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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 29, 2020

Covid-19 live updates, April 29: WHO praises NZ response; commercial rent relief an option

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 three – read The Spinoff’s giant explainer about what that means here. For official government advice, see here.

The Spinoff’s coverage of the Covid-19 outbreak is funded by The Spinoff Members. To support this work, join The Spinoff Members here.

7.00pm: The day in sum

There are two new cases of Covid-19 – one confirmed and one probable.

Six people are in hospital, none of whom are in intensive care, and there are no further deaths to report.

There were 742 complaints of businesses not complying with level three rules, mostly related to a lack of physical distancing

Winston Peters revealed that cabinet had rejected the Ministry of Health’s advice for a hard border closure which would prevent returning New Zealanders from entering the country.

David Clark will remain as health minister (for now) despite making a number of lockdown breaches.

On students returning to school, the government reported a 1% attendance rate.

Commercial rent relief is on the cards as ministers look at options to further support local businesses.

$15 million will be allocated by the government to improve rural broadband capacity

The Epidemic Response committee heard from medical professionals and experts.

6.00pm: On The Spinoff today

Where did the name ‘Covid-19’ come from? Siouxsie Wiles on why we’ve heard so little about Covids 1-18.

Siouxsie Wiles (again) on understanding the Covid-19 numbers

We’re back at parliament. But let’s not go back to politics as usual, writes Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick

The tough questions we need to ask when it comes to a digital contact-tracing app

It’s back to school in NZ today – but how many children are going?

Own a small business? Kiwibank’s Nigel Gaudin on what you should do now.

The problematic concept of ‘home’ and why bubbles can be a complex thing

Chelsea Jade explains her bizarre new music video

Have You Been Paying Attention’s Hayley Sproull on the move from studio to lounge

Art editor Mark Amery talks to Meg Porteous about self-portraiture ahead of Auckland Virtual Art Fair 

5.50pm: Survey shows most renters in financial hardship

According to a survey of almost 2,000 people by Renters United, two out of every three renting households had seen their income drop by more than one third and that more than half of households were worse off even after government support.

Among those surveyed, 69% said they felt their circumstances warranted a rent reduction, but only 5.9%received one. A further 2.1% received a rent deferral – requiring them to pay back the difference at a later date.

“The findings show that lockdown has exacerbated renting situations that were already unaffordable,” said Renters United spokesperson Anna Mooney. “Before lockdown, four out of five respondents were paying ‘unaffordable’ rents – more than 30% of their income.”

“The rent freeze has prevented a worse situation. However, rents were at record high levels when frozen, and many renters’ incomes have dropped dramatically. Government support is not enough to bridge the gap.”

Half of all respondents also reported that their renting situation has made their mental wellbeing worse. Nearly two in three renters reported feeling worried or scared about their financial future.

5.10pm: WHO praises New Zealand response

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said New Zealand has been “world-leading” in its response to Covid-19, RNZ reports.

Western Pacific incident manager Abdi Mahamud said the WHO had been particularly impressed with how the government had communicated and how people had observed social restrictions.

“Our view of New Zealand’s response has been one of the strongest in the world, and there’s a lot that global communities can learn from the response,” said Mahamud. “There are aspects of New Zealand’s response that can be easily replicated in all countries, regardless of geography and resources.”

However, he also warned New Zealand shouldn’t get complacent and that “we have to be very cautious moving forward so we don’t fall into a sense of ‘we did it’.”

3.50pm: Where did the name ‘Covid-19’ come from?

In the third instalment of 60 Seconds with Siouxsie, Dr Wiles explains why we’ve heard so little about Covids 1-18.

Watch Siouxsie’s previous 60 Seconds video here and read more of her writing here.

3.30pm: What the numbers look like

The downward trend continues with the Ministry of Health reporting 226 active cases and 1,229 recovered cases of Covid-19. Check out the rest of today’s charts, graphics and data visualisations by Chris McDowall here.

3.10pm: Calls to ensure safer streets at level three

If you happened to be outside yesterday, you might’ve noticed the significant spike in traffic compared to the last few weeks as New Zealand commenced life under alert level three. With more cars, trucks and vans back on our roads, an alliance of transport advocates and public health professionals are now calling on cities to act faster to ensure that streets are kept safe and healthy.

