Toby Morris

Live updates, May 29: One active case remaining in NZ, with zero new cases for seventh day

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.

4.10pm: Electoral Commission announces broadcast allocation

The pot of money for political parties to spend on election advertising on radio, television and the internet has been divvied up for 2020, with Labour and National securing more than a million dollars each out of an overall pool of just over $4 million.

Read Alex Braae’s analysis on The Spinoff

3.30pm: Grant Robertson ends the week with a mic drop

Political editor Justin Giovannetti reports from parliament: Things are looking upbeat as New Zealanders head into a long weekend where heavy domestic travel is expected and hotel rooms in Queenstown and other scenic spots are being snapped up quickly, according to finance minister Grant Robertson.

Giving his weekly economic update, Robertson said Queen’s birthday will feel like a normal festive weekend for most travellers. He said new data shows the country now has one of the world’s most open economies as coronavirus restrictions have been further relaxed and short-term rental bookings are now some of the highest anywhere,

Most of the economy is back to work under alert level two and relaxed domestic travel rules mean the country’s recovery is going faster than expected. “The economy now is up to as close to full capacity as any country in the world could be,” said Robertson.

However grim economic news around the world continues and New Zealand’s unemployment rate is going to increase in the coming months, projected to hit 10% in September, before slowly decreasing after that.

Despite the cheery health news that only a single active case of Covid-19 remains in the country, Robertson said cabinet won’t review the current level of restrictions before June 8.

Asked about National leader Todd Muller’s first full week in parliament, which saw the leader and his deputy erroneously identify a member of their front bench as Māori and a number of media interviews where Muller seemed unprepared, Robertson said taking over after a coup is always difficult. “There’s no John Key or Bill English there anymore to help provide that direction,” he said.

2.00pm: What the numbers look like

After a full week of no new cases and only one active case left in New Zealand, here’s how the data looks.

1.05pm: Zero new cases, one active case left

For the seventh day in a row, there are no new active cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand – and just one active case.

The Ministry of Health sent out today’s update in a press release, saying there have been seven more recoveries since yesterday, meaning only one case remains active. The total number of confirmed cases remains at 1,154, which is the number reported to the World Health

There are no additional deaths to report, and no one in New Zealand receiving hospital-level care for Covid-19. Yesterday laboratories completed 4,162 tests, bringing the total number of tests completed to date to 275,852.

The NZ Covid Tracer app has now recorded 446,000 registrations, said the release, an increase of 10,000 since this time yesterday. As of this morning, 19,530 QR code posters for businesses have been created.

Regarding today’s change to the size limit for social gatherings that came into effect at midday today (see 12.10 update), the release from the ministry said, “It’s important everyone continues to play it safe. The person in charge of a social gathering must ensure records are kept for contact tracing purposes, except in cases where every person in a gathering knows each other.”

It reiterated that the rules of “seated, separated, single-server” still apply for hospitality businesses, but they can now take group bookings for more than 10 people. Faith-based gatherings and clubs will be able to operate with the 100 person maximum applying in each defined area, as long as intermingling in common spaces can be prevented, said the release.

New advice on face mask use has been released today, emphasising that physical distancing and basic hygiene measures remain the most important way to stop the spread of infections:

“Based on our current Covid-19 context, for most people in the community the advice remains unchanged – healthy people in the community are not required to wear a face mask for protection from Covid-19 in New Zealand. Healthy members of the public may choose to purchase and wear a face mask, or make their own. We encourage them to use their face mask safely, as there are risks associated with incorrect use of all types of face masks.”

1.00pm: Case numbers to be announced

There’s no media briefing today, but we’re standing by for the press release to land in our inboxes and will be sharing all the pertinent details as soon as we have them to hand.

12.45: National announces $10,000 new-hire payout policy

Seven long and challenging days into his leadership of the National Party, Todd Muller has announced a headline-making Covid-response policy: a $10,000 cash payment to businesses that hire new staff.

The JobStart scheme would begin in November and run through to March 2021, “incentivising up to 50,000 new jobs”. The scheme would be capped at 10 new employees, or $100,000 per business, and businesses would be required to prove that the new hire is an additional full time employee over and above the existing labour force.

“We are committed to supporting New Zealand businesses, in particular small businesses, to invest and grow. JobStart will give small business owners greater confidence to hire new people,” said Muller in a statement. “Small business owners who create jobs will be the heroes of this economic crisis, in the way that our nurses, doctors and all five million of us who stayed home were the heroes of the health crisis.”

12.10pm: You can catch up with your 99 friends now

Dong. As of noon, the maximum group size for social gatherings under alert level two changes to 100. Everything from religious services to community sports to you and your favourite 99 ngā hoa mā can gather. More information here.

