Prime minister Jacinda Ardern (Photo: Mark Mitchell/Pool/Getty Images)

Covid-19 live updates, April 20: Move to level three announced, $55m invested in contact tracing as audit released

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/evening shift: Alice Neville

7.00pm: The day in review

A $55m investment in contact tracing was announced, as an independent review of the contact tracing programme so far was released.

The prime minister announced that a move to alert level three will take place at 11.59pm on Monday, April 27, and we’ll stay there for two weeks. Opposition leader Simon Bridges criticised the five-day extension to the original four-week lockdown, saying it proved the government hadn’t laid the groundwork.

Nine new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand were announced.

The Ministry of Health’s Māori Covid-19 response plan was criticised by Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā, a Māori national pandemic response group.

Simon Bridges announced the lineup for this week’s meetings of the Epidemic Response Committee: tomorrow it’s finance minister Grant Robertson, minister for small business Stuart Nash and minister of employment Willie Jackson.

Covid-19-hit media company Stuff announced it was seeking donations to help fund its newsrooms.

Professor Shaun Hendy, leader of a team advising the government on Covid-19’s spread, said he believed New Zealand should stay in lockdown for another two weeks.

Australia announced a mandatory code of conduct” for Facebook and Google.

Chinese ambassador Wu Xi announced the delivery of medical supplies to New Zealand, as part of the country’s global diplomatic push to help combat Covid-19.

The Early Childhood Council appealed to the prime minister to not open early childhood centres at alert level three. Teachers’ union NZEI Te Riu Roa has not been as forthright, but has asked for more guidance from the Ministry of Education.

6.35pm: Bridges says lockdown extension shows lack of groundwork; teachers’ union wants public health risk assessment released

Opposition leader Simon Bridges has criticised the government’s decision to remain in alert level four for five additional days, saying it shows the groundwork required to have us ready hasn’t been done. “Unfortunately the government hasn’t done enough and isn’t ready by its own standards and rhetoric. New Zealand is being held back because the government has not used this time to ensure best practice of testing and tracing and the availability of PPE hasn’t been at the standard it should have been.”

Bridges criticised the rate of testing during the first half of the lockdown, and said he feared the harm of staying in lockdown would be greater than if we were to come out. “We will no doubt see a rise in mental health problems and stress-related illnesses.”

Meanwhile, primary and early childhood teachers’ union NZEI Te Riu Roa has asked the Ministry of Health to release the full public health risk assessment its guidelines for the partial reopening of schools and ECEs is based on. In a press release, the organisation reiterated the government’s advice that children should continue to learn from home if possible, and said further detailed guidance was needed before some children returned to school and ECEs on April 29. Last night, the Early Childhood Council appealed to Jacinda Ardern not to reopen ECE centres under alert level three.

6.20pm: Today on The Spinoff

Siouxsie Wiles explains why testing negative for Covid-19 doesn’t let you off the hook in the latest in our video series 60 Seconds with Siouxsie.

Toby Manhire reports on the announcement that New Zealand will move alert levels next week. The prime minister’s full speech is here.

The day’s cases presented in easy-to-follow data visualisations courtesy of Chris McDowall. 

Energy economist Michael Liebreich tells Alex Braae that the Covid-19 economic recovery could be a chance to cut emissions for good.

What will businesses need to do to be able to open under level three? Michael Andrew explains

Clinical psychologist Jacqui Maguire shares some mental health advice for those facing unemployment. 

Toby Manhire assesses the stakes that were at play leading up to today’s lockdown decision.

In the latest lockdown letter, Fiona Farrell writes on the sacrifices of leaders

Siouxsie Wiles guides us through the myriad Covid-19 testing options available. 

Ātea editor Leonie Hayden wants you to kōrero Māori with her: today’s lesson is all about ACTION! 

The latest episode of our food podcast Dietary Requirements is out: recorded lockdown style via Zoom, with special guest Al Keating of Coffee Supreme.

6.10pm: No plans to follow Australia in making tech giants pay for news content

Broadcasting minister Kris Faafoi says the government has no immediate plans to follow in Australia’s footsteps in making Facebook and Google pay for news content.

The Australian competition watchdog, the ACCC, has been instructed to develop a mandatory code of conduct for the multinational companies, the ABC revealed this morning. This would include making them pay for news content shared through search and social media and imposing penalties for non-compliance. 

