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Prime minister Jacinda Ardern and director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield (Photo: Mark Mitchell – Pool/Getty Images)
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern and director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield (Photo: Mark Mitchell – Pool/Getty Images)

SocietyApril 27, 2020

Covid-19 live updates, April 27: five new cases of Covid-19; one further death

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern and director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield (Photo: Mark Mitchell – Pool/Getty Images)
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern and director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield (Photo: Mark Mitchell – Pool/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 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.

6.00pm: The day in sum

A woman in her 90s has passed away in Waitākere hospital. She was a resident of St Margaret’s hospital and rest home; the third death associated with the St Margaret’s cluster. Our thoughts go out to her family.

There were five new cases of Covid-19; only one confirmed and four probable.

Today was the last day of Dr Ashley Bloomfield’s daily briefings. We will continue to hear from the director general of health but he will no longer be a daily lunchtime fixture. The Spinoff raises a glass to the good doctor, and thanks him for his steady hand while we navigated these rough seas.

National’s health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse publicly criticised the minister for health, David Clark, over written responses in which Clark admitted he didn’t know how many close contacts of positive Covid-19 cases the Ministry of Health was unable to reach.

The eight iwi of Taranaki announced community checkpoints effective as of Tuesday 28 April, with support from police, at the northern, eastern and southern boundaries of Taranaki.

Business news giant Bloomberg published a piece that got just about every fact about New Zealand’s lockdown wrong.

A new poll revealed two-thirds of New Zealanders supported the extension of alert level four lockdown.

5.35pm: Today on The Spinoff

Author Tina Shaw on writing a pandemic in her new novel, Ephemera, which hit stores in March just as New Zealand was going into lockdown.

Associate professor of law Dr Claire Charters lays out Aotearoa’s dual legal systems and the government’s obligations to both in these uncertain times.

How Dilworth School, a boarding school for families in hardship, is responding to the Covid-19 crisis.

Leonie Hayden’s daily (but not very professional) Do Māori Made Easy With Me videos have been extended for another two weeks to see us through alert level three. Find today’s here. 

Peter McKenzie looks at how some weed dealers are thriving under lockdown, and hastening the transition to a professionalised cannabis market.

In this touching essay by Daisy Coles, she writes about being separated by lockdown from her nine-year old daughter in Hungary.

A recipe accompanied by an essay (or perhaps vice versa), Amanda Thompson shares her grandma’s ‘bumblebees’ and thoughts on our flour-less dystopian present.

Calum Henderson ranks the best Zoom backgrounds of the Epidemic Response Committee.

4.45pm: A deep dive into our 16 clusters

This feature by Weekend Herald deputy editor Alanah Erikson is a comprehensive look at all 16 of New Zealand’s significant clusters , and the timeline for each.

The clusters include two weddings, a stag do, a St Patrick’s Day celebration, four care homes and the Ruby Princess cruise liner, from which at least 18 people have now died.

Read the full story on the NZ Herald (no paywall)

2.45pm: What the numbers look like

Total active and recovered Covid-19 cases in New Zealand, April 27 (Graph: Chris McDowall)

See all the latest charts, graphics and data visualisations by Chris McDowall here

2.20pm: Government says it’s on track to ‘gold-standard’ contact-tracing protocols

Contact tracing and surveillance under alert level three continue to be pressing concerns for the public. A recent audit of the government’s contact-tracing capabilities, dated April 10, by infectious diseases specialist Dr Ayesha Verrall exposed vulnerabilities in the capacity of both the 12 public health units (PHUs) and the National Close Contact Service (NCCS). Today National’s health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse publicly criticised the minister for health, David Clark, over written responses in which Clark admitted he didn’t know how many close contacts of positive Covid-19 cases the Ministry of Health was unable to reach.

Today the prime minister assured the country there was no widespread undetected community transmission in New Zealand.

“We must remain vigilant if we are to keep it that way,” she told media in the daily briefing.

“To get there, our team of five million needs to have zero tolerance for cases to complete our goal of eliminating the virus at level three. If you’re unwell, stay home. If you have a runny nose, a sore throat, a cough, get a test. Let’s make sure that we keep those testing rates up, we continue with our contact tracing in isolation. That’s how we’ll finish this job.”

