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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 30, 2020

Covid-19 live updates, April 30: Three new cases; mortgage restrictions scrapped

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.

7.15pm: The day in sum

New Zealand recorded three new cases of Covid-19. There were no new deaths.

Around 2% of year 1 to 10 school students attended school yesterday, and around 4% at ECE, it was announced.

Business confidence is bleak across the board, according to the ANZ Business Outlook survey for April 2020

The Reserve Bank announced it has scrapped LVR lending restrictions for at least the next 12 months

Legislation releasing more than $3bn in loans to assist small-to-medium businesses was passed under urgency. The loans will be administered by Inland Revenue and details will be announced tomorrow.

The New Zealand International Film Festival At Home – Online was announced, a streaming version of the annual film festival which will run from July 24 to August 2.

6.55pm: On The Spinoff today

Siouxsie Wiles & Toby Morris looked at why getting tested quickly matters so much (with a great new explanatory gif, of course)

Former Fashion Quarterly editor Zoe Walker Ahwa wrote about the perilous post-lockdown future of New Zealand fashion

On a similar note, Duncan Greive cast his eye over the winners and losers of NZ’s post-lockdown economy (and how the losers might win too)

We crunched the numbers on how New Zealanders are accidentally hurting themselves under lockdown

Leonie Hayden reported on the accusations that are flying after new anti-Semitic vandalism that appeared yesterday at Ōwairaka (Mt Albert)

Michael Andrew talked to cafe and takeaway owners in Golden Bay, near Nelson, about how they’re dealing with the Covid fallout

‘It brought tears to our eyes’: A warm-fuzzy update from Unity Books, which has reopened for online orders

An unwanted intrusion: Sam Brooks writes about how he’s processing grief in a time of lockdown

6.10pm: Reserve Bank to remove LVR lending restrictions

The Reserve Bank has confirmed it is axing loan-to-value ratio lending restrictions for at least the next 12 months, meaning banks will be free to offer as many mortgages as they like to borrowers with deposits under 20%. It’s an effort to keep banks lending and avoid mortgagee sales – a potential risk given the sharp economic downturn, widespread job losses, and the end of the mortgage freeze in September. While the lifting of LVR restrictions should keep property prices from falling too precipitously (and thus help protect first home buyers who bought recently), it may come as a disappointment to potential FHBs who hoped the Covid crisis would bring a house price correction in hotspots like Auckland.

Reserve Bank deputy governor Geoff Bascand said that given the uncertain economic outlook, he believes it’s unlikely that lifting the LVR restrictions will encourage banks to weaken their lending standards to high risk borrowers. “The more likely risk is that banks are overly cautious with lending to credit-worthy borrowers,” he said.

4.45pm: Business confidence survey paints dismal picture

The ANZ Business Outlook survey for April is out and it makes for grim reading, if not quite as bad as preliminary results suggested, reports Overall business confidence plummeted for every sector surveyed, while “own activity” confidence – how those surveyed expect their own firms will perform in the immediate future – was particularly dismal for the retail and construction industries, at -67% and -58% respectively. A net 51% of firms intend to lay off staff.

Here’s the good news: while preliminary reporting on April 8 scored -73% for business confidence, by the end of the month that had risen to “only” -67%. A net 55% of firms now expect weaker own activity but again, that’s higher than the preliminary April data which was -61%.

“At least the data have found a floor, albeit a damp, cold basement,” said ANZ chief economist Sharon Zollner.

3.25pm: MTA warns of potential WoF havoc

Blanket extensions to warrants of fitness could be setting car owners up for some serious problems in October and for years to come, the Motor Trade Association has warned. Earlier this month the Transport Agency announced that car owners whose warrants were due to expire after January 1 this year could have until October 10 to have them renewed, potentially leading to a rush that month that would overwhelm service stations and cause long out-of-warrant delays for owners, Stuff reports. Furthermore, because warrants are usually issued for 12 months, the same problem could occur every October for years into the future unless rules are changed. The Transport Agency has set up a project team to investigate the issue.

2.12pm: What happens at alert level two?

One of the recurring themes at today’s press briefing was what happens at alert level two, on both a general and specific level

A typical answer, from Ardern: “We as a cabinet as we have done in the past will reconfirm what will be happening at the different alert level before we move into them”. She has earlier said that cabinet will make further decisions on May 11, and if the previous pattern is followed, more information on the shape of that will come before that decision is made.

With the major caveat that there is no guarantee that the next step will be to alert level two, the requirements, as outlined on April 16, are as follows:

Physical distancing of one metre outside home (including on public transport).

Gatherings of up to 100 people indoors and 500 outdoors allowed while maintaining physical distancing and contact tracing requirements.

