An airline passenger from China arriving at an airport in Indonesia (Getty Images)

The Bulletin: What impacts will coronavirus have?

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Impacts of coronavirus in focus, claims of NZDF coverup of indecent assaults, and will NZ and Europe get a trade deal this year? 

I realise that the lead story in Friday’s Bulletin was also about the coronavirus, so apologies if you feel there is too much coverage of it. But to be honest, it’s the biggest story in the world right now, with clear implications for New Zealand, so it’s worth going back to again. What I will note up the top here though is that often saturation coverage of a news story can create an impression of panic, and while there will certainly be ill-effects, it’s still not clear if any panic is actually warranted.

There are likely to be economic impacts of the coronavirus outbreak, reports Stuff’s Tom Pullar-Strecker. It will be a while before we know, but given the epicentre is China, some of the sectors that could be affected are tourism, international students, and dairy exports. So far, school enrolment rates from China are steady, reports Radio NZ, though students are being asked to delay flights if they have any symptoms, and schools are being told to keep an eye out for symptoms as well. On the economic impacts of it all, in the somewhat comparable case of SARS in 2003, the actual impact on New Zealand’s economy was small, though it’s probably fair to say our economy is much more closely connected with China’s now. Around the world too, the New York Times (paywalled) reports that shares connected with China are tumbling, as investors look to offload risk.

The movement of people is also far greater, and for that reason, cases in New Zealand are highly likely. In fact, there is a (at this stage totally unconfirmed) report of a potential case in Queenstown. However, those worried that a massive outbreak is on the verge of happening in New Zealand are being reassured by health authorities. Radio NZ reports Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield told media yesterday that “the likelihood of a sustained outbreak in New Zealand remained low.” That’s an argument picked up and explored in this excellent explainer from microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles. Yes, of course it’s a serious and tragic situation, and you should avoid travelling to affected areas of China, but human to human spread so far looks like it is “likely to have involved people in close and repeated contact.” The virus appears to have both a lower infection rate and a lower mortality rate than measles, to put the danger in context.

It may well be that the number of reported cases is lower than the true figure. That number as of this morning is higher than 2700, with around 80 confirmed deaths, all of which have taken place in China. But strict emergency measures have been put in place by China, covered here in the second half of this Asia Times article (note – numbers in this piece are several days out of date) which will be seriously slowing the potential spread of the virus. It is also worth noting that the World Health Organisation still hasn’t seen fit to declare the Wuhan coronavirus a “public health emergency of international concern” – the reason for that is covered in this piece on The Conversation.

A final point – a major danger of the coronavirus may well be xenophobia and anti-Chinese racism. That’s a point made by Queenstown mayor Jim Boult in this NZ Herald article, with Boult noting that he had started to see signs of that sentiment spreading. “We must all unite to demonstrate zero tolerance in regard to any such behaviour and to stand up and call it out,” he said, and I for one fully agree with him there.


A claim has been made that the NZDF covered up complaints of indecent medical examinations of recruits, reports the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) David Fisher. The claim came from the NZDF’s former chief medical officer, Wing Commander Doctor Paul Nealis, who says it was among the reasons he resigned. More information on the complaints themselves can be found in this NZ Herald (paywalled) story, also by Fisher. In it, it details the stories of two recruits who made complaints about the nature of their medical examination, and despite the complaints being made, new recruits continued to be referred to him. The doctor denies the allegations.


In the world of international relations, one of the big stories this year for New Zealand will be whether a trade deal with the EU gets over the line. Newsroom’s Sam Sachdeva has taken a close look at the background to such a deal, along with the immense enthusiasm for such a deal in internationalist quarters. However, as is often the case, agriculture protectionism is likely to be a stumbling block.


After yesterday’s Bulletin, here’s two more stories about the wider Māori political world. The first comes from Politik, where it is reported that a showdown over Ihumātao will take place at Cabinet today, on whether or not public money can be put towards repurchasing the land from Fletchers. It’s a big sticking point between NZ First and the rest of the government, and it remains to be seen how far they’ll take their opposition.

The second comes from Stuff, where it is reported that Green co-leader Marama Davidson will be running to win in a Māori electorate – quite possibly Tāmaki Makaurau. That would mark something of a departure for the Greens, who generally run in seats to boost the party vote, and could put them in direct conflict with both Labour and the Māori Party.


The finances of the Dunedin City Council will be under close scrutiny this week, with meetings to consider budget proposals. The ODT reports rates are likely to rise, and around $12 million worth of capital spending has been earmarked for cuts. However, there is also likely to be progress towards an idea championed by new mayor Aaron Hawkins, which is for a free low-carbon bus service that loops around the inner city.


Parents in the Hawke’s Bay are being told to teach their kids about safety around trains, with the reinstatement of the Napier to Wairoa line. Radio NZ reports the volume of trains is going to be ramping up over the next 18 months, particularly as timber gets harvested and sent off for export. However, over time there could also be positive safety improvements on the roads, with fewer logging trucks going through.


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: Duncan Greive speaks to departing Mediaworks executive Hal Crawford, about the big personalities he has had to deal with and the precarious state of the news business. Sam Brooks looks back at the forgotten comedy masterpiece of Lucy Lawless playing Stevie Nicks. Jean Sergent writes about the comedy of John Mulaney, who is witty enough to never have to rely on tired shock tactics. Danyl Mclauchlan argues that parliament would be improved if more voters were willing to split their electorate and party votes.

And The Bachelorette is finally here, so if you don’t like it please don’t click on these links. But if you are into it, Alex Casey has power-ranked all the lads who showed up at our heroine’s house last night. And a very special episode of The Real Pod has been recorded, with the show’s host Art Green sitting in.


For a feature today, a jaw-dropping story of a one-man campaign of ecological vandalism. Stuff’s Charlie Mitchell has profiled the life of now-dead Stewart Smith, a communist who believed he was opening up fishing access to all by introducing invasive species into this country’s streams and lakes. The damage he did in the process is incalculable and probably permanent. Here’s an excerpt:

He was prosecuted at least twice, but Smith continued his releases well into old age. Age made him bolder, more audacious, culminating in the 2005 raid on his home, which likely stopped what Smith planned to be his last, and most significant, liberation.

“He’s had more impact on freshwater than any other single human being,” another former official who pursued Smith says.

“He was really one of New Zealand’s arch environmental criminals.”


In sport, the Silver Ferns have once again proven their mettle when it matters. After being put under immense pressure by Jamaica in the Nations Cup final, the Ferns pulled away with a champion performance in the third quarter to eventually claim a 67-56 win. The NZ Herald reports rookies Kimiora Poi and Whitney Souness played a stirring role in the fightback, and the campaign as a whole shows there is a huge amount of depth for coach Noeline Taurua to work with now.

And the world of basketball has been rocked by the death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and seven other people in a helicopter crash. Bryant is considered to be one of the greatest players of all time, was fiercely driven and intelligent, and after retirement looked set for a richly fulfilling new chapter in his life. This piece on The Nation examines the totality of his legacy, good and bad, and is a fair obituary of a complex sporting legend.


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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