The platforms have largely been unregulated in both Australia and New Zealand, and it was hoped Australia’s move might allow New Zealand’s government, currently weighing a support package for New Zealand’s beleaguered media, to announce regulatory or tax changes of its own.

Faafoi told RNZ he had not asked the Commerce Commission to develop a similar code here, and said commercial relationships between international digital platforms and the news media form part of a wider discussion about how the government can help the industry.

6.00pm: Check out the new 60 Seconds with Siouxsie video 

The second episode in our new video series 60 Seconds with Siouxsie has just gone live – this time, everyone’s favourite pink-haired scientist explains why testing negative for Covid-19 doesn’t let you off the hook.

5.45pm: Government announces $55m investment in contact tracing as audit released

Cabinet has approved an investment of up to $55 million in contact tracing, on top of an initial $15 million that went to public health units (PHUs) in March, according to a press release from health minister David Clark.

Clark said the funding will mean PHUs can be expanded as required and the national contact close contact service (NCCS) established last month will also get extra resources to manage complex investigations, such as detailed analysis of clusters.

“These next steps developing our contact tracing capability reflect the recommendations of the independent audit of contact tracing conducted by Ayesha Verrall of the University of Otago,” said Clark.

“To help provide assurance that this work is on track, I will appoint an expert group (under Section 11 of the Public Health and Disability Act 200) to advise me on progress. Terms of reference are being developed currently.”

“To help provide assurance that this work is on track, I will appoint an expert group (under Section 11 of the Public Health and Disability Act 200) to advise me on progress.”

Verrall’s report, which was publicly released this afternoon, said difficulties in finding contacts persist and must be addressed.

“The NCCS is an impressive service especially considering it has been established in just weeks. However it is not a suitable nor desirable system for managing all contacts,” said the report. “The NCCS also has limited use in certain important situations, such as in the event of a large complex cluster or specific scenarios that require intense involvement of medical officers of health.”

The report also warned that without alert level four restrictions, New Zealand must anticipate a “new normal” of local transmission and small clusters, with the potential for one or more very large outbreaks over the next two years.

 

4.00pm: NZ to move to alert level three next Monday

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern has announced New Zealand is going to move to alert level three at 11.59pm on Monday, April 27, and will stay there for two weeks before cabinet makes a further decision on May 11. This is five days after the initial four-week period ends.

“Waiting to move alert levels next week costs us just two more business days but gives us much greater long-term health and economic gains down the track,” said Ardern. “It means we’re less likely to have to go backwards. Ultimately we’ve taken a balanced approach and one that the director general not only supported but recommended.

“We have done what very few countries have been able to do, we have stopped a wave of devastation.”

Ardern said New Zealand’s transmission rate was now 0.48 – “less than half a person each” – adding that nearly every case identified since April 1 has been as result of overseas travel or contact with someone with the virus, many in clusters. She said 85,000 people had been tested to date.

“The director general of health is confident that there is currently no widespread undetected community transmission in New Zealand,” said Ardern. “In short, the effort of our team of 5 million has broken the chain of transmission and taken a quantum leap forward in our goal to eliminate the virus.”

Schools will be able to open from April 29 for those who need to attend, but can be accessed this week for “cleaning, maintenance and any other preparations”, said Ardern.

“The current plan is for schools to be able to reopen for a teacher-only day on 28 April as part of their preparation and we expect those who need to attend to be able to from 29 April.”

The number of individual cases whose origin isn’t known now stands at eight, she said. 

“All of you have stopped the uncontrolled explosion of Covid-19 in New Zealand and I couldn’t feel prouder of the start that we have made together. But I also feel a huge responsibility to ensure that we do not lose any of the gains that we have made either.

“Elimination doesn’t mean zero cases, it means zero tolerance for cases,” she added. “It means when a case emerges, we test, we contract trace, we isolate, with the ambition that when we see Covid, we eliminate it – that is how we will keep our transmission rate under one.”

Ardern emphasised that level three remained fairly restrictive. “The most important thing to remember is that all of this preparation in one week’s time, a recovery room of sorts, has many restrictions. Yes, alert level three allows more economic activity, like construction, manufacturing and forestry. But it does not allow more social activity and for good reason: if we want to make sure we are a health success story and ensure our economy can operate again without the virus taking off, we need to get this next phase right.”