Sport and recreation activities are allowed if conditions on gatherings are met, physical distancing is followed and travel is local.

Public venues can open but must comply with conditions on gatherings, and undertake public health measures.

Health services operate as normally as possible.

Most businesses open, and business premises can be open for staff and customers with appropriate measures in place. Alternative ways of working encouraged (e.g. remote working, shift-based working, physical distancing, staggering meal breaks, flexible leave).

Schools and Early Childhood Education centres open, with distance learning available for those unable to attend school (e.g. self-isolating).

People advised to avoid non-essential inter-regional travel.

People at high risk of severe illness (older people and those with existing medical conditions) are encouraged to stay at home where possible, and take additional precautions when leaving home. They may choose to work.

2.00pm: Wellington under lockdown

New on The Spinoff today, eerie scenes from level four lockdown in the nation’s capital.

This video was made using drone footage supplied by aerial imagery specialists Pouakai. Want more empty city streets? Watch our video of Auckland under lockdown here.

1.35pm: Today’s active and recovered graph

Here’s today’s graph, courtesy of Chris McDowall. There are 216 active cases, and 1,241 recovered. See McDowall’s data visualisations for yesterday’s numbers here, and check back later this afternoon for today’s full suite of graphs.

1.05pm: Three new cases, no new deaths

On the third day of alert level three, there are three new Covid-19 cases, the director general of health Ashley Bloomfield has just reported. One is linked to an existing case, and the other two cases are still under investigation. Today’s case number means there have now been 12 consecutive days of single-digit cases.

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

A case previously classified as probable has also been reclassified as not a case, Bloomfield said. The total for confirmed cases is now 1,129, the total probable cases is 347 and the overall total of cases is now 1,476.

A total of 1,241 cases are now reported as recovered, an increase of 12 on yesterday. 84% of cases are now considered recovered.

There were 5,867 tests performed yesterday, bringing the total number of tests to 134, 570.

Asked if any move to alert level two would depend on getting down to zero cases, Bloomfield said: “Not necessarily zero. There’s a long tail in these cases. The key thing is keeping up that high rate of testing, as well as our surveillance through general practice reporting of influenza like illness and other surveillance through ESR, and then being able to rapidly respond to that with out contact tracing and case finding.”

Ardern later added, “Level three allows us that time to check that we have control before moving with greater confidence. The last thing anyone wants is us to move prematurely, have a resurgence and go back. That would be very bad for our health response but, equally, horrific for our economy.”

Policing during level three

The prime minister reported there have been 1,035 complaints to the police line since alert level three commenced. Of those, 277 had been referred to the compliance team, and 104 in turn sent to either MBIE, MPI, Worksafe or Police for investigation.

The common themes of the complaints to the police line, Ardern said, were “lack of social distancing, business breaches by patrons or staff, safe operating practices for cafes, recreational activities and specific complaints about in-home gatherings.”

Police had reported 185 breaches in total, with 46 prosecuted, an increase of 21 in the last 24 hours. There have been 119 warnings issued and 20 youth referrals.

Police had reported that after “a bit of a spike” in the first 24 hours of level three, activity has started come down, Ardern said.

Routine healthcare returning to normal

Bloomfield reminded people that routine healthcare like screening tests and childhood immunisation was now “back up and going” and urged those who’ve received text or phone call reminders about appointments to “please go and get that care”.

Around 98% of school students staying home

Ardern confirmed that “around 2%” of year 1 to 10 school students attended yesterday, and attendance of “around 4%” at ECE.

“This is a really strong indication of the caution New Zealanders are taking at level three, and that is exactly what we were wanting,” she said.

Further government relief for small businesses

Parliament will pass under urgency a significant package of tax changes to provide further cash flow to support small businesses, Ardern announced. “Our package releases more than $3bn through the tax system to help SMEs as they continue to deal with the impact of Covid-19,” she said.

More than $1.25bn of the wage subsidy has now been paid to about 188,000 sole traders, Ardern said, and a further $4.27bn has gone to 160,000 small business that employ between one and 19 staff. Almost 8,900 medium-sized enterprises of up to 99 staff have been paid $1.3bn.

Bloomfield on vaccine planning

Asked if there was a risk New Zealand would find itself at the back of the global queue if and when a vaccine for Covid-19 was discovered, Bloomfield said there was “very active” work underway between the Ministry of Health and MBIE to finalise the approach they were going to take. Bloomfield said the MoH were “very keen on taking an Anzac approach” of working with Australia to secure supply of any future vaccines.

“At this point we’re not anticipating New Zealand’s best endeavours are to put funding and effort into trying to develop a vaccine, but rather to work alongside other vaccine developers,” Bloomfield said. “That doesn’t mean our research groups here couldn’t do elements of the research that would contribute to international efforts, and also, more importantly, be participating in potential clinical trials.”

