A tourist in Naples being checked with a thermal scanner, amid the Covid-19 outbreak (Getty Images)

The Bulletin: Covid-19 officially declared a pandemic

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Covid-19 officially declared to be a pandemic, abortion clinic Safe Zones stripped from legislation, and Hauraki Gulf under extreme biodiversity pressure.

Overnight, the World Health Organisation officially declared that the Covid-19 outbreak has become a pandemic, reports AP News. That’s a term defined as a disease spreading in multiple countries at the same time, and underlines the seriousness of the situation – particularly in countries like Italy, Iran, and China. WHO boss Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was very clear about that seriousness, and what countries needed to do – “All countries can still change the course of this pandemic. If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilize their people in the response,” he said. As this BBC live updates tracker shows, an incredible number of events and gatherings are being cancelled around the world right now, and the whole of Italy has basically been put into nationwide lockdown.

Yesterday afternoon, travel restrictions were upgraded to those coming in from all of Italy, rather than just the North. The NZ Herald reports that it’s not a travel ban as such – however those who come in will be required to self-isolate for 14 days. According to this Radio NZ report, a full travel ban wasn’t deemed to be necessary, said PM Jacinda Ardern, because similar restrictions on those coming in from South Korea had slowed arrivals to a trickle, so the effect was much the same. There have also been warnings given about travelling on cruise ships, due in part to what has happened to several high-profile boats that became floating quarantine centres.

All of that probably sounds really scary, and it is obviously very serious – but there’s some good news too. Radio NZ reports that as of yesterday’s press update, there has been no new cases seen in the country over four consecutive days. Obviously, that could still change, and the advice from health officials was to keep taking prevention and protection measures seriously – especially for those who are themselves sick and should be self-isolating. But at least for now, it shows that those measures are working to keep people safer. And (if you aren’t among the many thousands who have already read this) it shows that work to ‘flatten the curve’, as Dr Siouxsie Wiles puts it, can truly make a difference. She’ll be writing more for The Spinoff today, so keep an eye out for it.

Meanwhile on the markets, Business Desk (paywalled) reports that the NZX had a brief rally yesterday, but still finished the day down. One interesting and pretty grim point noted in that story was that it was a really mixed day for companies who operate retirement villages, with the elderly more susceptible to the virus. We’ve got some additional strong business coverage to read on The Spinoff today: Michael Andrew has put together this piece explaining how panic in the world markets can then catch on in New Zealand, and the wider turmoil and volatility going on right now for things like the Super Fund and Kiwisaver. And Kiwibank chief economist Jarrod Kerr has explained why Covid-19 is such a complex and thorny problem for the global economy, with the very nature of the response required hitting economic activity.


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Safe Zones around abortion clinics, in which people aren’t allowed to protest, are now unlikely to be part of any law reform. I missed this on Tuesday night, but it basically resulted from a parliamentary blunder, reports Newshub. Those opposed to ACT leader David Seymour’s supplementary order paper stripping the legislation of those provision didn’t realise it was being voted on, and didn’t challenge it until it was too late. Justice minister Andrew Little says there are no plans to reinsert the section into the bill, which has the overall purpose of taking abortion out of the Crimes Act. The Greens have indicated that they’ll look at ways to get them back in. Regarding those Safe Zones, here Amy Pearl makes the argument as to why they’re a necessary area of protection.


The biodiversity of the Hauraki Gulf is at risk of collapse if urgent measures aren’t taken, reports One News. Exploitation and inaction has pushed the ecosystem to a tipping point, with crayfish now functionally extinct, and snapper populations at just 17% of what they would be without fishing. Only a miniscule proportion of the area is protected, and a major increase to that area would go some way towards protecting the fisheries for generations to come. For more on this story, also consider reading this NZ Geographic feature about it – you can get a palpable sense of anger coming through at this ecosystem slipping away forever.


The SFO has launched a formal investigation into mayors Phil Goff and Lianne Dalziel, reports Stuff. In the case of Christchurch mayor Dalziel, it relates to an allegation of failing to identify a donor in her re-election bid last year. In the case of Goff, it is understood to be a similar matter, but the specifics are unclear.


Ngāti Hikairo have spoken out about disrespectful trampers breaching the rāhui in place at Tongariro National Park, reports Te Manu Korihi. They say that one outcome of the breaches – put in place after two deaths – could be the loss of the park’s World Heritage status. Local tour guides quoted in the story say they respect rāhui when they’re put in place, generally for a three day period. But it was suggested that most of those breaching it were New Zealanders.


Volunteer firefighters are furious that people aren’t taking notice of total fire bans in some areas, reports Newshub’s Angie Skerrett. The story focuses on the Waipa District (home of champions) and the higher than usual number of callouts or volunteer firefighters (absolute champions) to deal with. Those callouts are also having a serious effect on jobs and families, and fighting the fires uses up water that is desperately needed for other things right now.


And finally, congratulations to our friends at Unity Books Auckland, who have taken out a pretty remarkable award. They’ve been named as the 2020 Bookstore of the Year at an international awards event attached to the London Book Fair. Given what they’ve managed to achieve as an independent retailer in a market dominated by massive chains and international tech giants like Amazon, I reckon the award is pretty well deserved.


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

Right now on The Spinoff: Alice Webb-Liddall bought a personalised message from a Black Cap on the internet, and came out with a really interesting piece about celebrity culture and fandom. Madeleine Chapman (quite literally) made a list of everything she touched with her hands in one day, amid health advice to be careful about what we touch. I went to AgResearch in Palmerston North to find out more about some critical science they’re doing around methane emissions from cows and sheep. James Dann pays tribute to The Afghan Restaurant in Christchurch, which is sometimes mysteriously closed, and sometimes utterly delicious. RNZ journalist Te Aniwa Hurihanganui reflects on losing her te reo Māori, and trying to get it back. Star geek Naomi Arnold considers what could be lost in space amid Elon Musk hurling strings of satellites up there. And Josie Adams reports on a new campaign by Eden Park to get concerts consented.


For a feature today, the story of someone who has dedicated the last year to helping the victims and families of the Christchurch mosque attacks. Sarah Lang at Noted has profiled Zhiyan Basharati, who could herself have died that day but for a coincidental schedule change, and since then has worked tirelessly to make sure the help that was offered reaches the people who need it. Here’s an excerpt:

Basharati’s willingness to challenge others when necessary is one of her strengths as an advocate, and also why some decision-makers within agencies feel intimidated by her. “I’m blunt. I don’t sugar-coat. I’ve often felt pushed out while trying to connect victims with organisations regarding their needs.” She thinks elements of sexism, racism and ageism come into this. “Also, some organisations are territorial – they want to be the gatekeepers. When you point out issues and make small criticisms, people try to shut it down.” But Basharati sees conflict as constructive if handled well.

There’s a common misconception that the job of looking after those affected is finished. “It’s not. People are still struggling, particularly with financial, medical and residency issues. Things aren’t just resolved with an expiry date.”


The NRL season hasn’t really started unless there’s been a totally gross and avoidable scandal. This year it came early. Stuff reports two Bulldogs players have been stood down, after having consensual sex with schoolgirls they met while on an official school visit with their team. There is also no suggestion that either of the girls were under the age of consent but still, the circumstances of how they met makes the whole thing a bit foul.

And for those looking forward to the ANZ Premiership netball competition this year, this from Radio NZ’s Kiwi Netball Show should whet your appetite. A trio of experts have picked their top three contenders to take out the title, with the Pulse heavy favourites to defend their crown. But the Tactix – once basically a joke team – are also being tipped to mount some upset wins along the way, after a bit of smart off-season recruitment.


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