12 May 2020

Covid-19: Developments in New Zealand on 12 May

8:03 pm on 12 May 2020

New Zealand has reported no new daily cases for a third time in two weeks, strict rules around funerals and tangihanga riled people up, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed a September 19 election.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media during a Covid-19 update conference at Parliament on May 12, 2020 in Wellington, New Zealand.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media during a Covid-19 update conference at Parliament on May 12, 2020 in Wellington, New Zealand. Photo: Pool / Hagen Hopkins / Getty Images

Today New Zealand reported no new cases of Covid-19, and no further deaths. The toll remains at 21, while 93 percent of the 1497 confirmed and probable cases have now recovered.

The last time there were no new cases was early last week.

Just two people with the virus remain in hospital - one in Middlemore and another in North Shore - but neither are in Intensive Care Units.

Overseas, concerns grew over the possibility of a second wave of Covid-19 as more countries relaxed their coronavirus countermeasures.

A boost for the health system

In the briefing update this afternoon, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said New Zealand's tracing system was at "the gold standard" and it was able to handle 185 cases a day.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield speaks to media during a Covid-19 update conference at Parliament on May 12, 2020 in Wellington.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield speaks to media during a Covid-19 update conference at Parliament on May 12, 2020 in Wellington. Photo: Pool / Hagen Hopkins / Getty Images

Discussing the staggered move to level 2 starting on Thursday, Bloomfield said hospital visits would be managed on the ground by DHBs but intensive care, emergency and maternity departments would still only allow one visitor at a time. However, more than one person would be able to visit in a single day.

In a pre-Budget announcement this morning, the government said it would deliver an extra $3.92 billion over four years, plus a one-off $282.5 million to DHBs to help clear the backlog in surgeries and appointments caused by the Covid-19 crisis.

Doctors welcomed the move, but said much more was needed to fill the huge hole the health system had been working in.

A doctors union also demanded answers over the seven nurses who were infected with Covid-19 at Waitākere hospital, expressing concern that protective gear seemed to have failed, and worry that the ministry may be covering up its failures.

Bloomfield also issued an updated amended order under the Health Act allowing people to enter businesses to prepare for the move to level 2.

Businesses, schools prepare for level 2 changes

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said more than 670 businesses had applied for tax refunds, and the first payments had been paid - worth more than $62m.

The small business cash flow loan scheme is officially open, she said, with the loans being interest free in the first year.

Businesses are busy preparing for the move to level 2 on Thursday morning, but the rules around Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has left some confused or out of pocket.

A chiropractor told RNZ they bought PPE in preparation, only to find restrictions relaxed, dentists are facing a widespread lack of supply, and the beauty industry is still waiting for clarity on what the rules are.

The tourism industry told Minister Kelvin Davis that waiting for Budget Day to deliver a package for the industry was not good enough, especially when businesses were failing and Winston Peters was announcing a $72.5m package for the racing industry.

Meanwhile, schools have also been preparing, with principals across the country pondering what to do about bullrush, assemblies, and drinking fountains.

Little comfort for mourners in level 2 changes

The alert level 2 rules that allow people to burst bubbles, but only in groups of up to 10, will mean very little for mourners, those planning a wedding, and church services.

Francis and Kaiora Tipene

Francis Tipene, the director of Tipene Funerals in Auckland, with Kaiora Tipene. Photo: supplied

Francis Tipene, the director of Tipene Funerals in Auckland, described the news as "a cruel and heartless blow" to the families of people who have died during the course of the lockdown.

"It was a blow to the industry, but more so to the families who were looking forward to having funerals," Francis Tipene told Morning Report.

He acknowledged that funerals were events with a lot of hugging and touching.

"I can see it's very risky and I understand where the government's coming from. But, other than being a funeral director, I should have been a policeman. I've become quite good at keeping people apart."

Cabinet had considered making exemptions for tangi and funerals, the prime minister said in her briefing today, but was too difficult to carve out rules and exemptions around that.

"That's why we've used equally across the board the rule of 10," Ardern said.

"The thing that I have found as a human to be the hardest thing in all of this is funerals and tangihanga ... equally we're doing the same thing for every area and life events," she said. "We've tried to be really consistent."

She said 'rolling' tangihanga with groups of 10 at a time would be allowed, but not before a petition were started to demand an exeption be made.