12.45pm: Today’s briefing

The primetime duo of Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield will be back behind the lecterns at 1pm today for their daily briefing. Updates to follow, or watch the live stream here:

10.30am: ERC talks social impacts of pandemic

We are “not yet at the peak of distress” from the mental health effects of Covid-19 and lockdown, Sir Peter Gluckman has told the Epidemic Response Committee this morning. “That will emerge over the coming weeks”, the former chief science adviser predicted. “With that will emerge some groups of people who will do well – they’ll find, in the change, opportunity – but many people will be very scared, uncertain, frustrated, angry,” he said. “Of those directly affected by the severe stresses of this pandemic, more than 10 percent are vulnerable to long lasting depression and even suicidality.” Early intervention at a local level would be key to the mental health response, Gluckman said.

Christopher Farrelly, the CEO of Auckland City Mission, appeared before the committee to discuss the government response to housing and looking after homeless people during Covid-19. He said, bluntly: “How could you self-isolate if you don’t have a home?” Since lockdown over 1,000 motels had become available nationwide to house homeless people, with one Auckland collective housing 495 homeless people in over 450 Ministry of Social Development housing developments.

Farrelly said the City Mission was already noticing a positive change in many homeless who had been housed in the last month, and the challenge now was to keep them in housing as the country moves out of lockdown. He challenged the common idea that homeless people “don’t want to be housed” as a myth, and said that recent research showed that the cost to the country of keeping someone on the streets was much greater than the cost of keeping them housed.

Dr Ang Jury, speaking on behalf of New Zealand’s independent Women’s Refuges, said that lockdown had been an “interesting experience” for them. She echoed the sentiments of the previous two submitters that the worst was yet to come, saying it was “extremely difficult” for women to reach out for help under lockdown. “Our fear is that post-lockdown we will see the violence that we believe has been occurring,” she said.

Jury also urged New Zealanders who were worried that someone may be in danger to take action, either by reaching out to that person or by contacting police or the Women’s Refuge. “We would much rather be called to a nothing than to a serious injury or a death,” she said.

Jacqui Graham, the joint chief executive of The Wise Group, one of New Zealand’s largest charities, told the committee that her sector did not want to go back to the way things were before Covid-19. “The standout for us throughout this period is the change in our relationship with government, DHBs and ministers,” she said. “Put simply, the change is so significant that as an organisation and sector, we don’t want to go back to how it was before Covid … now we have a high trust environment, there’s a new respect and collegiality, we get things done really quickly, together, and all the barriers, red tape and mindless activities have been removed.” She noted that government employees favoured this system to, and that allowing it to continue in the future would allow more frontline employees to do their jobs, rather than be caught up in administration.

Graham also noted that her people have not had difficulties obtaining the PPE they needed, but there had been frustrations with their dealings with the 14 DHBs, who had “14 different ways of operating”.

10.10am: Film festival going online

There will be no New Zealand International Film Festival this year, at least not in the usual way. Instead, the New Zealand Film Festival Trust has announced The New Zealand International Film Festival At Home – Online, a streaming version of the film festival, which will run from 24th of July to the 2nd of August. There will be “world and New Zealand premieres of films each night, including virtual red-carpet and filmmaker Q&As,” according to NZIFF director Marten Rabarts. “Some films will be screened as special ‘one-off’ events, and many of the films presented will be exclusive to NZIFF and won’t have other New Zealand screenings.”

The programme for the online 2020 NZIFF is due to be released on the 22nd of June.

10.00am: Zoom committee in session

Here’s the live stream for this morning’s session of the Epidemic Response Committee:

9.50am: Another cautionary tale of easing restrictions too soon

Singapore has been mentioned a lot in the last week or so as a cautionary tale of easing lockdown restrictions too fast, too soon. The Japanese island of Hokkaido is another example, according to a Daily Telegraph story syndicated on the Herald this morning. Like Singapore, they’ve seen a second wave of Covid-19 cases after thinking they successfully quashed the virus when new daily cases were in the low single digits, lifting their lockdown restrictions after barely three weeks. “The lesson is to wait as long as possible, to get accurate data on infection numbers and to be very, very cautious when the rules are relaxed,” University of Hokkaido professor Yoko Tsukamoto told the Telegraph.

9.15am: Today’s Zoom committee

The Epidemic Response Committee will hear from a range of frontline social services in this morning’s Zoom meeting. Auckland City Mission CEO Chris Farrelly, National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges chief executive Dr Ang Jury and The Wise Group’s Jacqui Graham are all scheduled to speak, along with the government’s former chief science adviser Sir Peter Gluckman and new police commissioner Andrew Coster. As always, we’ll have a live stream link and updates here from 10am.