When asked about contact tracing, and the standard we’re at currently, Ardern replied that the country has scaled up a significant amount. “We have the ability to make as many as 10,000 calls a day, if that is required.” She reiterated the need for New Zealanders to record where they’ve been and who they’ve been with.

On the contact-tracing TraceTogether app currently in development in Singapore (which would require high levels of uptake for efficacy), Ardern said progress was continuing but it was not a replacement for human and one-on-one contact tracing between a health worker and someone who has Covid-19. She said that some of the technology that is being discussed bypasses public health authorities, potentially spreading the wrong information due to technical issues.

The Ministry of Health plans to make the voluntary app available in the next fortnight to track the movements of people with the virus.

1.05pm: Five new cases of Covid-19

On the last day of alert level four, a further five people in New Zealand have Covid-19, the director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, has just announced.

Sadly, a woman in her 90s has passed away in Waitākere hospital. She was a resident of St Margaret’s hospital and rest home. This brings the number of Covid-19 related deaths in New Zealand to 19.

Of the five cases, only one is confirmed and four are probable. Bloomfield said three of the probable cases are linked to the St Margaret’s rest home cluster in Auckland and two can be linked to other known cases. Six cases that were previously probable have been reclassified as either still under investigation or not a case. This brings the national total to 1,469.

There were 2,939 tests completed yesterday, with a combined total to date of 123,920. There are 38 further recoveries, with 1,180 reported as recovered. “This means that around 80% of all cases are now recovered,” Bloomfield said.

There are seven people in hospital, unchanged from yesterday. This includes one person in the ICU in Middlemore.

There are still 16 significant clusters, again unchanged.

There is only one case since April 1 where the ministry is still investigating the source, a confirmed case in Tauranga.

This means the 32 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, 9, 5, 6, 3, 5, 5, 9 and today, 5.

Joining the director general of health, the prime minister Jacinda Ardern summed up New Zealand’s achievements under alert level four.

“It’s been nearly five weeks living and working in ways that just two months ago would have seemed impossible. But we did, and we have done it together,” she said.

“Our testing has grown from obviously zero pre Covid-19 to the capacity to process up to 8,000 tests per day. That’s resulted in us having one of the highest testing rates in the world per capita. We have a very low percentage coming back positive each day – as low as 0.05% last week, and only 0.17% today.

“This provides strong evidence that there is not widespread transmission that is going undetected. The virus has a transmission rate of around 2.5% in most places without controls. Under lockdown, this has dropped to 0.4%, less than half a person infected by each individual. And for the last few days, our cases have been in the single digits with, as you will have heard from Dr Bloomfield, just one confirmed case. It is worth pausing to digest those numbers.

“They are incredible and they are thanks to the sacrifices that every single New Zealander has made.”

Ardern expressed sympathy for everyone that has lost a loved one in that time. “Numbers of course mean nothing to their loved ones and nothing can take away their grief. All I can do is say to those people is that our thoughts and sympathies are with you. We send them our love in their time of loss.”

In other sad news, today is the last day of daily live media briefings with Ashley Bloomfield, and Ardern reserved her highest praise for the director general of health.

“I consider New Zealand to be very lucky to have a public servant of Dr Bloomfield’s calibre leading the health response.

“Dr Bloomfield, it’s been a real honour.”

The Ministry of Health will continue to provide daily updates at 1pm, while the prime minister will return to her post-cabinet press conferences and daily media stand-ups before the house. Most days there will be government announcements from the theatrette as the country moves through level three.

12.50pm: Watch today’s media update here

12.30pm: National says minister for health not ready for level three

A media statement from National’s health spokesperson, Michael Woodhouse, says the minister for health David Clark is “in the dark” on contact tracing. Woodhouse claims that in written responses to questions from his office, the health minister revealed he doesn’t know how many close contacts of positive Covid-19 cases the Ministry of Health is unable to reach.

“Not only does the minister not know how many close contacts the Ministry of Health hasn’t been able to contact, he also can’t say what the average time for contact tracing is,” Woodhouse wrote.

“The prime minister said that before we come out of level four we need assurance about the speed and capacity of contact tracing, yet the minister of health hasn’t been able to provide this with the country about to move to level three.”

