15 May 2020

Covid-19: Developments in New Zealand on 15 May

7:33 pm on 15 May 2020

Today, the government said it would allow public scrutiny of the law giving police the power to enforce alert level 2, the Prime Minister hit back at a claim the Covid rescue package is an election bribe and one new case of Covid-19 was recorded.

A technician handles samples from truck drivers testing for COVID-19 coronavirus at the laboratory of Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) in Busia, a town bordering with Uganda in western Kenya, on May 14, 2020. (Photo by Brian ONGORO / AFP)

Photo: AFP

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.

After three days in a row with no cases, the Ministry of Health said in a statement that the total number of confirmed and probable cases in New Zealand has risen to 1498, of which 1148 are confirmed.

Today's confirmed case is linked to the Marist cluster in Auckland and was identified through recent follow-up testing of the school community.

The person who tested positive first had symptoms nearly two months ago and had a previous negative test, the ministry said.

There have been no additional deaths.

The ministry said 1421 people have recovered from the coronavirus, up 10 on yesterday. This is 95 percent of all confirmed and probable cases. There are now just 56 active cases across the country.

Two people are receiving hospital care - one each in Auckland and Middlemore hospitals. Neither are in ICU.

There were 7174 laboratory tests processed yesterday, which brings the total number of tests completed to 216,787.

Level 2 enforcement law to be reviewed by select committee

The government has bowed to pressure and will after all allow public scrutiny of the law covering the enforcement of level 2, passed under urgency this week.

The act grants extraordinary powers to both the government and the police.

Among other things, the law allows the police to enter a person's home without a warrant to shut down large gatherings. It also sets the broad legal framework for enforcing measures like social distancing.

National voted against it, concerned about the speed at which it was being pushed through, and the breadth of those powers.

Attorney-General David Parker said it will now go to select committee, so it can report its findings in time for the first 90-day review.

He reiterated the Act "ensures controls on gatherings of people and physical distancing are still enforceable".

It narrowed police powers compared with those under level 3 and level 4, Parker 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

Ardern rubbishes National's 'campaign bribe' Budget accusations

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has hit back at the opposition's "cynical politics" after they called her government's $50 billion Covid rescue package an election bribe.

In her first public appearance in eight weeks, Ardern visited a state housing worksite in Petone, near Wellington, to meet and speak to construction workers the day after her government delivered its election-year Budget.

The Budget laid out an initial $16bn of spending, and with $14bn already been allocated, that left about $20bn untagged.

National Party leader Simon Bridges yesterday criticised the $20bn of unspent money, saying it was an election bribe four months out from New Zealanders heading to the polls.

She said Bridges' criticism was just "cynical politics" and the whole point of the recovery package was to grow jobs and support struggling industries, like the tourism sector.

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Jacinda Ardern visited a state housing worksite in Petone to meet construction workers they day after the Budget was delivered. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Covid-19 creates new wave of beneficiaries

People who signed on for the benefit during lockdown were more likely to be first time beneficiaries, higher earners, recently returned from overseas, and Pākehā, a new report shows.

It shows more than 48,000 people were granted a benefit during the lockdown period - an increase of almost 170 percent compared to the same period a year ago.

Much of that increase has been driven by 38,960 people going on to the main unemployment benefit, known as jobseeker support.

Of those who signed on 46 percent had little or not previous benefit history, 45 percent were aged in their 20s and 39 percent were Pākehā.

There has been a ten-fold increase in the number of people who have recently returned from overseas going on to jobseeker support - 4718 compared to 424 last year.

Meanwhile, the latest weekly figures from the Ministry of Social Development show the increase of people going on to benefits each week is slowing.

The number of special needs grants for things like food is also continuing to decrease from its peak during lockdown.

National MP Joanne Hayes says social welfare hadn't necessarily proved a good thing for Māori.

National MP Joanne Hayes says social welfare hadn't necessarily proved a good thing for Māori. Photo: 123RF

But the government is being warned that it needs to address benefit levels and many more families will fall into poverty if it does not boost support for people losing their jobs because of Covid-19.

Beneficiary advocates and groups working with the country's poorest said it was disappointing yesterday's Budget did not include further increases to benefits or reform of the welfare system.

Treasury is forecasting unemployment to hit 10 percent by September, and the number of people on the main unemployment benefit to double.

Lockdown leads to new opportunities for some

As three-quarters of a million students prepare to leave their home classrooms, a small number are making a permanent switch to home learning.

Google data has shown a peak in people searching homeschooling and correspondence school information.

The Ministry of Education said more than 2000 people accessed its homeschooling webpages in one week last month. It has received 70 more applications to homeschool since mid-March compared with the same two months last year.

Home Schooling New Zealand said it fielded 30 or 40 more inquiries in the last fortnight than it would usually.

About 6500 students are homeschooled in New Zealand.

While Xero boss Craig Hudson said there would never be a better time for small businesses to make the most of digital technology.

The Budget announced yesterday gave $10 million specifically to support small businesses to improve their e-commerce service offerings, and incentives and grants to encourage e-commerce adoption.

"I honestly think there is no better time and no bigger catalyst for change to move to digital platforms and to get bigger insights into your business than right now," Hudson said.

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