Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Health minister David Clark suffers major demotion, government launches mental health tools, and more outline given on decision to leave lockdown.
In breaking news, health minister David Clark has been severely demoted by the Prime Minister. Last week, a story came out about him driving to a mountain bike park to have a ride on a trail, which seemed like an unwise thing to do given it arguably contradicted advice from his own ministry. Now, as One News reports, it has come out that he also drove 20kms to go to the beach in the first weekend after the lockdown period began – a clear breach. We’ll continue to update this story today on our live blog.
Clark will now be dropped to the bottom of the cabinet rankings, and will be stripped of his associate finance role. However, he will keep his health portfolio for now, on the grounds that switching a new minister in could waste valuable days in the wider fight against Covid-19. In a statement, PM Jacinda Ardern said “under normal conditions I would sack the Minister of Health. What he did was wrong, and there are no excuses.”
It’s one of those demotions that from a political perspective basically had to happen in these circumstances. With the government aggressively pushing the stay at home message to the public, it simply cannot afford for one of its most prominent figures to do anything that contradicts that message. In Scotland, a similar story has just played out, with their chief medical officer resigning over trips to her second home. Initially, she too had planned to ride out the controversy, but the position very quickly became untenable. It will be interesting to see how long Clark will continue in the health role – one can only assume that a succession plan will now be underway.
Meanwhile, fair is fair when it comes to avoidable headlines, and leader of the opposition Simon Bridges has driven headlong into one of his own. On Radio NZ, his reads ‘Bridges defends Wellington to Tauranga commute’ – a journey of about seven hours each way on the road. Bridges is currently chairing the Epidemic Response Committee from Wellington, but continues to live in Tauranga the rest of the time, despite the committee meeting over Zoom. Bridges argued that it was an essential job, his internet is patchy in Tauranga, and he was best able to do it from Wellington, even though it goes against advice on long car trips. Interestingly, PM Ardern quite pointedly refused to criticise Bridges, perhaps mindful of her own minister being in the headlights.
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One of the major problems of the lockdown period is that it can have a damaging effect on mental health. Isolation and a lack of physical contact can be really hard for some, for others there will be added stresses with loss of jobs or round the clock childcare. This has long been known about as a potential trade-off within the wider lockdown decision – for example last month the Mental Health Foundation launched a series of their own tools aimed at keeping people going. Their key messages were that it’s okay to feel anxious and scared during this time, and they spoke about the importance of keeping active and keeping in touch with loved ones. Clinical psychologist Jacqui Maguire wrote a useful piece for The Press around the start of the lockdown period about how to cope.
Now the government has launched their own campaign, reports the NZ Herald. It contains a range of tools and tips at this stage, with further, more direct support – like phone or online resources – to be finalised and announced this week. It bears a lot of similarity to those tools deployed after the Canterbury earthquake, and has been developed in part by the same people. Health minister David Clark said “the messages in the campaign launched today tell us that it’s okay not to feel all right, all of the time.” He added that it is “important to remember that a lot of the usual places people might go to for support, like your doctor, are still available. It might just be a phone call or an online video link instead.”
A greater outline has been given by the PM on how decisions will be made on regional lifting of lockdowns. The ODT reports Jacinda Ardern says testing at a regionalised level will be crucial, particularly those regions which have so far seen fewer cases – and therefore fewer tests. Otago University expert Dr Ayesha Verrall had an important point to make in this article by me about contact tracing, which is the another hugely important tool for leaving lockdown. “Unless you know how many cases you can trace, you don’t know what your epidemiological trigger is for going into lockdown,” said Verrall.
One of the biggest points of contention in the current response to Covid-19 is around the wearing of masks. Should we all be wearing them all the time? Dr Siouxsie Wiles has outlined the complicated issues around that question, and rather than summarise it crudely, I highly encourage you to read her unpacking of it.
