PM Jacinda Ardern reveals when New Zealand’s govt will decide on new mass gatherings limit

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is revealing Cabinet's decision about moving to alert level 2 at 4pm today. Photo / Pool. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

WELLINGTON, May 20, 2020, NZ Herald. The Government on Monday will consider increasing the maximum size of gatherings under alert level 2, says Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand Herald reported.

As the country records another day of zero cases, the Cabinet will next week review current rules that cap at 10 the number of people allowed to gather in one group.

The Government also has the option to further relax physical distancing rules, as it receives more Covid-19 data.

This could come while New Zealand was in level 2, she said.

She said this was a “nimble approach”.

Ardern said New Zealand would stay in level 2 until the Director-General of Health advised it was time to move.

However, she said the Government would continue to make “incremental” changes. “At this stage, we remain cautiously optimistic.”

In terms of the next steps for gathering rules, she will seek advice from Ashley Bloomfield.

Ardern suggested it was likely the increase on the cap would be smaller at first, rather than going from, say, 10 to 100.

For example, it’s likely it could be 20 people one week, 30 the next.

Zero new cases today

There are zero new Covid-19 cases today, Bloomfield said.

The total number of confirmed and probable cases since the pandemic began sits at 1503.

There are just 35 active cases in New Zealand.

One person is in hospital in Auckland’s Middlemore and five more people have recovered. Ninety-six per cent of all cases had recovered, he said.

‘Huge faith’ in bars and clubs

Ardern said it was good to see cafes full – “I know that from personal experience”.

She said tomorrow, bars and clubs can open and that the Government intends to continue to phase in more activity.

Ardern said she has “huge faith” in bars and clubs, which are allowed to open tomorrow.

She acknowledged times have been tough for owners and bar staff and she wished them well going forward.

Ardern said Covid-19 is still in the community and the country needs to be careful as it heads down the alert levels.

“We have entered level 3 and 2 with a degree of caution.”

She said there only been two new cases in the seven days in level 2.

These cases represent the long tail of Covid-19.

In fact, there has been no community transmission since mid-April, Ardern said.

She said there is no community transmission in New Zealand – but there is still risk that needs to be managed.

She said the Government will continue to test for Covid-19 and said it’s part of the “new normal”.

But she said amendments to border rules can happen at any level.

For example, she said a transtasman bubble could occur in level 2 and that at alert level 1 there would still be some restrictions around the border.

But a lot of things that prohibit business activity will be removed.

She said many people want to return to normal as soon as possible.

But she said there is no timeframe around when New Zealand will go into level 1.

Ardern said there were “pros and cons” about creating a new public holiday and wants to hear from businesses as to what they would like.

She would not provide much detail, other than she did not want to be dismissive of “extraordinary ideas”.

Ardern on National Party leadership coup

She had her own experience in Opposition and, because of that, she would not comment on National’s leadership woes.

“I’m focused on jobs and employment.”

Labour’s party list is not completed yet, Ardern said.

She confirmed there would be new faces on Labour’s list.

She hoped that Labour’s values would help draw in good candidates – she did not think it would be her popularity levels.

When pressed about Simon Bridges’ leadership she said the Opposition is important, especially at a time like this.

On her high polling, she said she “takes nothing for granted”.

Right now, her focus is to make sure “New Zealanders have jobs”.

Epidemic Response Committee no-shows

On the Epidemic Response Committee, Ardern said it does not make sense for Ministers to front up for both regular select committees and the Epidemic Committee.

National has been upset this week after Ministers and Treasury officials did not front to the committee.

She defended the decision of Labour Deputy leader Kelvin Davis to not appear at the committee.

She said he had already shown up before and Parliament is now “back to business”.

Ardern added that he will be before another select committee as part of the normal budget process soon and it does not make sense to “double up”.

New contact-tracing app

Bloomfield encouraged Kiwis to download the NZ Covid Tracer app which was made available last night.

“The app is another tool in our toolbox [to contact trace].”

The app has the function to scan QR codes at participating businesses so users can keep a digital log of their movements without needing to handover their personal details to businesses.

The only information held at the Ministry is the contact information you provide when you register, other records of where you’ve been is only stored on the phone, he said.

The app helps “build a picture” of where you’ve been if you’re infected with Covid-19/
92,000 people have downloaded the app.

The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment is also contacting 800,000 businesses and already 1000 have downloaded QR code posters and more are being registered are at a rate of 10 per minute.

Issues with the app are being worked through, he said.

Bloomfield said any uptake of the app was “good and helpful” and the more the better as it helped with contact-tracing.

Privacy had been a major consideration of the app and had been worked through with the Privacy Commissioner, as would any future iterations which have Bluetooth functionality, he said.

Bloomfield said if he personally were to check into a cafe, he would probably just use the one app.

It’s hoped the app would eventually take the place of manual sign-ins at businesses.

Anyone who’s using fake details when signing into businesses should understand the purpose of providing their details, said Bloomfield.

Bloomfield said there was a “good incentive” for businesses to sign up to the app and move from a manual sign-in as it was much simpler.

The fact the data was stored in Australia “was neither here nor there” as a lot of our data was already stored around the world.

There have been a “relatively small number” of healthcare workers who’d applied for accommodation to avoid infecting their families.

Bloomfield has assured New Zealand he’s been sleeping, despite the unfriendly hours of the World Health Assembly, as there were Ministry who’d staffed the graveyard shift to monitor it.

Bloomfield said New Zealand goes “to do our bit” and the Kiwi diplomats had a very good reputation among their colleagues, when asked whether our response had improved our mana at the WHO.

Those putting fake contact details at sign-in pages were potentially putting others at risk, said Bloomfield.

There would be people who didn’t want to download the app and the Ministry was putting an effort into promoting the app, when asked what the Ministry was doing in relation to people who couldn’t afford mobile data.

Spark and Vodafone had made data free on a mental health app and Bloomfield said he was confident the Ministry had left “no stone unturned” when asked whether the same could happen with the Covid Tracer.

Ten hotels in Auckland are available for quarantine or managed self-isolation and there’s also another in Christchurch if a larger number returned.

Bloomfield said “unfortunately” he wasn’t part of the negotiations to get the origins of the pandemic included in the resolution as “it would have been fascinating”.

He admitted it “could be confusing” with how many apps there was but what wasn’t confusing, he said, was downloading the Covid Tracer app.

Users’ data is kept securely on their phones, the Ministry of Health said, and is stored for 31 days and then automatically deleted.

Users can also register their details to the National Close Contact Service in order for them to be able to contact quickly if needed.

This morning Bloomfield told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking that privacy would not be compromised by the app and personal details were held “securely” at the Ministry.

Bloomfield said the app was complimentary to physical contact-tracing.

On the World Health Assembly resolution reached last night to review the pandemic, Bloomfield said New Zealand was also interested in other aspects of the resolution including fair access to vaccines.

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