Jacinda Ardern and Health Ashley Bloomfield at a Beehive briefing in April 2020. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Jacinda Ardern and Health Ashley Bloomfield at a Beehive briefing in April 2020. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

SocietyMay 25, 2020

Live updates, May 25: Gatherings maximum lifts to 100; alert level one decision day announced

Jacinda Ardern and Health Ashley Bloomfield at a Beehive briefing in April 2020. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Jacinda Ardern and Health Ashley Bloomfield at a Beehive briefing in April 2020. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/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.

6.30pm: The day in sum

There were no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand.

Gatherings of up to 100 people will be allowed from noon this Friday, May 29.

A decision on moving to alert level one will be made no later than June 22.

A temporary support programme will start next month providing $490 a week for full-time workers and $250 for part-time workers who’ve lost their jobs.

National announced its newly reshuffled cabinet following Todd Muller’s appointment as party leader last week.

Stuff CEO Sinead Boucher completed a management buyout of the company while Mediaworks announced it would cut 130 staff.

A 5.7 magnitude earthquake centred 30km northwest of Levin was felt near Wellington this morning. No injuries or structural damage have been reported.

6pm: Today on The Spinoff

In a historic day for NZ media, Stuff has been bought by its CEO while MediaWorks announces mass layoffs.

The Green Party’s list ranking has been revealed. Can this group lift them over the threshold?

NZ Covid Tracer won’t help open a travel bubble with Australia any time soon, writes an Australian tech expert.

A new geopolitics will emerge from Covid-19. Here’s how NZ can be at its forefront.

Future foods expert Rosie Bosworth on how our food sector can save NZ’s economy.

What the cycling boom means for Auckland independent T. White’s Bikes.

5.25pm: Gathering maximum increase a ‘cause for concern’

A maths professor involved in modelling the impact of Covid-19 in New Zealand has laid out the stakes in the decision to expand the gathering cap to 100 people from Friday, as announced at this afternoon’s press conference (see 4.30pm).

In comments via the Science Media Centre, Michael Plank of the University of Canterbury and Te Pūnaha Matatini, said: “The decision to move the gathering size limit from 10 to 100 is a cause for concern, as it’s such a big increase. Covid-19 doesn’t tend to spread in ones and twos, it tends to spread to a large number of people in one go at big, social gatherings, such as a wedding or bar. If this happens, trying to trace 100 people and all their contacts is a lot harder than if there were just 10.

“As the PM pointed out today, the loosening of restrictions gives New Zealanders more freedom than most other countries have right now. With that increased freedom comes responsibility so, first of all, people should ask themselves whether they really need to hold a large function or attend a big gathering.

“If you do, then it’s more important than ever to make sure you practice good hand hygiene and social distancing, and make sure both you and the venue have a record of your attendance. People can do this with the NZ Covid Tracer app, but for the time being venues also need to keep their own records of everyone who visits. If everyone does this, it will really help our contact tracers track everyone down quickly if we do get a new case cluster at a large gathering.”

4.45pm: Ardern on the National reshuffle and the two-size benefit

With Covid questions out of the way, the prime minister has waved goodbye to Bloomfield and taken other questions. Such as: what does she make of the National Party rebuild (see 2pm)? “It is no easy thing to rebuild a team after a coup, it is tough work,” she said. “I wish them well.”

She was next asked about the change to the unemployment benefit which will see $490 for 12 weeks for those who have lost full-time jobs, almost double the normal rate. Why do people who lose their job because of Covid-19 deserve more money than those who lose their job for another reason? “I don’t think that’s how I would characterise it,” said Ardern. “When we have large scale job loss, and we’ve had the same with the GFC, and we had the same with the Christchurch earthquake, you have a large number of people who suddenly find themselves in an economic environment that is terribly tough.”

Ardern said that she would like to see something introduced permanently to deal with such shocks. “It is time to look at the longer term settings.”

And, of course, what about Todd Muller’s MAGA hat? “It’s not for me to determine how other people feel around different symbols or memorabilia. I can’t determine how those things make other people feel. I think ultimately, though, as politicians, we’re judged on our record.”

4.25pm: Gatherings limit up to 100, timetable for alert level one decision

All gatherings will be increased to maximum size of 100 from noon, this Friday May 29, the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has announced at her post-cabinet press conference. This includes everything from sports events to places of worship.