The alliance, which includes population health experts, Māori health experts, Bike Auckland and Women in Urbanism Aotearoa, is proposing a citywide 30km/h speed limit including around all schools, pop-up protected lanes to give separated space for biking and scooting, and dedicated space for safe walking and exercise including quiet traffic-free streets in all neighbourhoods.

The government has already announced funding for temporary pedestrian and cycling infrastructure to allow social distancing, but these projects won’t get underway before June. Auckland Transport is currently rolling out a “first wave” of changes to widen footpaths and create routes for cycling and scooting, but the group says more needs to be done, adding that enforcing safer speeds would be vital to lowering the risk.

“With narrow footpaths and a shortage of dedicated bike lanes, people need to move out onto the street to ensure safe social distancing. So what happens as our roads fill up with cars again?” said Dr Kirsty Wild from the School of Population Health at the University of Auckland. “What we don’t want to see is people making the right choices, only to be hit by a passing car. I think most communities would support reduced speed limits and protected space to keep this from happening.”

“Our people and public services have been so vigilant about safe and responsible behaviour during level four. That now needs to translate to our streets, which have suddenly become risky places to be. This is unfair on families, who are already feeling pretty cooped up,” she said.

2.15pm: Government considers commercial rent relief options

In addition to the wage subsidy and other support in place, the government is also looking at ways to support New Zealand businesses with rent payments. Ministers today discussed options around changing the Property Law Act to support New Zealand businesses in managing their rent.

“This includes how parties to a commercial lease would be expected to consider rent concessions in whole or in part for a period where the response to Covid-19 has had a material impact on a business,” said justice minister Andrew Little.

“The lockdown has affected businesses in different ways and it wouldn’t be fair to have one solution – like a rent freeze – for every situation, especially when in many situations landlords have already agreed to rent reductions. Landlords need to share the burden of Covid-19 fairly with their tenants,” he said.

“We had heard the call to subsidise rent or to freeze rents. However, both of these approaches would have meant commercial property owners would have had their income protected at a time when no one else enjoys that privilege.”

1.05pm: Two new cases, no new deaths

On the second day of alert level three, there are two new Covid-19 cases to report. One is a confirmed case in Auckland associated with international travel and the other is a probable case.

There are currently six people in hospital, none of whom are in intensive care, and there are no further deaths to report.

There are now 1,229 patients reported as recovered, comprising 83% of all cases in New Zealand.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield said priorities for testing would be similar to those under level four. First priority would remain with symptomatic people and all DHBs would be testing specific populations such as those in aged residential care environments and essential workers. This surveillance testing will inform the ministry moving forward.

He confirmed that it was now protocol to test all members of a residential home, even those who are asymptomatic, if one tests positive for Covid-19.

Ardern and Bloomfield both pointed out that there was clearly a long tail to Covid-19; some people believed they had contracted the virus twice, but it’s more likely they just hadn’t fully recovered. This makes marking cases as “recovered” a little more complicated.

Bloomfield said that it was possible an extended isolation could be used as a buffer to protect others from infection. He also emphasised the need for physical distancing throughout levels three and two.

“If people do have residual infection, it does not mean they are infectious. And if they are, the way they will not pass it on — including if they’re asymptomatic — is by maintaining physical distance and by good hygiene practice.”

Alert level three compliance

Both Ardern and Bloomfield spoke about compliance with alert level three, saying enforcement of restrictions would continue.

“We have seen with our clusters in New Zealand that it only takes one person to affect many,” said Ardern, adding that level three was meant to be a “waiting room” rather than a total relaxation of the rules.

Bloomfield said it was possible businesses that weren’t complying with level three rules could be closed, but that those businesses overrun with customers yesterday would be let off for now. “I’m sure those businesses involved will be working on their processes today to ensure any customers waiting to pick up goods or services can maintain physical distancing.”

Police reported 104 breaches in the first 18 hours of alert level three, 21 of which resulted in prosecutions. There were 742 complaints of businesses not complying with level three rules, mostly related to a lack of physical distancing. MBIE will be following up these complaints.

“The rules are ultimately in place for a reason, and that reason is to keep us safe, but also to move us as quickly as we can into other alert levels,” said Ardern. “We will not hesitate to take further action if required.”

