19. “I think the idea that this one in 100 year event, that has caused global economic shock, that has had a devastating impact on the health systems and the lives and livelihoods of people around the world: the idea that we wouldn’t want to look into that and learn from that seems surprising to me.”
She denied wanting to point the finger at China, saying she is “not interested in blame”. “We’re interested in learning,” she said. “None of it should change our relationship with China, which I think is very strong and very respectful.”
Ashley Bloomfield is expected to (virtually) represent New Zealand at the World Health Assembly, which will take place today and tomorrow. Read the 62-country resolution here.
8.30am: Back to work, back to being stuck in traffic
Schools are re-opening and many workers are heading back to their offices for the first time since lockdown began on March 26. Their return is reviving a much-loathed remnant of pre-Covid life: traffic jams. Though the situation isn’t as bad as before the pandemic, queues have developed on State Highway 16 and on the arterial roads funneling North Shore traffic onto the Auckland Harbour Bridge. Auckland Transport has added extra bus services to help commuters maintain social distancing, and that may be adding to the congestion.
Traffic was killer today. Had to take an alternative route to school. When we came over the crest of the hill and saw the traffic my kid said “Dad, the whole city is here!” pic.twitter.com/kiYSFtRrKR
— Maybe: Macca 2020 🇳🇿🏖 (@KiwiSAHD) May 17, 2020
Meanwhile, traffic is slow heading into Wellington city centre and on State Highway 74 in Christchurch. NZTA’s traffic cameras are here, if you’d like to follow along live.
8.10am: Ardern defends church rules, hints at future change
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern has defended the government’s 10-person limit on numbers at religious services, in an interview with Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking. Several religious leaders have protested the restrictions on church services in the last few days. Destiny Church held a drive-in service over the weekend, with its leader Brian Tamaki calling the gathering a stand for “freedom and rights”. City Impact Church put out a press release co-signed by 75 religious leaders calling for the limit to be lifted and replaced by a new system.
Ardern told Hosking this morning that church services were risky and needed to be limited like other gatherings. “You can’t come together for a large 90th birthday or a large anniversary or a large family reunion.” However she hinted that the rules would be loosened when director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield reviews the level two restrictions on gatherings in two weeks, provided New Zealand doesn’t see a spike in Covid-19 case numbers. “If we continue to see this low number of cases then we will see that number of people who can gather together increase,” she said. “We’ve already indicated we will see those numbers increase, and that will include church services.”
6.15am: The toxic 5G-Covid-19 conspiracy cocktail
The weekend saw another attack on a cellphone tower, again suspected to be arson by vigilante conspiracy theorists who blame 5G for Covid-19. David Farrier has been following the anti-5G conspiracists since he was accosted by one last year after appearing in Spark advertisements. For The Spinoff this morning he writes:
“Reading the headlines, it would be easy to think this was a sudden, bizarre outburst of crime. But the paranoia around 5G has been growing for years. Introduce paranoia around Covid-19, and that’s when the towers start burning.
“I’m a member of nearly all the private Anti-5G groups on Facebook – and the response to the fires is both unexpected, and abhorrent.”
Read David’s piece here.
6.10am: NZ backs call for independent review of WHO response
A draft resolution to be put to this week’s World Health Assembly, to be held by teleconference today and tomorrow, includes New Zealand as one of 62 nations calling for an independent investigation into the response to the pandemic.
The resolution calls on World Health Organisation director general Tedros Ghebreyesus to “initiate at the earliest appropriate moment … a stepwise process of impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” of the response to the pandemic, “including the actions of WHO and their timelines pertaining to the Covid-19 pandemic”.
Signatories include Australia, India, Japan, the UK, Canada, New Zealand, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, and the EU. Australia has been pushing for a probe into China’s handling of the outbreak, which has led to cooling diplomatic relations between Canberra and Beijing, but there is no explicit reference to China in the resolution.
Ashley Bloomfield is expected to (virtually) represent New Zealand at the assembly.
Read the resolution here.
6.05am: Back to work, back to school
In case you missed it in yesterday’s updates, it’s worth a repeat for those returning to school or the office. 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.”
6.00am: Yesterday’s key stories
There was one new case of Covid-19 in New Zealand yesterday, 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 million 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.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.