Groups above the size of 10 will from Friday be able to gather at a hospitality venue, but seating requirements remain. A good day for big tables.

Ardern said the relaxing of restrictions was “another step towards renormalising life”. She said sporting codes had been working on operational guidelines and while large-scale events like concerts will still have size restrictions apply, “many more gatherings will be able to occur from now on”.

Cabinet will check in again on the alert level two settings on June 8, she said, and would consider a move to alert level one no later than June 22, four weeks from today.

“We must continue the level of vigilance that has got us here – we are still in a global pandemic,” said Ardern. “But many aspects of life can and should feel much more normal. Let’s not lose that advantage.” She added that “there will continue to be tough time to come for many”, before enumerating the economic response measures under way.

Ardern said that the creation of a trans-Tasman bubble was not necessarily contingent on internal state restrictions being lifted in Australia. “It’s not a barrier for us, it’s a matter for Australia,” she said.

She also said she would take part in a call among members of an “early movers group” this week with leaders from nations that had moved quickly towards clamping down on Covid-19. It will be chaired by Austria.

Speaking alongside Ardern, the director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, said: “There’s still a pandemic out there … Even if we’re confident there’s no transmission of disease inside the country, the possibility of it coming in, which is what we’re clear we’re trying to avoid, means that we need to maintain an elimination approach. Because if we do get a case, we need to test, we need to isolate, and we need to contact trace.”

Asked by The Spinoff’s political editor Justin Giovannetti about confusion around contact tracing apps and QR codes in use across the country over recent days, Ardern said: “What we signalled when the contact tracing app developed by the Ministry of Health came in was that there would be that period of transition. What the ministry is building in is the functionality that if you go into a hospitality venue and scan in, we want the ability to, if you are found to have Covid, then contact everyone else through an automated process to let them know that they need to take certain precautions. That functionality is being built in.”

She added: “So that’s where there’s that little bit of overlap at the moment around recording for hospitality. So you still see that, that some are still continuing to use other apps like Rippl and so on. But we do have a situation where in the not too distant future we will be able to consolidate down.”

3.45pm: Ardern and Bloomfield media briefing to come

Following the weekly cabinet meeting, Jacinda Ardern will be joined by the director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, at 4pm. They’re expected to make announcements about any changes to the limits on gathering sizes, and indicate when further announcements about moves to alert level one might be expected. Announcements about announcements. You know the drill. We can also expect a bunch of questions on everything from the National leadership to contact tracing from the press pack. Updates, as ever, here.

2.00pm: Amy Adams back, Simon Bridges out in National reshuffle

Following his election by the National caucus on Friday, new leader Todd Muller has reshuffled the spokesperson line-up. Our political editor Justin Giovannetti has sent this from parliament:

Most of the major roles have remained where they were under former leader Simon Bridges, but a few experienced hands have been given new responsibilities.

The leader himself has shed his former agricultural and rural portfolios and has taken on the role of advocate for small business as well as that of national security. The second role had been held by Bridges, who now has no position whatsoever in the opposition. The official line is he has asked for “time to reflect on his future”, and “should he wish to continue serving as an MP he would be in shadow cabinet”.

Deputy Leader Nikki Kaye remains with her education position, as well as that of sport and recreation.

Amy Adams, a once senior minister under prime ministers John Key and Bill English, had announced last June that she was stepping down from all her roles in the shadow cabinet and would not be running again in 2020. She’s now back in the opposition’s line-up as head of Covid-19 recovery and has been bumped up to third place. She’s no longer listed as set to retire with the 2020 election.

Judith Collins has been promoted within the opposition, taking over the roles of economic development, regional development and shadow attorney general. Bridges had kept her in the lesser positions of housing and urban development.

Paul Goldsmith has kept the role of finance spokesperson. Paula Bennett drops from second ranked to 13th.

Gerry Brownlee has kept the role of shadow leader of the house and main critic on the foreign affair’s portfolio. There’s also been rumblings that he’s been tapped to take over as chair of the party’s election campaign. The party has yet to confirm that role.

