For all The Spinoff’s latest coverage of Covid-19 see here. Read Siouxsie Wiles’s work here. New Zealand is currently in alert level four. The country is shut down, apart from essential services. For updated official government advice, see here.
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7.10pm: The day in sum
There has been another death related to Covid-19. A woman in her 70s passed away in Auckland.
There were five new cases of Covid-19, two confirmed and three probable.
A New Zealand man passed away in Peru while waiting for the chartered mercy flight to bring him home. He was found to have Covid-19 after his death.
US oil prices have turned negative for the first time in history.
Donald Trump announced that he would be suspending all immigration to the US.
Scientists are calling on the government to provide more funding to develop a homegrown vaccine for Covid-19.
Both the minister for small business Stuart Nash, and the minister for employment, Willie Jackson appeared before the Epidemic Response Committee.
The Serious Fraud Office announced the timetable for its investigation into donations made to the New Zealand First Foundation.
An independent review of the Ministry of Health’s management of personal protective equipment required for the Covid-19 response was announced by the auditor-general’s office.
A whistle blower has claimed Air NZ is obscuring the number of their staff who have Covid-19 because it will embarrass the company.
6.50pm: On The Spinoff today
Siouxsie Wiles explains how widespread Covid-19 is in people with no symptoms.
The Spinoff’s deputy ed Catherine McGregor writes about her love for the language app, Duolingo.
This helpful explainer looks at how the sharemarket can be be rising while employment continues to plummet.
Poet Ashleigh Young on celery soup and the power of KFC.
A midwife on the impact of Coivd-19 on pregnant people.
Sam Brooks reviews the debut episode of Paul Henry’s new show, where the first guest was, unexpectedly, Michael Hill, jeweller.
6.00pm: Air NZ obscuring Covid-19 cases
A whistleblower has provided details to RNZ’s Checkpoint about the handling of Air NZ’s Covid-19 response and why it might be obscuring the number of staff and crew who have Covid-19.
Checkpoint’s Lisa Owen said that RNZ has repeatedly asked both Air NZ and Dr Ashley Bloomfield at the daily media update, how many Air NZ employees have the virus. Owen says they have been repeatedly ignored and Air NZ continues to refuse to give comment.
The whistleblower provided details of two letters containing concerns that were sent to Air NZ senior management. One letter references a flight carrying three passengers in different sections that had the virus and a subsequent four crew that contracted it. Those staff members went on to attend meetings as well continue working.
The current MoH guidelines say that Air NZ air crew are exempt from the two-week stand down between different flights as long as they appear healthy. But the letter notes these protocols are minimum guidelines, and Air NZ had sufficient surplus crew to accommodate a 14-day stand down period.
“We urge you to implement the recommended 14-day stand down between duties,” one letter read.
Another March letter from union reps expressed dismay that there were six Air NZ staff that had tested positive for Covid-19 and urged the airline to introduce a hard 14-day separation between duties.
The response from the airline to the whistleblower, dated March 28, said that under alert level four, crew had to self-isolate between jobs, but otherwise the advice from their medical health officers would stand and staff could continue to board flights as long at they appeared well.
Minutes from a health and safety meeting reveal that staff were likely being exposed while on layovers and that layover compliance was probably not being met. When asked in the meeting if he could reveal the number of crew and pilots with Covid-19 and those in hospital, Air NZ’s chief medical officer, Dr John Chalkley, refused citing employee privacy.
An Air NZ employee told Checkpoint: “It is clear that the numbers of crew infected have become embarrassing for the Air NZ brand. Air NZ continually maintains our job is low risk, yet we can’t independently asses that assurance without knowing the rate at which our colleagues have been infected.”
3.55pm: Bloomfield holding Facebook Live Q&A
Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield and education secretary Iona Holsted are currently hosting a Facebook Live Q&A – you can tune in here. So far, naturally, there are a lot of questions about the partial reopening of schools next week, and this time not so many about onions.
2.45pm: Trump to suspend all immigration
The US president has just announced that he will sign an executive order to halt all immigration to the United States, to combat Covid-19 and “protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens”. He did so, of course, on Twitter.
In light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens, I will be signing an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 21, 2020
According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centre, the US currently has more cases than any other country. Its death toll stands at 42,295.
