Message to NZers overseas changes – seek shelter
Mercy flights aren't being ruled out, but they can't be guaranteed
Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin for Wednesday 25 March, by Alex Braae for The Spinoff. Presented in partnership with Z Energy.
In today’s edition: MFAT advice to NZers overseas changes, parliamentary scrutiny to continue amid adjournment, and an essential piece to read on the shutdown rules.
Image: Foreign minister and deputy PM Winston Peters (Radio NZ, Phil Smith)
As of yesterday, the message to New Zealanders overseas has changed. Last week, foreign minister Winston Peters warned those who wanted to return that they needed to do so immediately, because the window for international travel would close rapidly. Now, reports Interest, that window has basically closed completely, says Peters. "We are reaching a point where the best option for most New Zealanders offshore is to shelter in place, by preparing to safely stay where they are. This includes following the instructions of the local authorities and the advice of the World Health Organisation." Consular advice will be provided wherever possible, said Peters.
The major problem with returning is that many flights back require transit, and many hubs aren't allowing air traffic through any more. A tipping point for this was the closure of borders to non-citizens by Singapore – because of New Zealand's distance to the rest of the world, many journeys had to go through there. Compounding it, airline companies have dramatically slashed back their programmes of international flights, meaning that the seats simply aren't available to those wanting to return. Peters wouldn't rule out mercy flights assisted by the government, "but there are no guarantees these will be possible in the extremely complex and rapidly changing global situation.”
It's a nightmare scenario for many New Zealanders right now, who didn't necessarily do anything they shouldn't have, and just got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Radio NZ reported on some of them, with one woman in this story spending thousands of dollars on flights that kept getting cancelled, and in one instance being told 10 minutes before boarding an Etihad flight that only residents of the UAE would be able to transit through Dubai. Conversely, there are many people from overseas in New Zealand right now who can't get out. PM Jacinda Ardern addressed this situation in her press conference yesterday, saying New Zealand would offer these people a high standard of care, and expected that other governments would offer New Zealanders in their countries the same.
Domestically, people trying to get across the Cook Strait have been given something of a lifeline. After large crowds of people – many trying to book last minute tickets – gathered yesterday morning, a decision was made to extend the deadline on Interislander sailings being open to the public until Friday 27 March. After midnight on Friday, the ferries will only be open to essential service workers and freight – until that time, passengers will be given priority over freight.
As a final bit on this section, I just want to address a particular group of readers directly. I've lost count of the number of times people have contacted me to say they're reading The Bulletin in Singapore, or London, or Melbourne, or Los Angeles, or anywhere overseas really. And those people almost always say they love keeping up with what's going on back home – it's never phrased as back in New Zealand, it's always back home. So to those who are away from home right now, you are in our thoughts and our hearts here. Remember that, keep in touch with your people, and we'll see you again.
Parliament is going into an adjournment today, until about the end of April, as a measure against the spread of Covid-19. But as Stuff reports, there will still be a scrutiny process for government decisions. National leader Simon Bridges will chair a new Select Committee, with representatives from all parliamentary parties, that will meet via video conferencing around three times a week. The idea is that they'll provide a necessary check on the government, while parliament as a whole is shut down. It is expected that meetings will also be live-streamed to the public.
This is an essential piece to read if you haven't got your head around the rules of the next four weeks yet. Sam Brooks has outlined exactly what is allowed and what isn't, and what the underlying principles are if you've got a specific situation that isn't necessarily clear. There has also been an outline of what is permitted with shared custody arrangements, which a few of you got in touch to ask about. It is essential that everyone sticks to these rules, there's not really any other way of putting it. If people don't stick to them, we'll all get to enjoy many more weeks of shutdown.
It was a pretty big day of drama for retailer The Warehouse yesterday. At the start of the day, they announced to the NZX that as a supplier of key consumer goods, they'd be staying open for the shutdown. Within hours that had been slapped down by government spokespeople, who said that no decision had been made. The Warehouse Group was subsequently placed in a trading halt, after the shares had earlier shot up. As of late last night, it was confirmed to be closing for the shutdown, among a wider clarification of the essential services list. A reminder – if we can't stop the spread of Covid-19, the lockdown will last longer, so having big retailers open is more than a little counter-productive.