She reiterated the principles of level three:
“One: stay home. If you’re not at work, school, exercising or getting essentials, then you must be at home. Two: work and learn from home if you can. Three: make your business Covid-19 safe. The quid pro quo of being able to open is doing it in a way that doesn’t spread the virus. Four: stay regional. You can exercise at parks or beaches in your region but the closer to home, the better. Five: Keep your bubble as small as possible. If you need to, you can expand your bubble a small amount to bring in close family, isolated people or caregivers. Six: wash your hands often with soap often. Cough and sneeze into your elbow. Seven: If you’re sick, stay at home, and get advice from a GP or Healthline about getting a test.”

Speaking after Ardern, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said sentinel (community) testing, such as has been happening in supermarkets, would continue, in order to “hunt out any undetected cases”. Bloomfield said the public could have confidence that isolated, rural, Māori and Pasifika communities were being reached. “Contact tracing will be bolstered even further and we’ll continue to use the best evidence, advice and modelling to make daily decisions to serve New Zealanders,” he added.

“Contact tracing was one of the first things we started to scale up, including creating a national service with more than 200 staff who’ve had the sole focus of tracking down close contacts of confirmed and probable cases,” said Bloomfield. “Essentially, what we’re doing here is transforming what was a very local, manual process into a national, automated system with scale. This is the first time this has been done in New Zealand.

“Right now, with our national contact-tracing centre we can trace up to 5,000 contacts per day. ”

He added that Otago University infectious diseases specialist Dr Ayesha Verrall had independently reviewed the ministry’s contact-tracing approach and her report has been considered by cabinet. It will be publicly released this afternoon and Bloomfield said he would provide updates on how the ministry was implementing recommendations.

Read The Spinoff’s full report on the shift in alert levels here.

3.50pm: PM to announce lockdown decision – watch here

Watch prime minister Jacinda Ardern and director general of health Ashley Bloomfield’s media briefing, in which a decision on moving alert levels will be announced.

3.43pm: New survey finds over a quarter support extended lockdown

A new online study of 750 New Zealanders aged 18 and over has found 28% favour extending the lockdown. The survey, by data and insights company Kantar, was conducted over the weekend just gone, asking a range of questions about consumer behaviour during the Covid-19 pandemic. Participants were asked what they think should happen after the initial four-week lockdown period, and most respondents – 61% – said a limited range of activities and places should open again with distancing and hygiene measures in place. Over a quarter – 28% – thought the full lockdown should be extended until Covid-19 is eliminated.

The survey also asked what people were most looking forward to after lockdown ended, with 41% saying entertaining friends/family/whānau, 38% travel within New Zealand, and 35% each for shopping outside of the home and dining/gathering outside of the home.

2.27pm: Ministry of Health’s Māori response plan criticised

The Ministry of Health’s Māori Covid-19 response plan has been criticised by Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā, a Māori national pandemic response group that was set up on Friday.

The group’s co-leader, Dr Rawiri Jansen, told Stuff the government was making plans for the general population, but Māori needed their own specific plan, not just in health but across all sectors. Group member member Rhys Jones told RNZ the plan provided aspirational statements, but no detail on how equitable care would be delivered.

The deputy director general of Māori health, John Whaanga, defended the plan, saying he expects there will be areas to improve on following feedback, reports RNZ. He said the plan sends a clear signal that equitable healthcare for Māori is front and centre of the ministry’s Covid-19 response.

1.30pm: Latest case numbers in context

Our contributing data guru Chris McDowall has plotted the just-announced Covid-19 infections on a graph comparing active and recovered cases. It shows recovered cases continuing to outnumber active infections.

1.11pm: Nine new cases of Covid-19, no further deaths

There are nine new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, the Ministry of Health has announced. 

That includes seven confirmed and two probable cases. It takes the combined total of confirmed and probable cases in New Zealand to 1440. No further deaths have been linked to the virus.

While the third single-digit outcome in four days is encouraging, the fact that the ministry is unable, so far at least, to link four of today’s new cases to known clusters or cases is concerning.

A critical consideration for exiting level four is confidence that there is no significant undetected community spread. As the ministry notes in its release: “Four of the cases we are reporting today will continue to be investigated for links to confirmed cases.”

There are now 974 people who have recovered from Covid-19, an increase of 62 on yesterday.

Fourteen people remain in hospital. Three are in the ICU, with one each in Middlemore, North Shore, and Dunedin hospitals. Two are in a critical condition.

There are still 16 significant clusters of Covid-19 around the country. That number is unchanged from yesterday.

A total of 3081 tests were carried out yesterday. The average number of tests carried out per day in the last week was 3354, and 86,305 total tests have been processed to date.

