The All of Government COVID-19 National Response will provide an update at 1.00 pm today.
- Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
- Dr Ashley Bloomfield, Director-General of Health
Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield confirmed there are 26 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 24 new probable cases. The combined total of confirmed and probable cases in New Zealand is 1210, 50 more than yesterday. Further details are in today’s media release.
Dr Bloomield said there were 4, 098 tests processed yesterday – the highest number of daily tests to date. Data on laboratory testing has been collated and broken down by district health board (DHB) and ethnicity and information would soon be provided on the Ministry website. Our testing rate is good compared to other countries and we continue to grow that laboratory testing capacity so we can use it to really support our efforts to remain in lower levels of alert.
To suggestions that people with referrals from Healthline were being denied tests, Dr Bloomfield said the case definition being used now was much more inclusive than previously used. Under the current case definition someone would not be routinely tested if they were not symptomatic. Dr Bloomfield said testing may be used in specific settings like in a health care setting or to help with cluster management.
There was not yet enough information around loss of smell to know whether this had significance as a symptom.
Where a test result is positive the person is immediately by the public health unit and the appropriate actions taken. I can assure both practitioners and people waiting for results that if the test result is positive they will be notified immediately. The aim is to process all swabs within a 24 hour period and then report the results from there. Everybody should be notified within the next 24 hours. Where there are examples of this not happening DHB chief executives have been contacted to follow up on how they can get the results out quickly to the GPs to notify patients who are waiting anxiously.
Dr Bloomfield said any community testing would be part of broader surveillance, and a different testing approach could be used. For example, in Israel a group of people are swabbed and instead of testing each swab individually, a batch of 50 swabs are put through a single test and retesting is only done if they get a positive result from that. That way laboratory capacity is not used up and it is possible to do wider testing. That would be part of our ongoing surveillance to support efforts to keep stamping it out.
Testing for Maori
Dr Bloomfield said the additional funding particularly for Maori health providers would support getting the messages out about COVID- 19 and ensuring access for Maori to get tested. It also provided support for continuing the full range of services Maori need to deal with existing health needs. A quick calculation of the positivity rates suggest they are between1% and 2% for Maori and Pacific, which is good. A lower positivity rate means we are testing a lot to identify those cases.
Dr Bloomfield said he has asked Ministry staff to talk to the medical officers of health overseeing each COVID-19 cluster to get a sense of where they are at, and to use testing to help ring fence those clusters. That may include testing people with no symptoms to check whether they are pre-symptomatic, without symptoms. We are going to widen the use of testing to help us make sure we are ring fencing all the clusters. People who are close contacts of cases and who we think might be at high risk, particularly those in a domestic situation, may be tested even if they had no symptoms
Antibody testing kits
Dr Bloomfield said antibody testing kits are still under development. This is being watched closely because it could be a finger prick test that did not need to be tested in a laboratory. While not as accurate it can have a particular role in rapidly identifying, for example, where someone might be a close contact and they may have infection. It may also play a role as part of ongoing surveillance to check historically what levels of infection there may have been in groups.
PM: Good afternoon. Welcome to day 14 of our COVID-19 alert level 4 briefing. Today, we have a full range of people available to you. After the Director-General and I have departed, the Minister of Education will come in, while, of course, maintaining social distancing, to talk you through our distance learning package, which I’ll speak to very, very briefly as well. This afternoon, you’ll also have a chance to hear from the Commissioner of Police and Sarah Stuart-Black, the director of the National Emergency Management Agency. But for now, I’ll ask the Director-General to give us an update.
Dr Ashley Bloomfield: Thank you, Prime Minister. Kia ora koutou katoa. So today, there are 50 new cases to report of COVID-19, made up of 26 new confirmed cases and 24 new probable cases. There are no additional deaths to report. So there are now 282 reported cases of people who have recovered from COVID-19 infection, an increase of 41 on yesterday. The new total of confirmed and probable cases is 1,210. Today, there are 12 people in hospital with COVID-19 infection, including four in intensive care: one in Wellington, one in Waitematā, one in Counties Manukau, and one in Southern. Two of those people are in a critical condition.