12.00pm: ‘Artist’s dole’ back as part of $175 million arts and music package

The controversial “artist’s dole” is back as part of a $175 million package to help the arts and music industry recover from the effects of Covid-19, the government announced today.

This comes hot on the heels of yesterday’s announcement of a funding boost to cultural organisations including Te Papa, the Royal New Zealand Ballet and the Antarctic Heritage Trust, and an additional $25 million to be distributed by Creative NZ.

Today’s package is broken down into four funds – careers support for jobseekers, a creative arts recovery and employment fund, a cultural capability fund and a cultural innovation fund. The first wave of funding will be available from July 2020.

According to a statement, the creative jobseekers fund builds on “the most successful aspects” of the former Pathways to Arts and Cultural Employment (PACE) programme, an artist’s benefit introduced by Helen Clark’s Labour government in 2001 and disestablished by the National government in 2012.

In the lead-up to the 2017 election, Labour signalled it would be looking to reestablish the PACE scheme. Opinion was divided at the time on its efficacy due to participants being allowed to seek work only in their creative field. During its tenure, PACE was often criticised by taxpayer watchdog groups, which were particularly irked that the list of creatives participating in the scheme included clowns, stuffed-toy makers and florists. However, two years into the scheme, the government claimed to have found employment for more than 1,200 people.

Regarding today’s announcement, the prime minister said in a statement that modelling based on Treasury forecasts suggests that without government intervention, the arts and cultural sector would be “hit roughly twice as hard as the rest of the economy, and 11,000 jobs could be lost within a 12-month period”.

“This suite of initiatives will help protect cultural sector jobs and create new employment opportunities, build skills, knowledge and resilience, protect Māori knowledge and artforms, and continue to provide inspiration for all New Zealanders,” said Ardern.

What the package includes

$7.9 million for Careers Support for Creative Jobseekers – a programme to support artists and creatives back into sustainable work that builds on the former Pathways to Arts and Cultural Employment (PACE) programme. Aimed to help up to 2,000 people over four years.

$70 million over three years for a Creative Arts Recovery and Employment Fund “to create employment, mentoring and apprenticeship opportunities, ensure vital skills, talent and creative infrastructure is not lost, and maintain public access to the arts”.

$60 million over three years for a Cultural Innovation Fund – a contestable fund to “support new ways of operating, cross-sector partnerships, and create new ways to add value to the economy, particularly through digital exports”. This will include supporting innovative approaches to Māori art forms and traditional knowledge.

$20 million for a Cultural Capability Fund to focus on immediate needs in response to Covid-19, such as legal services, online delivery and audience development.

$16.5 million for a New Zealand Music Recovery Fund specifically directed towards the contemporary popular music industry. This includes $7.1m to boost NZ on Air’s New Music programmes, $5m for a Live Music Touring Fund to support NZ acts on the domestic circuit as alert levels permit, $3m immediate support for music venues to have safe environments for audiences, workers and artists, to be administered by the NZ Music Commission, and $1.4m to help musicians recoup lost income via Outward Sounds and NZ Music Month.

10.45am: New Covid-19 antibody blood test could see cases rise

A new test, named the Abbott antibody test, can check for past exposure to Covid-19 by indicating if a person has antibodies to the virus from previous infection, RNZ reports.

The research was conducted by Southern Community Labs, the Southern District Health Board, and the universities of Auckland and Otago, and scientists expect the test to reveal some cases of Covid-19 that were missed because of initial rules around swab testing.

The clinical microbiologist leading the study, Dr Arlo Upton, said the Southern DHB region was chosen because of its high infection rate per population, and that they were targeting people who had already been tested rather than randomly sampling the population.

For an explainer on how the different types of test work, read Siouxsie Wiles’ post here.

10.20am: Significant job losses at Tower Insurance

Despite reporting a first-half-year profit of $14.9 million (a $3 million increase on last year), Tower Insurance are proposing 108 job cuts, Stuff reports.

Tower currently has 700 employees. Chief executive, Richard Harding says the company is focusing on its digital channels and self-service portal, but the “recessionary environment” meant growth would be lower than planned. 96% of the company’s 700 employees are currently working remotely.

Tower announced its plans to push engagement with their new digital platform earlier in the month, which was created by California-based automation firm Ushur.

9.00am: Arts funding missed opportunity

The prime minister announced an arts package yesterday that includes $25 million to be allocated by Creative NZ, on top of the $16 million Covid response fund that has been offering rolling support throughout the Covid crisis.

Academics are saying it’s a missed opportunity to invest in the future of the arts rather than just “pumping a little bit of extra cash into the arts sector”, as Peter O’Connor from the University of Auckland put it.

“For example, the $220 million boost to sports immediately announced after the budget. There was a short-, medium- and long-term strategy. There’s no discernible strategy for the arts,” he told RNZ’s Susie Ferguson this morning.