Ardern said she heard the rent concerns from small business and that cabinet was working on a solution. “I can confirm that we are actively working on measures under which parties to a commercial lease would be expected to consider rent concessions, in whole or in part, for a period where the response to Covid-19 has had a material impact on business.”

Ardern also paid tribute to the adaptability and ingenuity of businesses opening under alert level thee. She made particular reference to this example:

Ardern said that the gap between rich and poor was as much a priority as it ever had been for her government.

“This has to be an opportunity to finally close the inequities that we have in New Zealand,” she said.

“Whether or not it’s the guidance you see from the state services commission saying today to exercise wage restraint for those on higher incomes but to consider the situation of those on lower incomes, or whether it’s the work we’re doing to re-deploy, to drive a high wage economy, to see that we don’t replace those industries that traditionally have had lower wages with more low wages.”

Schools return

Ardern said it was clear parents were taking level three seriously, with the government’s data collection so far showing 4% of enrolled children attending early childhood education and 1% in schools. The Spinoff conducted an informal survey on this overnight, finding similar numbers.

Health ministry border suggestion “never entertained”, says Ardern

Bloomfield confirmed that the Ministry of Health had advised, per Winston Peters earlier revelation (see 12:05pm), that the government should “at least temporarily close the border” until a secure quarantining process was introduced.

However, Ardern said there was no desire in Cabinet to render New Zealand stateless, and that the suggestion was “never entertained.”

Ardern said it was “totally understandable” the ministry should offer such advice, but it was up to cabinet to “weigh up our obligations through law to our citizens”.

Ardern denied that minister David Clark should have stopped the Ministry of Health from suggesting a total border shutdown. “Any minister doesn’t necessarily vet and curtail the advice of their ministry,” she said. “The Minister of Finance doesn’t always agree with Treasury’s view.”

On that troublesome health minister:

Ardern said David Clark had moved houses prior to lockdown, and would not be facing repercussions for this. “I won’t hesitate to act if that is what is required, but based on the information that I have, that is not required here.”

It follows Clark going mountain biking and driving his family 20kms to go to the beach during the lockdown period – jaunts that cost him the associate finance portfolio and his cabinet ranking.

In response to whether Clark’s job as health minister was safe, Ardern said that he remained the incumbent health minister, and until she said otherwise that would continue. However, she also said that she made no guarantees to any minister about how long their tenure would last.

12.40pm: Peters contradicted on claim entry block would have been legal

The assertion from Peters that it would have been legal to close the borders to New Zealand citizens is a bold one, and is potentially wrong. We asked Andrew Geddis, professor of law at Otago University, for his view:

“The ‘closure of NZ’s borders’ last month was accomplished under the Immigration Act 2009, which states that any non-NZ Citizen requires a visa to enter and remain in the country. Simply refusing to grant any such visas then has the effect of preventing non-New Zealanders being able to travel here.

“However, the Immigration Act, s 13 also specifically states that ‘every New Zealand citizen has, by virtue of his or her citizenship, the right to enter and be in New Zealand at any time’. So, the Immigration Act cannot be used to prevent citizens returning ‘home’. And at the time of the border closure, there was no other emergency power in place to permit this either.

“Simply put, Peters is wrong if he believes this was even an available policy option for the government.”

12.05pm: Cabinet rejected ministry advice for hard border closure, says Peters

Foreign minister and deputy PM has dropped a bombshell about the decision on when to close the borders, saying the health ministry recommended that the borders be closed even to returning New Zealanders.

“From its health perspective this was understandable and appropriate advice,” said Peters.

However, he said “the Coalition Cabinet rejected that advice because it was and is inconceivable that we will ever turn our backs on our own. So, on March 17, New Zealanders were urged to come home while commercial options remained available.”

Subsequently, the government built quarantine facilities from scratch to mitigate the health risks.

The ministry had been pushing for the complete closure of borders “real strong”, said Peters, in response to questions. He said that do have done so would be legal.

When asked if he ever considered blocking re-entry to New Zealanders, Peters said closing the borders totally had been a “highly respected view,” but it wasn’t the solution the ministry went with. They had to ask themselves, “is the price so massive that we’re going to be paying for it for the rest of our lives?”

