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 four. The country is shut down, apart from essential services. For updated official government advice, see here.
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On the evening shift: Jihee Junn
6.30pm: The day in sum
Six new cases of Covid-19 have been announced, all of which are confirmed cases and related to either international travel or existing clusters.
One further death – a woman in her 80s – has been reported. She was a resident of the Rosewood care facility.
A further $30 million has been announced by the government to meet immediate welfare and food security needs
Quarantine and isolation for all returning New Zealanders in government facilities will continue at alert level three.
Food delivery app and Uber Eats competitor Menulog has announced it will halve its commission rate for restaurants until June when it resumes service early next week.
The deadline for the Christchurch mosque attack inquiry has been extended due to the Covid-19 lockdown.
6pm: Today on The Spinoff
A New Zealander in Sweden writes about life in a country pursuing a herd-immunity strategy.
With zero reported cases, the Cook Islands is being hailed as the world’s number one Covid-19 success story.
An irate magazine subscriber writes to the head of Bauer in Germany with a few choice words
Answering hundreds of calls a day from anxious KiwiSaver investors, one provider paints a picture of what it’s been like on customer service frontline.
Rachel Taulelei of food and beverage business Kono on what she envisions for Māori business in a post-Covid world
An extract from a very timely novel by Susan Edmunds about a very busy and tired mum.
The latest lockdown letter by Morgan Godfrey.
Soothe your soul and listen to Marlon Williams and Finn Andrews make music
A recipe for a simple loaf to begin your bread-making journey
5.15pm: Point of care test kits banned
Medsafe has banned the importation and sale of all point of care Covid-19 test kits, unless they gain approval. A point of care test kit is one that can be used outside of traditional laboratories (for example, in the home or workplace) and uses a blood sample to detect antibodies in the blood.
The ban won’t affect test kits currently being used by the Ministry of Health which takes a tissue sample that is then sent to a lab for positive identification of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Medsafe said it had concerns about both the quality of testing from many of these kits and the likely impact of misinterpreted or misleading results. No point of care test kit for Covid-19 has so far been approved in New Zealand.
4.30pm: Govt approves further $30m to meet immediate welfare and food security needs
A support package to bolster the delivery of food and welfare assistance by local authorities and Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) Groups has been approved by the government. It will provide upfront funding to or reimbursement of local food banks, community food organisations and other welfare providers, as well as funding for emergency accommodation until temporary accommodation can be arranged through MBIE or other arrangements.
“We made an initial $27 million investment on 26 March to immediately assist NGOs and community groups to deliver services and support to vulnerable groups during the Covid-19 alert level four lockdown,” Minister of Civil Defence Peeni Henare said. “Whānau Ora has also delivered over 118,000 care and hygiene packages to date.”
This morning, RNZ reported that food banks across the country have been inundated by people needing help putting food on the table. Auckland City Mission said it had handed out more than 1,200 food parcels over the lockdown period – double the usual demand. The number of food grants made by the Ministry of Social Development had also skyrocketed under alert level four, hitting close to 70,000 in just a week.
4.10pm: The latest numbers
Here are the top-line numbers from today. Active cases are now down to 401, continuing the downward trend that started around April 8.
2.10pm: Food delivery app halves commission rate
Menulog NZ has announced it will halve its standard commission rate for local restaurants, moving from 14% to just 7% until June 1, 2020. It will also waive all sign-up fees for new restaurants that join the platform.
The move has been backed by Restaurant Association CEO Marisa Bidois and comes in the wake of Uber Eats stating that it had “no plans” to lower its commission rate of 30-35%, instead offering $5 million in funding to independent restaurants in New Zealand and Australia.
Unlike Uber Eats, Menulog orders are delivered by restaurant employees rather than dedicated delivery drivers which help keep costs significantly down.
“Our partners across New Zealand tell us that high fees for delivery logistics are not feasible for them and so we’re working with many restaurants to help them to redeploy existing employees as delivery drivers and take online orders through the Menulog self-delivery platform,” said Menulog managing director Morten Belling. “Not only does this help keep Kiwis employed, but it provides a way for businesses to generate orders at a significantly lower cost.”
