Jacinda Ardern addresses the media. (Getty Images)
Jacinda Ardern addresses the media. (Getty Images)

The BulletinMarch 16, 2020

The Bulletin: Facing the Covid-19 economic shock

Jacinda Ardern addresses the media. (Getty Images)
Jacinda Ardern addresses the media. (Getty Images)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: New travel restrictions make Covid-19 recession all but certain, further cases of the virus confirmed, and March 15 commemoration called off.

Major new travel restrictions were announced over the weekend, making a recession this year all but certain to happen. Toby Manhire has put together the essential guide with all you need to know about those restrictions, which PM Jacinda Ardern says are the strongest in the world. The main feature of them is that all arrivals into the country, from anywhere in the world except the Pacific Islands, will be required to self-isolate for 14 days. Those who are feeling unwell, or who suspect they may have been in contact with someone with the virus, are being told to call Healthline on 0800 358 5453.

Many people will be required to self-isolate over the coming months. Toby Manhire has put together a guide as to what that means in practice – some of you have emailed in confused about it, and this is very clear and informative. You absolutely must not simply ‘soldier on’ during a virus though, writes Catherine Jeffcoat, because doing so will endanger others. If you feel sick, stay home. And a reminder for employers from the start of the month – you have a legal obligation to keep your staff and customers safe. In taking the approach that it has, the government has calculated that the public health benefits will outweigh the massive economic dislocation that will come with it – a view elaborated on here by Dr Siouxsie Wiles.

For tourism, this will be a time of profound disruption and economic pain. That’s the conclusion from this Stuff report, which notes that the impact will be severe in the short term, but could even force structural changes to the industry long term. The cruise ship industry in particular is effectively just done for the next few months, and whether they come back is anyone’s guess. A few media companies have in the past few days launched campaigns to get people to keep their tourism spending local, and I wholeheartedly agree – off the top of my head I’d recommend the Rangitikei District, Opōtiki and Bluff as buzzy and cool places to check out.

In the rural sector, one major issue will be visas for migrant workers. On the day before the new travel restrictions were announced, Farmers Weekly published advice that there would be major delays in processing them. That advice probably still stands, and additionally, all those coming in will need to be in self-isolation for 14 days, so farmers will need to factor that in too. Earlier today on Morning Report, there was a suggestion that forestry workers could be diverted to help out with seasonal horticulture work instead, particularly with the Kiwifruit season coming up.

With far fewer tourists coming in, and people wary of crowds, hospitality is going to take a hit. As Duncan Greive and Alice Neville report, it’s already happening to a smaller degree, and some businesses are looking ahead to a future where the question isn’t so much a loss of revenue as it is staying open at all.

The film industry is also going to suffer, reports Newsroom, in an example of how the ripple effects of this will spread. Previously, the industry had been absolutely pumping – and now, as the NZ Herald reports, it has got to the point where the massive Amazon Lord of the Rings production has been shut down – with no clarity on when it will return either.

And in terms of the financial markets, well. Today could be a rather wild day. New Zealand will open early relative to the rest of the world, so it will be tomorrow before we have a really clear picture of the global situation.

What will the expected recession look like? Writing on Radio NZ before the new restrictions were announced, economist Shamubeel Eaqub believes that it won’t be a case of a rapid crash, with countless people put out of work overnight. Rather, the effects will permeate over a long period, and be seen most notably in fewer business decisions around expansion and new hires. And for an idea as to how complicated it will be to measure and assess the nature and depth of the recession, this piece from Stuff’s Thomas Coughlan is illuminating.

Further announcements will be made over the course of this week. Jacinda Ardern gave a preview of some of these on TVNZ’s Q+A, saying that it would almost certainly be the single biggest package she will ever announce as PM. She noted that with the situation changing as rapidly as it is, economic advice she received two weeks ago may now be out of date.

So to reiterate the most important messages: If you have been overseas (except to the Pacific) you must self-isolate on return. And if you are starting to feel sick, you must self-isolate. These two points need to be absolutely hammered home, because they’re not really about any one individual person – they’re about the collective health of all of us. Other measures that should be taken can be found in this article about stopping the spread. The point of these measures is to slow or halt outbreaks before they become rampant, overwhelming the health system. If you don’t follow these measures – or worse, encourage or demand others to ignore the measures – then you should be ashamed of yourself. Don’t leave it up to the government to force you to quarantine.

Finally, there are going to be some difficult times ahead, and things are going to change a lot. Throughout whatever comes next, I would ask you to reflect on what sort of world you want to live in, and how what you do can help bring that about. Let’s help each other as readily as we help ourselves, and understand that our actions can have consequences for people we might never meet.