Community testing was carried out at supermarkets in Mangere and Henderson on Saturday, the ministry said. More than 400 samples were taken and all have come back negative.

Similar testing was carried out in Queenstown and across Waikato last week. All the tests taken returned negative results.

This means the 25 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, 13, 9, and today, 9.

1.05pm: Case numbers expected soon

The Ministry of Health is due to release the latest case numbers for Covid-19 in New Zealand. It earlier said the numbers would be released via email at 1pm. There is no 1pm media briefing today. Instead Jacinda Ardern will appear with Ashley Bloomfield at 4pm, at which the cabinet decision on when to move from alert level four to alert level three will be announced. We’ll have developments here as soon as they happen.

12.20pm: New Zealanders coping with lockdown better than expected – survey

New Zealanders are coping with lockdown better than they expected, and all but a small percentage are complying with alert level four restrictions, according to survey results released by Horizon.

On the first days of the lockdown in March, 75% of people thought they and their family would cope well with the lockdown, Horizon reported.  Two weeks into alert level four, 95% of respondents said they were coping well, 48% of which said they’re coping very well, according to a new survey released by Horizon today. Its polling also showed 95% of people report complying with lockdown rules. Another 4% of respondents were essential workers, leaving just 1% – or around 39,500 people – saying they weren’t complying.

The Horizon polling echoed other data showing strong support for the government and Ministry of Health’s approach to Covid-19. More than 70% of respondents were confident the virus could be contained. Only 4% of people said they weren’t confident at all that authorities could prevent widespread community transmission. Meanwhile, 88% said they trust government and the ministry to manage the Covid-19 threat in a way that protects their families.

The survey also revealed that New Zealanders plan to spend a great deal of money on takeaways, domestic travel, and retail once lockdown rules are relaxed. It showed 51% of people would go to cafes if allowed, 52% would visit hardware stores, and between 13% and 25% of people would shop at electronics, appliance and furnishing stores. Tourism would also enjoy a re-start, with 29% of people, or around 1 million adults, saying they’d take a domestic holiday, and 33%, or around 1.2 million, saying they’d go on road trips once restrictions ease.

The online survey was carried out between April 9 and 14 (mostly between April 9 and 10). It had 1,267 respondents aged 18+, and the margin of error is 2.8%.

11.35am: Scrutiny committee announces plan for the week

Simon Bridges has announced the lineup for this week’s meetings of the Epidemic Response Committee, of which he is the chair. Tuesday will see Grant Robertson, the minister of finance appear, followed by minister for small business Stuart Nash and minister of employment Willie Jackson.

On Wednesday it’s representatives from the health sector, the NZ Medical Association, the Aged Care Association, the Pharmacy Guild, the Disability Support Network and the Dental Association, with a late cameo from public health expert David Skegg.

Thursday brings a collection of commentators: Rod Drury, Ian Proudfoot, Traci Houpapa, Max Rashbrooke and Oliver Hartwich. No sign of leading haver-of-many-opinions Gareth Morgan, which will disappoint drama lovers.

11.08am: Stuff appeals for reader donations

Stuff is appealing for donations to help fund its newsrooms. In a statement issued this morning, its chief executive Sinead Boucher said a reader contribution system was being introduced to help make up for a dramatic decline in advertising revenue, which has worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic. Contributions would help fund the company’s local and national news teams, along with its investigative journalists, she said. “A healthy democracy needs a healthy media eco-system to fulfill the role of the fourth estate. It has never been more important that journalists can continue to hold those in power to account for their decisions and to sort the facts from the fake news.”

Boucher told the Epidemic Response Select Committee last week that Stuff’s advertising revenue had dropped by about 50% during the Covid-19 crisis. It has since asked employees earning more than $50,000 to take a voluntary 15% pay cut for 12 weeks. The company’s executive have cut their pay by 25% and Boucher has cut hers by 40%.

Boucher said the donation initiative has been planned for months, but had been brought forward because of the pandemic. “We’ve seen the reader contributions model at work in many respected international and local media companies. We hope people who choose to support us will do so because they value the role of journalism in our society and want it to continue.”

The contributions system is being run by the local platform PressPatron, and links are available at Stuff.co.nz.

10.45am: Consumer NZ issues advice on lockdown power bills

Consumer NZ is encouraging people to discuss flexible payment options with their power companies if they’re incurring higher bills during lockdown. Its head of research Jessica Wilson told Morning Report many people are facing high power bills because they’re working from home and having to use more heating as winter approaches. “If you’re worried about paying, our advice would be to contact your power provider straight away; discuss flexible payment options with it. It’s got a responsibility to help you as well as check you’re on the right plan.”

