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Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield at Parliament. (Photo: Mark Mitchell/Getty Images)
Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield at Parliament. (Photo: Mark Mitchell/Getty Images)

SocietyMay 19, 2020

Covid-19 live updates, May 19: No new cases; more public holidays mooted

Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield at Parliament. (Photo: Mark Mitchell/Getty Images)
Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield at Parliament. (Photo: Mark Mitchell/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: Today’s key stories

There were no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, meaning just two new cases have been recorded in the past eight days

The total number of confirmed cases increased by four, however these were known historical cases who have since recovered

At the World Health Assembly, WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced his intention to initiate an independent evaluation of the Covid-19 response

National accused the government of “arrogance” after two senior Treasury officials withdrew from the Epidemic Response Committee session scrutinising the budget without offering replacements

Auckland Council has asked high-earning staff to take a voluntary pay cut for six months

The government told big business to start paying suppliers’ invoices within 10 days in order to cash flow for small businesses

US president Donald Trump announced he has been taken the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to help prevent contracting Covid-19, in spite of mounting medical evidence suggesting it’s a bad idea. “I think it’s good”, he told reporters.

6.25pm: Today on The Spinoff

The psychology of “voluntary” Covid pay cuts – and why we accept them

Trade deals are a handbrake on New Zealand’s post-Covid recovery, argues Jane Kelsey

The bumper Toby Morris & Siouxsie Wiles Covid-19 box set

How to export your way out of a financial crisis: A 10-point plan for New Zealand

The Covid-19 crisis is an opportunity to reform our prisons

6.10pm: Aucklanders generate a whole lot of rubbish during lockdown

Aucklanders sent 1,870 tonnes of extra rubbish to landfill this April compared to the same month last year, plus 326 more tonnes of recycling, says the council. The extra trash, which represents a 12% increase on April 2019, could fill 66 double-decker buses. Richard Hill, chair of Auckland Council’s environment and climate change committee, said the increase was natural due to people staying in and eating at home during alert levels three and four.

6.00pm: Peters heading back to court over pension leak

In non-Covid news, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters is refusing to give up his claim against those whom he accuses of leaking details of his pension in the lead-up to the 2017 general election. Last month Peters’ privacy claim failed at the high court because he was not able to establish that those he accused were responsible for the leak, but Newshub reports that Peters will appeal the judgment as he believes he now knows who made the disclosure to the media.

The original claim was made against against former government ministers Paula Bennett and Anne Tolley, State Services Commissioner Peters Hughes and former Ministry of Social Development chief executive Brendan Boyle, but the appeal cites only Hughes and Boyle as respondents because Peters withdrew allegations of leaking against the ministers during the case.

Last night a Newshub poll put New Zealand First on 2.7%.

5.35pm: Air traffic services to be pulled from seven NZ airports

Seven airports around New Zealand are to lose air traffic services, reports RNZ. Airways New Zealand, the country’s sole air traffic service provider, confirmed it would withdraw services from towers at Hawke’s Bay, Gisborne, New Plymouth, Rotorua and Invercargill airports in response to the huge decline in flight numbers caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. But the union representing pilots has said it will fight the decision over safety concerns. Airways plans to work with the industry on an alternative plan to deliver regional aviation services.

5.25pm: High-earning Auckland Council staff asked to take pay cuts

Auckland Council staff earning over $100,000 will be asked to take a pay cut for six months, chief executive Stephen Town has announced. “This will be a tiered approach, meaning a 5% reduction for anyone earning between $100,000 and $175,000, a 7.5% reduction for anyone earning between $175,001 and $275,000 and a 10 per cent reduction for anyone earning above $275,001,” said Town. According to a media release, the pay cuts are a result of a dramatic fall in revenue over the last two months and “unexpected and unbudgeted” costs associated with its Covid-19 response.

The council is also in talks with the PSA union on options relating to this year’s annual remuneration review for staff, and whether it should be limited or cancelled

Related: The council is the latest in a string of businesses that have asked staff to take a temporary pay cut as a result of Covid-19. The Spinoff’s Jihee Junn wrote this morning about the psychology of such “voluntary” cuts, and why so many of us feel compelled to accept.

2.30pm: Today’s data, charted

Here’s today’s updated graph, which shows a small increase in overall cases due to the confusing business with the Uruguayan cruise ship passengers (see 1.00pm update). The important thing is that the active cases are still in decline, down to 40 today.

2.00pm: More public holidays an option

Could more public holidays encourage New Zealanders to travel domestically and inject money into the tourism industry? It is one of the many things (see also: helicopter payments) the government is “actively considering” at the moment, Jacinda Ardern said today. The prime minister is in Rotorua, where she has been meeting with local tourism leaders at Te Puia New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute.

1.00pm: No new cases

There are no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield has announced.

However, the total case number has increased by four, Bloomfield explained. These are people who returned to New Zealand from the Greg Mortimer cruise ship on April 13, who had all tested positive in Uruguay. The Ministry of Health was waiting for confirmation from Uruguay to avoid them being counted twice in World Health Organisation numbers, said Bloomfield. “We’ve now confirmed they did not report the cases, so we are,” said Bloomfield. All four have since recovered.

