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Morning Briefing March 1: Ardern sends blunt message as lockdown causes disarray

Jacinda Ardern says new community cases are likely as Auckland's latest Level 3 lockdown dismays businesses and causes havoc at the city's borders.

Jacinda Ardern. Source: Getty

With Auckland’s first day back in Level 3 marked with disarray for businesses and frustrations at the city’s border, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has issued a blunt reason for returning to lockdown: “Covid kills people.”

She says the new lockdown is about saving people’s lives and livelihoods, with new community cases of Covid-19 “likely” following several exposure events with potentially large groups of people.

The new case that triggered the move back to Level 3 visited MIT, a gym, and a shopping mall while infectious with the more transmissible UK variant of Covid-19. 

While authorities say they’ve found a potential epidemiological link between this new case and others already identified in the Papatoetoe cluster, lockdown is unlikely to end early, as it may be several days before positive tests in other contacts show up.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield is urging New Zealanders, and especially young people, to be aware of the different symptoms people infected with the new strains of Covid-19 are experiencing – namely muscle aches and fatigue.

Epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker also says there’s a “huge responsibility” on people right around the country to pay close attention to any symptoms they might have.

Meanwhile, the return of police checkpoints on Auckland’s borders yesterday was causing considerable headaches for motorists, especially those with young children and animals, with some people reporting wait times of up to seven hours to get back into the city.

A flurry of traffic was also reported leaving Auckland before checkpoints began at 6am yesterday, which prompted a strong rebuke from microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles.

She told fleeing Aucklanders to “bloody well take Level 3 with you”, saying they run the risk of spreading Covid-19 through other parts of the country.

Disappointment at lockdown's return

Auckland’s move to Level 3 so soon after returning to Level 1 has been met with disappointment in many sectors.

National leader Judith Collins criticised the “yo-yoing” lockdowns on Saturday night and called for tougher penalties for people who don’t follow public health advice around isolation and testing. However, Jacinda Ardern says New Zealand won’t succeed in beating Covid-19 “if we turn on one another”

Businesses are also bracing for further disruption, with this latest shift in alert levels expected to cost businesses at least $400 million.

Auckland Business Chamber CEO Michael Barnett says the Level 3 restrictions will be a devastating blow to many, while the Restaurant Association is also lamenting the impact of yet another lockdown on the hospitality industry.

The events sector is also reeling from the latest alert level shift.

Cancelled events include Auckland’s Round the Bays, the remainder of the Auckland Pride Festival, and the Auckland Lantern Festival. The first weekend of America’s Cup racing has been postponed, while NZ Cricket has also had to make changes to upcoming Black Caps and White Ferns matches. 

Worry for retail workers

Employees at some of the country’s biggest retailers are only receiving part of their pay during lockdowns.

1 NEWS understands retailer OPSM told staff during February’s three-day lockdown that they’d only be paid 25 per cent of their contracted hours and could take annual leave if they wanted to top up their pay.

First Union says clothing chain H&M only paid its staff 60 per cent of their usual pay during that lockdown.

First Union’s Tali Williams says it’s important big employers tell staff they will be covered this week in terms of their income. 

There are also concerns about people going in to work when they are sick or should be isolating.

Infometrics senior economist Brad Olsen is calling for the Government to change the way it processes the Covid-19 Short-term Absence Payment.

Employers can apply for a one-off $350 payment for each employee forced to isolate, however Olsen says these applications create “extra pressure” for “exhausted” businesses. He says the application process needs to be more direct.

BusinessDesk’s Rebecca Stevenson has detailed how businesses can currently access lockdown support payments here

Benefits boost on the cards

The Government has revealed benefits will be boosted by three per cent from April 1.

The increase is indexed to a rise in the average wage and will mean a person over the age of 25 on the Jobseeker benefit will receive $258 a week. Poverty advocates say the Government needs to raise it further.

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni told TVNZ’s Q+A current benefit levels are not conducive to living with dignity for many, but she wouldn't be drawn on whether there will be more benefit increases in this year's Budget. 

Meanwhile, the community leader behind one of New Zealand’s largest food banks says he expects demand to rise in the coming days while Auckland remains at Level 3.

Dave Letele says every time alert levels increase, “it just escalates the need”

Transgender kids share journey

What do you do when your child tells you they're not who you think they are?

TVNZ’s Sunday delved into that issue last night as they shared the stories of two young Kiwis who say they were born in the wrong bodies.

You can read more about their transition to become who they feel they are meant to be and what that journey has been like for their parents here.  

Other news of note this morning:

- Myanmar has seen its deadliest day of anti-coup protests with at least 18 killed in demonstrations.

- The Cook Islands Ministry of Health is asking passengers who arrived from New Zealand this week to self-isolate.

- Scott Morrison says a new milestone has been achieved in Australia’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout with 300,000 doses of the AstraZeneca jab arriving in Sydney.

- The funeral of Captain Sir Tom Moore, the British war veteran who raised tens of millions of dollars for health charities, has taken place with full military honours.

- A Napier bar owner says a shooting that left one of his staff injured is a product of the worst gang tensions he's ever seen.

- Johnny Briggs, the actor best known for playing Mike Baldwin in Coronation Street, has died

- And a chance discovery will see a woman reportedly pocket a $691,000 reward from Lady Gaga.

And finally...

Sir Kenneth Branagh. Source: Getty

TV shows around the world have already begun incorporating Covid-19 into their plotlines, but filming is also beginning on shows focused specifically on the pandemic.

One of these is a new drama called This Sceptred Isle, which revolves around the UK’s response to the crisis.

Sir Kenneth Branagh will be playing the part of Boris Johnson – and I think you’ll agree his likeness to the British Prime Minister in this first photo from the series is uncanny.