For the case we have information on, we are seeing a strong link to overseas travel, though that continues to decline—as a proportion, it is 41 percent—as well as links to confirmed cases in New Zealand, at 43 percent, and community transmission, at 2 percent. We are still investigating 14 percent of the cases. There are still 12 significant clusters, and the numbers for our three largest clusters are at the Marist College in Auckland, 84; the Matamata cluster has also 84; and Bluff, 81 cases.
In terms of testing, yesterday, there were 4,098 tests processed, bringing the total number of tests carried out to date to 46,875. That, yesterday, was our highest number of daily tests, and the seven-day rolling average is now 3,343. Our testing capacity continues to increase, despite that increase in the number of daily tests, and we now have stock for just under 50,000 tests, and that continues to grow.
I know there is interest in healthcare workers who have been infected with COVID-19, some of whom have travelled back from overseas and/or have acquired it locally, either in the community through being contacts of existing cases, or, indeed, potentially in the workplaces. We do have a breakdown of those workers, and the biggest categories are— there are around 20 support and care workers working in both hospital and/or care in the community settings, 17 nurses, seven are in administrative-related roles, there are seven doctors, and three medical students. We do know, as I said, that around a quarter of those health workers affected have actually travelled back from overseas, so they’ve acquired their infection offshore, and we are working on a breakdown to determine, of those who have acquired the infection onshore here, what proportion was inside the workplace and what was outside the workplace.
We’ve also been able to collate all the data on laboratory testing and break that down by district health board and look at the ethnicity breakdown, and we’ll be providing that information on our website. We are still waiting to complete the data set to include the Waikato lab data, and so far, though, if we look at the 35,000 people for whom we do have testing—look at the ethnicity breakdown—13.6 percent are Māori, 7.8 percent Pasifika, Asian is 12 percent, European and other, 64.2 percent, and Middle Eastern and Latin American 2 percent. We will provide those data on our website and update them regularly.
Final comments: flu vaccination. I just want to encourage people who are in that category who receive publicly funded vaccination—pregnant women, people with pre-existing conditions, and those over 70—it is essential travel to go and get your flu vaccination, and practices have got ways to vaccinate you, including coming out and doing it in the car, in some cases. Please do—that is essential travel, and it’s very important to get those
vaccinations now. And that goes for other care you might require at your general practitioner. Do not hesitate going and receiving either care for an acute condition or your usual care for chronic conditions you may have. That is also regarded as essential travel, and you will not get in trouble with the police for doing so. We do have plenty of flu vaccine supply. That is being distributed in a managed way from the centre.
I will now hand back to the Prime Minister.
PM: Thank you, Director-General. As Dr Bloomfield has highlighted, today we have the highest number of tests reported in any one day and the lowest number of new cases in two weeks. We may yet see bumps along the way, but, as I said yesterday, I remain cautiously optimistic that we are starting to turn a corner. It’s all the more reason to stay the course of our self-isolation as a nation.
As I said yesterday, we have also surpassed 1 million New Zealanders being supported by our wage subsidy scheme. One of the key principles of the wage subsidy scheme is that we keep people connected to work. There’s another sector that’s dong this alongside us, and that is our primary sector.
You will have seen earlier today that the Minister of Agriculture highlighted one of our star exporters—horticulture—that is keeping New Zealanders both fed and in jobs at this really important time. Overseas workers traditionally fill many roles in our fruit and veggie growing sector, but, as you can imagine, the action that we’ve taken as a Government at the border has meant fewer overseas workers have been available. And now, amid our kiwifruit harvest, we’re seeing reports that those workforces now have over 90 percent New Zealand staff, compared to 50 percent last season. Last week alone more than 100 staff were placed into roles in the Bay of Plenty, Auckland, and Nelson. The pipfruit industry, made up of apples and pears, has seen around 200 workers from other industries placed into jobs across the country. So today I want to give my thanks to our food producers in every part of that workforce for continuing to look after us and for the actions in that industry to make sure that people remain in employment.