This means New Zealand’s combined total of confirmed and probable cases is now 1,503, of which 1,153 are confirmed cases. That latter number is reported to the World Health Organisation.

The number of people who have recovered from Covid-19 is now 1,442, or 96% of all cases. There are now 40 active cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand.

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 no further deaths to report.

Health workers processed 3,125 tests yesterday, bringing the total number of tests completed to date to 233,843.

There have now been just two new cases of Covid-19 recorded in the past eight days. 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, 0, and today, 0.

World Health Assembly agrees on review

Speaking about his participation in the opening session of the World Health Assembly last night (New Zealand time), Bloomfield said various country leaders indicated strong support for global cooperation in the response to Covid-19. He said WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced his intention to initiate an independent evaluation of the Covid-19 response and to develop recommendations that will help improve national and global pandemic preparedness. The timing was yet to be announced but Tedros indicated it would be as soon as possible. The “lengthy and substantial” resolution on Covid-19 had been agreed on by WHO member states and will be considered when the assembly reconvenes tonight, said Bloomfield.

Mass masking still ‘under consideration’

In response to a reporter’s question, Bloomfield said he had not revised his position on mask use on public transport but it was still “very actively under consideration”.

Bloomfield confirmed that advice was being developed for cabinet to consider on Monday regarding a possible move down to alert level one and increasing the size of permitted gatherings to 100.

The use of masks would be something that would be considered, and advice was being finalised around surveillance and sentinel testing and “how that would look under alert level one”.

The one-word challenge

Asked to describe Jacinda Ardern in one word, Bloomfield paused for thought before responding: “Can I use two? Prime minister.” At a stand-up in Rotorua earlier today, Ardern was asked the same question about herself and chose the word “focused”. When asked to describe opposition leader Simon Bridges in one word, the Herald reports “she shook her head and appeared flummoxed”.

12.45pm: Today’s media briefing

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield will be along at 1pm to provide an update on New Zealand’s Covid-19 case numbers and answer questions from the gallery. Watch it all here:

12.00pm: David Clark speaks at big WHO event

David Clark has made his contribution to the World Health Assembly, currently under way via teleconference. In a short address, apparently pre-recorded, the New Zealand health minister talked about sharing information with other countries, helping the Pacific, and “protecting the most vulnerable in society”. If you wish to watch his two minute bit you can here from 1:31:15, but, honestly, we wouldn’t recommend it.

Nouvelle-Zélande minister de health David Clark (Photo: Screenshot)

11.50am: NBL to return next month

New Zealand’s national basketball league will begin on the 23rd of June, with a shortened competition taking place across six weeks. Seven teams – the Auckland Huskies, Canterbury Rams, Franklin Bulls, Manawatu Jets, Nelson Giants, Otago Nuggets and Taranaki Mountainairs – will compete for the 2020 NBL, Stuff reports, with all teams to be based in Auckland. The venue for games is yet to be announced.

11.30am: Bloomfield flying solo today

Ashley Bloomfield will front the 1pm media briefing unaccompanied today, as his former briefing partner, prime minister Jacinda Ardern, begins moving back into her more traditional media routines under alert level two. Whoever or however many people are on the stage, we’ll continue to have the live stream and updates here on the blog.

11.00am: Pay invoices faster, government tells big businesses

Government ministers in charge of business and finance portfolios have asked NZX50 enterprises to adopt 10-day payment practices in line with the state sector, as a way to improve cash flow for small businesses.

The ministers of finance, small business, commerce and consumer affairs have written to more than 40 significant enterprises and banking industry representatives to request they join efforts to support small and medium enterprises.

“We want 95% of invoices paid within 10 working days. Once the impact of Covid-19 arrived on our shores in March we directed all government agencies to bring forward the prompt payment target with immediate effect,” said finance minister Grant Robertson.

“Improving payment terms is a priority. Paying suppliers faster is an important way to unlock cash-flow and productivity benefits, which supports ongoing business sustainability and growth,” he said.

10.55am: NZME withdraws Stuff bid

In the latest development in the NZME-Stuff saga, NZME has withdrawn its application to the Commerce Commission to allow it to buy Stuff from its Australian owner Nine Entertainment. This comes after a high court bid for an interim injunction to force Nine Entertainment into exclusive talks was rejected, both the Herald and Stuff report.

10.45am: Economist worried about rising debt

Bagrie Economics chief economist Cameron Bagrie told the Epidemic Response Committee New Zealand shouldn’t “pat itself on the back” and tell ourselves it was OK to take on more debt just because other countries’ debt levels are even higher. He suggested the government sell some of its assets, like state-owned electricity companies, in order to keep debt levels down.

