20 Aug 2020

Covid-19: What happened in New Zealand on 20 August

8:32 pm on 20 August 2020

The government is being urged to launch an inquiry into its response to the Covid-19 pandemic as soon as the Auckland outbreak is under control.

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visited the ESR science center in Porirua. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Public health experts say the government wasted the 100 days New Zealand was free of community transmission.

They say any inquiry could offer advice to officials every few months, guiding the response to any future outbreaks.

The last time a government reviewed its response to a pandemic was 100 years ago, after the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak.

Daily cases

There are five new confirmed cases of Covid-19 today, all relating to the existing Auckland cluster.

Four of the new cases are in Auckland, while one is in Tokoroa and receiving care at Waikato Hospital.

Six people in total are receiving hospital-level care - one is in Auckland City Hospital, four are in Middlemore and one in Waikato, and one person is in Middlemore in a stable condition at the intensive care unit.

The new cases bring the total number of confirmed cases to 1304. The number of active cases is 101.

Today the prime minister also visited the ESR science center in Porirua, where scientists have been mapping coronavirus genomes.

Conspiracy theorists

There has been deluge of Covid-19 misinformation on social media. A spate of media articles pondering the reasons why misinformation spreads so easily online and how to combat it.

So in the fight against misinformation, who is worse - the conspiracy theorist, or the general public?

Ximena Smith argues it's the latter, and says the government needs to adopt a nationwide media literacy strategy in order to remedy this.

More security measures for MIQ

The government has been trialling thermal CCTV in a managed isolation facility for the last month and is now rolling it out across the board.

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Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The minister in charge of isolation and quarantine, Megan Woods, says the security systems will only be in public areas.

The cameras that currently exist in hotels don't cover areas that are now being used for things like exercise. She says the thermal CCTV will cost an estimated $6 million.

It follows yesterday's news that the government is bolstering the number of defence force staff at managed isolation facilities, in efforts to reduce the reliance on private security firms.

Health or the economy

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff is hoping the city moves down alert levels after the initial two-week period, but sees a danger in moving too quickly.

"If we can get the bounce back that we got last time, I think all of us were really pleased that the economy was recovering much more quickly in Auckland after we went back to level 1 than had been anticipated."

But he said it was important not to go down an alert level only to find that things were worse.

Goff says there will be an element of business failure and job loss because Auckland went back into level 3.

But "the choice between health and economy is a bit of a false dichotomy because if we do what Melbourne did and didn't respond fast and effectively then we get both the health cost and the additional economic damage which is greater than it would have been".

'We need a Pasifika voice'

The chair of the Pasifika GP Network is calling on the government to ensure there is a Pacific voice on the new group overseeing testing at the country's border.

Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern yesterday announced a small team to work with health officials running the testing regime.

It will be led by Heather Simpson, who recently did a review of the country's health system, and Sir Brian Roche, who led the review of PPE use.

Dr Api Talemaitoga

Dr Api Talemaitoga. Photo: Supplied

But Dr Api Talemaitoga says for the group to be effective, meaningful Pacific involvement is vital.

"It's just an opportunity that I hope we do not lose, with 70 percent of the cases in the current cluster being of Pasifika decent."

Expansion of government-backed loans

Over on the business side of things, the business finance guarantee scheme has been broadened by the government in an effort to get more companies to take up lending.

The lending, administered by retail banks but 80 percent guaranteed by the Crown, has been increased to a $5 million limit, with the maximum term upped from three to five years.

Minister of finance Grant Robertson said it was no surprise the government had not been happy with the scheme's uptake so far, but said the changes should allow banks to be more flexible with who they lend to.

"Changes needed to be made and banks have come to the table and agreed to the modifications. Extending what the loans can be used for, including capital investment, means banks can use the scheme to help more viable businesses respond to this 1-in-100-year shock."

So far only $150m had been lent to 780 customers.

DHBs urged to upgrade IT systems

The Director-General of Health is urging district health boards to "reprioritise" spending to upgrade hospitals' IT systems in the wake of Covid-19.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield said "very serious consideration" should be given to digital and data projects in the coming year to allow more staff to work from home, more remote patient consults and better data sharing, he wrote in a 24 July letter to all district health boards (DHBs).

"We urge DHBs to consider where resources should be reprioritised and projects deferred in order to support priority data and digital investments."

Our genome detectives helping to save the world

Within hours of the prime minister giving us the bad news about a new Covid-19 cluster, scientists were at work trying to piece together the puzzle behind the latest outbreak.

Genome testing used to be something that happened behind the scenes, in laboratories out of the spotlight. Now, it's leading the news as the world tries to trace coronavirus cases back to their sources.

Today on The Detail, two genome experts took time out from their extraordinarily busy jobs to explain how they're trying to crack open the new cluster to stop its spread.

Thousands of Aucklanders turning to food banks

Thousands of Aucklanders are desperately turning to food banks as increasing job losses wipe out family incomes.

There are now 29 registered food banks serving the city.

Prior to Covid-19 there were fewer than five, and one long-standing emergency food provider believes too many food banks could be counterproductive.

And to cap things off for today's wrap - New Zealand got another special mention from US President Donald Trump.

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