10.15am: Drug cartels doing it tough in post-Covid-19 world

Covid-19 appears to have done what decades of enforcement action by governments around the world could not, and crippled the global drug trade. Cartels are dealing with “a supply problem and a demand problem”, according to an AP report. They are struggling to inconspicuously transport drugs across the US border, where traffic has slowed to a trickle, and can’t distribute product in places like bars and nightclubs, the report says. Meanwhile, one of the world’s top producers of fentanyl has been forced to shut down because it’s at the epicentre of the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan. As AP quotes one official: “Not even the dope dealers can hide from the coronavirus.”

9.50am: No 1pm press conference

There won’t be the usual 1pm press conference on Covid-19 today, with the Ministry of Health set to deliver an update on daily case numbers via email instead. Director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield and prime minister Jacinda Ardern will still front up to the media during a 4pm announcement on whether New Zealand will leave alert level four lockdown.

9.40am: Phil Goff’s strange lockdown routine detailed

Stuff’s Todd Niall has written about the man with one of New Zealand’s strangest lockdown routines: Auckland mayor Phil Goff. Every day, Goff drives 43km to sit alone at his office on the 27th floor of the council’s empty headquarters. His only human company comes when councillors join him for video meetings via Zoom. The long commute is necessary because the mayor doesn’t have reliable internet or mobile service at his rural Clevedon home, Niall writes. “That the leader of the country’s biggest city has to invoke his “essential worker” status, and drive 86kms to work during a national emergency is something the council might like to look at for future disruptions,” he says. “Somewhere out there, there must be technology to help connect a rural Auckland location, even temporarily, with the world that most others are connected to.”

9.05am: More international praise for Ardern

The Atlantic and The Financial Times have become the latest international publications to praise prime minister Jacinda Ardern. In an article posted today, Atlantic staff writer Uri Friedman credits Ardern for her empathetic and occasionally informal communication style during the Covid-19 pandemic. That would be “interesting… and nothing more” if it wasn’t for the fact it was paired with decisive action which has put New Zealand on track to eliminate the virus, he writes. Ardern closed borders and instituted a lockdown early, he says. But he notes that the country’s success wasn’t all her doing. “It’s also the product of an impressive collective effort by public-health institutions, opposition politicians, and New Zealanders as a whole, who have largely abided by social-distancing restrictions.”

The Financial Times is less circumspect than Friedman, posting a column headlined ‘Arise Saint Jacinda, a leader for our troubled times’. Its author, Pilita Clark, echoes the praise for Ardern’s empathy, calling her “a model of compassionate leadership in this crisis”. That has been paired with effective policy-making and a command of detail not seen in the British government’s often muddled response, Clark writes. “The main point is not just that she is caring and outwardly normal. She is also clearly competent at a time when so many others are not.”

These latest articles add to a growing collection for Ardern. Arwa Mahdawi attributed New Zealand’s low Covid-19 case numbers and deaths partly to her “clarity and compassion” in The Guardian. Mark Sumner pointed out the vastly different trajectories the US and New Zealand have followed in their responses to the virus on the website The Daily Kos. Alastair Campbell, former press secretary for the UK prime minister Tony Blair, credited Ardern with delivering a “masterclass in crisis communications” for The Independent, and The Washington Post credited New Zealand with “squashing” its Covid-19 curve in a popular article at the beginning of April.

8.31am: Another lockdown extension prediction

Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Brett O’Riley has predicted the government will extend lockdown for five days through the Anzac weekend holiday. Government ministers will be concerned about the effect of loosening New Zealand’s strict lockdown restrictions just ahead of a holiday weekend, he told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking this morning. “Possibly they might extend the period of level four through to early next week, until after Anzac Day, just to give people more time to get up and going.”

O’Riley’s prediction comes as Te Pūnaha Matatini director Shaun Hendy calls for a lockdown extension of two weeks. Hendy told Radio New Zealand the extension would put New Zealand on track to eliminate Covid-19, while moving to level three would mean the country would be headed toward containment. A Research New Zealand survey last week showed 66% of New Zealanders would support extending the lockdown for two weeks if it allows the virus to be eliminated.