“The food delivery industry has a crucial role to play at this time of national crisis and it is only right that Menulog steps up to help our partners so they can keep delivering for the communities that need them.”
The Menulog app and website will reopen from 7.00am on Tuesday, April 28 2020.
1.05pm: Six new cases, one further death
Six new cases of Covid-19 have been announced, all of which are confirmed cases.
All are related to either international travel or existing clusters.
There has also been one further death – a woman in her 80s. She was a resident of the Rosewood care facility.
There are now 1,036 recovered cases.
Eleven people are currently in hospital, with two in ICU – one each in Middlemore and Dunedin hospitals.
A record number of tests were processed yesterday, 5,289; it brings the total number of tests to 94,797.
While community testing is underway, Dr Ashley Bloomfield said use of the Community Based Assessment Centres is for people who are symptomatic.
DHBs around the country are coordinating outreach programs to conduct wider testing for those who are not symptomatic.
PM Jacinda Ardern noted that returning New Zealanders “will continue to be quarantined and isolated in government facilities at alert level three”. There was no planned end point to this “intrinsic part of our response”.
2403 people were currently in “government provided facilities”; most were in hotels, with 97 who had symptoms in quarantine proper.
She reiterated that the country remains in level four at the moment, and that people should not travel for ANZAC weekend.
“Each and every one of these people involved in breaches risks undoing the work of others,” she said. “Again I say, please do not travel unnecessarily or gather.”
As of 6pm yesterday, there have been 4,128 breaches of lockdown, 433 prosecutions, 3,580 official warnings, and 115 youth referrals.
Criticism from medical sector
One prominent line of questioning from media today concerned the criticisms made earlier today by health sector representatives at the ERC – see below for more information.
Addressing concerns around access to the flu vaccine, Ardern said there was a prioritisation of delivery to more at-risk groups.
“We have more flu vaccine than we would usually offer,” she said.
Bloomfield said that the flu vaccine is available through both the public and private sector.
“We moved to advance the flu vaccination programme so that we could make sure our most vulnerable New Zealanders could be vaccinated first,” said Bloomfield. Over 50% of over 65s have already been vaccinated.
Ardern had a particularly tense exchange with a reporter, who quoted Kate Baddock from the NZ Medical Association in saying the rollout of the flu vaccine had been a “debacle.”
Bloomfield said that if a Covid-19 vaccine becomes available, it will be available to New Zealanders. “You can rest assured that we are already working actively on not just what we might do to distribute a Covid-19 vaccine, but to make sure that New Zealand has access to it.”
Ardern also spoke about PPE, where there have been a number of criticisms about specific facilities not getting the equipment that was needed. The PM urged those experiencing shortages to continue raising the issues, so that they might be addressed.
Bloomfield also clarified comments he made yesterday which have been criticised, confirming that children can infect adults with Covid-19, although it is uncommon.
Back to work post-lockdown
PM Jacinda Ardern announced that with a move to level three, work would immediately restart on the City Rail Link in Auckland.
Dr Ashley Bloomfield announced an extension to the existing section 70 order, and also informed us of one amendment: previously section 71m required non-essential workplaces to be closed. The amendment will allow businesses to prepare ahead of alert level three for opening of business.
On the likely surge in food orders come the shift to alert level three, and the 30% cut taken by Uber Eats, Ardern encouraged salivating New Zealanders to “look at your favourite local eatery – i do encourage you to support local businesses – and just see if they do offer deliveries themselves”.
Addressing criticism of iwi-led checkpoints by opposition MPs, who have called representatives at these checkpoints “intimidating,” Ardern said that the feedback she’s received from those on the ground is that communities have been operating within the law and keeping each other safe.
Police are working with these communities, and she has no problem with how they’re operating. “No one would tolerate reports of bullying or abuse, but I haven’t had them brought to me.”
A question came up about September’s election, and whether it could go ahead under level three or level two conditions. Ardern hedged her bets, saying there was still plenty of time to make decisions on that, and that the Electoral Commission was currently doing work to ensure public safety.
Labour MPs cop another serve
The PM added her voice to criticism of two Labour MPs, who made comments about small business that have since been criticised.
