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Morning Briefing March 24: NZ shuts up shop

Barely 48 hours after introducing the national Covid-19 alert system, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday announced the country was officially moving towards that system’s highest tier.

Source: Getty

New Zealand will hit level four at midnight on Wednesday, at which point the whole nation will go into self-isolation for four weeks to try and halt the rapid spread of coronavirus.

As this explainer shows, without this mandatory isolation period, a bleak outlook presents the growth of the virus exceeding the health system’s ability to tend to potential patients.

New Zealand’s current total of confirmed cases stands at 102, with 36 new cases revealed yesterday.

The pending nationwide isolation has raised some questions about how life will work during that time and many of those questions are answered in this FAQ piece prepared by Radio NZ.

Essential services will remain open during the national shutdown and you can find a full list of those services here. Supermarkets are one of those essential services and supermarket chains last night asked families to nominate one person to shop on their behalf during the lockdown.

Meanwhile, Air New Zealand is adding more domestic capacity to its network to help Kiwis, including many university students, get back home before restrictions on travel apply.

Commissioner of Police Mike Bush says police are also working with the Defence Force ahead of the lockdown, although he hopes the military won’t be needed

"We don't want to get to a stage where we need to enforce ... but we will if required."

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Lockdown met with praise

National Party leader Simon Bridges was swift to show solidarity over the Government’s decision to place the whole country in isolation.

Speaking in Tauranga yesterday, Mr Bridges said he supported the move towards level four of the Covid-19 alert system and added that his MPs would help with the response.

A top medical expert also expressed relief at the decision to place the country in strict lockdown.

University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker told 1 NEWS he was “overjoyed” with the new direction being taken. 

“It’s absolutely the right thing. We can beat the virus doing this,” he said. 

Māori move to protect tribal areas

Despite the Government’s decision to place the whole country in isolation, some Māori leaders are still pushing ahead with plans to create roadblocks and checkpoints on their tribal boundaries in a bid to protect their communities from the spread of Covid-19.

Hone Harawira is helping to organise checkpoints in the north, where tourists will be told to turn around and go back to Auckland.

In an email to media late last night, Mr Harawira said: “We won’t be standing down until we are convinced [the] Government is throwing the necessary resources into turning this [coronavirus] threat around.”

Whānau ā Apanui from the eastern Bay of Plenty said they will also have a manned border patrol at both ends of their tribal area from Hawai to Potaka, while a Ngāti Porou community group will be stopping tourists from entering remote Hicks Bay.

Stemming the economic fallout

While health officials grapple with the spread of Covid-19 cases around New Zealand, the Government and other organisations are also dealing with the economic woes being felt.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson yesterday revealed the wage subsidy cap of $150,000 for businesses affected by the virus has been removed, increasing the cost of that scheme from $5.1 billion to $9.3 billion.

The Government is also looking at introducing a rent increase freeze. That move comes as Stuff reports property investors are pulling their houses from Airbnb to offer as long-term rentals instead.

Meanwhile, Flight Centre has revealed almost 250 of their staff will lose their jobs due to the slowdown in travel.

In making the announcement, managing director David Coombes criticised the government for supporting airlines, but not the travel agency industry, and said he was “heartbroken” over the job cuts. 

NRL admits virus defeat

The NRL announced last night that it’s suspending the 2020 season indefinitely, with players told to stop training due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Organisers had desperately tried to keep the league going, but made the decision to immediately suspend the competition after consultation with a global pandemic expert.

The Sydney Morning Herald has put together this guide for any league fans wondering what this will mean for their beloved game. 

Other news of note this morning:

Samoa’s police are still hunting for 15 prisoners after a mass jail break overnight.

Medical specialists are reporting an unexpected loss of the sense of smell may be the first sign a person has Covid-19. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says there’s no plan to postpone the election at this stage, despite the upcoming Covid-19 lockdown.

One of the country's largest retirement village operators has placed security guards at its facilities to enforce restricted access.

Aides say US President Donald Trump is itching to scale back social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, with suggestions he believes the measures may not be worth the economic pain. 

And Shorty fans, take note: There are further changes to Shortland Street’s schedule following the Government’s decision to place the country in lockdown. 

And finally...

Source: Seven Sharp

It’s never been easier to be a hero right now - all you have to do is stay home and wash your hands. But are you still washing those hands for the requisite 20 seconds? Well, Seven Sharp’s Laura Daniel is here to help with Handwash Karaoke. She and a few other famous faces have given us all a few 20-second tunes to sing while we wash our hands like the heroes we are – and you can check 'em out here.