I know there are some workers on our orchards at the moment from the Pacific working hard here while Cyclone Harold crosses their homelands, particularly Vanuatu and Fiji. And I can understand the worry that you will have for your families. A quick update on that front: this morning, a P-3 Defence Force aircraft left New Zealand to provide much needed surveillance of damage. I expect that that will actually be happening as we speak. We also have the C-130 at the ready to deploy with essential supplies. In the meantime, our thoughts are with, particularly, the nation of Vanuatu as they come to grips with the impact of that cyclone—and understand that we, of course, are still building a picture of just the scale of that cyclone as we speak.
Today I also have an update on how our aviation relief package is supporting our industries as well and keeping our isolated communities connected. You’ll recall that we set aside
$600 million in our COVID relief package to support this key part of our transport infrastructure. As you can imagine, air freight connectivity is really critical for our remote communities. They also help ensure we receive urgent supply of medicines, PPE, and critical equipment. We now have eight initial support agreements with airlines and a ground handling company around the country, totalling up to 4.7 million. And, of course, we need to make sure our regions are easily able to access critical, time-sensitive freight—food, medical supplies, blood donations.
So the Chatham Islands now have their air link secured, and Air Chathams is making three trips a week, making sure residents get what they need. This package is also providing support to the likes of Air Napier and Barrier Air. In addition, most of our high-value goods were carried overseas in passenger aircraft, and, of course, many of those are no longer flying and so we have stepped in.
Supported by our relief package, Air New Zealand has now made 17 flights since Monday last week to Shanghai, Hong Kong, Lost Angeles, San Francisco, and Sydney. At least 18 more flights are planned over the next 10 days. They are taking food overseas and
returning with cargo, which includes PPE, hand sanitiser, thermal imaging equipment, test kits, and flu vaccinations. We know we need to do more, though. This is not just a short- term challenge, so we’ve committed $330 million to supporting international air freight over the next six months. We’ve received 16 proposals from airlines and carriers all over the world to help critical air freight continue, and we’re evaluating those proposals as we speak, and we’ll have further announcements later this month. A message, though, to any of those critical exporters or importers needing capacity on these flights: contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, school’s back next week, with the beginning of term 2, but it will look a little different to begin with during COVID-19 alert level 4. I know I’ve personally been thinking a lot about parents at home with their children at the moment. I’ve seen so many of the ways that you’ve entertained them during this time, but we have a role to support you. Directly after this press conference, the Minister of Education will detail an extensive distant learning package to help every learner across New Zealand—be it providing hand-held devices, hard packs of materials, dedicated television channels, or online resources. Households will have access to at least one of these alternatives so parents are supported to keep their children learning at home.
And, finally, you will have heard clear messages from the police around the Easter break of what to expect. The message here is really simple: alert level 4 lockdown remains in place and there is absolutely no change to the rules. That means churches and other places of worship will remain closed over Easter weekend, and I know that will be an enormous disappointment to many New Zealanders of faith, but I ask religious leaders to ensure there are not congregations coming together. Many places of worship are catering for communities using Zoom, YouTube, Facebook, and even the Houseparty app, I understand. Please go to your faith’s website, get more details of how you can connect and worship over Easter, but please do stay at home and save lives and enjoy your staycation. We’re happy to take questions.
Media: Prime Minister, given the fact that you said that New Zealand looks like it’s turned a corner and the number of cases that we’ve had for the third day in a row has been decreasing; are you definitively able to give us the Government’s position around whether or not you’re considering extending the lockdown at this stage?
Media: When will you be able to tell us?
PM: As I’ve said all the way through—and the Director-General, I’m sure, will want to comment on this, too—I have cautious optimism. But now is the time to stay the course. That means we need to continue to uphold the rules of alert level 4, and the data that we’ll be making that decision on is in real time, and we need to see more of that—we are only half-way through—before we can make those decisions.
Dr Ashley Bloomfield: I think, just to build on what the Prime Minister’s said, this new data we’ve got on the lab testing by region and by ethnicity will be a key input, and to look at, also, the positivity rates in different regions. So yes, we’ve certainly got some promising signs, but we want to be sure that there are not any community outbreaks of a small nature out there that we haven’t located. We’re confident, but we will look at our testing over the next week or so to make sure that we are identifying any, if they are there.