In yesterday’s select committee meeting, Deborah Russell questioned why so many small businesses didn’t appear to have prepared reserves for a setback like Covid-19, and Willie Jackson said no businesses would be wiped out by the extension of the lockdown by two business days.
Ardern said she disagreed with both Russell and Jackon, just as finance minister Grant Robertson did at the time.
12.50pm: Watch live: Ardern and Bloomfield to update case numbers
The 1pm briefing will be delivered today by the standard pairing of PM Jacinda Ardern and Dr Ashley Bloomfield. You can watch it live here:
12.45pm: Disability support addressed
Dr Garth Bennie of the NZ Disability Support Network said that the Covid-19 response has generated flexibility around income support, contracts, and funding budgets.
“These are things we’ve been asking for for years, and it’s kind of ironic that suddenly we get to do all this stuff in the midst of a national crisis… We don’t want to lose it when we come out of this crisis. We want to keep going with this flexible approach.”
Bennie said the risk profile for many in the disabled community is similar to those in the aged care sector in terms of underlying health conditions. “The attention on this sector has not been what it needs to be,” he said. He believes part of the solution could be in moving disability funding machinery away from the health sector.
In terms of access to PPE — a constant theme across these discussions — Bennie said that providers are rationing equipment themselves because they don’t have a reliable source. He is concerned that money providers are spending on PPE will not be reimbursed in a timely fashion.
12.20pm: Positive news out of Queensland
For the second time in the space of a week, the Australian state of Queensland has reported no new cases of Covid-19.
7 News reports it means the current case total for the state is 1024, with 20 currently in hospital.
As a general rule, Australia has had lighter restrictions and lockdowns put on compared to New Zealand, though there has been a strong focus put on social distancing.
For Australia as a whole, the current case number is 6645, with a death toll of 71.
11.25am: Pharmacies also voicing criticism of ministry, funding
In what is becoming something of a theme across today’s sitting of the Epidemic Response Committee, the body representing pharmacies has also criticised communication and distribution of supplies from the Ministry of Health, along with a lack of government funding.
“Pharmacies are on the front line of the Covid-19 response, but we haven’t been supported,” said Andrew Gaudin from the Pharmacy Guild.
Gaudin said pharmacies had to “bang on the door to get to the table,” to get access to officials. “The reality is that there has been a significant struggle on this ongoing viability funding. We’re still trying to get clear resolution.”
He added that “every trick” had been played to try and address these problems within the system, but because that hadn’t worked, the organisation now needed to speak out publicly.
He called for urgent funding to keep pharmacies viable, because increased costs had hit along with reduced revenues. “We have yet to see the clear acknowledgement of ongoing funding for community pharmacies”, said Gould.
They’re struggling to collect the co-pay at the moment, as are GP clinics. “This means community pharmacies are often left $5 out of pocket, with government removing that co-pay regardless of whether the pharmacy has collected it,” said Gaudin. The organisation has long wanted this co-pay system to be axed.
10.50am: PPE, testing concerns in aged care
Next up at the ERC has been Simon Wallace, from the Aged Care Association.
He told the committee that PPE has been a constant concern for the sector, saying over March many members of his association had to access their own PPE.
“We’ve had to agitate DHB by DHB to get that equipment. The supply and distribution chain has not been working as it should have been,” said Wallace. He noted that the situation had improved, but there were still pockets experiencing problems.
The concern here is obvious, with the elderly at most risk of dying if they catch Covid-19.
Wallace forecasted a long battle for aged care facilities, saying “we will be in lockdown until there are no more Covid cases in our rest homes.”
He also called for everyone setting foot inside a rest home to be tested for Covid-19, to avoid asymptomatic people sparking outbreaks.
In terms of the financial position of the sector, Wallace said that rest home income had remained relatively stable, but the costs had increased a lot since the lockdown began.
10.20am: Immense pressure on GP system outlined
The general practice field of the health system has been in focus in the opening of the Epidemic Response committee today, with Kate Baddock from the NZ Medical Association speaking first.
She outlined a range of pressures that has swept through the profession, with many of those coming back to financial concerns.
