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Morning Briefing May 12: NZ gets ready to burst its bubble

New Zealand will take a leap towards normality on Thursday as the country begins its staggered return to Covid-19 Alert Level 2.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says Cabinet agrees New Zealand’s ready for the big move, but is still urging caution, saying "we have not won the war" against the virus yet.  

The decision came as New Zealand reported three new confirmed cases of Covid-19 yesterday, with the number of active cases dropping below 100 for the first time in more than seven weeks.

Two of yesterday’s new cases are nurses at Auckland’s Waitakere Hospital who were tested as part of routine requirements for returning to work following self-isolation. Neither nurse had any symptoms of the virus.  

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So, what happens now?

New Zealand begins its staggered return to Level 2 this Thursday, when retail shops are allowed to open to customers once more. 

Schools, tertiary institutions and early childhood education (ECE) centres can fully open again from Monday.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins says children at primary schools and ECE centres won’t be expected to maintain physical distancing.

Mr Hipkins told TVNZ’s Q+A the Government is confident the risk of Covid-19 coming through the school gate “is very, very low in the first place”. 

While much of the hospitality industry will reopen for business this week, bar owners will have to wait until next Thursday before they can open their doors again. 

And funerals and tangi will still be restricted to 10 people at Level 2, a move that funeral directors say is “cruel and without compassion”. 

Meanwhile, members of the public won’t be required to wear masks when out and about at Level 2.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says it’s not a supply issue, but an issue of evidence as to their effectiveness.

He’s asking those who do choose to wear masks to make sure they know how to use them safely.

The move comes as the UK government advises its own citizens to wear masks in crowded places. 

And if you’re feeling anxious about returning to “normal” life later this week, you’re probably not alone.

The BBC reports that as some countries ease restrictions, anxiety about life after lockdown has become a new phenomenon. 

Salary boost for ECE teachers

Up to 17,000 staff working in early childhood education are due to get a pay rise under this week’s Budget, however some say the funding won’t help everyone.

Almost $151 million will go towards increasing ECE teachers’ pay over the next four years, representing an almost 10 per cent salary increase.

However the Early Childhood Council says centres are only being given a four per cent subsidy increase, meaning many will have to increase fees or employ fewer teachers to make up the shortfall.

And in other funding announcements, $10 million has been earmarked for extra support for the health and disability workforce during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Health Minister David Clark revealed the funding this morning on International Nurses Day.

The new initiative will provide temporary accommodation for workers living with a vulnerable person, phone counselling services and a designated Covid-19 clinical advice hotline.

Tax increases ‘inevitable’

Economist Cameron Bagrie expects net Government debt to rise from $70 billion to $170 billion due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

He told TVNZ’s Q+A the odds are “it’s going to get worse as the years move on”.

Mr Bagrie says the Government has a range of options for paying for the pandemic response, but says tax increases will be “inevitable” at some stage. 

Meanwhile, the National Party isn’t ruling out tax cuts if it were to win this year’s election.

Finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says he’s “not going to rule anything out” when asked by Q+A host Jack Tame if income tax cuts would be off the table due to the Covid-19 economic crisis.

Mr Goldsmith says Budget figures will be critical in their decision on the matter.

Media outlets butt heads

Two of the country’s biggest media organisations are tussling over a proposed merger.

Newspaper and radio broadcaster NZME revealed its intentions yesterday to purchase news outlet Stuff for $1.

That was news to Stuff and their Australian owners, Nine Entertainment, who say discussions between the two ended last week with no plans for a sale. 

RNZ’s Mediawatch has looked at the long merger process between the two companies and says amongst other things, NZME’s move is about pressuring the Government to help journalism survive.

Newsroom’s Tim Murphy has also cast an eye over the saga and says three years of attempts to merge the publishers “might have been extinguished in 90 chaotic minutes”.

Love under lockdown

Kiwis who have made meaningful online connections over the past six weeks will soon get to meet in person.

Dating apps have seen a surge in use over Levels 3 and 4. Conversations on Tinder have risen by 20 per cent during lockdown, while Find Someone has seen a 54 per cent increase in messages being sent. 

Many successful matches are now keen to test their chemistry in real life.

And while dating apps have a reputation for casual flings, sexologist Morgan Penn says she expects the lockdown to create a number of strong relationships with people forced to go beyond the physical. 

Other news of note this morning:

New Covid-19 clusters have been reported in Wuhan, where the virus first emerged.

The Ministry of Social Development has been told to investigate after Work and Income appears to have spent decades wrongly advising benefit applicants they cannot get support until their redundancy runs out. 

Casino operator SkyCity says it’s axing a further 700 staff following a slowdown in business due to the coronavirus.

Covid-19 is forcing innovation – and RNZ reports Whakatāne is leading the way with New Zealand's first regional virtual mall.

And Ben Stiller says his father, comedy veteran and Seinfeld star Jerry Stiller, has died at 92.

And finally...

Matty McLean taste tests coffee Source: Seven Sharp

One of the first things many Kiwis did when the country moved to Level 3 was to head out to their local café for a coffee.

But did four weeks without that barista-made cup of joe change people’s preferences? And are more people now making a permanent shift to (gasp) instant coffee?

Matty McLean says his once very particular coffee habits have changed – so he put five coffees to a taste test, ranging from the café-brewed drop to a cup of the instant stuff.

What happened next, as they say, will shock you.