In March, the government set up the National Close Contact Service (NCCS) to guard against a possible “future surge” of Covid-19 cases. According to the Ministry of Health it has capacity to make 5,000 calls per day, with potential to be scaled up to 10,000 if required. A further $55 million  was announced last week, in addition to the $15 million that had already been allocated, to strengthen the ministry’s contact tracing capabilities.

11.30am: Taranaki iwi protecting the border

The eight iwi of Taranaki have announced a new community checkpoint plan under alert level three, with support from police in the rohe. Checkpoints run by iwi volunteers at the northern, eastern and southern boundaries of Taranaki will come into effect on Tuesday 28 April and people whose travel is deemed non-essential will be asked to return home.

Iwi representatives says that while there have only been 15 confirmed Covid-19 cases in Taranaki (including a confirmed case over the past weekend), there has also been limited testing in the area, especially in rural and vulnerable communities.

“Until the presence of COVID-19 across our region has been established or ruled out, especially given another case has just been confirmed in Taranaki, we need to ensure we protect those vulnerable communities and that we have an ability to track travel movement into Taranaki,” said Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, CEO for Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Ruanui.

10.30am: Ardern and Bloomfield to front a real live 1pm briefing

After a horrible weekend ruined by Ministry of Health Covid-19 figures delivered via the coolly impersonal medium of press release, the national pastime of watching the briefings over lunch resumes today, when the full-strength starting lineup of PM Jacinda Ardern and director general of health Ashley Bloomfield will once again appear in the Beehive theatrette to make a short statement then take some questions.

The Spinoff will cover the briefing live, and post the MoH livestream here closer to the time.

10.15am: Pasifika in California three times more likely to be infected with Covid-19

RNZ reports a concerning trend regarding the infection rate of Pasifika in the US, particularly in its most-populous state. As of last week, California’s state-wide average number of confirmed Covid-19 cases per 100,000 population was 62, while the rate for Pasifika in California was 217, over three times higher. It’s reflected in other states too, and quotes a Marshall islands community leader as attributing the disproportionate impact to familiar and long-running trends.

“The challenges that Pacific Islander communities are facing with Covid-19 are the same challenges we have been dealing with for decades,” said Melisa Laelan, president and founder of the Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese. “It is that of housing, food security, employment, and access to health care. The lack of these things makes our community vulnerable to Covid-19. This pandemic magnified many of the gaps that have been overlooked for a long time. Things are bad and it will get worse if we don’t aggressively work on these structural issues.”

Read the full story on RNZ

9.15am: Almost every conceivable question you might have about level three, answered

The Spinoff’s editor Toby Manhire spent his Sunday asking and answering this enormous list of questions you will definitely have about level three. It is a beautifully-compiled mixture, mainly very useful, occasionally very obvious, in a ratio designed to help the informational medicine stay down. Amongst the queries are:

– How on earth will ECE centres manage physical distancing?
– Will dentists be open under level three?
– What about meeting up with a Tinder match?
– Can magazines resume printing?
– Will drive-throughs be open?
– Can you go surfing under alert level three?

Plus many, many, many more queries and idiosyncrasies. You should really read it.

Read the full story on The Spinoff here

8.50am: District court plans for levelling down

The District Court says it is taking extra steps to ensure the safety of those appearing and participating in proceedings when the court reopens to the public under level three tomorrow.
The courts are an essential service, and the Health Act order says essential personal movement includes leaving home to attend court.

Chief district court judge Heemi Taumaunu says the District Court must continue to process cases, provided the work can be done in a way that complies with
physical distancing and hygiene requirements, but that the court will still be operating at reduced capacity.

“I expect this to be an orderly process, and people coming to court should be prepared to queue outside, at two metres apart from each other,” Taumaunu said. “Only
those who are required in court should attend, and defendants are permitted to bring only one support person.”

8am: Star Bloomberg columnist gets almost nothing right in column about NZ’s level four

Business news giant Bloomberg has published an opinion piece by award-winning journalist Joe Nocera which makes a series of extraordinary and easily disproved factual errors about New Zealand’s alert level four restrictions, all seemingly based on chat the columnist had with his son. Amongst the claims it makes:

– “New Zealanders aren’t allowed to drive, except in emergencies”
– “And can only be out of the house an hour a day”
– “to get exercise or buy essentials”

Those are all in a single sentence. It also claims that the wait at supermarkets is typically an hour, and that no one is allowed in without gloves or a mask, that all deliveries have been halted, and that “citizens are surviving financially with emergency checks from the government”.