The National top 20 reshuffle:

  1. Todd Muller: leader, spokesperson for small business; national security
  2. Nikki Kaye: deputy leader; education; sport and recreation
  3. Amy Adams: Covid-19 recovery
  4. Judith Collins: economic development; regional development; shadow attorney-general; Pike River re-entry
  5. Paul Goldsmith: finance; Earthquake Commission
  6. Gerry Brownlee: foreign affairs; disarmament; GCSB; NZSIS; shadow leader of house
  7. Michael Woodhouse: health; deputy shadow leader of the house; associate finance
  8. Louise Upston: social development; social investment
  9. Mark Mitchell: justice; defence
  10. Scott Simpson: environment; climate change; planning (RMA reform)
  11. Todd McClay: trade; tourism
  12. Chris Bishop: infrastructure; transport
  13. Paula Bennett: drug reform; women
  14. Nicola Willis: housing and urban development; early childhood education
  15. Jacqui Dean: conservation
  16. David Bennett: agriculture
  17. Shane Reti: tertiary; skills and employment; Treaty of Waitangi negotiations; associate health
  18. Melissa Lee: broadcasting; communications and digital media; data and cybersecurity
  19. Andrew Bayly: revenue
  20. Alfred Ngaro: Pacific peoples; community and voluntary; children and disability issues

1:50pm: Today’s numbers

For the seventh time in eight days, New Zealand recorded a zero increase in its Covid-19 case numbers. Recovered cases continue to vastly outnumber active cases, as we slowly inch towards zero total active cases. Here’s today’s data, charted by David Garcia.

1.05pm: No new cases of Covid-19

Once again, there are no new cases of Covid-19 to report in New Zealand today, and no further deaths.

The total number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 remains at 1,154, which is the number that is reported to the World Health Organization.

The combined total of confirmed and probable cases remains at 1,504.

There is no change to the number of recovered cases which remain at 1,456. This represents 97% of all confirmed and probable cases.

There is one person receiving hospital-level care for Covid-19; they are in Middlemore and are not in ICU.

2,163 tests were completed yesterday, bringing the total number of tests completed to date to 261,315.

Quarantine and managed self-isolation

The Ministry of Health reports that the 10,000th person entered isolation or quarantine in Auckland over the weekend, following the arrival of a flight from Melbourne.

So far around 8,000 people have completed their stay in Auckland or Christchurch and have returned home.

The director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield visited quarantine and managed isolation units on Friday and met with Ministry of Health and hotel staff, and health workers.

“We don’t want to put the progress we have made in jeopardy and we know international arrivals continue to be a potential source of new cases,” he said in a statement.

“It was important to me to be satisfied that guests are being appropriately supported and that health requirements are being met.”

12.50pm: No media briefing today

There will be no 1pm media conference today, the Ministry of Health has said. A media statement with the latest Covid-19 numbers will be provided “early in the afternoon”.

The director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield will be attending the 4pm post-cabinet media conference, where the details of the two-week alert level two review will be announced.

12.35pm: Duncan Greive on this morning’s media news

Following two staggering announcements this morning, The Spinoff’s Duncan Greive assesses the new media landscape:

“Boucher’s move to buy Stuff for $1 will send shockwaves through the industry, with it representing a brutal setback for NZME and its CEO Michael Boggs, who made an extraordinarily aggressive and public move to force a purchase through two weeks ago today.”

Read the full story on The Spinoff

11.00am: New untaxed unemployment support

New Zealanders who lost their jobs in recent weeks will be eligible for a new temporary support programme starting next month.

The government’s new Covid income relief payment will send $490 a week to workers who have lost full-time jobs and $250 for the loss of a part-time position. Students who have lost part-time work will be eligible for the benefit.

The programme is currently forecast to last 12 weeks, starting on June 8. Unlike other programmes instituted by other countries in response to the coronavirus, New Zealand’s payments will not be taxed.

Finance minister Grant Robertson hinted in a statement this morning that the government is eyeing a permanently expanded unemployment insurance scheme. “As we move from the respond and recover phases of our Covid response, and towards rebuilding the economy, we have an opportunity to reset some of the foundations of the safety net for working New Zealanders,” he said.

The 12-week programme is expected to cost about $570 million.

10.35am: Stuff CEO buys the company

It doesn’t rain but it absolutely tips down: in a big news day, the second huge media story has just landed. Stuff CEO Sinead Boucher has completed a management buyout, purchasing New Zealand’s biggest newspaper owner and its biggest news site, for a dollar. The management buyout follows a blur of a fortnight in which NZME took Stuff’s Australia-based owner, Nine Entertainment, to the high court, arguing that it was owed an exclusive negotiation period. The court dismissed the claim, but already it looked as if the years-long, repeatedly thwarted attempts at a mega-merger had fallen apart.

