Big boost to Covid unemployment benefit

A big boost to benefits for people who have become unemployed mostly due to Covid (since 1 March) has been both welcomed and criticised.

New payment to support Kiwis through COVID

The Government today announced a new temporary payment to support New Zealanders who lose their jobs due to the global COVID-19 pandemic to adjust and find new employment or retrain.

  • Further support for New Zealanders affected by 1-in-100 year global economic shock
  • 12-week payment will support people searching for new work or retraining
  • Work programme on employment insurance to support workers and businesses

A new COVID Income Relief Payment is being introduced, alongside a wider work programme on possible future employment insurance as we rebuild our economy in a way that supports workers and businesses together.

The payment will be available for 12 weeks from 8 June for anyone who has lost their job due to the impact of COVID-19 since March 1. It will pay $490 a week to those who lost full-time work and $250 for part-time. The payment will not be taxed.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the payment acknowledges that the global economy is facing a 1-in-100 year recession, which is impacting on New Zealand, and supports the Governments priority of protecting jobs where possible and supporting workers back into jobs where necessary.

The scheme announced today is very similar to the Job Loss Cover payment introduced by the previous Government during the Canterbury earthquakes, and has a number of similarities to the ReStart package for workers who lost their jobs in the Global Financial Crisis.

Receipt of the payment comes with expectations from the Government, and responsibilities. People who receive the COVID payment will be required to:

  • Be available for, and actively seeking, suitable work opportunities while they receive the payment
  • Take appropriate steps towards gaining new employment; and
  • Identify and take opportunities for employment, re-deployment and training.

Students who have lost part-time work as a result of COVID-19 may also be eligible for the part-time rate.

The 12-week scheme is forecast to cost about $570 million. This incorporates $1.2 billion of payments offset by $635 million of saved benefit payments, with small administrative costs. This fits with the Government’s intention for COVID response spending to be targeted, temporary and timely. It will be funded from the COVID Response and Recovery Fund.

Susan Edmunds (Stuff): Unemployment payment scheme shows Govt knows benefits insufficient

“The Government’s announcement that it will introduce a new payment of up to $490 a week for people who lose work because of Covid-19 will be welcome to the thousands of people expected to find themselves out of a job in the coming months.

But you can’t help thinking that it will be a rude shock to those who were already unemployed, who could barely dream of the sort of income the Government will provide those newly jobless.

The new scheme is generous – about twice the rate of the JobSeeker Support benefit – and, crucially, your partner can earn up to $2000 a week before tax, without it affecting your ability to claim.

Compare that to the Jobseeker Support, where you and your partner can only earn a combined $90 a week before it starts to reduce the rate of benefit you can qualify for.

A household receiving this new Covid-19 support could end up bringing in $1976 a week for 12 weeks, after tax, in total. That’s a much more comfortable life than the $375 for a single parent (plus up to $305 in accommodation supplement) on Jobseeker Support.

It seems that the Government has decided there are two classes of unemployed – those “worthy” unemployed who are only out of a job because of a global pandemic, and so should be allowed to carry on with their lives much as before, and those “unworthy” who lost their jobs or were unable to work for other reasons and so should be expected to live a subsistence lifestyle.”

Gezza commented:

This also came up on 1News at 6 last night & Robertson’s attempt to defend the government’s decision to be more generous to presumably a high proportion of white middle class pakeha affected by Covid-19 was presented in a way that made him appear unconvincing.

Muller was shown pointing out (as Labour would if in Opposition) that this was unfair & there needed to be consistency & equivalence.

Muller also said in that 1News item that the focus should be on businesses and how to keep them afloat to keep people in jobs.

Newshub’s picked it up too:

“We support supporting New Zealanders in a moment of significant need, but our concern with that announcement is it’s ill-defined and ill-directed,” he said on Monday during a press conference.

“What would’ve been better is a stronger focus on businesses to keep them in business… When we build together our economic plan, our focus will be on what do those small businesses actually need to be able to stay afloat. And I think that’s where the focus should be.”

Cabinet to decide on lockdown conditions today

Today Cabinet will consider whether to relax the conditions of Level 2 lockdown – of particular interest will be how much they relax the restrictions on group gatherings, especially for churches which are currently limited to 10. The pressure seems to have gone off the funeral limits which were upped to 50 after a public uproar.

It’s possible a decision will be made to lower to level 1 but that seems unlikely at this stage. A few days prior to lowering from both Level 4 and Level 3 the Government released amended conditions for the level we were moving to.