Peters suggested he was disappointed by the attitude of many who returned on repatriation flights. “How many climbed off the page and never said, the first thing I want to do is thank the New Zealand taxpayer,” he said. “I think many more shoud have got off the plane and said: thank god to my country and the New Zealand taxpayer.”

Peters was confident that our quarantining measures had been run well. “It worked. It worked seriously well,” he said. “The New Zealanders who were in those controlled circumstances should also be thanked, for ensuring it did work.”

Peters has also released a couple of new bits of data, to complement a speech he is making today.

Among them was a list of countries that New Zealand has shared diplomatic phone calls with about Covid-19 – that is now up to 23.

Peters said “from the very first call with China’s Wang Yi to the latest with Prime Minister Marape from PNG, we’ve grappled with complex issues around border control, repatriation, and we’ve shared COVID-19 experiences.”

Speaking about the experience in dealing with other countries, Peters said he isn’t concerned about economic consequences from China’s government. “No, I don’t worry about that, because China’s promised me they don’t behave that way. At the very highest level, over the years.”

He also spoke about “the commitment, in our neighbourhood, in the Pacific, to help out. And I believe that in that context we have done an enormous amount to be a responsible citizen in the Pacific.”

He also updated the response from MFAT for consular assistance for New Zealanders overseas. 24,000 New Zealanders are currently registered with SafeTravel.

MFAT has assisted more than 1,500 New Zealanders and their families to access government or privately-facilitated repatriation flights. Of these, Peters says 1,112 were repatriated on flights directly arranged by the New Zealand Government.

“We acknowledge criticisms of the government’s efforts from individual citizens caught in difficult situations offshore, and by the media on their behalf. That is natural but sometimes the anecdotal can shade the larger response effort,” said Peters.

11.15am: Before Covid-19, things weren’t great in health

One of the common themes across today’s sitting of the ERC has been the view that even before Covid-19, the health system was under severe strain, and that long-term health reform should be a top priority. A few of the key points:

Dr Tim Malloy from GenPro said many GP clinics were facing imminent closure due to funding pressures, and that the sector feels abandoned, despite the crucial primary healthcare work they provide.

Sarah Dalton from the Association of Salaried Medical Professionals said that before the pandemic, hospitals were generally operating at 100% capacity, and at times even more than that. She said that was an unsustainable way for the health system to be run, and that previous disease outbreaks – including syphilis in Auckland – showed that underfunding has already created problems.

And Alison Eddy from the College of Midwives said that there was a “structural inequality” against community midwifery, who faced a lack of departmental support, and during the pandemic have struggled to access PPE.

11.00am: Ardern-Bloomfield Experience to reunite for encore show

We thought we had seen the last of Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield press conferences. We were wrong.

The pair will reunite for the press conference this afternoon at 1pm, after previously indicating that they were unlikely to do the slot together over the near future.

As always, you’ll be able to watch it here.

10.30: Economic analysis forecasts savage drops to GDP

New economic analysis from investment bank UBS has forecast an absolutely outrageous medium-term drop to GDP. Over 2020, they’re predicting it will drop by about 10.5%, before rising again by that percentage over 2021.

But within that, there are likely to be severe spikes across the 2nd quarter of 2020. They say GDP is likely to fall by 25% over the quarter, and unemployment will get up to 12.5%. That is higher than the best case scenario given in recent Treasury forecasts.

10.15: NZ’s geographical advantage “squandered”

ERC expert witness Dr Des Gorman has criticised the time it took for New Zealand’s borders to be closed.

He told the committee that the country’s best advantage in tackling Covid-19 was geographic isolation, and delays and relaxed checks at the border resulted in that advantage being “squandered.”

Gorman said that the country was “underprepared” to fight Covid-19, with public health units in particular under-resourced.

Gorman also argued that the DHB system was an example of “provincialism” over “rationalisation”, saying we had a DHB for every ITM Cup rugby team. He said the “rigid” and “devolved” structure had created problems.

“We’ve started with structure, and then tried to make providing work,” said Gorman, arguing that the current model involved services being rigidly divided up into more than a dozen geographically defined groups, rather than looking at what would best serve provision of care. His suggestion wasn’t necessary for more centralisation – rather, Gorman called for more flexibility in how care was organised and provided.

Dr Tim Molloy also picked up on this point, saying there had been a lot of “variability” in the regional provision of influenza vaccines.