Stuff reports the news like this: “The management buyout led by Boucher is understood to have been planned and executed very quickly, with the chief executive buying the company for a direct price of $1, and returning the company to New Zealand ownership. The sale is expected to be completed by May 31.

“Direct proceeds from the sale will be NZ$1. Nine, however, will retain ownership of Stuff’s Petone printing plant site and lease it back to Stuff. It will also receive an immediate and ongoing percentage of the proceeds from the sale of Stuff Fibre to Vocus, announced on May 14.

“‘As a result of the successful completion of the Stuff Fibre sale on 20 May 2020, Nine will receive 25 per cent of those proceeds before completion of the Stuff sale, plus up to a further 75 per cent over the subsequent 36 months, depending on the Stuff business’ ability to raise funding,’ Nine said in a statement to the ASX.”

Boucher is quoted as saying: “It is great to take control of our own future with the move to local ownership and the opportunity to build further on the trust of New Zealanders, who turn to us for local and national news and entertainment every day. We are looking forward to working closely with staff, customers and our audiences as we embark upon what we believe will be a great new era for the business and the independent journalism it is built on.”

Read the full story on Stuff NZ

10.10am: MediaWorks to cut 130 staff

MediaWorks and Three employees were asked to be available at 10am this morning for a company-wide address by CEO Michael Anderson. Sources have told The Spinoff that 130 job losses have just been announced in that address.

Staff then received an email from Anderson that detailed the consultation process over the coming weeks.

“As of today, we must begin reducing the size of our business and we are now entering a restructuring process across our sales, out-of-home and radio divisions,” it reads. “It’s proposed that in the region of 130 of our friends and colleagues will have to leave our business.”

The email says that an overview of what is being proposed will be available by the end of the week, and confirms that remaining staff will continue to receive reduced pay through to the end of September.

9.45am: Muller’s new team announced today

New National Party leader Todd Muller told RNZ’s Susie Ferguson that he’ll be announcing his new front bench today, and that he isn’t interested in rewarding loyalty.

“I’ve been in this job for 72 hours and the focus is creating a team for the economic recovery,” he said. “I’m motivated by ensuring we have the right people doing that. I’m certainly not motivated by imagining in my mind who supported who.”

Paul Goldsmith is the only MP confirmed so far as keeping his position as finance spokesperson. A full announcement will be made in “a few hours”, according to Muller.

8.45am: Swarbrick rockets up the list

The Green Party has revealed its party list this morning, and the final ranking has Chlöe Swarbrick zooming up four places into the third spot, after co-leaders Marama Davidson and James Shaw.

Read Toby Manhire’s analysis of the Greens’ chances in the lead-up to the election on The Spinoff

8.20am: Covid-19 vaccination plans

Jacinda Ardern says planning for a Covid-19 vaccination programme is already under way. She told Mike Hosking on ZB Breakfast this morning that once it is available, New Zealand will have a plan already in place to distribute the vaccine quickly. She said it won’t be compulsory but anticipates the uptake will be enough to provide herd immunity.

Ardern is expected to make some decisions regarding the move to alert level one at today’s cabinet meeting, as well as reviewing measures such as the 10-person limit on social gatherings. Updates on that after 4pm.

8.00am: Strong earthquake near Wellington

A strong earthquake has just been felt. Centred 30km northwest of Levin, it is currently measured by Geonet as 5.7 magnitude.

7.40am: Yesterday’s key stories

No new cases of Covid-19 were reported. The total number of confirmed and probable cases stands at 1,504 of which 1,456 (97%) have recovered.

The NZ Covid Tracer app has now recorded 354,000 registrations – 30,000 more than at the same time on Saturday.

Pressure is growing on top Boris Johnson advisor Dominic Cummings to resign after he was caught breaching the UK’s lockdown rules multiple times.

South Auckland iwi Ngāti Te Ata is raising concerns about a proposed overhaul of the Resource Management Act, which it says could endanger heritage sites.

Top epidemiologist Michael Baker says he would fly to Australia “tomorrow”, provided both countries enact strong regulations to mitigate the risk.

New York’s one-day death toll dipped below 100 for the first time since late March.

Read more in yesterday’s live updates

Keep going!