Listen to the experts. Support your neighbours. Stay home if you’re sick. Give freely to those in need. Wash your hands.

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That sixth patient who was mentioned earlier is recovering at home, and has praised the response from the health system. Stuff spoke to the man in his 60s, who recently returned from the US, who said that the testing and treatment that he received in New Zealand was far better than what would have been available in the States. This man in particular appears to have been a fortunate case, in that his symptoms were not severe, and he is able to continue working from home.

However, two more cases have now been confirmed, bringing the total to eight. The NZ Herald has a rundown on the movements of those people since arriving in the country. Both involved overseas travellers. In the case of one, he was tested in Australia, and flew to Wellington before getting the positive results – he is now self-isolating. It shouldn’t need to be said, but… don’t do this. The eighth person arrived in Auckland before heading to the South Island. Again, if you’re feeling unwell, or suspect you may have been in contact with someone with the virus, call Healthline on 0800 358 5453.

March 15 commemorations were cancelled yesterday because of coronavirus precautions. There was also a troubling incident, reported on by Stuff, in which a man was arrested outside Kilbirnie Mosque for making inappropriate comments outside, and then becoming aggressive with police when told to move on. Had the commemorations gone ahead, there would have been a speech made by Dr Hamimah Tuyan, the widow of attack victim Zekeriya Tuyan – here’s what she would have said about how the families and victims can be supported and honoured today. I would also encourage you to watch the One Year On project, in which the voices of people at Christchurch’s mosques are elevated.

Despite millions of dollars being pledged towards the Central Otago cycle trail years ago, the projects have gone nowhere since. The ODT’s Mark Price reports that the government departments tasked with the job back in 2016 still haven’t even started on the paperwork. The Trust who want to get on and actually create the trails say they’ve been bounced around repeatedly, and that the project could be a hugely significant one in unlocking the wider region to Queenstown tourism.

A nice regional story about people carrying on through setbacks: The Wairarapa Times-Age reports that the first citizenship ceremony of the year has gone ahead, despite a power cut hitting most of the region at exactly the time it was meant to happen. Instead of taking place in the marae, all the seating was moved into the main hall instead. Masterton mayor Lyn Patterson witnessed 39 new New Zealanders take their oath, and welcomed them to their new home.

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: Mahvash Ali writes about growing up in Pakistan, why she can never move back, and how her mindset changed with March 15. Josie Adams meets the creator of Hinge, to find out why his dating app is different. Former Newshub exec Hal Crawford surveys the media scene in his native Australia, and finds an industry with many of the same challenges as our own, but some that are unique too. Claire Hooker writes about the best ways to talk to someone spreading misinformation about Covid-19 – or any other public health issue really. And our poem to finish last week was The Guest House, by Mohamed Hassan.

For a feature today, a piece about some of the political implications of the Covid-19 measures. Specifically, the election that is coming up later this year, and whether there are legal ways by which it could be delayed – after all, social distancing means that a whole lot of campaign mechanisms (like public meetings) are now a more dicey proposition. Electoral law expert Graeme Edgeler has outlined a range of potential issues on this Public Address post, in a very easy question and answer format. Here’s an excerpt:

Can the Government delay the election beyond this year?

The Government couldn’t. Not by itself. But if it was thought necessary, Parliament could delay the election. It has done this before: despite the standard three-year term, the 19th Parliament (elected in 1914) lasted almost 5 years, after Parliament passed the Parliamentary Elections Postponement Act 1916 because of the First World War.

Parliament passed a law extending the term of Parliament to four years in 1934 (extending the term of the then current Parliament as well), possibly as part of the response to the Depression. This was later reversed, but the election was also delayed twice during the Second World War, with a Prolongation of Parliament Act passed in each of 1941 and 1942.

In sport, those of you who wanted to see this section get cut from The Bulletin might end up getting your wish. A lot of professional sport is basically going to stop for the foreseeable future, and there may well be nothing compelling to cover. For the Warriors, they’ll be confined to Australia for the medium term future, because of the travel restrictions. In any case, as the NZ Herald reports, they didn’t score a point in their season opener over the weekend. In one of the other football codes, the Wellington Phoenix put together their 4th win in a row over the weekend, but will now be based in Australia as well.

There is one sports story I want to highlight, simply because it’s a thoughtful and generous gesture. 19 year old basketball prodigy Zion Williamson has pledged to cover 30 days worth of salaries for staff at the arena his New Orleans Pelicans play in, reports Talk Basket. Several other players made similar moves, after the NBA suspended the season indefinitely. But the case of Williamson is incredible, because relative to those other players he’s not yet a particularly rich man. Of course, it should be coming out of the pockets of the team’s billionaire owner, but that’s America for you.

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