10.00am: Watch the Epidemic Response Committee

Today’s Select Committee session will be dominated by medical professionals and experts.

First up will be Dr Tim Molloy from GP group GenPro, followed by Sarah Dalton from the Association of Salaried Medical Professionals, along with experts on midwifery and community health.

The expert witness will be Dr Des Gorman, who is the former chair of Health Workforce New Zealand.

8.20am: New research released on lockdown consumer habits

Research firm Kantar has been studying consumer habits over the last seven weeks, and has released a range of insights into what has changed.

Over the period of 24-27 April, it found that household spending on personal hygiene products, cleaning products and fruit and vegetables was all up significantly on normal levels. Coming in just behind that – and also with increased spending – was beverages and alcohol.

Over the same sampled period, there has also been a marked increase in people looking for news and information, particularly through social media, instant messaging apps, and online news websites. Offline TV watching is also up.

And fewer shoppers are finding that their preferred brands are out of stock, with the figure dropping from 45% to 30% over the space of a week.

8.10am: New on The Spinoff – Siouxsie Wiles on magic numbers and the mystery of silent spread

You might have heard about reports that up to 2.7 million people in New York may have been infected with Covid-19 – the implication of those reports being that the vast majority of cases of the virus have been spread without symptoms. That claim has been thoroughly tested in a new post by Dr Siouxsie Wiles, and to put it simply, it is far more complicated than the headlines would have you believe. Here’s an excerpt, or read the full piece here.

So, the first question to ask is, given how rubbish most of the antibody tests are, how reliable was the one they used? And the second is, do those 3,000 “samples” reflect the wider population of New York state? Let’s start with that second question. The state’s population is a whopping 19.45 million. I asked statistician Thomas Lumley whether 3,000 people could be representative. He’s also written about this “study” (do go read his piece). His answer: yes, if the study was designed well.

But we don’t have the details. Instead what we have is the media reporting that people were tested at supermarkets. I’ve also seen tweets telling people where testing was happening just in case they wanted a test. That’s going to introduce a whole heap of bias. As Thomas wrote: “Even a little bit of over-volunteering by people who have been sick and want reassurance can drive up your estimate to be larger than the truth.”

7.50am: Victoria University considering 20% pay cut to make up for lost income

RNZ reports that a pay cut of up to 20% is among options being considered by Victoria university after a small surplus has been transformed into a $40m deficit by the impact of Covid-19. “It’s about a $50 million swing on a $500 million turnover,” the university’s vice-chancellor Grant Guilford told RNZ’s John Gerritsen. “Most New Zealand universities have got a similar challenge on their hands.”

He said he had just started talking to staff about options for reducing the deficit. “We’re looking at a raft of different things from a 20%-type pay cut across the board, to a four-day working week, to voluntary reassignments, different approaches to leave balances, employee giving programmes, early retirement programmes and if need be, compulsory or voluntary redundancies is our last option,” he said.

Lincoln university is considering similar measures, with acting vice-chancellor Bruce McKenzie cutting his pay by 10% for six months and asking staff to consider a 5% cut, or working a nine day fortnight.

The president of the Tertiary Education Union, Michael Gilchrist was against the move. “All of these universities have strong balance sheets, they all do have surpluses accumulated in earlier years and the purpose of those of course is to offset the shocks in other years,” he said. “We are advising our members not to enter into any kind of negotiations to make pay cuts at the moment.”

Read the full story on RNZ

7.15am: The Bulletin wrap of the morning’s key NZ news stories

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How have our neighbours in the Pacific fared through Covid-19? There isn’t a single unifying experience of course, with different countries taking different measures and seeing different outcomes. But there have been some common themes throughout. And there have been some experiences which have parallels with our own.

The impact hasn’t necessarily been felt in terms of major outbreaks of the virus, which will be a huge relief to everyone. Intergovernmental organisation SPC said on 24 April that only six countries have reported cases so far. Two of the countries New Zealand is most closely connected to – Tonga and Samoa – haven’t seen even a single confirmed case. For Tonga, that is a blessing in part because the health system isn’t up to a surge – Matangi Tonga reported that even a dozen patients requiring serious hospital care would strain the system. There are concerns that the redeployment of resources to Covid-19 will put pressure on other parts of health systems, particularly vaccinations. And Cyclone Harold, which hit Fiji and Vanuatu especially hard, has also caused ongoing problems for the health response.