So perhaps at best today we may get an easing of level 2 conditions and a signal that level 1 may be considered in two weeks time.

There has been little change to the Covid numbers over the last week, with just one new case and a gradual reduction in actove cases. The totals as at yesterday:

As at 9.00 am, 24 May 2020
Total Change in last 24 hours
Number of confirmed cases in New Zealand 1,154 0
Number of probable cases 350 0
Number of confirmed and probable cases 1,504 0
Number of recovered cases 1,456 1
Number of deaths 21 0
Number of active cases 27 -1
Number of cases currently in hospital 1 0

Stress of Covid quarantine leads to arrest

From Gezza:

It appears that quarantine requirements are very strict, the conditions of those under enforced quarantine more rudimentary than generally realised, & that the services & help available to those effectively sentenced to temporary detention in designated quarantine hotels are causing significant mental health problems for some detainees.

Also, that the police response to those driven by panic or mental distress to escape to outside may sometimes be over the top & harsh. The court’s response to this case could be instructive – although it’s entirely possible that we, the public, will hear little or nothing about it, cos suppression orders.

… … … …
A man has been arrested after trying to escape an Auckland hotel minutes after a fire alarm was triggered.

A witness to the event said the man was distressed and “tried to escape” when he was detained by six police officers.

Police confirmed the man’s arrest and said it was in connection to a “mental health incident”.

The arrest comes on the back of a series of incidents reported by Kiwis in quarantine or managed isolation, some who say the strict restrictions have adversely affected their mental health.

Recently, a 24-hour ban on walking was enforced at some hotels to allow authorities to figure out a way to keep guests, and the public, safe.

The ban came under the scrutiny of the Human Rights Commission who said people who were legally required to stay in quarantine should have access to necessities.

In April, a woman was found in a distressed state in the Novotel Hotel car park by security officers. The woman, who was in her thirteenth day of managed isolation, was issued her with a warning from police.

It bothers me that this sort of thing doesn’t bode well for the police’s relations with the public. For the first time in my life, when I see them cruising through Tawa, I find myself now watching them automatically with some suspicion.

I have to actually do an intellectual override of that negative gut reaction, because these public protectors might not all be perfect, but they see some bloody awful things, have to deal with some difficult, even dangerous people, have often got a really shit job to do that none of us would take on, & I respect them for that.

Cape Reinga closure “cultural mumbo jumbo” as authorities puihi foot

Cape Reinga has remained closed (with a gate across the road) since lockdown, with some local Māori saying the area needs to be blessed and cleansed due to Covid-19, because after death people’s spirits travel there to depart to the afterlife.

Tourists are being blocked from visiting Cape Reinga by local Iw, with the puihi footing support of DOC and compliance of NZTA.

Earlier this week National MP Matt King tried visiting the Cape with his wife and parents and a man threatened to “knock him out” if he tried to get past the gate.

NZ First MP Shane Jones has called the claims ‘rubbish” and “cultural mumbo jumbo”.

On Wednesday (1 News):  National MP in confrontation with members of local iwi after being refused access to Cape Reinga

Dozens of tourists are being turned away from Cape Reinga by local iwi, despite tourism and hospitality in the region trying to encourage visitors to the area.

Northland MP Matt King made a video of a confrontation that took place with iwi as he tried to access the location.

“It’s my customary rights and I’m prepared to knock you out if you pass that gate,” a person blocking access says in the video.

Mr King talked to 1 NEWS about his experience.

“This is not about Covid-19, they gave me a range of reasons as to why the road was blocked. One was that DOC was doing maintenance up there, then they said it was their land.

“Northland is a beautiful place with beautiful people in it and we’ve got a lot to offer and I just want to see the roadblocks taken down and us just getting back to business”.

Ngāti Kuri says that is what it wants too, but first the sacred site must be cleansed. Māori tradition holds that after death spirits travel there to depart.

“There is a responsibility and obligation and opportunity to move us through to Level 1 by having an appropriate opening so spirits can move toward te rerenga wairua,” Harry Burkhardt of Ngāti Kuri says.

NZTA say its working with the iwi and the Department of Conservation who are restricting access until facilities are cleaned.

“Working with” appears to be allowing the road block to continue as long as those involved from Ngāti Kuri choose.

DOC fully supports Ngāti Kuri’s management of the area and says it’s working to undertake physical safety checks at the site, including walking trails, campgrounds and facilities.

A reopening ceremony will take place on May 29.