7.40am: Stay in lockdown for a further two weeks – Hendy

Professor Shaun Hendy, leader of a team advising the government on the virus’ spread, said that he believed New Zealand should stay in lockdown longer to ensure the virus is properly contained. “We did run a bunch of scenarios, and the two weeks [extension] is probably the safest,” he said. Hendy is director of Te Pūnaha Matatini, a research centre focussed on the study of complex systems and networks, and appeared on Morning Report just after 7am to discuss the virus’ reproductive rate in New Zealand, and what that says about our ability to safely move to level three. “The latest estimate for New Zealand is about 0.5,” said Hendy, versus 2.5 to 3 in countries with strict lockdowns. “We’re on a track to contain or eliminate,” he said, but he advocated for a significant extension to level four.

He cautioned that we did not know how a move to level three would impact the basic reproductive rate, but that if R0 turned out to be above 1 “we’d have to go back into lockdown”. He also said that “even when that number is below 1, the virus is still spreading”, and emphasised the value of contact tracing over community testing, calling the latter a “nice-to-have”. “When the numbers are small enough, contact tracing gets more efficient,” he told RNZ’s Corin Dann.

While reports overseas have suggested the virus might be more widespread than the number of positive tests indicates, Hendy did not believe that was the case in New Zealand. He based this assumption “on our relatively low rate of hospitalisation, and death. That reassures us that we’re not seeing a lot of community spread.”

7.20am: The Bulletin wrap of the morning’s key NZ news stories

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

‘Don’t politicise the crisis’, came the calls. Well, that’s out the window now. As the lockdown inches closer to a possible end (more on that later) we’re increasingly seeing strident calls and big ideas for how the economic future should be rebuilt. It might seem a bit sordid to be talking about these issues while a massive public health effort is underway, but it should be expected – we need clear and deliverable visions of what comes next or the recovery will stall. I’ll canvass a few of the recent ones here.

The first suggests New Zealand become a sanctuary for not just native birds, but also the terrified super-rich of the world. Writing in the NZ Herald, (paywalled) Fran O’Sullivan has given staunch backing to a suggestion doing the rounds in capital market circles, in which those with $50 million to directly invest into the productive economy can come here and be put on a path to eventual citizenship. It’s an idea that has captured the imaginations of NZME’s right-leaning opinioneers, with both Mike Hosking and Heather du Plessis-Allen also coming out in support.

There are also calls to raise income tax on those on higher pay. Writing in Newsroom, Victoria University’s Dr Simon Chapple says it would be a much more desirable response than widespread wage cuts. He says those already on higher incomes who haven’t lost work are now in a much more relatively comfortable position compared to the rest of society, and that until unemployment returns to pre-crisis levels, the top marginal tax rates should be higher. Of course, you’d be forgiven for being a bit skeptical about the idea these sorts of tax rises would really be temporary.

The question of major city projects has also come into focus, as a way of delivering what we want the future to look like.Former Wellington mayor Kerry Prendergast wrote for Stuff about what she’d like to see changed – among the ideas put forward, she says the Convention Centre as it was originally conceived is no longer fit for purpose, and should be reworked as a mid-size venue, or a central library – two public amenities Wellington will still be lacking when the lockdown ends. She has also called for a deferral of cycleway construction, which seems like a strange one, given cycleways are among the cheapest investments in carbon-friendly (and socially distanced) transport that can be made.

Then there are the visions being put forward of extremely expensive carbon-friendly transport. Stuff reports the Greens have come out with a $9 billion proposal to create a new intercity rail network, with regional hubs through areas that are prosperous and growing. The party argues that building rail creates more jobs than building roads, and would be the sort of investment the country would benefit from for decades to come. In many ways, this sort of proposal is an indication of how far the conversation around what is politically possible has shifted in the space of a few months.

Finally, I’d strongly encourage you to read this piece which looks at a range of industries that have been smashed, and why each has a small sliver of optimism.It’s by Duncan Greive, and this part one of a two-part series takes in tourism, hospitality, sports and events, and film production. I’m including it here because it’s an excellent reminder that things aren’t standing still, even in lockdown. And for those who have a view about how they want to change the world, there will be few better opportunities to do so than when it is being turned upside down.


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.


So, leaving level four: We’re going to have an announcement later on today, over whether or not we can safely do that this week. If the decision is made to move to level three, then this is what life will be like. The absolute must-read piece on the decision making process comes from Spinoff editor Toby Manhire, who has assessed and weighed the various forces pulling the government in different directions. And to pick up on one of the considerations – the strength of New Zealand’s contact tracing regime – this from Dr Siouxsie Wiles is worth reading.