Media: What regions are people more likely to stay in lockdown, if the lockdown was extended; would it be only cities, where the spread is more likely?
PM: Ultimately, what we want is control of the virus. And, as the Director-General has said, the way that we can assess whether we have that control is by having that data. But we’ve also said, all the way through, that that data will help us decide what happens not only with alert level 4 but whether or not there are certain regions that may be in a better position than others.
Media: Prime Minister, how disadvantaged are some schoolchildren who don’t have access to the internet or devices, and do you have a sense of how many households are in that position?
PM: In terms of access and connectivity, my recollection is it is tens of thousands who don’t have that level of access, and that might be because of, simply, devices or, again, connectivity issues. The Minister of Education should be able to give you some of that data. There are two things I would want to say, though. One is Nigel Latta very recently said, really to New Zealand, that actually, in this time, don’t put too much pressure on yourselves; that, actually, children can have an educational experience while they’re at home and it doesn’t mean that you have to become a teacher pushing all of the materials that you feel that you have to in a home schooling - style environment. So parents do need to go easy on themselves with their expectations. Children will be learning in many, many ways right now. But, at the same time, we want to keep them entertained and engaged, so providing that material at home actually helps take the pressure off parents at the same time, so that’s what we’re looking to do.
Media: Listeners are saying they want the quarantine a water-tight system, are you erring more on the side of across-the-board mandatory quarantining, or would you look at just mandatory quarantining from particular hot-spot countries that acquire high levels of cases?
PM: Across the board. And I indicated on Monday, you’ll recall—Monday morning— that we were working on stepping up our border controls once again, with no distinction, in the way that we’ve had no distinction to date. Everyone who’s been coming through is being screened for symptoms and screened for their isolation plan, and it hasn’t been based on where people have been coming from.
Media: Would they not be able to leave the mandatory quarantining—like those initial people who were put into the [Inaudible]?
PM: Yes. It would be based on that model, and as I say, that’s something I indicated on Monday. That’s me sending a bit of a message to those who are planning on coming home in the near future. We are considering advice this week, and we’ll have announcements to make off the back of that.
Media: Do you have an update on the Peru flight, the numbers registered, and the departure date?
PM: Yes, I do. So we have 49 who have registered so far. We do not at this stage have a departure date. Of course, what we need to know is how many we’ll have on the manifest, and we’ll need to work with the Government to get slots available, but we are working at great haste.
Media: Is it possible that that flight could also stop off in other areas in South America?
PM: That’s something I would need to ask to MFAT directly. Of course, we do know that there are other New Zealanders in that part of the region, but I do understand that they are looking at securing passage for some New Zealanders who have been stranded in some more remote Amazon towns, and that’s via, though, an Australian charter. So we’re constantly looking at ways to work in with others or use existing charters that we have in the most effective but creative way possible.
Media: What about Kiwis who are stuck in the Pacific?
PM: As you can imagine, at the moment there is a bit of a focus on what we can do for those stranded in Vanuatu. So the P-3 is going in first. As soon as we get word from Vanuatu around additional essential supplies, the C-130 is at the ready, and then alongside that we’ll be looking at plans to evacuate New Zealanders who are there as well. I understand we have some in the north and also in Port Vila, I understand.
Media: Dr Bloomfield, are you able to give us more details about the Auckland event and workplace clusters, including what, where, and where they came from and if that was overseas?
Dr Ashley Bloomfield: I don’t have any more detail, but if you would like to, we can provide more detail on the website, including whether there was a link to overseas travel and what part of Auckland they may be in.
Media: That information has been quite hard to come by. Shouldn’t it be easier for the public and the media to find it?
Dr Ashley Bloomfield: Well, we are trying to provide an overview of each cluster and where they are, so if there is more information you would like, I’m happy to take that away and we can add information. We’re trying to be as open as possible with information, and I think, if you look at our website, there’s a huge amount of information on it.
