Covid-19: Coronavirus developments in New Zealand on 16 April

This article by RNZ.co.nz is published with permission under Kaniva News partnerships with Radio New Zealand.

The country has had the lowest daily increase of Covid-19 cases since lockdown, the Prime Minister provided details on what level 3 would like, and the pandemic bites into media company Stuff and NZR.

As Covid-19 spreads around the world, it can be daunting keeping up with the information. For RNZ, our responsibility is to give you verified, up to the minute, trustworthy information to help you make decisions about your lives and your health. We’ll also be asking questions of officials and decision makers about how they’re responding to the virus. Our aim is to keep you informed.

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Photo: RNZ / AFP

In today’s afternoon briefing, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said there were 15 new cases of Covid-19, made up of six confirmed and nine probable cases.

It’s the lowest number of daily cases reported since 22 March, four days before level four began.

There have been no new deaths, as the toll stands at nine, but a post-mortem on an Invercargill man is being done to determine whether he died of Covid-19 or another cause.

Currently there are 88 people in quarantine – the total number of those quarantine and self-isolating in hotels was at 1189. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said several positive tests yesterday were from people in quarantine.

Twelve people are in hospital with Covid-19, three are in intensive care, and two are in a critical condition. There were still 16 significant clusters around the country, with 11 of the news cases connected to them.Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield at a media briefing at Parliament about the Covid-19 coronavirus.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield at a media briefing at Parliament about the Covid-19 coronavirus. Photo: Pool / NZME

Bloomfield also confirmed targeted sentinel testing was underway in Queenstown, where there was concerns about community transmission due to the relatively high number of cases reported.

He said the testing would “build the picture of whether there is any community transmission happening in Queenstown.”

“And we are also looking actively at two or three other places around the country where this will happen.”

A clinic was set up outside Frankton Pak’nSave this morning to begin randomly, and voluntarily, swab testing 300 people. This testing is expected to end tomorrow, with the results set to be shared with the Ministry of Health.

The total number of Covid-19 tests conducted in the past 24 hours was 3661.A clinic has been set up outside Frankton Pak'nSave for testing of the community for Covid-19.

A clinic has been set up outside Frankton Pak’nSave for testing of the community for Covid-19. Photo: Supplied

Jacinda Ardern clarifies what alert level 3 means

In the afternoon briefing, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the unveiled details about alert level 3 should be not be seen as foreshadowing Cabinet’s decision on Monday about whether to move out of the level 4 lockdown.

Ardern said the strategy was to win the fight against the virus and transition into recovery.

“We will step down to level 3 in a way that is consistent with our goal to eliminate Covid-19 in New Zealand. The last thing we want to do, when moving levels, is give away the gains that we have won in lockdown.”

She reiterated her previous message that level 3 would be like “a waiting room” – to wait and see if the lockdown measures had worked and whether or not it was safe to lower the alert level. She said the same message remained at level 3: Stay home, save lives.

Under alert level 3, New Zealanders would still not be able to freely socialise but bubbles could be expanded slightly, Ardern said.Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern looks on during a media conference at Parliament on April 16, 2020 in Wellington, New Zealand.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern looks on during a media conference at Parliament on April 16, 2020 in Wellington, New Zealand. Photo: Pool / Hagen Hopkins / Getty Images

“Keep your bubble, the more we can limit the new people everyone is exposed to the better, but at level 3, you can expand your bubble [by] a small amount. If you have caregiver you need in your life, children who might be in a shared care arrangement, a de facto partner who is caring for others or you’re a single person who wants the company of a sibling, for example … Keep it exclusive though, keep it small.”

It would not be until alert level 2 that controls and socialising principles would be loosened, she said.

However, Bloomfield warned that people should use their judgement about whether to expand their bubble to include people over 70 under alert level 3.

He said elderly people could still be included in bubbles in a way that protected them – such as good hygiene, and physical distancing.

Recreational activities would need to be kept low-risk as well, with swimming, fishing from the shore, and surfing to be permitted under level 3, but excluding activities where there’s a chance of accidents or breakdowns that will break ‘bubbles’, like boating or jet-skiing.

“However, I do want to add a word of caution, now is not the time to take up a new activity that you have never done before, it is too risky … if there is any sign of congregation, we will not hesitate to review these changes,” Ardern said.

At the moment, people can only travel locally, but under level 3 movement would be limited to each person’s current region.Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern uses hand sanitiser as she arrives at a press conference at Parliament on April 16, 2020 in Wellington, New Zealand.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern uses hand sanitiser as she arrives at a press conference at Parliament on April 16, 2020 in Wellington, New Zealand. Photo: Pool / Hagen Hopkins / Getty Images

Weddings and funerals will be able to go ahead as services only under alert level three – but it would restricted to a maximum of 10 people and with no receptions or food allowed.

Ardern said it took just one person to be carrying the illness at events like weddings or funerals for it to spread to dozens of others.

She said the success of lockdown relied on people following the rules, and that same level of discipline continued to apply, if not more, when the alert level is lowered.

“Now more than ever as you come into contact with more people we must keep our distance, wash our hands, keep yourself and your bubble safe, continue to act like you have Covid-19 and I would add to act like those around you and near you have it too.

“Keep a note of where you have been, when you have been there, and who with, it will help if we ever find ourselves contacting you because of a potential Covid-19 case, small changes like this will make a world of difference.”

Parliament’s Business Committee will also meet tomorrow to discuss how Parliament will operate once the country exits alert level 4.