Also from NZ Herald:  `This isn’t about Covid 19′

Northland MP Matt King set off for Cape Rēinga, with his wife and parents, on Tuesday, but he didn’t get there. State Highway 1 was blocked several kilometres south of the cape, and the four people manning it had no intention of letting him past.

“I got them to admit that it was about Māori land. They told me they owned the land, and they weren’t going to let me past.”

One of those manning the gate, he said, had threatened to knock him out, while another said one phone call would bring 500 reinforcements to the gate, and that they would “eat me alive”.

A police officer was present, but did not intervene, and left when King did, following him south. (Police have given an undertaking that officers will be present at every Covid-19 checkpoint).

“He said he had been told not to take action, so he was in an impossible position, but his role had been to keep the peace. If he hadn’t been there it could have become quite ugly.”

King said he had been contacted by numerous people, including tour operators, who were concerned and upset by the road closure.

Most of them were afraid to speak publicly, so he was speaking for them.

Shane Jones never seems afraid to speak, even when criticising Māori.

Saturday (1 News): Shane Jones calls iwi’s reason for barring access to Cape Reinga ‘cultural mumbo jumbo’

“Cape Reinga has been hijacked by Ngāti Kuri and their cultural mumbo jumbo,” says Shane Jones.

“This notion that the spirits need to slumber post Covid is rubbish, this notion that the spirits are travelling to Cape Reinga to hibernate.”

The MP is of Te Aupouri and Ngai Takoto descent and says the Cape belongs to the nation and has significance to all Māori tribes.

“It’s a place of national significance that’s being tainted by people that don’t know what they’re talking about and who have no mandate.“

Jones says the iwi organisation overseeing the closure is like, “children without books, they haven’t learnt anything.”

The closure coincides with Northland industry leaders calling for people to come and visit the region.

Police wouldn’t comment on the road block instead referring the matter to the New Zealand Transport Authority which says it’s working with the Iwi and the Department of Conservation who are supporting the restricted access.

Authorities puihi foot around the issue.

If Matt King had referred to the road block as ‘rubbish’ and the need to let spirits slumber as ‘mumbo jumbo’ he would likely have been condemned by some Māori. These days it seems that only Māori  can be critical of Māori actions and cultural beliefs.

Ngāti Kuri have said they  will reopen the road with a ceremony on May 29.

No active Covid cases in most districts

The Covid numbers are barely changing day to day now (that’s a good thing), but yesterday a milestone for the Southern DHB was reached – zero active cases.

There are now only 30 active cases in the whole country, and that’s in just five districts. Not only have most districts have ni active cases, they have had no new cases for a month.

The stringent lockdowns have effectively served a purpose.

Total cases by DHB, as at 9.00 am, 21 May 2020
DHB Active Recovered Deceased Total Change in last 24 hours
Auckland 3 174 177 0
Bay of Plenty 0 47 47 0
Canterbury 3 149 12 164 0
Capital and Coast 0 93 2 95 0
Counties Manukau 3 129 132 0
Hawke’s Bay 5 39 44 0
Hutt Valley 0 20 20 0
Lakes 0 16 16 0
Mid Central 0 32 32 0
Nelson Marlborough 1 48 49 0
Northland 0 28 28 0
South Canterbury 0 17 17 0
Southern 0 214 2 216 0
Tairāwhiti 0 4 4 0
Taranaki 0 16 16 0
Waikato 1 186 1 188 0
Wairarapa 0 8 8 0
Waitematā 14 219 3 236 0
West Coast 0 4 1 5 0
Whanganui 0 9 9 0
Total 30 1452 21 1503 0

There is still a lot of testing being done:

Lab testing for COVID-19 as at 9.00 am 21 May
Tests Date
Total tested yesterday 6,113 20 May 2020
7-day rolling average 5,032 14 May to 20 May 2020
Total tested to date 244,838 22 January to 20 May 2020
Supplies in stock 193,211 21 May 2020

So a lot of testing and no new cases most days now.

Unless there is a significant reversal in current trends we must be looking likely to drop to level 1 next week.

And if that happens hopefully Dunedin wil have the silly dots removed and cars on the main street will again be able to legally travel as fast as pedestrians and scooters on the footpaths. There have been a lot of Complaints over George St changes

Dropping the already low limit from 30 kph to 10 kph means that cars will be on the street for at least twice as long.

And there are serious concerns about encouraging children to play on the street.

