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The BulletinMarch 27, 2020

The Bulletin: Community transmission concerns as cases rise

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Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Covid case numbers rise again, modelling shows the toll taking no action could have had, and warnings of logistical crunch at ports.

As the number of cases of Covid-19 rises into the hundreds, clusters are starting to emerge. There are now 283 cases, with seven people in hospital, all in a stable condition. Mercifully, New Zealand is yet to see a single death from Covid-19, though the biggest wave is still to come.

To be clear – the vast majority of cases in New Zealand are still connected to international travel. But the number of cases that don’t necessarily have a link to international travel are starting to creep up, and are likely to continue doing so for weeks. Even with the strict border measures and a society-wide lockdown in place, the long lag time between infections occurring and symptoms appearing means that a lot more cases are likely to emerge in the next several weeks. As Dr Ashley Bloomfield from the Ministry of Health put it, “it’s hard to predict but, yes, it may get up into the thousands. The key thing here is that we want the turnaround point to be as soon as possible. That could be around 10 days’ time if we are doing what we need to do now.”

Of those clusters, one is centred around Marist College in Auckland. Marist College Board Chair Stephen Dallow spoke to Checkpoint last night, describing the fear and worry in the school’s community, and the process being undertaken by the Ministry to trace all close contacts. It’s not really clear to him where the first case came from, because there wasn’t necessarily any overseas link. That’s basically what community transmission means, and the big fear is that we’re about to see a spike of such cases. There are also cases in two rest homes – full details can be found in yesterday’s live updates. The existence of community transmission doesn’t necessarily mean it has got out of control – this Newsroom report from the start of the week quotes experts who said (before the level four move was announced) that aggressive measures could contain any community outbreaks.

But because of all that, it’s very important that everyone does their bit on the rules. If you need a refresher on them, please do read this piece explaining bubbles by Alice Webb-Liddall. The people you started the lockdown with – they’re the people that you’re going to be spending the whole lockdown with, and nobody else. Act like you’ve already got the virus – if you like someone enough to break the rules to spend time with them, why would you risk passing it on to them?

Statistical modelling has suggested what the outcomes might have been had New Zealand not gone into a shutdown to fight Covid-19. Writing on The Spinoff, Auckland University’s Shaun Hendy explained the research, which showed that if no action to stop Covid-19 was taken, the health system quickly would have become overwhelmed, leading to tens of thousands of deaths. We won’t know for a while if the approach taken will prevent such a tragic outcome, but so far there is a small amount of evidence of Italy’s lockdown contributing to a slight slowing in new cases – though that itself came long after it got out of control.

Warnings are being sounded of a logistical crunch at ports if non-essential stuff cannot continue to be moved through, reports Business Desk (paywalled.) The problem could come particularly if imports can’t be passed on to customers, because they won’t necessarily have anywhere else to go, and could cause blockages as a result. There are also questions of clarity around what the rules are here. I’ll give you an example: Food exports are considered essential to continue, and the definition of essential includes supply chains, but it’s not necessarily clear whether essential also includes non-essentials that are essential to move for the essentials to move. As I said – there are some questions around clarity.

A strange situation for one of our national obsessions, but the property market has effectively stopped for now. Interest’s Greg Ninness has reported on what will be the last live auction in Auckland for a long while, in which almost nobody turned up, and nothing was sold. What happens next for the property market, which was looking in danger of overheating all over again before this all started, is a real mystery. Will it crash if the wider economy enters a recession? Or will it rise as wealthy investors look for a safe place to park money? Time will tell.

I’m sharing this story because there’s been a fair bit of consternation online around it, and aspects are worth elaborating on. Thomas Manch has reported for Stuff that during the lockdown period, police have the power to enter private homes without a warrant if they suspect a gathering is going on. That comes under the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act, which has been invoked under the declaration of a State of National Emergency. So it is a temporary power that they hold – but for those who are concerned, it’s definitely easy to see why you’d push back very strongly against any attempt to entrench such powers.

Following up on yesterday’s Bulletin about fairness in this time of crisis, this interview conducted by The Spinoff’s Leonie Hayden is an absolute must-read. She spoke to a supermarket checkout manager, who is currently experiencing the most difficult few weeks of her career. The interview is anonymised, to allow ‘Rosie’ to speak frankly. One point that jumps out – staff at the supermarket aren’t being paid any extra despite the risks they’re facing. They have been offered a shared lunch (which many are wary of right now, for obvious reasons) and their staff discount has been bumped from 5% to 10%, though for some at the end of their shift there’s nothing left on the shelves.

Do we have the medical supplies for a large scale outbreak? Radio NZ reported in their news bulletins this morning that a major supplier of gowns has sounded the alarm that an order of half a million may not be delivered, because they can’t find a factory to make them, and there won’t be a plane to fly them in. Dr Bloomfield said yesterday that “we have really good supply of PPE and we are working hard over today to make sure it is out with everybody who needs it in whatever clinical situation they are in.” PPE, for those who haven’t seen the term before, means personal protective equipment.

A quick correction to yesterday’s story about allegations of price gouging at supermarkets: Foodstuffs had in fact commented to Radio NZ, and their comments can be read in the linked story.

Keep up with all the developments today with our Covid-19 live updates page.

The man who carried out the Christchurch mosque attacks, killing 51 people, has pleaded guilty to all charges. A sentencing date has not yet been set. The guilty plea means families will now not have to experience a drawn-out trial. I have nothing more to say about the murderer, so encourage you to read Anjum Rahman’s commentary on the guilty plea.

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Photo: Marty Melville/AFP

Right now on The Spinoff: Porirua GP Toby Hills writes about seeing your doctor amid the crisis, and support for the primary care system. Sam Brooks reports on the specifics of the Creative NZ support package for out of work artists. Jihee Junn speaks to Kiwi Wealth’s head of fixed interest about billion dollar investment decisions at a time of market turmoil. Alice Webb-Liddall reports on the impact the coronavirus is having on the homeless. Jai Breitnauer, who recently departed NZ to move home to Britain, writes about the confusion and mistrust in the country right now. Emily Writes speaks to children throughout the country about how they’re feeling right now and what advice they might have for grown-ups. And we’ve collected some of the best and most eerie images of life in New Zealand under lockdown.

For a feature today, a look at life in London right now. New Zealand born journalist Sophie Bateman has written for Radio NZ about the diminishing feeling of confidence in the government’s ability to manage to outbreak, and wondering whether it was a mistake to go there. It’s a bleakly honest piece, and one I imagine will resonate with many there right now. Here’s an excerpt:

Each day at 5.12pm (a scheduled failure of punctuality to suggest furious workings behind the scenes) we’re treated to a gurning performance from a bloated paradox of a Prime Minister who wants to be both a grave-faced wartime leader and a chummy pub regular and is failing at both.

I try not to dwell on the horrific information the British government must have received in the last few days to force them to reverse their previous plan of mass murder by “herd immunity”.

It’s still a bit weird heading towards the weekend with no sport to look forward to. So instead of that, we’ll finish today’s Bulletin on a lighter note. Here’s a video of boxer Joseph Parker doing the Love Actually dance, because like most of the rest of the country he’s at home with not a lot to do. Have a good weekend all, stay safe and well.

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