“We don’t know if some practices are going to survive this,” said Baddock, saying money to support general practitioners had been held up by Cabinet. She said a solution was needed by the end of the week, or some doctors would end up out of work.
Cashflow is a major problem for clinics, and right now it is “quite literally, just not there,” said Baddock, because of the way that GP funding works.
Baddock also paid tribute to GPs who had to completely reform their systems under urgency, because of the lockdown conditions.
“Within 48 hours, we had 100% face to face turning into more than 90% virtual appointments,” said Baddock, saying that was based on the experience of Italy, which saw waiting rooms become a dangerous place for Covid-19 to spread.
However, Baddock raised concerns that many patients were either not coming forward for treatment, or had procedures deferred or cancelled.
National’s health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse asked whether a longer lockdown could have an overall worse health impact as a result of other treatments being deferred.
Baddock said is was possible, but that”my much greater concern is that patients are not coming forward, because of the restrictions, and their perceptions that the problems can wait.”
Baddock also described problems with flu vaccine distribution as a “complete debacle.” Many general practices struggled to get access to vaccines, even though there was a supply in the country, which Baddock said was a “total disaster.”
“In this situation we need the ministry to manage the distribution. I don’t want to see what we happened with flu happen when we get a Covid-19 vaccine.”
9.50am: Christchurch mosque attack inquiry deadline extended
The deadline on the report from the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch Mosque attacks has been extended until the end of July.
Because of the Covid-19 lockdown and the need to work remotely, the Royal Commission say they’ve had “considerable limitations” on how quickly they can do their jobs.
“One of the main limitations we face is that we cannot access some parts of our draft report which are currently stored on a secure and classified network,” says commissioner Sir William Young.
Depending on how the lockdown measures change over time, it could be the case that further extensions are granted.
Earlier this year, the mass murderer who carried out the attack pleaded guilty to all charges.
9.20am: Watch live: Health system in focus at ERC today
The Epidemic Response Committee will today hear from people with an interest in the health system.
The NZ Medical Association will be first up at 10.00am, followed by the Aged Care Association, Pharmacy Guild, Disability Support Network, and the Dental Association. Finally, the day will be rounded out by epidemiologist Sir David Skegg.
Watch it all here:
8.30am: Finance minister rebukes party colleague
Finance minister Grant Robertson has given a public rebuke to Labour backbencher Deborah Russell, who had previously noted that many small businesses hadn’t prepared reserves to cope with a setback like the Covid-19 lockdown.
At the Epidemic Response Committee yesterday, Russell said it “worries me that people went into small business without really understanding how to build up a business to survive an ongoing setback.”
Robertson said it wasn’t a reasonable take from Russell, and said “you’ll realise that I disagreed with her when she raised that yesterday.”
“It is hard to keep going, and it is hard to sustain yourself at the best of times,” added Robertson, saying the government had made efforts to help them through.
Over the course of the interview, Robertson outlined that more work was underway on future support packages, beyond those that have already been rolled out.
Robertson also disagreed with the assertions of National leader Simon Bridges about support for the extended lockdown from small business, saying that his feedback had indicated more wanted a longer initial lockdown, so that future lockdowns wouldn’t be needed.
The interview was interrupted by Corin Dann’s dog, whose name is Stanley. The full interview can be listened to here.
7.45am: Brutal interview for Bridges on Morning Report
Stuff’s most popular story in recent hours has been a summary of the Facebook reaction to a post by National leader Simon Bridges criticising the government’s extension to the Covid-19 lockdown, and it has fed into an extraordinarily combative interview on RNZ’s Morning Report. Host Susie Ferguson began by asking about whether National’s pandemic plan was any different to this government’s, with Bridges acknowledging that it was essentially the same plan, before the interview devolved into Ferguson repeatedly cutting off Bridges for what she characterised as a refusal to answer the question posed. Ferguson asked him about the Facebook reactions, read him comments from the post, asked him if he had read the room regarding tone, whether he had a tin ear to public sentiment before quoting what she said were two leaked internal polls.
Amongst Bridges’ responses:
“Can I just answer the question, Susie?”
