Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Bleak Treasury scenarios show massive unemployment looming, rest home cluster claims more lives, and students disappointed at support package.
The scenarios are in for how Treasury expects Covid-19 to affect GDP and unemployment rates, and they’re pretty bleak. You can read a report on them here, but in short, they take into account various conditions like the length of each period at different lockdown alert levels, how much additional stimulus money the government puts into the economy, and the effect Covid-19 has on the global economy.
The top line figure that many have picked up on is unemployment topping out at 26%, but it’s worth noting this is considered to be an absolute worst-case scenario. That is projected to occur if there is no additional government stimulus, and if we stay in level four and three for a year. Even so, one plank of that has already basically been ruled out by the government – Newshub reports that finance minister Grant Robertson has strongly signalled more stimulus money is on the way, on top of a further $3 billion package for small and medium businesses announced yesterday. Robertson also argued that by going harder on the lockdown earlier, New Zealand was in a better position to avoid being in a higher alert level for longer.
Conversely, others have picked out the scenario that shows unemployment could perhaps be kept below 10% – that is based on the fairly optimistic position that we’ll spend most of this year at level one or two, along with absolutely whopping government stimulus spending.
The other important point about these scenarios is that they will not be the sole basis for how the government makes lockdown decisions. Robertson said they “should not be taken as any guide as to the government’s thinking or decision on changing alert levels.” In other words, the public health goals of the elimination strategy will continue to be the primary focus for the response.
All of this came out on a day in which the real economy took a beating, illustrating the stark percentages of unemployment rates with hundreds of job losses. One concern is that they came from across all sorts of sectors. Burger King’s parent company went into receivership, putting 2600 staff at risk. Telco 2Degrees made 120 workers redundant amid wider cost cutting measures. And media company NZME told the NZX that their workforce would be reduced by 15%, or about 200 jobs, with that made up of redundancies and unfilled positions being removed. These are just three examples that made the news on one particular day – there have been many more over recent weeks, and in many cases the job losses won’t have been reported.
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The vast majority of New Zealand’s rest homes have not had Covid-19 cases, but the tragic case of the Rosewood cluster in Christchurch shows the risks. The facility has now had 6 fatalities, and as Newshub reports, it is leading to anger from family members who could not see their loved ones to say goodbye. The government has now indicated it will consider relaxing the current rules, which don’t really allow any visitors at all into rest homes, because older people are much more vulnerable to Covid-19. The latest updated charts on case numbers can be found here.
A package to support tertiary students has been announced by the government, reports Stuff. The package is worth about $130 million overall, and many of the changes are small technical fixes around access to student loans, or support for those who can’t study online. One big figure that was part of it – the borrowing limit for course related costs has been doubled to $2000. On that point, student magazines Critic and Salient have collaborated to canvass the views of the student community, with many expressing disappointment at the increase this will cause to student debt.
Meanwhile speaking of education, term 2 starts today. Obviously, kids won’t actually be going to school, but with that comes the launch of some new educational programming to support home learning. Tara Ward has outlined what’s going to be on the box, where and when it can be watched, what is and isn’t expected of parents, and what role Suzy Cato will play in it all.
Here’s another strong piece of country vs country analysis to share, from Newsroom’s Marc Daalder. It jumps off a press release from a group of dissenting academics, who say the current lockdown approach has gone too far relative to the harm that Covid-19 can cause. The criticism to that position primarily comes in the form of data which shows that most countries who went for looser lockdown measures are now seeing spikes in mortality. A seeming outlier that has been seized upon by the previously mentioned academics is Australia, which still has a relatively low death toll compared to the strength of their social restrictions. The counter argument to their position is put forward by Dr Siouxsie Wiles, who has taken their claims on point by point – it’s a pretty devastating rebuttal.
As an aside, I hope this point doesn’t come across as presumptuous, and I promise I’m not being flippant, but it’s a subject I do have some expertise in. The time it takes for death to occur after Covid-19 infection is several weeks, which in terms of a news cycle is a hell of a long time. That is especially the case in the intensely accelerated moment that we’re currently in, and doubly so for people who consume a lot of news or social media. It’s totally normal to therefore feel like this lockdown has gone on far too long, or like we’ve been in it forever. But on the timescale of a Covid-19 infection (let alone a cluster) it has been very little time at all. We can identify trends at the moment, but let’s hold off on declaring a result until all the facts are in.
A short but interesting story that might give you a bit of hope – One News has wrapped some of the global efforts to develop a Covid-19 vaccine. It’s still likely to be a year away – and quite possibly longer – but what the story illustrates is that resources are being diverted towards the project. Some reports, like this one from Sky News, raise hopes of a vaccine by September this year, which would be the absolute best case scenario.
Here’s a story I totally missed from around the start of the month. Newshub reports environmental campaigners are celebrating a win against a seabed mining operation off the Taranaki coast, which would have involved 50 million tonnes of iron sand being dug up each year. Various groups raised concerns that the area was home to native and protected species, and the operation would have been environmentally destructive. In related news, the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Hamish Rutherford reports oil company OMV are talking up the results of their latest exploration off the Taranaki coast, potentially finding the country’s first commercially viable hydrocarbon discovery in more than a decade. Suffice to say, if that is true I’d expect the protagonists of these two stories to cross paths.
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Right now on The Spinoff: Duncan Greive reports on a radical move by shoemaker Allbirds to put carbon cost labelling on every pair sold. Holly Walker writes about the toll loneliness can take, particularly at a time of social isolation. The 48 Hour Film Festival will be back this weekend, even with everyone in lockdown. Sam Brooks reviews the third season of Killing Eve, suggesting that the writers have let the wonderful characters they created down. Sam Brooks (again) also reviews the aftermath of the scummy Netflix cult hit Tiger King. And we’ve got a new episode of Final Mix out, featuring rappers Church and AP.
For a feature today, a long read on one of the most interesting questions right now for internet culture – what should be preserved as history? There’s an immense amount of sheer… just… stuff that gets hurled into the void every second of every day, and yet at the same time, what if these are precious nuggets that historians of the future will pore over and analyse? Ars Technica have profiled some of the people who believe that it should be saved – described variously as either archivists or digital hoarders. Here’s an excerpt, concerning a subreddit where many of these people gather:
On r/Datahoarder, you’ll find people storing data on everything from YouTube videos to game install discs. One person was even planning to copy all Australia-based websites even as the country burned in the worst wildfires in history. The post was deleted after it was pointed out that the physical servers for Australian websites are located outside the country. They’re safe for now—phew.
And for future historians, every tweet, every livestream, every TV and news show of the recent and ongoing Hong Kong democracy movement has been squirreled away by a few dedicated users. Already it’s proving useful to at least one academic who visited r/DataHoarder seeking research material for their Sociology master’s thesis on the Hong Kong protests.
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The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.