It also did not appear to appease the opposition, with leader Simon Bridges threatening to fight the government's urgent legislation that would allow enforcement of level 2 rules, if the rule of 10 was not broadened.

General Election planning given green light

The prime minister also confirmed the country's General Election will go ahead on 19 September if New Zealand is at alert level 2 or lower.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in casting his early ballot for the upcoming parliamentary elections at a polling station in Seoul on 10 April, 2020.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in casting his ballot for the parliamentary elections that were held with strict measures during the Covid-19 pandemic last month. Photo: YONHAP / AFP

The Electoral Commission announced a range of measures would be put in place to help keep voters safe, including queue management, physical distancing, use of hand sanitiser and personal protective equipment.

Advance voting places would be increased and would start on 5 September, two days earlier than planned, to reduce congestion.

Those at high risk from Covid-19 would also be able to register for postal voting.

At rest homes and hospitals, the Commission said it was working on the assumption staff would unlikely be able to visit and deliver services, but 'takeaway voting' could be arranged, where voting papers would be delivered and picked up.

Peters not concerned about blowback from China after support for Taiwan

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters says he is not concerned about diplomatic blowback over New Zealand's support for Taiwan joining a World Health Organisation meeting as an observer.

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Photo: Pool / NZME

Last night, China's Foreign Ministry said New Zealand should "stop making wrong statements" on the issue to avoid damaging bilateral ties.

Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said New Zealand's comments were a severe violation of the "one China" principle, which stated that Taiwan was part of China.

"We express our strong dissatisfaction with the statements and resolutely oppose it, and we have already made stern representations with New Zealand," Zhao said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian speaks at the daily media briefing in Beijing on April 8, 2020.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian speaks at the daily media briefing in Beijing on April 8, 2020. Photo: Greg Baker / AFP

Peters said he had personal assurances from his Chinese counterpart that there would be no retaliation over an issue like this, because China did not "behave that way".

Peters said New Zealand supported Taiwan taking part in the World Health Assembly meeting next week as an observer because of its "tremendous success against Covid-19".

Last week, Peters said China's Ambassador to New Zealand should heed her "master back in Beijing", after comments about New Zealand's position on Taiwan joining the World Health Organisation.

Today, he said he did not regret the comment, despite the new comments from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Petition to keep Air NZ base in Nelson

A petition supporting the retention of an Air New Zealand maintenance base in Nelson has attracted 16,000 signatures.

An Air New Zealand turboprop plane prepares for takeoff from Nelson Airport.

An Air New Zealand turboprop plane prepares for takeoff from Nelson Airport. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The airline recently announced it planned to move a large portion of its turboprop engineering base from Nelson to Christchurch, resulting in the loss of 100 skilled jobs in the region.

Motueka businessman Willie Snowden launched the petition, which was handed to Nelson MP Nick Smith outside the maintenance base at Nelson Airport this morning.

Smith said the government was in a position to help, through its financial interest in the airline.

"The government is providing $900 million of support for Air New Zealand and we think it's appropriate that that be tagged to the retention of jobs and services to the regions."

Smith said they understood the need to temporarily down-size the facility, given the scale of the downturn in aviation, but the region wanted to see the opportunity for the turboprop base to remain in Nelson as the aviation industry recovered.

He will take the petition to Parliament tomorrow.

More aid to Pacific countries, Cook Islands seeks to revoke status

New Zealand is set to channel more aid money into supporting Pacific countries' health systems and economy because of the impact of Covid-19.

Deputy secretary for the Pacific at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Jonathan Kings said the virus had made the New Zealand Aid Programme focus on aid in different ways.

Kings, who oversees the programme, described it as a "pivot". While the Pacific got the bulk of New Zealand's aid spending, this could now be increased further, he said.

He said he expected there would be a need for increased allocations to Pacific health systems, "which, long term, will need much more support".

In terms of economic resilience, Kings said: "we are going to have to put money into employment - getting economies back running, particularly with a focus on jobs".

Meanwhile, the Cook Islands is looking to have its developed country status revoked to help the government access funds from donor partners.

The Cook Islands were deemed a "developed" nation this year, thanks to growth in tourism, an industry which is now on its knees due to the pandemic.

However, the status change restricts access to funds from the likes of the World Bank.

Finance Minister Mark Brown said the government had been talking with the OECD about the country's status.

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