There have been some suggestions of political machinations at play behind this decision, particularly with a long weekend coming up. Henry Cooke at Stuff has stuck his neck out and written that a dispute is brewing between Labour and NZ First MPs – a suggestion that was angrily slapped down by NZ First leader Winston Peters on Twitter. Meanwhile One News reports National MP Nick Smith has been blithely informing the public that the step will definitely happen, even though he’s as much in the dark as the rest of us. We’ll see what happens when the decision is announced this afternoon – keep up with all the developments on The Spinoff’s live updates.

If we do move to level three then one of the biggest points of contention will be schools and early childhood centres. As Alice Webb-Liddall reports for The Spinoff, there is a lot of consternation and confusion in the sector about the current plans, which at present only cover kids up to Year 10 – about 14 years old for those who used to call it fourth form. The ‘voluntary attendance’ part of the plan has also left teachers and parents scratching their heads, and has subsequently been somewhat clarified as just those students who absolutely have to be at school – for example if their parents are essential workers.

Even so, the Early Childhood Council has urged the government to not allow ECE centres to reopen at level three. Among other concerns, they’re worried about the carrier risk posed by young children, who can catch and pass on the virus – and while deaths from Covid-19 tend to skew towards older people, there have been cases of children dying too.

A set of interesting bits of testing news to share: Random community testing has taken place in Canterbury, Queenstown, and a range of spots across the Waikato. And as the NZ Herald reports, all of the tests reported from this initiative so far have come back negative, which is a positive sign for community transmission concerns. The initiative moved to Auckland yesterday, and the results will be among the many pieces of data taken into account as the government makes their decision on lifting the lockdown – for more on the possibility of undetected community spread, this piece by statistician Thomas Lumley is highly informative. Meanwhile, Radio NZ reports a case has been found in Whanganui, with the person not having any links to other known cases.

Meanwhile, what is the science behind the testing, and which potential option is the best one for New Zealand to pursue? That’s explored in the latest piece by Dr Siouxsie Wiles, who has explained the broad groups that tests fall into, and outlined how we might assess which is most effective.

There has been a sharp rise in claims for the Jobseeker benefit, reports Interest, but we haven’t yet seen the dramatic spike seen in countries like the US. Between March 13 and April 10, the number of special food grants over the week also tripled, and there was a much more modest rise in people seeking the accommodation supplement. Social development minister Carmel Sepuloni was on The Hui over the weekend to outline the various measures the government had made here. One point of potential future conflict was around the decision to maintain the clause requiring jobseekers to take any job that was offered, regardless of whether it is suitable.

7.00am: Australia announces ‘mandatory code of conduct’ for Facebook and Google

Australia’s competition watchdog the ACCC has been instructed to make a draft voluntary code of conduct for the tech advertising giants mandatory, reports the ABC. Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the move would “level the playing field” with the news media, and was based on the unlikeliness of voluntary agreement being reached between the tech giants and Australia’s media. The platforms have largely been unregulated in both Australia and New Zealand, and the move might allow New Zealand’s government, currently weighing a support package for New Zealand’s beleaguered media, cover to announce regulatory or tax changes of its own.

“Media companies are facing significant financial pressure and COVID-19 has led to a sharp downturn in advertising revenue across the whole sector,” said communications minister Paul Fletcher. “Digital platforms need to do more to improve the transparency of their operations for news media providers as they have a significant impact on the capacity of news media organisations to build and maintain an audience and derive resources from the media content they produce.”

6.45am: China to deliver medical supplies to NZ

The Chinese ambassador has announced the delivery of medical supplies to New Zealand, as part of the country’s global diplomatic push to help combat Covid-19. Ambassador Wu Xi made the announcement in an article on the website Politik, saying it was a gift based on friendship and international cooperation. It comes at a time of increasing tension between the US and China over Covid-19, with President Trump threatening consequences against China if it is found that they were “knowingly responsible” for setting the virus loose. On that point, reporting from AP News last week indicated that China delayed telling the world about human to human transmission for a crucial few days in January.

