NZ leadership under scrutiny over Covid-19

How New Zealand is handling the escalating Covid-19 issues is being questioned more. Is our Government doing enough, or are they reacting too slowly?

Bernard Hickey (Newsroom):  Behind the curve and out of touch

In the six weeks since the imposition of a travel ban on China in the wake of the first Covid-19 outbreaks, the Government has announced $11 million in tourism marketing and $4m for extra business advisers in regional areas. Yesterday, it announced $12 million of support for drought-hit Northland and the rest of the North Island.

That’s $27m or less than 0.01 percent of GDP in response to what some are calling the biggest macro-economic shock to the global economy since the second world war and the worst drought some parts of the country have seen in 100 years.

Yet, again yesterday Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pushed back at the idea the Government should offer more urgent, widespread and direct economic support to small businesses and beneficiaries to help them cope with the cashflow shock that is rippling through the economy. Instead, they have chosen to spend more time designing a scheme to micro-target wage subsidy support for small businesses in different industries and different parts of the economy. They have said we should wait until next week for details, and that business leaders had asked for a targeted response.

New Zealand has been very slow to respond with monetary and fiscal stimulus amid signs cashflow is drying up across the tourism, hospitality, forestry and retail sectors, with nothing much expected to be announced until next week from the Government, and the following week from the Reserve Bank.

Business leaders are calling for more urgent action to protect jobs, including the suspension of provisional tax payments, a potential GST rate cut and more urgent wage subsidies.

On monetary policy, New Zealand is also looking way behind the curve. The US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England have both announced emergency rate cuts.

Yet both Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr and Finance Minister Grant Robertson have warned against “knee-jerk” reactions and have both said they have time to formulate more considered and targeted responses.

Trying to get the balance between caution and urgency is difficult in situations like this. The spread of the virus in New Zealand seems well contained (at this stage) but the economic and social effects are growing rapidly.

Stuff – Coronavirus: A winter of fiscal stimulus is coming

The Government has been manfully sticking to its plan for dealing with such outbreaks, with little choice but to follow the current path set out by the health experts: regular warnings, hand-washing, self-isolation and selected travel bans.

By the middle of next week the Government will be rolling out its ‘business continuity package’, which Stuff understands will include targeted wage subsidies and could include some tax changes. It is increasingly looking like tourism – New Zealand’s biggest export sector – will be where a lot of these efforts are directed.

Both politics and the corporate world are heavily risk-averse in this day and age. So the fact that the Government has been slow to turn up the rhetorical volume about the whole thing has actually been quite helpful. After being caught on the hop with its communications around new cases last week, the ship has been steadied, the information flow is better and calm has largely remained.

There are some indications from business that the physical dimension of the shortages may be loosening up. Supply chains both in and out of China – with the exception of export forestry, which was already facing potential log glut in China – seem to be loosening up. That could mean that shortages of imported products will correct before too long, and exports will keep flowing.

For the Government the politics of the issue remains a fine balancing act, between doing what works, and what might not work but make the public feel like the Government is doing something.

I’d prefer any major financial decisions were rigorously thought through and done properly rather than rushed. But the Government needs to be seen to be doing enough.

Peter Wilson (RNZ): Managing Covid-19 crisis a tricky business

The government was anxious this week to let the public know it was working hard on a relief package to help businesses affected by Covid-19 but it faced criticism over the pace of its efforts.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson was with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at her post-cabinet press conference on Monday to announce a business continuity package was being developed. On Wednesday Ardern chaired the first meeting of the Cabinet’s Covid-19 Committee and on Thursday Robertson promised “we will get the money out the door as soon as possible”.

It’s likely to be signed off at Monday’s cabinet meeting with details announced shortly after that.

What’s known so far is that it will focus on wage subsidies to protect jobs in affected businesses and a plan to redeploy staff in hard-hit sectors such as forestry. Robertson has several times emphasised that a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work and assistance must be carefully targeted.

He isn’t going to follow Australia’s response – a $17.6 billion stimulus package with tax relief for small businesses, support for 117,000 apprentices so they won’t lose their jobs and one-off cash payments to beneficiaries.

Inevitably, the relative speed of the responses was noted: “The Australian government was announcing measures while Ardern’s ministers were still holding committee meetings,” said Politik.

National’s finance spokesman Paul Goldsmith described the government as “flat footed” and told RNZ: “What we’re seeing, unfortunately, is lots of announcements about announcements that will be made in the future.”

Goldsmith has been doing a reasonable Opposition job of both criticising the Government and being prepared to work with them.

But National leader Simon Bridges has not had such a good week, looking too much like a whining campaign opportunist.

Matthew Hooton (NZH): Simon Bridges fails the coronavirus political test

When a party’s first response to a global pandemic is to demand looser health regulations, we must ask if it is a serious player.

National’s announcement on Monday of a “bonfire of regulations” was inane. Like the party’s overarching “economic plan” released a month ago, this week’s effort was entirely devoid of substantial content, consisting mainly of social-media slogans.

While the party’s finance spokesman Paul Goldsmith continues to make considered contributions, Simon Bridges and his brains trust of Paula Bennett and Todd McClay seem to have decided the election can be won by empty sloganeering and praying the Ardern regime implodes.

Also:

Ardern’s and Labour’s prospects of staying in Government after the September election may be determined by how well they get the handling of the virus and it’s economic effects. There’s time to get the Covid-19 response about right, but significant action is needed fairly soon.

The Government parties are helped by Bridges’ lack of substance, empathy, common sense and communication skills. A barrage of slogans may score some political points some of the time, but not when there are serious issues needing to be dealt with sensibly and ideally with help from all parties in Parliament.


ODT/NZH/RNZ: Government could impose further travel restrictions today

New travel restrictions due to Covid-19 could be announced today, after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern convenes a conference with a special committee of senior ministers.

Ms Ardern has signalled that tougher travel restrictions will be imposed and refused to rule out any countries, even Australia.

She said yesterday that the details of the travel bans would be hashed out over the weekend.

That’s a bit confusing – may announce more restrictions today but hashing out details over the weekend.


After ‘Flatten the Curve’, we must now ‘Stop the Spread’. Here’s what that means

Here’s how we expressed that earlier in the week:

One of the things the latest studies are showing is that some people may be able to shed the Covid-19 virus for up to three days before they have symptoms. This is obviously a worrying development as it does mean that people may be more infectious in the early stages of Covid-19 than we initially thought. But it’s also important to mention that many of the people in these studies were living in the same household. That fits with all the data showing that most people need to be in repeated close contact with someone who has the virus to pick it up.

Right now we need every household to sign up to the FluTracking project which is helping to act as an early warning system for Covid-19. We need everyone to get into the habit of washing their hands properly and regularly, and to avoid touching their mouth, nose, and eyes. It’s really hard, I know! Out, too, are hugs, kisses, and hongi.

We need to stay away from other people if we are sick. That means, if we are at all unwell, no going to church, the gym, the theatre, cinema, or to gigs and festivals.

Most importantly, we need to be calling ahead if we feel ill and want to go to the doctor or hospital. Something that will not #FlattenTheCurve is having a whole bunch of healthcare workers in isolation because they’ve been exposed to Covid-19. In fact, that does the opposite: it reduces our capacity to care for people who are sick.

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