Within that wider picture of relatively few reported cases there are some really concerning areas. In the latest update from French Polynesia, there were 58 cases, with the most recent coming after days of no more being added to the tally – meaning they’re about to start easing lockdown restrictions. There has also been an outbreak of community transmission in the Northern Marianas, and a Covid-stricken US warship in port in Guam. The military is seen as a particularly dangerous potential vector for the virus – Radio NZ had a short report a few days ago about a warning against the upcoming Rim of the Pacific exercise in Hawaii, in which New Zealand will be taking part.

And there has been an immense economic toll for many countries in the region. RNZ Pacific reports that tourism has been “wiped out” across the region by closed borders – a necessary measure to prevent the virus getting in – but one that could plunge thousands of people into poverty. It gets worse too, reports Teuila Fuatai for Newsroom – remittance payments sent home by those who go overseas for work are also drying up. In Tonga, remittances accounted for more than a third of GDP last year, and in Fiji tourism contributed 30% of GDP. These are staggering numbers to think about disappearing at short notice. As this Fiji Times editorial notes, the breadwinners of many families are now out of work, and will be relying on savings and donations. Incidentally in Fiji, the media are right now under immense political pressure from the Bainimarama regime, reports the Guardian.

From a geopolitical perspective, this is hugely important. The Diplomat, an Asia-Pacific journal based in the US, covered the ongoing tension between Australia and China for influence over the region, noting that it wasn’t a new struggle, but that Covid-19 provided an opening for China to tip the balance.

Meanwhile, if the New Zealand border reopens at the airport, what will that look like? Stuff’s Thomas Coughlan has looked into it, with politicians on both sides of the Tasman now making supportive but non-committal noises about if and when it will happen. Among the ideas canvassed in the story is New Zealand’s bubble being expanded to include the Pacific – however, the PM says that would also raise the risk of a regional outbreak.

Just quickly, a message from our editor Toby Manhire:

“Here at The Spinoff, members’ support is more important than ever as the Covid-19 crisis lays waste to large chunks of our commercial work. It’s a tight time for everyone, of course, but if you’re able to, please consider joining Spinoff Members to help us stay afloat and keep producing work by the likes of Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris, whose collaborations have had a real impact in New Zealand and around the world.”

Health minister David Clark has again found himself in a spot of bother, over doing some house-moving during the lockdown. Newshub broke the story last night, and said it could be considered in breach of the lockdown rules – that people should only move house in extreme circumstances. And according to the story, the bulk of the move had already taken place before lockdown began. The PM’s office put out a statement saying that based on what Clark had told them, it wasn’t a breach, reports the NZ Herald – in this version, it wasn’t so much shifting house as carrying a few boxes down the road.

Schools are sort of going back today, but the majority of kids will continue to stay away. The NZ Herald reports about one in six schools aren’t expecting any kids at all to attend, and overall it looks like fewer than one in ten kids will be in class. The government’s message at level three is that kids should continue to learn from home if they can.

Parliament returned yesterday in a much more muted form. Each party leader gave an opening speech, before Question Time played out in front of a mostly empty chamber. There are several updates from yesterday’s live blog about what was covered – scroll down to mid-afternoon.  As the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Claire Trevett wrote, the afternoon “elicited little by way of new information.”

This story concerns a business in the small South Island town of Kingston, but could be analogous to many other situations playing out across the country. The ODT’s Matthew Mckew has reported on a cafe owner who claims to have been evicted by their landlord because they were unable to make rent during the Covid-19 shutdown. However, the landlord disputes this, saying that actually the rent had been late for months. Without wanting to wade into a legal dispute, one key point of it all is that for some businesses, the strain started weeks before the lockdown.

We had a piece yesterday about Victoria University students who are now being charged on residence hall rooms they legally can’t access. Stuff has an update today – the implementation is being delayed by about 10 days. The university also defended itself, with vice-chancellor Grant Guilford saying millions had been spent to keep the halls open, and it is no longer financially viable to do so without payments coming in. In the view of law student Elliott Harris, it certainly pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable under the new pastoral care code of practice for universities. For more on the university’s current situation (which will likely be analogous to many other tertiary institutions) Guilford told Radio NZ that a $50 million drop in income is being forecast, and they’re considering implementing a 20% pay cut across the board.