6.35am: ‘A doleful future’ – what the next two years might look like living with Covid-19

A story like Covid-19 can be covered in many different ways – the awful data, the human toll, the economic implications, the scientific understanding of it. In fact, it demands to be covered across all such tracks, such is its scale and complexity. The one element which feels of most negligible value is also the one which will most impact us: how will this play out longer term? Its value is determined mostly by the fact such an exercise is pure conjecture, with so much so hard to project, which is why it has mostly been a bad talk radio topic to this point. But the New York Times published a major story over the weekend which opened that door, based on interviews with “more than 20 experts in public health, medicine, epidemiology and history”. It’s not exactly cheerful:

“We face a doleful future,” said Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg, a former president of the National Academy of Medicine. He and others foresaw an unhappy population trapped indoors for months, with the most vulnerable possibly quarantined for far longer. They worried that a vaccine would initially elude scientists, that weary citizens would abandon restrictions despite the risks, that the virus would be with us from now on.

“My optimistic side says the virus will ease off in the summer and a vaccine will arrive like the cavalry,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a preventive medicine specialist at Vanderbilt University medical school. “But I’m learning to guard against my essentially optimistic nature.”

Yet it’s also some of the most informed and urgent writing on what the next year looks like for nations living with the virus, precisely because it’s created by combining the perspectives of subject area experts from a wide range of disciplines. I urge you to read it. If nothing else, it shows the stakes involved in today’s cabinet meeting. Those are brilliantly sketched by The Spinoff’s editor Toby Manhire here – this is history we’re living through, and the consequences of the decision made by cabinet today will be a key note in every member’s biography, however it plays out.

The stakes could not be clearer. The death toll in Europe has now passed 100,000, with most of the worst-impacted countries – Italy, France, Spain – continuing a downward trend in death, hospitalisations and new infections. Others, like Turkey, Russia and the UK remain either ramping up or in the midst of their first wave. New York has 16,213 in hospital, a number which has declined for six days. Dozens of workers have tested positive in Afghanistan’s presidential palace, and over 100,000 gathered in Bangladesh for the funeral of Maulana Jubayer Ahmed Ansari, a prominent Islamist politician, stoking fears of a major outbreak.

Johns Hopkins has the global tally of infections at 2,374,141, recoveries at 611,159 and deaths at 163,372.

5.00am: Early Childhood Council writes open letter to PM urging a reversal of instruction to reopen

The Early Childhood Council has appealed to Jacinda Ardern not to reopen ECE centres under alert level three.

“Our primary concern is the threat of carrier risk, along with the myriad of issues we’re still working through with the Ministry of Education. We believe it’s only safe to reopen under level two,” says the council in an open letter.

Under measures unveiled on Thursday, ECE centres would open their doors to children whose parents are unable to stay at home to care for them.

“Our parents are not stupid people, and will point to several reported cases of children carrying and dying from Covid-19, and ask us why they’re not being taken into account,” continues the letter, signed by chief executive Peter Reynolds.

“In addition to this carrier risk, there is a multitude of issues and unanswered question raised by our members and submitted to the Ministry of Education. While we understand Ministry officials are working hard to answer these questions, we feel the move to re-opening is too fast and that many of these issues will remain unresolved. Our sector needs clarity in order to plan, to inform staff and parents, to inform external stakeholders,” he said.

“The guidelines provided by the Ministry of Education to the ECE sector for re-opening at level three are commendable. They are, however, impossible to implement and will not prevent the spread of Covid-19 from asymptomatic children. It is impossible to prevent teething infants from putting toys in their mouths just as much as it is impossible to prevent an 18-month-old from breaching their bubble in the playground.”

Holding off until level two would also provide “more chance that our centres will survive through this, instead of making them operate at further losses, potentially driving them into bankruptcy”, he added.

“We implore you and your Cabinet colleagues to re-consider this specific element of the Covid alert level three picture and keep the majority of ECE services closed.”

4.55am: Yesterday’s key NZ stories

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield announced nine new cases of Covid-19, and one more confirmed death.

Health officials are working “furiously” to implement the recommendations of an audit of New Zealand’s contact tracing capabilities, Bloomfield said. The audit’s author, infectious diseases physician Ayesha Verrall, is understood to be damning of the Ministry of Health’s ability to rapidly trace the contacts of potential Covid-19 cases.

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern laid out the criteria cabinet will use today when it decides whether to move to alert level three. Ardern will announce the decision at 4pm.

Concerns about the consequences of partial school reopening continued to be voiced by teachers, principals and health experts.

Social development minister Carmel Sepuloni confirmed that more than 7,000 New Zealanders signed up for benefits in the last week, and 10,700 the week before.

The global death toll from Covid-19 was at 158,000 and the total number of cases roughly 2.3 million. Overnight on Saturday the UK’s death toll passed 15,000.

Read more of yesterday’s developments here.



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