“I should, as the PM does, get a bit of a run at these issues.”
“Please Susie, you’ve asked me a question…”
“I think this is a bit silly.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, frankly.”
Finally, she asked whether he had the support of his caucus, and deputy leader Paula Bennett in particular. “Yes”,” he replied.
7.15am: The Bulletin wrap of the morning’s key NZ news stories
The auditor-general will investigate the health ministry’s handling and distribution of personal protective equipment, after weeks of health worker concerns about access, reports Newshub. There have been many examples over the last several weeks of one thing being said by director-general Dr Ashley Bloomfield about PPE supply, and then a very different thing being reported by those on the ground. For example, in the linked Newshub story, the question of PPE being sanitised and reused came up – Dr Bloomfield said last week it wasn’t happening, but Northland DHB said it was. The AG investigation will in part be an effort to reconcile where the flow of information is breaking down.
The investigation has been welcomed by unions who represent workers on the front lines of health. The NZ Nurses Association said they were seeing inconsistencies between the top level messaging, and what their members were seeing. And the PSA put out a press release saying their members were sick of “empty promises” on PPE. “The PSA has been unable to get clear answers from senior DHB and MoH officials about why PPE distribution has been so unreliable and uneven.” It’s not necessarily a question of whether the country at large has sufficient supplies – rather it’s the logistical challenge of getting them where they are actually needed. And it should go without saying how important PPE is to the overall national effort – if there was a major outbreak of cases and the health workforce went down, we’d all go down with them.
Radio NZ’s Ben Strang reported late last week that importers are worried China could soon turn off the PPE tap, and import businesses are already struggling to access stock. There are small pockets of manufacturing here, but overall the system is reliant on quite stretched supply chains, and the continued goodwill of a country that has problems enough of its own with Covid-19.
A 49 year old NZ man in Peru has died after being unable to get a mercy flight home, and as the NZ Herald reports, his family say he had tested positive for Covid-19. Edward Storey is being remembered by his family as a kind-hearted and compassionate person. Back in New Zealand, there has been one further death, and five new cases overall. The number of people who have recovered is climbing by dozens every day.
The question of asymptomatic carriers is one that has big implications for policymakers. Dr Siouxsie Wiles has addressed what the data actually shows here, and suffice to say, there have been a few media reports on this which paint a bit of a misleading picture of how common being asymptomatic really is.
The opposition has criticised the government for not providing detail and data around the impact of lockdown on small businesses, reports Newshub. There are schemes in place which these types of organisation can access for support, including the wage subsidy scheme and the business finance guarantee scheme. Small Business minister Stuart Nash was in front of the Epidemic Response Committee yesterday, and couldn’t point to any modelling used by cabinet in the decision to extend the lockdown until after the weekend, along with subsequent weeks at level three. He said cabinet believed small businesses would fare better with a longer lockdown now, because it meant a lower chance of going back into lockdown later – National’s Simon Bridges said without data, that was just rhetoric.
Air NZ is facing scrutiny over how many staff have contracted Covid-19. Checkpoint reported last night that staff are uneasy about being exempt from quarantine or isolation rules, and there has been an allegation that a flight attendant has been linked to the Bluff wedding cluster of cases. 16 international services a week are being flown by Air NZ, and the airline says they’re following guidelines set down by the health ministry.
Education minister Chris Hipkins fronted the media yesterday, in part to talk about concerns around schools and ECEs reopening. The NZ Herald reports that Hipkins promised ECEs that they wouldn’t be forced to open again at level three, though he hoped those that could reopen would do so. One estimate in the story suggests around 70-90% of ECEs would reopen, though uptake among parents isn’t expected to be that high – and the message from the government is very much still that those kids that can stay home should do so. Wearing his other hat as Leader of the House, Hipkins also confirmed that parliament would resume sitting in the main chamber next week, but with a limited number of MPs in their seats.