5 million cases of Covid-19

The world count of confirmed Covid-19 cases has now passed five million. A big chunk (one and a half million) of those cases are in the US.

The number of cases has risen by 80-90,000 a day for  a month or more.

The death rate has slowed a little, but is still increasing by over four thousand a day, and now totals 327,000 (attributed deaths).

The Russian death total of 2,972 still looks extraordinarily low compared to the number of cases, which is the second highest in the work at over three hundred thousand.

Current totals for countries with the most cases;

An as usual Donald Trump is in the Covid news making weird claims, now suggesting that having the most cases is a ‘lead’  – Trump calls high number of cases in US a ‘badge of honour’

“By the way, you know, when you say that we lead in cases, that’s because we have more testing than anybody else. When we have a lot of cases, I don’t look at that as a bad thing. I look at that in a certain respect as being a good thing, because it means our testing is much better.

So, if we were testing a million people instead of 14 million people, it would have far few cases, right?

Of course they wouldn’t have fewer actual cases, but the would have fewer recorded cases.

“So, I view it as a badge of honour. Really, it’s a badge of honour”.

While the US has tested more people than any other country – actually 12,807,260 according to Worldometer, but they also have nearly three times as many deaths (94,181) as the next highest country – the UK currently has 35,074.

And the US testing rate per million population is 39th highest at 38k, with some countries much higher – Iceland has a test rate of 169k, and New Zealand is ranked 28th with 49k.

The Covid problems are far from over as the latest charts from Worldometer show:



Extra public holiday proposal squashed by NZ First

The Government (or at least a part of the Government) had been considering more public holidays, but that idea seems to have been squashed by NZ First due to the extra cost to businesses already struggling from the economic impact of Covid-19.

Stuff: Government pondering extra public holidays to encourage domestic tourism

The Government is giving “active consideration” to additional holidays to get Kiwis out spending in order to boost tourism operations.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that was one idea being considered to provide an economic boost to the country’s embattled tourism sector during a visit to Rotorua’s Te Puia on Tuesday.

Asked whether, in the wake of Easter and Anzac Day falling within the earlier lockdown periods, additional holiday time was being considered, Ardern said the Government is thinking of ideas “to encourage New Zealanders to come and see their own back yards”.

“Those are things we’re giving active consideration to.”

But Winston Peters seems not to have been a part of those considerations:

Weve been asked whether NZF supports an xtra public holiday. Our answer after serious thought is – no.  NZ has just been through weeks of lockdown – in some ways an enforced holiday. We understand how Covid put business owners under real financial strain.

We know that business owners are not paying themselves so they can keep their staff going and many who are paying their bills, but not paying themselves. That is why we can’t support extra public holidays – they come at a cost to businesses and workers.

It’s another day of no production, when production is well down due to Covid. For many businesses it’s a day of no income when they need to pay their bills. Holidays are great, but it will cost small businesses, and will cost 1000s of workers their jobs – NZF understands that.

I’m surprised those considering extra public holidays didn’t understand this.

I don’t know why extra holidays were even being considered. I think that most employees would prefer to get their normal hours and normal pay back. I certainly would.

Covid-19 contact tracing app

There have been various ways people and businesses can keep track of movements to help contact tracing.

The Ministry of Health has just released their own contact tracing app “designed to support rather than replace existing contact tracing processes”.

NZ COVID Tracer helps you protect yourself, your friends, your whānau and your community by enabling faster contact tracing.

Fast and effective contact tracing is essential to stopping any further spread of COVID-19 in New Zealand. NZ COVID Tracer supports this by creating a digital diary of the places you visit.

On this page:

How the app supports contact tracing

NZ COVID Tracer is designed to support rather than replace existing contact tracing processes.

The personal information and contact details you register through NZ COVID Tracer are provided to the National Close Contact Service (NCCS) so they can quickly get in touch if you are identified as a close contact of someone who has COVID-19.

If the NCCS needs to get in touch with you, they will ask you to read out the locations that you have signed into with NZ COVID Tracer. This will help contact tracers identify whether any of your friends, whanau or community members may also have been exposed to COVID-19, so we can respond quickly and stop any further spread of the virus in New Zealand.

But: Govt app doesn’t meet Level 2 requirements

The Government’s own “digital diary” app cannot be used as intended without amending Level 2 regulations.

Newsroom reported on Tuesday evening that the app had been released ahead of schedule.

The app, as well as others like Wellington City Council-favourite Rippl, doesn’t appear to meet the strict requirements, which mandate that certain businesses maintain a register of contacts themselves that includes names, contact information and residential addresses.

