Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Border closed to all non-NZers with limited exceptions, facing the economic implications of that decision, and new rules on gatherings released.
As of midnight last night, the border of New Zealand is closed to those who aren’t permanent residents or citizens, with very limited exceptions. In a speech delivered by PM Jacinda Ardern at 6.05pm last night, and broadcast live during the TV news, the unprecedented step was announced. “I want to acknowledge that at no time in New Zealand’s history has a power like this been used. I recognise how extraordinary it is. But we have to make decisions in the best interests of the health of those who live here.”
Those limited exemptions include the partners and children of permanent residents and citizens. There will also be allowances made for key workers in the health sector. A small number of flights will continue, but become less frequent over time. Flights will also continue for goods being brought in, and the PM stressed that there was no danger in supermarkets running out of food – rather, they just needed time to be restocked. The decision was influenced in part by reports that border checks and questioning had not been as “intensive” as she had expected. More information can be found in yesterday’s live updates page.
It will also apply to Pacific nations, in a departure from the earlier policy. That is in part because it is becoming less clear that New Zealand is able to prevent people with the virus from getting to the Pacific. RNZ Pacific reports that the first case has been found in Fiji, prompting the country to place increased restrictions of its own in place. And in an update to the situation with the long wait for test results in Samoa – RNZ Pacific reports that earlier suggestions it will take 10-20 working days were wrong, and should in fact be back within five days at the most.
It is important to reiterate that New Zealand residents and citizens overseas will still be able to return home. But the warnings are coming thick and fast that the window for such returns will diminish. The NZ Herald reports that warnings against overseas travel have been upgraded to their highest possible level – basically the message is don’t do it. Deputy PM Winston Peters said he sympathised with those New Zealanders still overseas, as they weren’t at fault for being stuck outside the country. As Radio NZ reports, plenty are struggling to find a way back.
But Peters said those who decided to travel overseas from now were being “selfish”. The reason for this is that all 28 cases (eight new cases were declared yesterday) are connected to international travel, so those who go overseas are increasing the risk of exposure for everyone else. It probably goes without saying that all those arriving will still have to isolate themselves for 14 days.
A major implication of the border closure will be on migrant workers. According to this Business Desk (paywalled) story, those already in the country will be likely to be allowed to stay, as they’ll be considered essential workers. It hasn’t been too much of a problem yet for the current Kiwifruit season, as the Gisborne Herald reports, with the harvest already underway across much of the region. But as Newshub reports, the need for key seasonal workers will continue – it’ll just change depending on the season.
Some of the commentary around this so far about swapping in workers who have recently been made redundant has probably been a bit simplistic – many of these jobs will be in rural areas, while many of the likely job losses will be in cities, to give just one of many reasons why it might not work out easily. A lot of support for those workers will be needed to make it happen. But there’s little doubt food production is going to be the major export that keeps the country going economically in the coming months. As Stuff’s Luke Malpass writes, closing the border means an enormous hit is coming for the economy.
New rules have also been released for public events. From now on, there can be no more indoor gatherings involving more than 100 people. Work is currently underway to give guidance to the hospitality industry about what it will mean for them, reports Radio NZ. The measures are designed to prevent any outbreak spreading further, and to reiterate, there is still no evidence of community transmission. But the overall message is this: if you’re in doubt about an event, right now the best course of action is to cancel it.
More ventilators are needed in ICUs across the country, but efforts are in motion to make that happen. Newsroom’s Nikki Mandow has looked into the concerns that we didn’t have enough, and the progress to get more built – initially it was really slow from the government, and then all of a sudden it was really fast. What’s fascinating about the situation is that it’s looking like NZ based manufacturers could be rapidly deployed, provided the government steps in and tells them it will cover the bill.
A quick note about misinformation and rumours: We at The Spinoff have seen a hell of a lot of this over the past couple of days, with many people (almost certainly with the best of intentions) sharing rumours with us. None of them have then been published. I’ve got no doubt every other media organisation has been doing the exact same thing, applying rigorous scrutiny to anything that comes into the inbox, so that it can be stood up as true before going out into the world.
The PM addressed this topic in her press conference yesterday, saying that “when you see those messages, remember that unless you hear it from us it is not the truth.” Now I’m not normally a particularly trusting person about what gets said by politicians. In this case though, we have seen absolutely nothing that proves that the government is deliberately misleading the public. If we had seen that, you’d know about it, because we would have told you.
And more importantly, the messages being put out and actions being put in place by the government right now are clearly being informed by subject matter experts, both at the Ministry of Health and in the scientific community. The politicians are probably going to get some things wrong over the coming months, and when they do, we’ll tell you. There is also still plenty of room to criticise and challenge the decisions that are taken – it’s a free country, after all. But at a time like this, please be very careful about things that get passed on by people who probably aren’t experts, but claim to have insider knowledge.
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Right now on The Spinoff: Dr Mike Bedford, a specialist in health and wellbeing in early childhood education, says the education ministry must clarify its support for voluntary withdrawal of children from early education and care. I report on the situation facing the waste management industry right now, with a big increase in healthcare waste, but a likely dip in overall rubbish volumes. Mark Amery looks at the situation right now for art galleries and museums, most of which are still open. Gary McLean, a professor in molecular immunology in London, writes about the abrupt change in approach from Britain’s government. Alex Casey talks to six women who have to touch people as part of their jobs, and how Covid-19 has changed everything.
And for those at home right now: Louise Thornley gives some self-isolation tips from people who live with chronic pain. Katie Te Nahu Owen has some advice about making technology work for you when working from home. And Pallas Hupé Cotter, a hugger, writes about how to keep your distance from mates in the least socially awkward way possible.
For a feature about something completely different today, a thoughtful look at some of the challenges that come with growing up blind. I’m not going to explain too much more about it, because anything I could add would sound ridiculously trite, so instead, here is an excerpt from Áine Kelly-Costello’s piece on the Pantograph Punch.
In Mum’s memory, I am seven and we are driving home from a piano lesson when I put her to the test. “Mummy,” I enquire, “is it better to be able to see?” “It’s not better,” she explains, “but it is easier.” I imagine seven-year-old me agreed. Twenty-four-year-old me certainly does, all else being equal.
Easier when joining my local sports club, which at first wouldn’t take me because I was blind. Easier when auditioning for my school production – the teachers directing it argued there was no suitable part for me specifically because I was blind. Easier when organising the logistics of moving to a foreign city to study, or needing to memorise my part to play in an orchestra, or sussing accessibility logistics to work as a digital journalist. Easier, indeed, but not better.
Who’s keen for a bit of the greatest football code on earth this weekend? I’m talking of course about the AFL, which will continue to go ahead, while many other sports are cancelled. The NZ Herald has an excellent guide to what is going ahead (for now, as the journo Joel Kulasingham makes very clear) and closer to home, the pick of the fixtures is probably the ANZ Netball Premiership double-header on Sunday afternoon, including a big clash between the Pulse and the Steel. Anyway, no matter you spend your weekend of social distancing, I hope it’s a good one.
That’s it for The Bulletin. If you want to support the work we do at The Spinoff, please check out our membership programme.