New Zealanders, usually enthusiasts for any and all praise from overseas, have been less excited in this instalment.

7.50am: New poll shows strong support for level four extension

An excerpt from a story revealing continued majority support for the lockdown:

“At midnight, New Zealand moves out of the strictest lockdown settings and into alert level three. That follows an announcement by Jacinda Ardern last Monday that the level four measures would be extended by five days. Two-thirds of New Zealanders have judged that decision to be “about right”, with 22% saying it was too early and only 4% saying it was too late.

Most noisily in the US, but in many other countries, business lobbies are making the case for relaxing restrictions and “opening up” economies, often when there has been less success in suppressing the virus. Today’s results suggest there is very little public enthusiasm for quickly lifting the restrictions.”

Read the full story on The Spinoff

7.40am: Huge increase in flu shots administered

This year’s flu vaccine programme has seen record numbers with 587,000 vaccines already administered compared to 290,000 at the same time last year, Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter said in a statement. “This year we started the flu jab season early, distributed hundreds of thousands more vaccines and doubled the number of people vaccinated this year compared to this time last year,” Genter said.

Vaccines have until now been restricted to priority groups only, but that ends today, said Genter

As at 17 April 2020, 587,000 people have been vaccinated, compared with 290,000 on the same date in 2019. Two thirds of vaccines have been administered to people aged over 65, and 5712 to pregnant women. Free flu vaccines continue to be available for: people aged 65 and over; people who are pregnant; people with certain chronic conditions; and young children with a history of severe respiratory illness.

7.10am: Europe’s worst-hit record lowest deaths in over a month

Spain recorded 288 deaths attributed to Covid-19, the lowest total since March 21, while Italy’s 260 deaths were the lowest since March 14, in signs which are hugely positive for the countries which have seen Europe’s most deaths from the virus. Spain’s total is considered especially promising, as it is combined with just 1,729 new confirmed cases – the lowest number since March 17 – and comes two weeks after it began to partially reopen its economy. The UK also recorded its lowest death toll since March, at 413.

Despite this, there’s a huge note of caution in the Financial Times, which reports that the global toll may be under-reported by as much as 60%. It analysed mortality rates across 14 countries, and found “122,000 deaths in excess of normal levels across these locations, considerably higher than the 77,000 official Covid-19 deaths reported for the same places and time periods”. This tallies with the severe worldwide shortage of testing, and the fact many nations are only attributing deaths to Covid-19 if the deaths occur in hospital, or there is a confirmed positive test.

While Europe appears to have its outbreak under control, it is exploding in some of the world’s most populous nations. Russia and Brazil reached milestones for infections overnight, of 80,000 and 60,000 respectively, ranking them 10th and 11th for confirmed cases worldwide. Yet the velocity of the infections are more concerning than the raw numbers, with the Washington Post’s data showing Russia’s cases up 18% since April 24 and Brazil’s up 14%. This compares with between 1% and 3% for countries like France, Germany and Spain – though the US and UK, at 7% and 6% respectively, remain fast-growing despite being deep into their lockdowns.

7.00am: Yesterday’s key New Zealand stories

There were nine new cases in New Zealand, and no new deaths. Of all confirmed and probable cases, 78% are now recovered. The total number of active cases is now 310.

Public health expert Michael Baker suggested air crews should possibly no longer be exempted from the requirement to self-isolate for 14 days after returning to New Zealand.

Finance minister Grant Robertson defended the size of some payouts under the wage subsidy scheme, but criticised a business owner who received $239,000 but has only paid $80,000 to his staff.

The government announced a $107 million fund to provide housing and other wraparound services to vulnerable people during the pandemic.

The Green Party released a proposal for a $1bn package centred around “nature-based jobs” to aid the country’s economic recovery.

National’s finance spokesman Paul Goldsmith laid out his own recovery plan, which unsurprisingly has a stronger focus on the private sector.

The global death toll passed 200,000.

Read more on yesterday’s live updates

Keep going!