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Covid-19 live updates, March 26: City centres empty; 550 NZ jobs lost at Virgin Australia

For all The Spinoff’s latest coverage of Covid-19 see here. Read Siouxsie Wiles’s work here.

New Zealand is currently in alert level four. The country is shut down, apart from essential services. For updated official government advice, see here.

The Spinoff’s coverage of the Covid-19 outbreak is funded by The Spinoff Members. To support this work, join The Spinoff Members here.

10.20 Birth fears loom for those due to have quarantine babies

The ministry of health sent out guidelines earlier this week to community midwives that they should avoid bringing those giving birth to hospitals if they can. So does that mean home births for all? Radio NZ’s First Up show spoke to a woman this morning who is deeply anxious about her due date, because her home isn’t suitable at all. There’s no telling how busy hospitals will be in two weeks, if that is when her baby arrives.

9.25am: City centres empty as NZ lockdown begins

You won’t be able to head out of the house to see this for yourself, but journalists have been out on the first morning of the lockdown taking eerie photos of cities without people. Here are some of the best.

Rush-hour Auckland in lockdown. Good morning everyone. pic.twitter.com/aQXCvkoRC8

— Kim Baker Wilson (@kimbakerwilson) March 25, 2020

New Plymouth CBD day one of the shutdown pic.twitter.com/N4yzE60pOC

— Robin martin (@robincharles) March 25, 2020

Wellington on lockdown, day one. pic.twitter.com/SbF3C36OiR

— henry cooke (@henrycooke) March 25, 2020

A very quiet start for Dunedin’s Octagon, only a handful of people have walked through. Nobody’s stopping, and only a few cars are passing by. @rnz_news #lockdownnz pic.twitter.com/98tyMcl8B0

— Tess Brunton (@TessBrunton489) March 25, 2020

9.10am: Business lobby responds to food export worker concerns

In today’s Bulletin about fairness, one of the stories covered was that of food export manufacturing workers, who say they’re having to risk their health in order for business to continue as usual – without that food then being necessary to feed New Zealanders. In a release sent out by Business NZ, ExportNZ Executive Director Catherine Beard has responded:

New Zealand is part of a global food supply chain which would be disrupted if we started putting restrictions on food exports,” Catherine Beard said.

“Food exports are going to help New Zealand weather this economic storm. 70-80% of goods exports are food-related and they are essential to our economy.

“Nor is there cause for concern about working conditions, as food manufacturing businesses are already highly regulated and sanitised environments.

“Employers will be taking extra care about working conditions to keep employees safe, in line with Government recommendations for safe working conditions in a Covid19 situation.”

8.45am: TradeMe making changes to auctions

Purchases made on TradeMe from casual sellers will not be able to be completed while New Zealand is at alert level four, the online marketplace has confirmed in a release. Auctions will instead be extended by four weeks, and buy now options removed. There will be no fee if auctions are withdrawn. The main reason for these changes is because at the moment couriers aren’t transporting any non-essential items.

8.20am: Virgin makes 550 redundant as business impact becomes more clear

Virgin Australia has announced that it is exiting New Zealand, resulting in the loss of 550 jobs, part of a wave of redundancies happening around the country as businesses grapple with the spiralling impacts of Covid-19 and its associated economic costs. Air NZ is cutting its international schedule to just 11 flights per week, and there will likely be thousands of job losses at the national carrier in weeks to come.

The NZ Herald’s Matt Nippert reports on just how many businesses might be unable to survive this, even with government intervention, with columnist and insolvency practitioner Damien Grant saying that there is a two-to-three month window before a “wall of insolvencies” hits. Grant and PWC’s David Bridgman advised businesses to go into a period of ‘hibernation’ to endure the crisis, potentially stopping paying tax and rent in order to survive.

Within energy, the outcomes are mixed. The Marsden oil refinery is halving its output as demand will plummet during the lockdown, but coal remains unchanged, as it is considered essential as part of our electricity  supply chain.

Only essential construction is allowed to continue, and Stuff says that designation does not include much of the Christchurch rebuild, meaning many of its marquee projects will likely miss their opening dates. One industry with the opposite problem is Kiwifruit, which normal draws on 20,000 seasonal labourers during May. The Bay of Plenty Times reports that 10,000 pickers made it in before border closures, but that 4,000 missed the deadline. 

7.30am: Mike Bush says no arrests during first seven hours of lockdown

In an interview on Morning Report, with both hosts broadcasting from their homes, Susie Ferguson has interviewed police commissioner Mike Bush. He told her there have been no arrests within the first seven hours of the level four lockdown. They have issued a number of warnings, with “some people saying they were unaware”. He said warnings remain the default for initial interactions, and was at pains to convey that this would be “the friendly face of Police”.

He also made it clear they had other faces. “If we suspect there are gatherings inside places, we are authorised to go into them,” he said, and reminded the public that those on the street “can be arrested”, though he said they will “only be prosecuting those who are seriously breaching the lockdown, or are  repeat offenders.” Bush said that they were ready for an increase in burglaries, and were anticipating “an increase in family harm incidents… we’ll be deploying into those with urgency.”

He said that while he was in regular contact with the military, there were no current plans to deploy it, or set up roadblocks.

7.15am: From today’s edition of The Bulletin

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A state of national emergency was declared yesterday in parliament. Radio NZ has an explainer on what this term means, and the rarity by which it is deployed – the only other time it happened was after the 2011 Christchurch earthquake. It gives Civil Defence access to powers that wouldn’t normally be available, but in this sort of situation may be necessary. The police are still the agency responsible for maintaining law and order, and Andrew Geddis has given a thorough legal outline of how authority is derived and wielded in times like these. Sam Sachdeva from Newsroom was in parliament for the final sitting in a while, and wrote a reflective report about the mood of the chamber.

