The Bulletin: Level one, zero cases. Now what?

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: What comes next after level one move, trade minister takes aim at Europe over deal offer, and harsh report into Oranga Tamariki released.

Good morning, and welcome to the strange sense of unbridled freedom that you might have woken up with. The announcement that we would move immediately to level one came yesterday afternoon, and took effect at midnight. A key reason why that was possible is that the country is now down to zero active Covid-19 cases. Not a single person in the country has the coronavirus – something that hasn’t been the case since February. It is genuinely a remarkable achievement for the country to have pulled off, and very few others have managed anything on this scale.

For some data to back this claim up, I highly encourage you to have a look at the Government Response Stringency Index – in other words, a map which compares the harshness of the restrictions each country is operating under. At the time of writing, New Zealand has gentler restrictions under that index than Australia, Sweden, Britain, Canada, Singapore… almost every country except Japan in fact. For a reminder of the rules of level one, here’s a cheat sheet from The Spinoff’s Catherine McGregor.

In making the announcement, PM Jacinda Ardern looked back at modelling which showed how many could have got sick and died had lockdown not happened – her full remarks can be read here. All up, yesterday marked only 75 days since the alert levels were first announced. It is hard to go past the fact that her government made a massive call to go into lockdown, knowing full well that it was a big risk, and it basically turned out exactly as planned. Justin Giovannetti has reported on the scene at parliament when the announcement was made.

So what now? Economic growth has been hit very hard by the lockdown and subsequent shift down in alert levels. Ardern said that the government’s focus would now be to pivot towards jobs. And even if some of the data isn’t quite as catastrophic as it might have been, there are going to be huge challenges here. This strong comment piece on Business Desk (paywalled) notes that many businesses will continue to heavily restructure – not to mention those that already have – so that the business as a whole can survive with fewer staff.

And what about further opening up, specifically of the border? Radio NZ reports that is a key concern for business now, with no clear timeline available. Ardern described the border as being “our first line of defence”, and admitted that at the moment there was no certainty around reopening timelines. A lot of people won’t want the border to open any time soon either, even if it does have benefits for business, because of the risks involved.

Finally, it almost certainly isn’t over at all. As University of Canterbury associate professor Malcolm Campbell put it, “we have seen other countries get into similar positions in controlling the virus, but then seen a subsequent flare up.” And Dr Amanda Kvalsvig from Otago University had a similar cup of lukewarm water to throw on the celebrations, saying “having no active cases isn’t really a meaningful landmark for pandemic control…if we continue to find no new cases despite ongoing testing, that’s much more informative and so far the results are encouraging.” Full commentary on getting to zero active cases can be found on the Science Media Centre website – another in the long list of invaluable resources the SMC has put out this year.


Just quickly, a message from The Spinoff’s managing editor Duncan Greive: 

“The arrival of Covid-19 and lockdown changed The Spinoff, transforming our editorial to focus on the biggest story of our lives, taking a small team and making it a seven day a week news operation. But it also fundamentally changed us as a business, too. Prior to the crisis, around 20% of our editorial costs were funded by our Members. Now, that figure is north of 50%. The loss of some key commercial clients meant that change has to be permanent. If you’re already a member, please know that all at The Spinoff are incredibly grateful for your help. If you’re not, and can afford to contribute, please consider doing so – it really is critically important to our ability to cover the next phase of the crisis, in all its complexity.”


A harsh report from the Children’s Commissioner has found many serious issues with Oranga Tamariki and the child welfare system. The reaction to the report has also been tense. Radio NZ reports former MP Dame Tariana Turia has called for resignations at the top in light of the findings, and Whānau Ora leader Merepeka Raukawa Tait said the report demonstrated that Oranga Tamariki has an “expectation that Māori mothers will fail”. In response, the NZ Herald reports OT has rebuked the report, saying it is heavily weighted in favour of the experiences of mothers, rather than the interests of babies.


Prison reform advocates say the sudden death of a man in Christchurch Men’s Prison highlights the dangers of the remand system, reports Newsroom. He had been held in remand since January, and was yet to face trial – let alone be convicted of the crime he had been accused of. About a third of New Zealand’s prisoners are in the remand system, and it is considered the most dangerous part of the prison system for self harm and suicide. Remand prisoners are also ineligible to go through rehabilitation programmes.


Some doubt has been raised about the potential of regenerative agriculture, in an interesting contest of ideas for the farming world. Rural Life reports two leading plant science academics have called for the establishment of some sort of expert panel to assess claims made about the practices around regenerative agriculture, have taken aim at what they say is “erroneous publicity”, and have argued that New Zealand’s current farming systems are world leading. It’s worth reading what the regenerative agriculture side has to say as well, and a comprehensive outline can be found in this piece on Newsroom.


You may have heard about District Health Board changes to prioritise Māori and Pacific Islander patients. On the face of it, that might seem like a really controversial prospect, but it needs to be seen in context. The NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Nicholas Jones has done a lot of reporting in this area, and has put together a long-read which delivers on that context, where the policy might be delivered, and what the reaction to it has been.


Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

Two men, two bodies to guard, but only one of them can win. Will it be Richard Madden’s David Budd or Kevin Costner’s Frank Farmer?

Right now on The Spinoff: Professor Anne-Marie Brady writes about the risks and opportunities of New Zealand’s post-Covid foreign policy. Josie Adams writes about Covid cases that linger for a long time, and what health impacts that has. Alice Webb-Liddall reports on a push from schools to change how kids are picked up and dropped off permanently. I report on many in the NZ CrossFit world cutting ties with the international fitness organisation over controversial comments from the founder. Alice Webb-Liddall (again) writes about ICT education and the importance of that post-Covid. And Sam Brooks compares and contrasts two critically acclaimed pieces of media – which are both called The Bodyguard.


For a feature today, a look inside the sort of political tensions that will be felt across the US over the long, hot summer. NBC News has been chronicling not just the protests themselves, but the emergence of groups of armed people who turn up to oppose the protests. Particularly in small towns, there is a deep sense of paranoia about ‘outside agitators’ turning up, even if most of the protests being carried out are being organised and attended by locals. Here’s an excerpt:

While large rallies in major cities have been the most visible part of recent social efforts to change how police treat black people, hundreds more have popped up in small, rural towns, where residents have marched and kneeled to protest police brutality.

Those protests — and some of the violence and looting that have accompanied them — have become the source of growing skepticism and paranoia in conservative circles. The most persistent rumors center on groups of antifa members being put on buses and sent to small towns to wreak havoc.

The rumors are unfounded. But that hasn’t stopped people in some communities, like Klamath Falls, from preparing for the worst. Towns from Washington state to Indiana have seen armed groups begin patrolling the streets after receiving warnings about an antifa invasion, often spurred by social media or passed along from friends. Those actions have yet to erupt in major violence but often bring heavily armed people in close contact with protesters, as it did in Klamath Falls.


Here’s some excellent news for those who prefer to listen to their live sport rather than watch it. Newstalk ZB Sport will be broadcasting both Aotearoa Super Rugby and the ANZ Premiership free to air, starting from this weekend. Because it’s being put on by the same company as the old Radio Sport, a lot of the same voices will be back on air. It’ll even be broadcast on most of the same old Radio Sport frequencies. The top story in this Bulletin was about parts of life returning to normal, so this feels like a nice way to cap it off.


That’s it for The Bulletin. If you want to support the work we do at The Spinoff, please check out our membership programme



The Spinoff is made possible by the generous support of the following organisations.
Please help us by supporting them.