PM: I think what you’ll find is that some of those clusters did have identifying features in them, but then after we had privacy issues with one of those clusters come up, then the clusters became a bit more anonymised at that point. So I imagine probably what we can do is go back and look again at some of those descriptors, because they did previously have a bit more detail attached.
Media: Does that anonymity outweigh—
PM: I’ll let the Director-General finish his sentence.
Dr Ashley Bloomfield: Oh, sorry. So just, actually, while we’re on the subject of clusters, I gave a figure before of 84 for the Matamata cluster. Actually, that was not the right figure; it’s 62 today, an increase of three. So the 84 was on the Marist cluster in Auckland.
Media: That anonymity—does that outweigh public health?
PM: No, no, I’m not arguing that; I’m just pointing out that that’s what’s happened. I think with the information that you’re referring is that—we previously had, for instance, Marist next to one of the clusters. That changed, as I understand, at the time when we had the issue with a person’s name being used. But as the Director-General said, I think we can go back and look at whether or not we can put in a bit more detail, because we’re giving you the numbers against those clusters. We can probably label it that way too.
Media: Has the Government received any advice yet regarding Ruby Princess?
PM: No, not yet. Once I have an update, I’ll be happy to provide it. But no, I haven’t received that advice yet.
Media: Businesses are saying cash-flow is the biggest killer for them and the wage subsidy can only do so much. Are we looking at providing some cash-flow for businesses other than those loans?
PM: Yeah, I mean, I think if you look at some of the three key areas—of course, wages, and we’ve stepped in with the wage subsidy, and the thing that differentiates us from many other countries is that we worked to get that out the door straight away—so over
$6 billion helping over a million workers. The second big expense, of course, often will be leases. We are working on ways that we can ease the pressure there, support businesses as much as we can. The third area will often be servicing debt to banks, and there we again just really encourage business: reach out to your banks. They’ve said that they are going to operate in an environment where they take account of hardship.
Media: But you’ve got the likes of Phil O’Reilly saying the Government shouldn’t pick and choose whether it’s leases or whether it’s wage subsidies and that they should just provide a blanket, sort of, cash injection like Australia is doing.
PM: Well, actually, when you look at their JobKeeper, it was framed very much around what we did with our wage subsidy—so, very similar schemes in that regard. What he might
be referring to is their first iteration, which had a small cash injection, but actually the value of that for most businesses would be much smaller than what they got through the wage subsidy.
Media: Why are some people with COVID symptoms and Healthline referrals still being denied tests?
PM: You’re referring to Marist there?
Dr Ashley Bloomfield: Are you referring to the Marist cluster that was highlighted this morning? Yeah, so I would be very surprised if people with COVID-like symptoms now are being denied tests, because the protocol that Healthline has been using for over a week now, under the new case definition, is much more inclusive. I listened very carefully to the story this morning, and it was clear that the Healthline staff were using the appropriate protocol at that time. I think the person involved did a very good job of making sure she persisted and then, when the definition was broadened, she was tested. The test was negative, but she’s still classified as a probably case and treated as such. The other point I would make—just a reminder about the Marist cluster—when the school was closed, all staff and students were treated as close contacts and isolated as such.
Final point on that one, and for all our clusters, is I’ve asked my staff to talk to the medical officer of health who’s overseeing each cluster to get a sense of where they are at and to use testing to help ring-fence those clusters. And that may include testing people with no symptoms to check and see if they are pre-symptomatic without symptoms. So we are going to widen the use of testing to help us makes sure we are ring-fencing all the clusters.
Media: How would you determine which people you test who don’t have symptoms?
Dr Ashley Bloomfield: So people who are close contacts of extant cases and who we think might be at high risk, especially because they’re in a domestic situation, then we will start to use testing even if they don’t have symptoms, to check and see if they are pre- symptomatic.
PM: Kaikohe is a good example, and, of course, the school in Dunedin. In those cases, where we had a staff member in the supermarket up north, every supermarket worker was tested, regardless of whether they were symptomatic or asymptomatic, so that’s an example of where that’s been used. The Director-General and I were talking a little bit about clusters, cluster management, and cluster protocols before this press conference, and we thought what might be useful is tomorrow we’ll spend a bit of time talking through the way clusters are managed by regional public health, and share a little bit more detail around some of what happens on the ground when a cluster is identified.