A new poll shows broad support for shutdown measures now in place. Stuff reports more than 90% of respondents said they supported it, and just under 90% of respondents said they supported travel being banned from countries that had experienced deaths from Covid-19. However, the support dropped to 58% on the question of shutting schools, and 60% of respondents believe the economy will be hit “very badly” by measures aimed at stopping outbreaks. A note – the poll was conducted on Sunday, so given the rapidly moving situation some measurements may now be different.

It’s too late to do anything about this now, but some beach towns could be under serious strain in the coming weeks. That comes out of this report from Susan Strongman at Radio NZ about Pauanui, normally known primarily as an enclave for the wealthy and their baches. But it’s also a place with only one doctor, the median age is very old, and with a lot of bach owners choosing to spend their shutdown out there, the town’s systems could struggle to cope. There’s also a concern for the permanent residents of the town that one of the recent arrivals might have brought Covid-19 with them.

The country’s trade stats have been shifted to a large degree by Covid-19, as this wrap of provisional stats by Interest shows. They reported on Stats NZ figures that compared the week ending March 18 with the equivalent last year, and export values to all countries were up by a healthy 3.7%. But total imports were down by a much more significant 11%, and total trade to China was massively down.

A bit of media news: StopPress reports that the National Business Review will now be an online-only publication. The move has been on the way for a while, and comes alongside several years worth of investment in digital multimedia capabilities. Those plans also appear to have accelerated because of the pressure being put on by the pandemic.

Read also: To begin today’s Bulletin, Alex Braae wrapped a series of stories that bring into question the idea of fairness, and whether we’re really all in this together. Read the full piece here.

6.45am: Wuhan lifts lockdown as India starts its own

As New Zealand wakes up to its first day in lockdown, Wuhan, the vast Chinese city where the virus originated, has been given a date upon which its months-long lockdown will end. CNN reports that on April 8th, two weeks from now, the city will finally re-emerge, after five consecutive days of zero new infections. The Chinese response was slowed by a near-total lack of knowledge about the virus and its spread, but it entered a very severe lockdown nearly two months ago, after a vast number of infections and deaths. It proves that even a relatively advanced outbreak in an urban area can be contained with extreme measures and strong compliance.

As China starts to lift its lockdowns, neighbouring giant India begins to enter its own. The nation of 1.4bn has many challenges to replicating China’s success, with enormous and densely populated cities characterised by overcrowding and poor sanitation in parts. The Guardian has a stark picture of the capital Delhi on day one, with its usual traffic jams. Despite having just 500 cases and 10 deaths, epidemiologists warn that a major outbreak is inevitable. “Even with the projected best-case scenarios, [India’s] already overstretched healthcare system will definitely collapse,”said Bhramar Mukherjee, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

New York, the epicentre of the US outbreak, is seeing early positive signs that its social distancing effort is working, with the New York Times reporting early data suggesting hospitalisation rates have moved from doubling every two days on Sunday, to every 4.7 days by Tuesday. Governor Andrew Cuomo cautioned against reading too much into the change, noting that the move was so fast as to be “almost too good to be true.” The US infection numbers have not yet been fully updated overnight, but two other numbers have: the $2tn aid package has passed in the senate, and Trump – who wants the country back in business by Easter, somehow has the highest approval rating of his presidency.

In the rest of the world, Italy, the nation with the highest number of deaths from the virus, reported a fourth consecutive day of slowing infections, a small positive after weeks of lockdown. Its daily death total of 743 was almost matched by Spain’s 738, a country so stricken it has turned an ice rink into a morgue. In post-lockdown UK, positive cases surpassed 8,000, while it was announced that home-testing kits will next week be available to the general public.

Finally, knowledge of who the virus impacts most heavily is growing, with CNN reporting that in Italy 60% of positive tests are men, and 70% of the dead. “Even in countries like South Korea, where the proportion of women who have tested positive for the virus is higher than that of men, about 54% of the reported deaths are among men.”

6.15am: Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris explain the bubble

The people who have helped many of understand this sudden and radical shift in our daily lives, and why individual actions matter, have another excellent new collaboration explaining the bubble concept, and the rest of the level four rules.

For the vast majority of us, it will just be the people we are living with. For people with shared custody of children, the bubble will cover the houses the children move between. If a blended family covers three or more households, that ends up being a pretty big bubble, so please think about whether it is best for some of the children not to move between their families. This will be difficult, but the aim is to keep the bubbles small and stop the spread of the virus.

If older relatives are able to safely live on their own, then they should stay as their own bubble. If you live alone, and you have a close friend who lives alone, then the two of you can form a bubble and move between your two homes. If you have flatmates and your partner has flatmates, you can’t form a bubble unless one of you moves in with the other.

6.00am: Yesterday’s news in sumAn emergency alert notifying people that the country was moving to alert level four tonight at 11.59pm was sent to phones nationwide.
The prime minister announced tough new quarantine rules for arrivals – every New Zealander will be screened, those showing symptoms tested, and those symptomatic, testing positive or without suitable self-isolation plans will be quarantined.
A state of national emergency was declared.
Ashley Bloomfield, the director-general of health, announced 50 new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand (47 confirmed and three “probable”), bringing the total to 205.
Chief human rights commissioner Paul Hunt has tested positive for Covid-19.
Covid-19 dream team Toby Morris and Siouxsie Wiles collaborated on a must-read edition of The Side Eye, explaining how the virus spreads.
The Tokyo Olympics were postponed until next year.
Schools sent out directives to parents that all grounds will be closed over the shutdown period.

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