10.15am: Bridges slams ERC no-shows

The Epidemic Response Committee is sitting again this morning to scrutinise the budget, with a couple of late withdrawals from senior Treasury staff leaving committee chair Simon Bridges fuming. Chief exec Caralee McLiesh is off sick, and her colleague Bryan Chapple is on leave today. Bridges said this was “entirely unacceptable”. National’s finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith released a statement echoing his boss’ dismay. “There are 565 permanent staff at the Treasury,” it said. “Despite the Clerk of the committee requesting another representative, not one person has been made available.” Watch the ERC live stream here:

10.00am: Football club apologises for filling empty seats with sex dolls

South Korean football club FC Seoul has apologised for using sex dolls to fill the empty seats in its stadium during their first home game of the season last weekend. The club maintains the 28 female and two male dolls, which were dressed in FC Seoul supporters gear, were actually “premium mannequins,” though admit they did come from a sex toy supplier, the BBC reports. The K-League was one of the first professional football leagues to resume when the season kicked off on the 8th of May, with games being played behind doors to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The makeshift crowd inspired FC Seoul to a 1-nil win over Gwangju FC.

9.45am: The Siouxsie and Toby omnibus

The animations and illustrations created by Toby Morris in collaboration with Siouxsie Wiles and published by The Spinoff have been shared in their hundreds of millions over the last couple of months. Now, for ease of reference, they’ve all been put together in the same place. Have a look here.

9.00am: Trump taking hydroxychloroquine

US president Donald Trump says he started taking hydroxychloroquine “a couple of weeks ago” because he had “heard a lot of good stories” about it. The FDA has warned against using the anti-malaria drug outside of a hospital setting after research showed an increased risk of death for some patients. “I think it’s good”, Trump told reporters today. “So far, I seem to be okay.” He called the study showing higher death rates in patients using hydroxychloroquine “a very unscientific report”.

8.15am: Bridges holds ground

“I’m the leader and I’m staying that way,” National Party leader Simon Bridges has told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking this morning after a new poll last night cast more doubt on his leadership heading into September’s election. The The Newshub-Reid Research poll showed Labour polling at 56.5% with National dropping down to 30.6% support, while Bridges was down to 4.5% in the preferred prime minister ratings, compared to 56.5% for Jacinda Ardern. Bridges blamed the “wall-to-wall” coverage for the government during lockdown as the reason for his poor showing in the poll, and predicted things would turn around once campaigning for the election began in earnest. Asked about speculation that some members of his caucus were planning to roll him as leader, he said: “I haven’t heard any of that”.

7.45am: China voices support for WHO investigation

Chinese president Xi Jinping and World Health Organisation head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus have backed calls for a WHO-led investigation into the coronavirus outbreak, but say now is not the time to do it. Speaking at the World Health Assembly, Xi said China supports a comprehensive review once the pandemic is brought under control, while Adhanom Ghebreyesus said an investigation would take place at the “earliest appropriate moment”. Xi also pledged $2 billion in funding over the next two years to aid the global fight against Covid-19.

Meanwhile, Taiwanese foreign minister Joseph Wu said the country was withdrawing its bid for WHO observer status, a bid which New Zealand and others had supported but was strongly opposed by China.

7.30am: Updates from today’s edition of The Bulletin

The Early Childhood Education sector is welcoming the news of a $270 million incentive package to get all teachers fully qualified. Stuff has reported on the package, which will introduce a new funding band for centres to “encourage more centres to use fully trained teachers and keep them in work,” according to education minister Chris Hipkins. Both industry group Kindergartens Aotearoa and teacher union NZEI put out statements in support of the change, and it fulfilled a campaign promise made by Labour at the last election.

Meanwhile, kids went back to school yesterday, so how did it go? Radio NZ reports about 80% of kids attended, though at some schools the attendance was as low as 30%. Strict hygiene protocols were in place, and principals have reported that the kids were following them. In what might seem slightly like a throwback to the old days of corporal punishment in schools, the Wellington High principal kept a metre-ruler on their desk – though rather than using it to whack kids, it was merely there to indicate what physical distancing looks like.

We got more information yesterday about the government’s official contact tracing technology. On Wednesday, an app will be released by which people can record themselves as being in a particular location, with the data then being held on the device. As was reported in yesterday’s live blog, the PM says it aims to “bolster existing contact tracing efforts, rather than replace them”. The term used was a “digital diary”, with Ardern noting concerns about paper based forms with personal details sitting in public places, and apps that had companies holding user data. It will not be compulsory.

An important bit of primary industry news: The NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Jamie Grey reports log prices have risen over the weeks of lockdown, as lower production allowed an import backlog in China to be cleared. At this stage, it’s just a rebound, not a full recovery – much will depend on whether demand stays strong.

Meanwhile in forestry, this is an excellent read on the budget allocation towards the removal of wilding pines. Writing on Farmers Weekly, Annette Scott reports that there are shared concerns among the farming and environmental worlds from such pines. They’re considered an invasive pest on both farmland and pressing into native bush. The funding is part of a wider package aimed at creating environmental jobs to redeploy unemployed workers, and Federated Farmers hope that much more money will be put towards the job.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.00am: Yesterday’s key stories

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.

Read all the key stories in yesterday’s live updates

Keep going!