“There’s no sense of how the arts might be part of a wider government plan on how the arts could contribute to, for example, health, regional and community rejuvenation, corrections, education and development, or tourism.”

Paul Millar from the University of Canterbury’s College of Arts, also argues for bolder investment in the arts here on The Spinoff.

7.45am: Updates from today’s edition of The Bulletin

The final form of a major package of freshwater reforms was announced yesterday, and it was notable how little anger came from certain quarters. Throughout this process, the battle over freshwater reforms has been cast as something of an existential crisis for the farming world – and in some cases, the new rules as they originally stood would have resulted in farmers going out of businesses. That seems like a much lower risk now, with some of the key components of the rules being watered down.

It’s not necessarily over, or course, and some aspects are likely to be revisited. But the feedback process that took place last year was an example of how politics should work – a proposal was formulated for new rules, officials toured the country to gather up views from those who would be directly affected, and then changed the proposals accordingly. As Stuff reports, Dairy NZ are welcoming large swathes of the changes, even if they’re concerned that controversial dissolved inorganic nitrogen rules could still be introduced – but according to Politik, those rules are now very unlikely to be applied at a blanket level, rather being set according to catchments. Chris Allen from Federated Farmers told The Spinoff yesterday that the key thing they want now is pragmatism in implementation.

On the other hand, ecologists aren’t seeing much to cheer about. Writing on The Spinoff, Dr Russell Death is deeply disappointed about how the final balance of interests has shaken down, and is dismissive of the prospects of this resulting in long-term waterway restoration. And there were some really interesting expert comments contained within the Science Media Centre’s roundup, that are worth quoting at length.

A pay equity settlement for teacher aides has been agreed, and will now go out to the workforce for approval. Radio NZ reports it stems from a claim first lodged in 2016, and will affect about 22,000 people. Education minister Chris Hipkins has described it as a “milestone” for frontline workers, and the NZEI Union say they’re delighted with the outcome.

Further concerns are being raised about a bill that would allow the government to apply censorship filters to the internet, reports Marc Daalder of Newsroom. In the view of internal affairs minister Tracey Martin, it would allow violent terrorist or extremist content to be blocked, if the chief censor deemed it objectionable – the primary example of this of course being the video streamed by the March 15 murderer. But Internet NZ argues giving the government these sorts of filtering powers isn’t consistent with the maintenance of a free and open internet, and “isn’t justified by the problem that we’re trying to solve here.”

More sewage issues have erupted for Wellington, with a pipe bursting just outside the Wellington Central police station, reports the Dominion Post. This time around, only a small amount of sewage has ended up in the harbour, and at the time of writing the leak is understood to be contained. Meanwhile, this is a very human story from Radio NZ’s Hamish Cardwell about the engineers who flew into Wellington from Germany in January to help fix the city’s problem – and then ended up having to ride out a global pandemic here.

There’s water coming out of the taps in Kaikohe at least, but locals aren’t particularly keen on the taste, reports Stuff’s Denise Piper. The town in a heavily drought-stricken part of Northland has had restrictions in place for about nine months now, and the lake that emergency supplies have been sourced from has had algal blooms recently. As such, it needs to be treated extensively before being safe to drink, which also delayed the arrival of new supplies.

Even the Hauraki Gulf recreational crayfish take being cut in half is unlikely to save the fishery. The NZ Herald reports the fishery is being described as “functionally extinct”, and the wider ecosystem is in serious danger of collapse. Recreational fishing group Legasea says it is evidence that the quota system for commercial fisheries has failed. And a marine scientist quoted in the story said what is really needed is for the fishery to get a proper break.

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

There were no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand for the sixth day in a row, and the total number of active cases dropped to just eight, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield announced.

The total number of deaths related to Covid-19 rose by one to 22, however, following the death of a woman in her 90s at St Margaret’s rest home in Auckland at the weekend. The woman was part of the St Margaret’s cluster however was regarded as having recovered from Covid-19 at the time of her death.

Health unions urged Worksafe to open an investigation into the Covid-19 outbreak at Waitākere Hospital last month. Worksafe has said it wouldn’t be investigating as the Waitematā District Health Board had already done its own review and changes had been made.

The government announced a new $91 million relief package for the arts and culture sector.

Winston Peters repeated his call to ignore the experts and fast-track the trans-Tasman bubble.

New figures released by Stats NZ showed job numbers fell by 37,500 in April 2020, a record drop.

The government announced a $700 million plan to clean up the country’s waterways.

A study conducted by the University of Otago found the vast majority of those who worked from home during lockdown said it didn’t affect their productivity and they wanted the option to continue outside the office. Retail groups, however, said the number of office workers still working from home was hurting CBD retailers.

Read all the key stories in yesterday’s live updates



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