Parliament halted its usual proceedings under lockdown, establishing instead an Epidemic Response Committee, where MPs have been attending meetings via video conference.

Ardern said she would give an indication of how long alert level 3 would last when it got to that point.

“We want to make the decision about moving out of the lockdown at the right time so we don’t go back … I want it to be a path that stays in one direction.”

Schools and businesses under level 3

Under alert level 3, businesses and workplaces will move from essential operations to ‘safe’ operations, Ardern announced.A playground in Oriental Bay closed off on 26 March, the first day of the nationwide lockdown.

Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The key would still be to reduce contact and encourage working from home where possible. However, businesses like public bars, restaurants, and cars will remain closed, while food deliveries, takeaways, and online clothes shopping can resume.

Ardern acknowledged that for some working from home would not be feasible, but reinforced that social distancing and hygienic practices would be crucial.

She said more about support for businesses under level 3 would be announced next week.

There will also be more guidance for non-urgent wider health services in the next 48 hours, Ardern said.

The prime minister said the government was working with various industries to give more detailed guidance about level 3 restrictions.

Schools and education centres will also partially reopen for children up to Year 10, to account for underage children that cannot be left alone at home if the parents are returning to the workforce. However, attendance is purely voluntary and learning from home is encouraged where possible.

Public playgrounds will also be off limits under level 3.An empty playground in Christchurch as the country prepares to go into lockdown.

An empty playground in Christchurch as the country prepares to go into lockdown. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Bloomfield also said it would be advisable not to send children to school if you were widening your bubble to include a person who was elderly or had a compromised immune system.

Principals told RNZ the partial reopening for students up to Year 10 was not what they had been expecting and would be difficult to manage.

They said they had expected schools would be restricted to older students, who were studying for NCEA, and perhaps also the children of essential workers.

The president of the Secondary Principals Association, Richard Dykes, said it would be hard to teach classes with some students present and others working remotely.

“I will struggle to ask my staff to teach potentially two lots of lessons, one to the students in the class and the second to the students outside,” he said.

The president of the Principals Federation, Perry Rush, said partial reopening would be challenging, especially in terms of managing social distancing for children at school.

“It will largely be impossible,” he said.

Repatriation for NZers stuck in Philippines

The government is securing a flight to bring New Zealanders home from the Philippines this weekend, Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters has announced today.Passengers in protective gear sit on the pavement as they wait for their flights out of the country at Manila's international airport on March 19, 2020.

Passengers in protective gear sit on the pavement as they wait for their flights out of the country at Manila’s international airport on March 19, 2020. Photo: STR / AFP

The government was working with Philippine Airlines and international partners on arrangements for a flight to depart from Manila on 19 April, Peter said.

Transportation options are also being considered for New Zealanders in other parts of the Philippines so they can catch the flight.

“New Zealanders in the Philippines are experiencing challenging circumstances under quarantine restrictions, and difficulty in getting home with no domestic transit options,” Peters said in a statement.

Peters said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was searching for ways to get stranded New Zealanders overseas back home, but that government-assisted flights would only be explored in exceptional circumstances, “when all other options have been exhausted”.

“We strongly advise that New Zealanders overseas should be seeking to shelter safely where they are or return home by commercial means where possible.”

Stuff asks employees to take pay cut

Staff at media company Stuff have been asked to take a pay cut for the next 12 weeks because of the impact of the Covid-19 crisis.The Commerce Commission has declined a merger which would have created New Zealand’s biggest news media company
Fairfax Media NZ, Stuff.co.nz, 
NZME, NZ Herald.

Stuff employees were told the pay cut would be for 12 weeks Photo: RNZ/ Brad White

Chief executive Sinead Boucher said staff earning more than $50,000 are asked to take a 15 percent cut and the executive team a 25 percent reduction.

Boucher said she would take a 40 percent salary cut.

NZME, which runs Newstalk ZB and the Herald, yesterday announced 200 job losses and suspended publication of popular newspaper supplements.

MediaWorks, which operates TV3 and a number of radio stations, asked its employees earlier in the month to take a 15 percent pay cut for six months.

Bauer Media, which has The Listener, Woman’s Day, New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, North and South and Nexthas shut down.

Stuff had applied for the wage subsidy and had redeployed staff who cannot work in their normal job during the lockdown, Boucher said yesterday.

NZR feezes 50 percent of forecast player payments for 2020

New Zealand Rugby (NZR) has also announced it is freezing $25 million, or 50 percent, of forecast player payments for 2020.Beauden Barrett makes a break with Richie Mo'unga in support.

Photo: Photosport

NZR and the New Zealand Rugby Player’s Association (NZRPA) has agreed to change the payments of players that play at Super Rugby level, including All Blacks, the national sevens programme and Black Ferns.

The freeze covers the base salary of players, assembly payments and other incentives, as well as reductions in player-funded welfare and development activities.

The maximum retainer for a top Super Rugby player is $195,000, the minimum is $75,000.

NZRPA chief executive Rob Nichol said the players were committed to playing their part in ensuring the long-term future of the sport and to ensure the game best managed the financial implications of Covid-19.

“In contemplating a scenario based on no professional rugby in 2020, NZR and the NZRPA together recognised the need to act now to prepare the game and the players for this, even if there is every intention of doing all we can to avoid it.

“In the event that this financial scenario eventuates, the frozen payments and benefits would become waived permanently. Alternatively, if professional rugby can resume and the financial outlook improves, then some of the frozen payments and benefits could be reinstated,” Nichol said.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP – don’t show up at a medical centre

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