2.25pm: Magazines set to publish again
Great news for the beleaguered magazine industry – under level three magazines will be able to publish once more. The Magazine Publishers Association pushed back hard on the government’s decision not to designate magazines, the only supermarket product not allowed on shelves under alert level four, an essential service. The association was also disappointed not to be asked to appear during the media session of the Epidemic Response Committee.
The welcome news comes just over two weeks after Bauer Media NZ, the publisher of long-standing titles like The Listener and New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, announced its closure, taking a huge bite out of what is already a dwindling industry.
Under the government’s guidelines for business, magazines will be able to be printed, distributed and posted. It’s still recommended staff work from home where possible, but photographers and reporting staff may travel.
1.45pm: New graphs
Here’s the latest Chris McDowall plotting of the new, active and recovered cases. Plus, a bonus chart of the plummeting cold/flu symptoms that Bloomfield mentioned, via the flu-tracking website info.flutracking.net.
1.00pm: One death, five new cases of Covid-19
There are five new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield has announced.
That includes two confirmed and three probable cases. It takes the combined total of confirmed and probable cases in New Zealand to 1,445.
Sadly, a woman in her 70s passed away yesterday. She was one of six residents from a Te Atatū care home, St Margaret’s, who had been transferred to hospital.
Twelve people with Covid-19 remain in hospital. Three are in the ICU, with one each in Middlemore, North Shore, and Dunedin hospitals. None are in a critical condition.
There are still 16 significant clusters of Covid-19 around the country and four more cases have been linked to the existing clusters, including three of those reported today. There are now 1,006 people who have recovered, an increase of 32 on yesterday. Yesterday, 3,203 tests were processed around the country, bringing the total processed to 89,503.
Community testing continues this week in Te Tairāwhiti, Taranaki and Northland.
When asked if people would be able to visit their dying loved ones in hospitals and aged care facilities under alert level three, Bloomfield said they were still working through the guidance, but there was currently compassionate grounds for people to visit dying loved ones and he was keen to extend this.
Education minister Chris Hipkins was on hand to answer questions about reopening schools under alert level three. Schools are set to reopen on April 29 for the children of those who need to go back to work. They can be accessed this week for any cleaning or maintenance and for a special teacher-only day on April 28 to prepare.
“Under alert level three, most children and young people will be continuing distance learning,” he said. “Early learning centres and schools will be physically open for students up to year 10, for the families that need that. Children who can stay home, should stay home.
“Education for years 11 to 13 will continue remotely. For tertiary education, moving to alert level three means remote learning will continue. Where that’s not possible, some facilities may reopen with strict physical distancing rules in place.”
Hipkins cautioned that it may take some schools and early learning centres longer than a week to prepare, and said the ministry will work with any that are struggling.
The ministry has spent the last week engaging with sector groups to work through practical issues, including the Early Childhood Education advisory group, principals’ associations and other key leaders, Hipkins said, and more detailed advice would be released over the next week.
“At-risk students and staff, including those who are over the age of 70, should also stay home and they will be supported to do so,” Hipkins said. Residential and special schools will not reopen in the early period of alert level three, but teachers and staff would continue to support these students.
On the topic of student interaction at schools, Hipkins said it was possible to ensure that children were within the same group each day and that proposed approach was to keep them and teachers safe. “To be clear, it is safe from a public health perspective to have a group of children working together,” he said, adding that parents also needed to support his by keeping children home when they can and definitely keeping them home when they are sick. He restated the director general of health’s position that there is currently no widespread, undetected community transmission in New Zealand. “The chance of it coming though the door or the gate in the first place is low.”
6,700 internet routers will be distributed to households, the minister said. Those doing NCEA in decile one to three schools will be prioritised. 10,000 devices have been distributed to students, including more than 1,250 laptops, and an additional 4,500 are to follow. For those who don’t have access to digital devices, so far 80,000 packs of learning materials have been dispatched in English and 10,000 in te reo Māori.
Hipkins also said that parliament would resume next week, with a cap on the number of MPs, who would observe distancing requirements, and as few staff as possible. He said they would be “endeavouring to get ministers involved in the Covid response to parliament … so they can answer questions in the house”. That means, for example, the deputy prime minister, Winston Peters, and the health minister, David Clark, will be returning from their homes at the northern and southern ends of the country.
As of 10am this morning there were 2,038 returned travellers in managed isolation or quarantine In New Zealand, Hipkins said. 1,952 of those were in managed isolation while 86 were in quarantine.
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