Covid-19: What happened in NZ and around the world on 28 May

Today, one more death was added to New Zealand’s Covid-19 tally as the US passed 100,000; the scale of job losses was revealed; and no new cases for the sixth day in a row.

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Photo: RNZ

As Covid-19 spreads around the world, it can be daunting keeping up with the information. For RNZ, our responsibility is to give you verified, up to the minute, trustworthy information to help you make decisions about your lives and your health. We’ll also be asking questions of officials and decision makers about how they’re responding to the virus. Our aim is to keep you informed.

Warnings over the state of the public health system were also levelled at the government, funding for national arts organisations was given a boost, and ferry passengers were criticised for “a kind of crowd animal behaviour”.

The advertising watchdog is cracking down on Covid-19 misinformation.

And a Hauraki Plains-based “bishop” of a cult-like American organisation whose NZ-based website is advising people with symptoms of the coronavirus to drink or inhale his bleach “cure” product has been ridiculed by scientists.

Genesis II 'archbishop' Mark Grenon drinks MMS - chlorine dioxide mixed with water

Genesis II ‘archbishop’ Mark Grenon drinks MMS – chlorine dioxide mixed with water. Photo:

“It goes without saying it’s extremely dangerous to consume it. It’s industrial strength bleach. There’s not a jot of scientific evidence that it can help anything,” medical researcher Dr Shaun Holt said.

See all RNZ coverage of Covid-19

By the numbers

Revealing today’s official Covid-19 numbers, Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the country’s death toll now included Eileen Hunter, a resident of St Margaret’s rest home who died on Sunday and whose family believed had died of Covid-19, despite her having been considered recovered.

“After consideration, we have decided to include Eileen’s death in our overall tally of Covid-19-related deaths, consistent with our inclusive approach to date, so we have a good idea of the full impact of this condition on our health and well-being in New Zealand,” he said.

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - MAY 19: Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield speaks to media during a press conference at Parliament on May 19, 2020 in Wellington, New Zealand.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield Photo: 2020 Getty Images

Eileen’s death brings New Zealand’s Covid-19 toll to 22.

On the positive side, there were no new cases reported for the sixth day in a row and the number of active cases fell to just eight, the first time New Zealand has been in the single digits for identified cases since 16 March, more than two months ago.

Overseas, the coronavirus continues to spread and kill, with US deaths surpassing 100,000, by far the largest number of any country,

Public health in peril?

Despite New Zealand’s continued falling case numbers, some worrying numbers have come to light.

The College of Public Health warned in a letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern that the coronavirus pandemic had exposed a huge shortfall in public health investment.

The sector has just 200 doctors across the country’s 12 DHBs, and although this year’s Budget increased the base funding that public health units draw on by $29m, up to $469m, it was still $50m below than the $517m of 10 years ago.

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Photo: Flickr

University of Auckland professor of medicine Des Gorman, who until last year led attempts to fix the shortages as head of the government’s Health Workforce Unit, said there was still “no strategy” with DHBs and the Ministry of Health offering little support and even standing in the way of changes.

An independent review into contact tracing also out today found there is need for stronger links between public health units, the national tracing service, and Healthline

Health unions meanwhile are furious at WorkSafe’s decision not to investigate how seven nurses caught Covid-19 at Waitākere Hospital.

Their frustration followed Waitematā DHB’s report into its own failings in the situation. Two weeks ago it found several problems with protective gear – including changes in brands and gear that did not fit – and staffing challenges.

Resident Doctors Association national secretary Deborah Powell said asking the DHB to review itself was “pretty similar to asking a fox to look after a hen house” and urged WorkSafe to step in.

Payment, property and a couple of pleas

A report on employment from StatsNZ found job numbers dropped by 37,500 in April, the largest drop since records on filled jobs began in 1999.

Westpac senior economist Michael Gordon said the wage subsidy had undoubtedly saved many jobs, but he expected worse to come.

Tourism seems likely to face the longest recovery, but Tourism NZ’s modelling out today suggested regional travel would help keep the industry alive until it could return to growth – and it would return to growth. Indeed, Two Ngāi Tahu Tourism jetboating attractions are set to reopen just weeks after cutting hundreds of jobs.

Shotover Jet in Queenstown.

Shotover Jet in Queenstown. Photo: 123RF

Speaking of job cuts, some house buyers who have found themselves out of a job are worried about also finding themselves out of a deposit.

One buyer said he had put an unconditional offer on a house only to find himself made redundant, which risked him losing the property as well as the deposit that had taken him years to build up.

Having lost his job in September, the government’s new Covid-19 welfare payment would be little use to him. The National Party were unsuccessful in trying to get the Greens to vote down this new bill, which sailed through first and second readings last night.

Both parties had criticised Labour over the proposed payment – National wanted it gone entirely, but the Greens said it would help some, even if it created a two-tier benefit system that left those unemployed before the pandemic getting just half that of their newly needy counterparts.

The government today also tried to help support the arts industry, with the PM announcing at a reopened Te Papa Tongarewa an additional$18 million funding for national arts organisations like Creative New Zealand, the Royal NZ Ballet, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision and of course the national museum itself.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces the government's funding boost for the art sector at Te Papa.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces the government’s funding boost for the arts sector at Te Papa. Photo: RNZ / Yvette McCullough

In hospitality, businesses in Wellington pleaded with public service employees still working remotely to come back into the city to help stimulate the local economy.

In Auckland, police and politicians have been subjected to different pleas, that of Waiheke Island residents frustrated by what they called “animal behaviour” among those queueing for the ferry.

“There’s a kind of crowd animal behaviour where people suddenly surge to get on a ferry or to get off it and they drop their guard and start behaving like they always have so there have been complaints that authorities should be managing those situations better,” local board chair Cath Handley said.

Ferry operator Fullers has marked appropriately distanced available seating and halved the number of passengers allowed, but has now been asked along with Auckland Transport to monitor and enforce social distancing rules and increase ferry sailings during rush hours.

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