Here’s a piece about a politician that will be worth watching in the run-up to the election. Ātea editor Leonie Hayden has profiled new Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, a Taranaki-based environmental campaigner and iwi leader. The reason why the party could be so important is because they’ll likely be the main opposition to Labour within the Māori electorates, and as such could be in a position to change the balance of power significantly after the votes are counted. Speaking of Ngarewa-Packer, she was interviewed on Radio NZ last night on the subject of checkpoints – some iwi have been setting these up as a protective measure against spreading Covid-19. She said that they aren’t roadblocks as such, but many of those driving through her checkpoint in Patea were breaching level three rules, and needed to be spoken to.

6.45am: Covid-19 surges in Russia

World update / Russia’s Covid-19 outbreak remains amongst the world’s most concerning, with Washington Post data showing a 16% rise in infections over the last two days. This is particularly troubling because it is rising so much faster than in other nations with established outbreaks. Of the 10 most-infected nations, the next-fastest increase is the US, at 4%. There are signs Russia’s citizens are still not taking it as seriously as they might – while leader Vladimir Putin has extended the lockdown by a week, to May 11, The Moscow Times reports sales of barbecue goods have risen by 50% in recent days, which is says are a sign people are intending to leave the city to spend the looming holidays at their dachas – country residences outside Moscow, the heart of the country’s epidemic.

Russia’s total cases now sit at 93,558 according to Reuters, after a record 6,411 new infections were reported yesterday, along with 72 deaths – also a record. “We are now nearing a new, perhaps the most intense stage in the fight against the pandemic,”said Putin via videoconference. Support for him has hit a 14-year low, with polling from state-owned VTsIOM showing just 28% of respondents named him when asked to nominate a politician they they trust.

It’s also concerning that the virus has spread to its “nuclear cities” – secretive areas, from some of which foreign nationals are banned, that house much of the country’s military nuclear apparatus. The Guardian reports the head of Rosatom, Russia’s nuclear corporation, as saying that the outbreak “creates a direct threat to our nuclear towns. The situation in Sarov, Elektrostal [and] Desnogorsk is today particularly alarming.”

Meanwhile, the virus continues to grow, with the US becoming the first country to pass 1m infections this morning, one third of the worldwide total of 3m confirmed cases, per Johns Hopkins.

6.00am: $15 million for rural broadband upgrade

Communications minister Kris Faafoi and infrastructure minister Shane Jones have announced that $15 million in savings from the ultra-fast broadband initiative will be allocated to improve rural broadband capacity. The funds will go towards upgrading existing rural mobile towers, improving wireless backhaul, which connects remote sites to central networks and installing external antennae on households to improve coverage.

“This investment brings broadband services to rural households that are currently without access to the internet, and means remote communities will be much better equipped to get going again when we exit lockdown,” Faafoi said.

No word on whether that will cover security against damage to towers by 5G conspiracy theorists.

5.50am: Yesterday’s key stories

Health minister David Clark is once again under fire, after some outlets report that he “moved house during lockdown” – though he maintains it was within the rules.

There were three new cases of Covid-19; two confirmed and one probable.

New Zealand moved into alert level three.

Around 400,000 New Zealanders returned to work yesterday.

New Zealanders, and Dr Ashley Bloomfield, enjoyed takeaway coffee again.

The confusion over the difference between ‘elimination’ and ‘eradication’ was cleared up to some extent, after international media reported New Zealand had been victorious in eliminating Covid-19. In sum, elimination is “not zero cases, but zero tolerance for cases” according to the prime minister.

The Epidemic Response Committee resumed yesterday with a focus on small business, where the government was accused of being “naïve about business”.

After being suspended for a month parliament resumed yesterday, with a more sparsely populated quorum of members for safe distancing. A fairly subdued debate and question time followed a speech from the prime minister.

Police confirmed they arrested 14 people in connection with a large scale Jucy Rental car heist that took place under the cover of level four.

Restrictions on who can receive the seasonal flu vaccine were lifted, and further stocks of the vaccine will be supplied.

Read all the key stories in yesterday’s live updates

Keep going!