20 Mar 2020

Covid-19: All the news you need to know as we head into the weekend

7:26 pm on 20 March 2020

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.

Friday has proven to be yet another day consumed by Covid-19 coronavirus developments.

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Photo: RNZ

The nation woke with the news that the country's borders had been closed to anyone who was not a citizen or a permanent resident still fresh.

Health Minister David Clark says the restrictions at the border will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs)

More new cases

Among the major developments was the Ministry of Health's confirmation of 11 new cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus in New Zealand, bringing the total to 39.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashely Bloomfield said said there was no evidence yet that the virus was circulating in the community - and some of the 11 had been linked to overseas travel - but health officials were still investigating some cases.

All of the latest victims are at home in self-isolation.

Five of the 11 are in Auckland, two are in Hamilton, two in Wellington, and one each in Canterbury and Hawke's Bay.

Dr Bloomfield said one of the people announced yesterday that had the virus - a man in his 60s - is in Queenstown Lakes Hospital in a stable condition.

Air New Zealand

New Zealand's sharemarket opened modestly higher this morning after Wall Street rallied, however, Air New Zealand's share price slumped by 34 percent as it resumed trading after a four-day halt.

Later in the morning, the government revealed it was stepping in to help protect Air New Zealand from the turmoil caused by Covid-19, providing up to $900 million in loans.

The airline will be able to call on the loan if its cash reserves fall below an undisclosed level over the next two years, and the government - which already owns 52 percent of the company - will have the ability to turn the loan into shares in the airline.

Despite that, the airline's chief executive Greg Foran still said 30 percent of the workforce would not be needed.

Foran said the total number of Air NZ flights had fallen from 3600 a week to below 1500 because of the Covid-19 travel restrictions.

Air NZ has cut its international capacity by 85 percent and is also reducing domestic capacity.

Supermarkets warn against panic buying - again

The country's supermarkets have made a joint plea to New Zealanders to "shop normally" because Covid-19 related demand is putting too much pressure on the supply chain.

Speaking at a media conference at the Health Ministry today, Foodstuffs South Island chief executive Steve Anderson said there was no need for people to panic buy or stock up because there is enough food.

Countdown's managing director Natalie Davis said "we are not running out of food".

"However we simply cannot get it through the network fast enough if Kiwis don't slow down their shopping."

What Jacinda Ardern said

The prime minister spoke to Checkpoint this evening and said the Ministry of Foreing Affairs and Trade was working through what needs were required by New Zealanders and whether mercy flights will be offered.

"We will be able to keep essential flights going, ensuring Kiwis can return home."

She said: "We have an obligation to let New Zealanders come home".

Ardern said the scale of the returning New Zealanders meant the most practical response was self isolation in homes, rather than in centres like in Whangaparoa.

Click here for a summary of the week in politics that was.

What about a vaccine?

Vaccines for Covid-19 could be at least 12 to 18 months away from wide distribution according to the world's leading scientists, but that doesn't mean they aren't moving at breakneck speed trying to develop them.

Right now there is no vaccine available for Covid-19, which means that scientists around the world trying to develop vaccines are starting from scratch.

New Zealand's foremost experts in viral immunology are working closely together, and with other countries, to combine their knowledge and resources, yet Auckland University immunologist Rod Dunbar said people's expectations may need to be tempered.

He said the timeframe of 12 to 18 months could theoretically be accelerated, but people must plan for at least an 18-month wait.

Around the world

Among the day's Covid-19 news from around the world, coronavirus has killed more people in Italy than in any other country, after deaths there rose by 427 in a day.

Africa must "wake up" to the coronavirus threat and prepare for the worst, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.

And California's governor on Thursday issued a statewide "stay at home order" directing residents to leave their homes only when necessary during the coronavirus pandemic.

Other Covid-19 news

The coronavirus outbreak is impacting almost everyone and the way they live.

RNZ has been documenting those impacts.

Patients are worrying as healthcare workers are unsure of Covid-19 protocols, pet owners are being told they should prepare for getting sick, and people have been panic-buying seedlings at garden stores.

In addition, it's also bringing out generosity as volunteers help supply groceries, Libraries, pools and recreation centres are to close in Auckland for two weeks and kiwis in Australia are facing coronavirus-created unemployment with no government help.

Much more has taken place in New Zealand and around the world, and for all Covid-19 news you can get up-to-date here.

Read more about the Covid-19 coronavirus:

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