Speaking of firms trying to stay open, that sort of attitude has prompted fury from one union leader. Stuff reported comments from Unite boss Gerard Hehir, who said that those who try and cash in on everyone else being closed should basically be shut down for good. "It's putting workers at risk to make a profit." I reckon this quote from yesterday's government spokespeople press conference sums it up best: “If you’re in doubt about whether you’re an essential service, you’re probably not,” said Paul Stocks of MBIE. “I would caution firms about leaping to judgement about what their status will be.”
You might have heard recently about roadblocks up the East Coast, to protect predominantly Māori communities from outbreaks of Covid-19. The word from this Gisborne Herald article is that they'll be more like checkpoints – which have the crucial distinction of not being illegal. The checkpoints are aimed at protecting communities which are much more likely to be vulnerable to illness, and helping ensure that people do not travel outside of their own region during a time when restrictions are in place.
What does a Covid-19 test actually involve? Anthony Costello for Re News has followed someone through their test, and presented it in video form. The 'up the nose' bit was described as "a bit uncomfortable, but nothing too bad," so if you have to get one that will hopefully set your mind at ease a bit. One really important point about the tests – if you've got symptoms, do not just show up at the GP's office. Make sure you call ahead. And while you wait for the results to come back, you must isolate yourself.
Questions are being raised about the wage subsidy scheme for businesses, and whether the conditions aimed at protecting jobs are strong enough. In a forthright opinion piece for Metro, community lawyer Joe Nunweek has argued that there are some elements of the scheme that give less well-off people a lot of protection, particularly if they're sole traders or freelancers. But he also cautions that under the current rules, it would be entirely possible for a business to claim the subsidy, and still end up laying off workers.
Keep up with all the developments today with our Covid-19 live updates page.
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Right now on The Spinoff: Alex Casey reports on the domestic violence services preparing for a rise in people needing support. Michael Andrews speaks to two leading economists about the massive uncertainty around right now about what the future looks like. Michael Fletcher writes about the urgent need for benefit rules to change, with a likely large rise in unemployment on the way. Tim Foote gives a guide for how to get your street connected to each other in advance of the shutdown. MP Chlöe Swarbrick, who has been self-isolated for over a week, writes about protecting your mental health through this time, and reminds people that they're not alone.
And today's edition of The Side Eye is one that every person in the country should read, especially those struggling to understand the science of this pandemic. Toby Morris has partnered with Dr Siouxsie Wiles to explain how a virus works, how they spread, and how they operate on a worldwide scale. It's a masterpiece of science communication.
For a feature today, a buzzy news article entirely unrelated to the pandemic, about getting change through a vitally important but all-volunteer organisation. The NZ Herald has reported on the addition of macrons to Māori words on Wikipedia – a change that you might expect would be quite simple to make. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case until very recently. Here's an excerpt:
Axel Wilke proposed Wikipedia change its New Zealand naming conventions, saying the website is "one of the last bastions of macron resistance for place names".
Debates and editing battles have long raged on the popular site for years, with various editors repeatedly adding and removing macrons from words.
"Macrons have been used in Wikipedia for some time: every use of the word "Māori" has its macron, and articles are increasingly adopting macrons in their names . . . But place names have always been a sticking point. For some reason, people feel especially attached to towns and rivers, and resist changing their spelling," Wilke said.
A few sporting competitions are finally facing up to reality, and realising that they can't really continue over the coming weeks. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the A-League has accepted an indefinite postponement to their season, after the logistics of running it became simply too complicated. The Phoenix, who had originally been planning to base themselves in Australia for the duration, will now be coming home ahead of the shutdown. The NRL has also come to terms with the competition being suspended, reports Fox Sports, after initially exploring quite outlandish possibilities like having the entire competition be based in a small Queensland city. And the Tokyo Olympics will be postponed by a year, after several countries basically just decided to withdraw without waiting for a decision from the IOC.
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