13 May 2020

Covid-19: What happened on May 13

7:31 pm on 13 May 2020

The state of emergency across New Zealand has been lifted on the eve of alert level 2 - putting the country in a transition period.

David Clark has announced new funeral and tangihanga rules, there's a push for more investment in housing, Winston Peters has been talking tough on support for migrant workers, and there's expected to be more pressure on food banks.

Photo: RNZ

Aotearoa has been under a state of national emergency since 25 March - the first day of lockdown.

At 11.59pm on Wednesday, alert level 3 will lift, and the country will enter what is essentially new territory - at least two weeks of life under alert level two.

Cabinet will review alert level 2 restrictions on Monday 25 May.

As the country prepares for the next stage in the fight against Covid-19, no new cases of the coronavirus have been reported for two days in a row.

The total number of confirmed and probable cases remains at 1497, of which 1147 have been confirmed.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said 1402 people have now recovered - up 12 on yesterday, and 94 percent of all cases in this country have now recovered.

  • 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

Enforcing alert level 2

We won't be in a state of emergency in alert level two, so new legislation is being pushed through Parliament under urgency today to ensure the level 2 restrictions can still be enforced.

During the transition phase, Civil Defence can continue to give orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Civil Defence Minister Peeni Henare said putting the national transition period in place will support a consistent and coordinated approach to civil defence emergency management activities.

Police can also exercise powers during this period.

It will remain in place for 90 days unless extended or terminated earlier.

*See all RNZ coverage of Covid-19

A 'very tough winter'

While many are looking forward to the prospect of the relative freedoms afforded by moving into alert level 2, the prime minister today issued a warning.

Speaking at a media conference this afternoon, Jacinda Ardern said around the world unemployment will rise significantly, businesses will fail and close, government revenue will decline, and this country will also feel the pain.

"New Zealand is about to enter a very tough winter, but every winter eventually is followed by spring, and if we make the right choices, we can get New Zealanders back to work, and our economy quickly moving again."

She said the Budget will be the first step in recovery from Covid-19.

"We believe that, when times are hard, you don't cut - you invest."

The government is set to announce the Budget on Thursday, the first day of alert level 2.

Changes for tangihanga, funeral rules

After intense public and political pressure, the government has changed its Covid-19 rules for funerals and tangihanga.

Up to 50 people will now be allowed at funerals and tangihanga if strict public health measures are in place, the government has announced.

The health measures include physical distancing and hand hygiene, with no food and drink able to be served afterwards.

From tomorrow, funeral directors will be able to submit a form that registers for an exemption to allow up to 50 people to attend a funeral, as long as the Ministry of Health is satisfied that the director can meet criteria.

Health Minister David Clark and Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield made the announcement today, and Clark said: "The strength of our response to this virus has been in our agility to respond and we have listened to the concerns of the 10-person limit for funerals and moved on that... I'm pleased that we have found a workable solution that that keeps people safe, while at the same time allowing more people to gather and grieve together."

Migrant worker support

In contrast to the funerals turnaround, there does not appear to be respite on the way for migrant workers.

Foreign affairs Minister Winston Peters says they shouldn't get extra support at the tax payers' expense.

When Peters was questioned whether migrant workers were indeed tax payers, he said that was an extraordinary statement.

Everyone was required to pay tax, but that did not mean people got greater rights than they did on the day they arrived in New Zealand, Peters said.

He said many foreign nationals had already been given substantial support through Civil Defence and charities.

Food charities bracing

On the subject of charities, those that provide food are bracing for a second wave of need if the wage subsidy ends in the coming weeks.

One charity has seen a 185 percent increase in demand, with the numbers of families it helps growing from 350 per week to more than 1000.

The government has not yet indicated whether it will extend the 12-week subsidy and will likely announce that in the Budget tomorrow.

"We've got to give people employment opportunities, set up community enterprises to help build a new economy to help people in poverty," Brook Turner, head of community service development at VisionWest Community Trust, said

He expected an additional 700 families in the West Auckland region alone to be in need in the coming weeks.

Housing investment called for

Housing groups are calling for a multi-billion dollar spend to echo the substantial build that followed the Great Depression.

The groups say that this is a unique opportunity to stimulate the economy, support the construction industry, and transform the lives of those living in temporary or substandard housing.

Following the Great Depression, the government built 10,000 houses in a matter of just a few years, to accommodate the tens of thousands of people who were homeless or living in unfit conditions.

It was a defining landmark on the road to New Zealand's welfare state.

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