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Health workers take part in ICU training for Covid-19 at Hutt Hospital (Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas)
Health workers take part in ICU training for Covid-19 at Hutt Hospital (Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas)

The BulletinApril 22, 2020

The Bulletin: Deeper scrutiny coming on PPE concerns

Health workers take part in ICU training for Covid-19 at Hutt Hospital (Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas)
Health workers take part in ICU training for Covid-19 at Hutt Hospital (Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Auditor general to investigate PPE supply, NZ man dies in Peru reportedly after testing positive for Covid-19, and government criticised over lack of small business analysis.

The auditor-general will investigate the health ministry’s handling and distribution of personal protective equipment, after weeks of health worker concerns about access, reports Newshub. There have been many examples over the last several weeks of one thing being said by director-general Dr Ashley Bloomfield about PPE supply, and then a very different thing being reported by those on the ground. For example, in the linked Newshub story, the question of PPE being sanitised and reused came up – Dr Bloomfield said last week it wasn’t happening, but Northland DHB said it was. The AG investigation will in part be an effort to reconcile where the flow of information is breaking down.

The investigation has been welcomed by unions who represent workers on the front lines of health. The NZ Nurses Association said they were seeing inconsistencies between the top level messaging, and what their members were seeing. And the PSA put out a press release saying their members were sick of “empty promises” on PPE. “The PSA has been unable to get clear answers from senior DHB and MoH officials about why PPE distribution has been so unreliable and uneven.” It’s not necessarily a question of whether the country at large has sufficient supplies – rather it’s the logistical challenge of getting them where they are actually needed. And it should go without saying how important PPE is to the overall national effort – if there was a major outbreak of cases and the health workforce went down, we’d all go down with them.

Meanwhile speaking of the nationwide supply, there are fears that could soon be choked. Radio NZ’s Ben Strang reported late last week that importers are worried China could soon turn off the tap, and import businesses are already struggling to access stock. There are small pockets of manufacturing here, but overall the system is reliant on quite stretched supply chains, and the continued goodwill of a country that has problems enough of its own with Covid-19.

A 49 year old NZ man in Peru has died after being unable to get a mercy flight home, and as the NZ Herald reports, his family say he had tested positive for Covid-19. Edward Storey is being remembered by his family as a kind-hearted and compassionate person. Back in New Zealand, there has been one further death, and five new cases overall. The number of people who have recovered is climbing by dozens every day.

On a related note, the question of asymptomatic carriers is one that has big implications for policymakers. Dr Siouxsie Wiles has addressed what the data actually shows here, and suffice to say, there have been a few media reports on this which paint a bit of a misleading picture of how common being asymptomatic really is.

The opposition has criticised the government for not providing detail and data around the impact of lockdown on small businesses, reports Newshub. There are schemes in place which these types of organisation can access for support, including the wage subsidy scheme and the business finance guarantee scheme. Small Business minister Stuart Nash was in front of the Epidemic Response Committee yesterday, and couldn’t point to any modelling used by cabinet in the decision to extend the lockdown until after the weekend, along with subsequent weeks at level three. He said cabinet believed small businesses would fare better with a longer lockdown now, because it meant a lower chance of going back into lockdown later – National’s Simon Bridges said without data, that was just rhetoric.

Air NZ is facing scrutiny over how many staff have contracted Covid-19. Checkpoint reported last night that staff are uneasy about being exempt from quarantine or isolation rules, and there has been an allegation that a flight attendant has been linked to the Bluff wedding cluster of cases. 16 international services a week are being flown by Air NZ, and the airline says they’re following guidelines set down by the health ministry.

Education minister Chris Hipkins fronted the media yesterday, in part to talk about concerns around schools and ECEs reopening. The NZ Herald reports that Hipkins promised ECEs that they wouldn’t be forced to open again at level three, though he hoped those that could reopen would do so. One estimate in the story suggests around 70-90% of ECEs would reopen, though uptake among parents isn’t expected to be that high – and the message from the government is very much still that those kids that can stay home should do so. Wearing his other hat as Leader of the House, Hipkins also confirmed that parliament would resume sitting in the main chamber next week, but with a limited number of MPs in their seats.

There’s been head-scratching over a move by the Reserve Bank that could clear the field for property investors to seize control of the market again. Basically, the RBNZ is preparing to remove limits on loan to value ratios for borrowers – this refers to the amount of money someone already has to have as a deposit to buy a home. As Interest’s David Hargreaves explains, when these LVR rules were brought in, it rebalanced the market so that first home buyers could get a foothold, at the expense of investors who then had to have cash rather than just assets to leverage to buy more property. Now with the LVRs going, there is speculation that it’s a bit of a desperate move to prevent house prices falling too much in the inevitable correction that is on the way. On the other hand, it could be a lifeline for first home buyers who lost a big chunk of their deposits building up in Kiwisaver.

It feels like it was happening about a decade ago, but remember when the Serious Fraud Office was looking into the NZ First Foundation? The latest on that story has come out from Radio NZ. The SFO has laid out a timetable for the investigation, in a rare public statement. Because of the lockdown, exact dates have not been given, but it is expected that a decision on whether to lay charges will have been made before the election. Meanwhile, Newstalk ZB reports NZF Foundation trustee Brian Henry was the subject of an SFO raid in February.

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Right now on The Spinoff: Scotty Stevenson has a wonderful essay about a quieter world, and really taking the time to listen to it. I was confused about how the share market could rise while unemployment was also shooting up, so I wrote this explainer as a way of learning. Midwife and lecturer Billie Bradford explains the impact stress can have on pregnant women and why support for low-income families is so important right now. Catherine McGregor, great lover of travel, writes about Duolingo and how it can help make experiences overseas much better. And Sam Brooks reviews the new Paul Henry show, and not entirely positively.

For a feature today, a look at the current nightmare situation for undocumented migrants in the US. The Baffler magazine has noted that many millions of essential jobs are filled by these people, who live under daily threat of deportation. And as the response to the pandemic develops, there is likely to be increasing use of surveillance systems – which because of American politics, seem certain to be turned against the undocumented. Here’s an excerpt:

If undocumented workers inhabit an American underclass in ordinary times, it will be orders of magnitude worse as they’re battered by the cratering economy with access to practically zero of the pandemic-related aid and assistance. Of an already very limited slate of powerful champions in government and society, how many will remain once some twenty million laid-off Americans flood back into the labor market in unison? There’s a better-than-average chance that when the smoke clears, the workers who fed this country in its time of greatest need will find themselves bruised and alone, their crucial contributions easily cast aside as the administration, smelling blood, closes in.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. This crisis-driven validation of the contributions of the undocumented could pave the way for a broader recognition of belonging, of citizenship in the classical sense and maybe even the legal one.

Sport, glorious sport, could soon be returning in an extremely limited form. Stuff’s Zoe George reports that guidelines are expected to be issued to National Sporting Organisations this week, and individual codes will then be able to make decisions about whether activity is possible. Tennis, for example, could be a goer (presumably providing you don’t play too many drop shots up at the net) and golf could also be possible if you skip the 19th hole in the clubhouse afterwards. And when we get to level two, we might even see a return of top-level competitive sport.

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

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