8.45am: More questions around Ruby Princess

A health declaration from the Covid-19 stricken Ruby Princess was seemingly sent “from a port it didn’t visit, on a date it wasn’t there”, according to Stuff. The cruise ship, which was in New Zealand from March 11 to March 15, is thought to be the source of over 600 cases of Covid-19 in Australia and New Zealand, and can be linked to more than 20 deaths. 

The health declaration, dated March 16, was obtained by Stuff under the Official Information Act. It shows the ship’s doctor and captain were aware of a passenger with “influenza-like illness” consistent with Covid-19 reported on March 13, but that passenger wasn’t isolated, and was listed on the declaration as “recovered”. The document also says it was submitted at the port of Tauranga, which was the ship’s next intended port of call after leaving Napier on the 15th, but it never stopped there as it instead sailed back to Sydney.

Maritime law expert Peter Dawson told Stuff that given the known risk of Covid-19 at the time “it does seem strange that more attention was not given to the timing and accuracy of the declaration.” The ship’s owner Carnival is currently under investigation in Australia, and Customs NZ are investigating the ship’s declarations made while in New Zealand.

Read the full report on Stuff

7.50am: US economy rapidly shrinking

The US economy has contracted more in the last quarter than at any time since the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, reports the BBC. The contraction itself won’t be a massive surprise, but the scale of it is alarming.

For the first quarter of 2020, GDP is down 4.8%. But because that period ended in March, there are fears that the true figure for how much damage is being done is much larger. That fear is supported by the fact that 26 million people have filed for unemployment since mid-March.

Meanwhile, the death toll from Covid-19 in the US shows little sign of abating. There are several different figures, but the widely respected Johns Hopkins University count puts the current death toll at more than 58,000, with more than a million cases.

7.10am: Confusion over enforcing level three rules

For many workplaces, level three means a return to the job site. But there are still a lot of physical distancing restrictions that need to be followed. The question is – who’s going to enforce the rules?

Radio NZ’s Phil Pennington has been looking into this, and found that nobody seems quite sure. Here’s what happened with a complaint of one alleged breach:

“He said he called WorkSafe, who referred him to the Health Ministry, who then referred him to the police – then back to WorkSafe on Wednesday.”

Speaking to RNZ’s Morning Report, Unite Union spokesman Gerard Hehir said it was “as bad or worse” inside busy fast food restaurant kitchens, where the high volumes of orders in the last two days has often made it impossible for staff to maintain the required one metre physical distancing. Nor are drive-thru staff realistically able to maintain a two metre distance from customers when handing over food. “That is a risk to the entire country,” he said, urging Worksafe to take a more active approach to enforcing the rules.

National Party workplace, relations and safety spokesman Todd McClay told Morning Report that businesses reaching out to government agencies for clarity on their responsibilities were often receiving “quite different advice from different places.”

7.00am: Updates from today’s edition of The Bulletin

There are a lot of pieces worth reading coming out at the moment about the future shape of unemployment, and here’s a selection of some of them: Stuff’s Susan Edmunds has reported on the current rush of people going on the Jobseeker benefit, with the numbers now higher than during the Global Financial Crisis. And Stuff’s Thomas Coughlan has analysed the current policy proposals, and is predicting those numbers to get sharply worse when the wage subsidy comes to an end.

Meanwhile, we know that tens of thousands of people have recently taken up the Jobseeker benefit, but we know very little else about them. In fact, as this analysis from the NZ Herald’s Kirsty Johnston and Chris Knox shows, there won’t be comprehensive real time demographic and sector data on this month’s unemployment until June. The data simply isn’t being recorded and subsequently reported in a way that will make it available any quicker than that. A problem with this is that it delays decision making from both policymakers and businesses who might hire, and leaves both flying blind about who might be out there looking for work.

And on a slightly different tangent, Duncan Greive has continued his big-picture series on the industries that will be hammered over the coming months, and why there might be reasons for optimism about what comes next.

Daily new case numbers have been very low for more than a week now, and yesterday there were just two more. It might therefore be tempting to be complacent if you come down with symptoms consistent with Covid-19. The latest advice from Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris is very clear here – you must get yourself tested if you have symptoms. Because if you delay and it does turn out to be Covid-19, it makes the job of contact tracing much more difficult.

For those who have been savouring their fast food fix: progress has been made by receivers on keeping the Burger King chain afloat. Business Desk (paywalled) reports that suppliers and landlords in particular will forego large payments, as the business is prepared for sale. Union reps say payments to workers will not be put at risk in the process. Most of the chain’s stores are currently open at level three, except for a dozen that don’t have drive-through services.

6.00am: Yesterday’s key stories

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.

Read all the key stories in yesterday’s live updates

Keep going!