Several digital solutions, including the Government’s, seek to alleviate concerns about private businesses holding patrons’ data and potentially misusing it. But offices, hospitality outlets and those retail shops unable to maintain social distancing are required under the Level 2 rules to hold that data themselves – apps like Rippl and the “digital diary” which store all data on the phones of the users don’t suit.

Rick Shera, an IT law expert and partner at the law firm Lowndes Jordan, told Newsroom on Tuesday that the “digital diary” as described by the Prime Minister would not be able to replace business’ own sign-in sheets or other solutions without a change to the Level 2 regulations.


WHO promise review of handling of Covid-19 pandemic

The World Health Organisation says they will begin and independent review of the global coronavirus response “as soon as possible”.

This is being backed by China and most countries are suporting WHO, but the US are still sticking their boot in, continuing to blame WHO and China for the severity of the pandemic.

RNZ:  World Health Organisation promises Covid-19 response review

The World Health Organisation says an independent review of the global coronavirus response will begin as soon as possible, and it received backing and a hefty pledge of funds from China.

But the US administration of President Donald Trump decried an “apparent attempt to conceal this outbreak by at least one member state”.

Trump has already suspended US funding for the WHO after accusing it of being too China-centric.

Without mentioning China by name, US Health Secretary Alex Azar made clear Washington considered the WHO jointly responsible for the pandemic.

“We must be frank about one of the primary reasons this outbreak spun out of control,” he said on Monday.

“There was a failure by this organisation to obtain the information that the world needed, and that failure cost many lives.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping said China had acted with “openness and transparency and responsibility”.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus defended the organisation’s response.

“WHO sounded the alarm early, and we sounded it often,” he said.

Tedros, who has always promised a coronavirus review, told the forum it would come “at the earliest appropriate moment” and make recommendations for the future.

He received robust backing from the WHO’s independent oversight panel.

“Every country and every organisation must examine its response and learn from its experience,” Tedros said, adding that the review must cover “all actors in good faith”.

In its first report on the handling of the pandemic, the seven-member oversight committee said the WHO had “demonstrated leadership and made important progress in its Covid-19 response”.

It also said “an imperfect and evolving understanding” was not unusual when a new disease emerged.

In an apparent rejoinder to Trump, the panel said a “rising politicisation of pandemic response” was hindering the effort to defeat the virus.

Meanwhile  disagreement in the US over handling of the pandemic and related scapegoating has flared up in public, with Azar defending US efforts.

Fox News – HHS Secretary Azar hits back at Navarro’s criticism of CDC: ‘Inaccurate and inappropriate’

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar hit back Monday at White House trade adviser Peter Navarro for his coronavirus-related criticism of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a striking public spat between two wings of the Trump administration.

“The comments regarding the CDC are inaccurate and inappropriate,” Azar said on Fox News’  “America’s Newsroom” Monday.

Azar’s comments come after Navarro slammed the CDC over the weekend, saying the agency “let the country down” in its early stages of testing for COVID-19.

“Early on in this crisis, the CDC, which really had the most trusted brand around the world in this space — really let the country down with the testing,” Navarro said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Not only did they keep the testing within the bureaucracy, they had a bad test and that set us back.”

But Azar defended the agency Monday, saying they “had one error, which was in scaling up the manufacturing of the tests they had developed.”

Azar also defended the administration’s coronavirus testing methods, saying that President Trump “is delivering 300,000 tests per day” and that the U.S. has conducted over 10 million tests.

Trump claims US testing is the best in the world (it has now identified over one and a half million cases, but that’s the 39th best testing rate according to Worldometer).

No organisation or country could have handled the rapidly unfolding Covid crisis perfectly. It was impossible to know the best way to respond (that’s still debatable), and most countries were under prepared for any sort of pandemic.

Blaming others is just a way of trying to divert from one’s own inadequacies. The focus should be on learning from mistakes and doing better now and in future health emergencies.

91.6% supported Level 4 lockdown

One of the more interesting results from the Newshub/Reid Research poll:

The Government put the country into level 4 lockdown for four weeks. Do you think this was the right call?

  • Yes 91.6%
  • No 6%
  • Don’t know 2.5%

The poll was conducted between 8-16 May with half of the responses taken after the Budget.
The poll has a maximum sample error of +/- 3.1 percent.  

The polling was done after the level 4 lockdown had finished. This suggests near universal support for playing safe health-wise.