There’s been head-scratching over a move by the Reserve Bank that could clear the field for property investors to seize control of the market again. Basically, the RBNZ is preparing to remove limits on loan to value ratios for borrowers – this refers to the amount of money someone already has to have as a deposit to buy a home. As Interest’s David Hargreaves explains, when these LVR rules were brought in, it rebalanced the market so that first home buyers could get a foothold, at the expense of investors who then had to have cash rather than just assets to leverage to buy more property. Now with the LVRs going, there is speculation that it’s a bit of a desperate move to prevent house prices falling too much in the inevitable correction that is on the way. On the other hand, it could be a lifeline for first home buyers who lost a big chunk of their deposits building up in Kiwisaver.
Remember when the Serious Fraud Office was looking into the NZ First Foundation? The latest on that story has come out from Radio NZ. The SFO has laid out a timetable for the investigation, in a rare public statement. Because of the lockdown, exact dates have not been given, but it is expected that a decision on whether to lay charges will have been made before the election. Meanwhile, Newstalk ZB reports NZF Foundation trustee Brian Henry was the subject of an SFO raid in February.
6.15am: The global lockdown in five numbers
World update / This morning I’m going to do something a little different, and pick some numbers from outside the grimly familiar (infections; death toll etc) that nonetheless illustrate the scale and complexity of what is happening to the world right now.
26,669 Global commercial flights have dropped from 52,726 on March 24 – the day before our lockdown began – to just 26,669 on Monday, a 50% decline. Yet that understates the scale of the decline in air travel, as the equivalent number was over 100,000 in late February, and includes cargo, which is still operating. Auckland Airport, by way of comparison, has declined from 132 tracked flights on the same date, to just 13 yesterday.
-US$37.63 This is in part why the price of oil for May delivery bottomed out yesterday at nearly -$38, meaning you had to pay someone $38 to take away a barrel you’ll deliver in May, and has only barely recovered into positive territory today. Which is to say that after a big recovery, the May deliveries of a commodity that moves the world is now trading at around US$6 a barrel, down from US$60 at the start of the year.
298% There has been a thread pushed by certain broadcasters here that people are mostly dying with Covid-19, not from it. This dataset from the New York Times disproves that, showing recent death rates against a historical average, with the increase ranging from 33% in England and Wales, to 66% in Spain, to an astonishing 298% in New York City.
800,000 That’s the number of jobs lost in just three weeks in Australia. By comparison New Zealand equivalent number is, so far, around 23,000 – the increase in the number on the jobseeker benefit. The NZ government’s strategy has been to keep people in jobs through the wage subsidy at least through the end of lockdown restrictions. So while critics have pointed out that Australia has seen similar outcomes on slowing the spread without such a sweeping lockdown, around eight times more have lost their jobs on a per capita basis.
11 It’s not all bad. Thailand has reported the highest number of rare leatherback sea turtle nests on its beaches in the two decades it has surveyed numbers, coinciding with its own lockdown.
The other numbers: This morning we passed 2.5m confirmed infections globally, with just shy of 800,000 of those in the US. There have been 171,810 confirmed deaths attributed to the virus, though as this NY Times story points out, that likely understates the virus’s impact, as the overall death rate is considerably higher than total deaths attributed to Covid-19 in the worst-hit areas. This is thought to be a combination of undercounting of Covid-19 cases dying outside of hospital, and increased mortality from other conditions due to overloaded hospitals.
6.00am: Yesterday’s key NZ stories
There was another death related to Covid-19. A woman in her 70s passed away in Auckland.
There were five new cases of Covid-19, two confirmed and three probable.
A New Zealand man passed away in Peru while waiting for the chartered mercy flight to bring him home. He was found to have Covid-19 after his death.
US oil prices turned negative for the first time in history.
Donald Trump announced that he would be suspending all immigration to the US.
Scientists were calling on the government to provide more funding to develop a homegrown vaccine for Covid-19.
Both the minister for small business Stuart Nash, and the minister for employment, Willie Jackson appeared before the Epidemic Response Committee.
The Serious Fraud Office announced the timetable for its investigation into donations made to the New Zealand First Foundation.
An independent review of the Ministry of Health’s management of personal protective equipment required for the Covid-19 response was announced by the auditor-general’s office.
A whistle blower claimed Air NZ is obscuring the number of their staff who have Covid-19 because it will embarrass the company.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.