A survey conducted by South Island Whānau Ora commissioning agency Te Pūtahitangi te Waipounamu has found hundreds of Māori families are concerned about running out of food. Stuff’s Cate Broughton has reported on the survey, which covers how some of the $15 million allocated to Whānau Ora agencies will be spent over the lockdown. Some families have reported that because a member has underlying health conditions, it is dangerous to send someone to the supermarket. Others simply can’t afford it, after losing jobs. It has left many gaps in the safety net that need to be filled.
We haven’t really covered this off yet in The Bulletin, but details are coming out on a ‘hibernation’ option for businesses hit by Covid-19. Business Desk (not paywalled for once) has done a wrap of what details are known so far, including the conditions by which it might be taken up. The key point for businesses who want it appears to be the agreement of their creditors – they won’t simply be able to choose to do so without running it by others who might be affected by the decision.
Some more international comparisons to share: Newsroom has tested the claim of the government that we’ve “gone early and gone hard” against Covid-19 with border and lockdown measures, compared to similar countries. The conclusion is that while we’ve definitely gone early relative to the outbreaks of other countries, there are a few different pieces of data that matter. And for an update on the case numbers to date, there were 67 new ones yesterday, bringing the total up to 1106. So it’s not great, but it’s also not the exponential curve that other countries are experiencing, as far as we can tell for now.
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Right now on The Spinoff: Jihee Junn speaks to a funeral director about how their job has changed under lockdown. Alex Casey filed this piece before leaving about how to work from home without destroying your back. Alice Webb-Liddall writes about TV and movie streaming platforms that don’t cost a cent. Michael Andrew has a guide for how to manage your money amid the upcoming economic downturn. Novelist Laura Jean McKay has just released a book about a strange new virus – she writes about what it’s like to see that happen in real life. Katherine Seley-Radtke picks apart the latest piece of life-threatening idiocy from the US President, who has been promoting a drug to fight Covid-19 without any evidence it works. Regulatory law expert Edward Willis writes about how Bauer came to own basically all the major current affairs magazines in the country. And Sam Brooks has had a wild time playing the remake of iconic video game Final Fantasy XII.
For a feature today, a look at the politics of a country which is so far handling Covid-19 better than some of its neighbours. As this article from the New Republic argues, the rhetoric coming out of Germany is in stark contrast to that of the likes of France and the UK, who are constantly describing themselves as being “at war” with Covid-19. The approach taken by German chancellor Angela Merkel is instead stressing democratic values, for the good of society as a whole. The approach could have lessons for how the tackle the crises of the future. Here’s an excerpt:
“It depends on all of us,” Merkel proposed. “We are not condemned to passive acquiescence as the virus spreads.” Hand-washing and social distancing should be seen not as technocratic regulations imposed from above but rather as new democratic habits to be cultivated, she argued, ways for a sovereign people to take hold of events and chart its course. “This situation is serious, and it is open,” she said. “I am utterly sure that we will overcome this crisis. But how many casualties will there be? How many loved ones will we lose? To a great degree, we have this in our own hands.”
Framing the coronavirus in terms of democratic behavior and governance makes deep sense in a country that, owing to its catastrophic twentieth-century history, takes neither of those things for granted. Over her 14 years in office, Merkel has seen Germany’s democratic postwar settlement tested by the radical right-wing Alternative for Germany, which in 2017 became the third-largest party in the federal parliament. And so her stress upon the country’s democratic present and future was surely deliberate. But Merkel’s speech resonated beyond Germany, too, by addressing the challenges of twenty-first-century democracy itself.
Think hard for a moment about what provincial sports team you’d most expect to be screwing up the lockdown. That’s right – it’s the Crusaders. Newshub’s Ollie Ritchie reports a handful of players have been snapped training together in a park, with three different bubbles involved. Apparently it was unplanned, and the players all happened to end up there at the same time. For the avoidance of any doubt, no, people should not be doing this, even members of sports teams who win titles with annoying regularity.
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