Media: What’s the Government’s current stance on antibody testing kits?
Dr Ashley Bloomfield: Yes, thank you. So antibody testing kits are still under development. We’re watching very closely because the advantage of antibody testing is that you don’t need to do it in a laboratory, it can be a finger-prick-type test. It’s not as accurate, but it can have a particular role in identifying, for example, where someone might be a close contact and they may have infection, and you can do it rapidly and get a result quite quickly; and also may play a role as part of our ongoing surveillance, where we’re using not a diagnostic PCR test, but to check and see what sort of levels on infection there may have been in a group historically.
Media: Just on the healthcare workers that you mentioned at the start, how confident are you that they haven’t spread COVID-19 to their workplaces?
Dr Ashley Bloomfield: Well, what I can say is that whenever someone has symptoms and is then self-isolated and tested, there is that—especially in a healthcare setting—very, very robust identification of close contacts, both other staff members and/or potentially people who were using the facilities. So the public health units are very, very rigorous in that setting to make sure that any close contacts are stood down, and you will have seen a couple of instances already—one at North Shore Hospital and one at Grey
Base Hospital—where staff members were stood down immediately because they were close contacts.
Media: Some Instagram influencers in New Zealand are saying that 5G is the cause of COVID-19 and are peddling that conspiracy theory. Do you have a message to them and to New Zealanders about it?
PM: Just simply that that is not true. I can’t state it clearly enough. And I almost hesitate to even speak to it on this platform—it is just not true.
Media: Prime Minister, Dr Bloomfield gave the stats for testing by ethnicity—Māori are
13.6 percent, that’s below the total Māori population, which is over 16 percent. What is the Government doing to keep encouraging Māori to test?
PM: Yes, what I think Dr Bloomfield will come back with, though, is, for instance, some extra analysis around the rate of positivity within that testing, because my recollection from the numbers yesterday were that we had roughly 90 or so positive tests there. So looking at it from that angle is also helpful. But here would be my message: of course, we have been telling people to stay at home, but if you are unwell, if you are symptomatic, if you’ve got a temperature, a dry cough, please call Healthline, or call your local GP, your iwi health provider, and do reach out for a test. We do want to make sure that we are reaching everyone in our community who may be affected by COVID-19. And here’s another really important message: there is no stigma to that. Do not feel that if you’re feeling symptomatic that there’s any shame in having COVID-19 or experiencing it. We need to know and we need to help, and so don’t feel any of that or any hesitance in reaching out.
Media: So if the numbers for Māori testing go down or the Māori confirmed cases go up, will you consider adding money to the Māori-targeted funding—the $57 million.
PM: I think, actually, the way we should be dealing with that is through the surveillance testing, because that will then demonstrate to us where we have not only population groups that are either potentially being under tested—but there’s no sign of that yet—or regions that are. And I think in that regionalised breakdown, that will then focus on where we need to increase that level of testing and proactively go into communities. But, Dr Bloomfield, on that?
Dr Ashley Bloomfield: Yes, so I think the additional funding, particularly for Māori health providers, is both to support getting the messages out and ensuring access for Māori to get tested, but also to support them to continue to provide the full range of services that Māori need to deal with existing health needs. I did do a—it used to be called “back of the envelope”, now it’s “front of the cell phone”—quick calculation of the positivity rates, and we want to firm those up, but they are between 1 and 2 percent for Māori and Pacific, which is good. In fact, a lower positivity rate means that we are testing a lot to identify those cases.
Media: Just around the lack of Māori perspective when it comes to the Government’s response for COVID-19. I mean, what’s your response for that and what sort of representation do you have at your high-level core Government expert panel when it comes to Māori?
PM: Can you give me any specifics, because I’d be really happy to respond to that but I just wouldn’t mind some—
Media: There’s an article on E-Tangata at the moment, I have tweeted it but I can share the link. But, I mean, there’s criticism around that—
PM: Forgive me, I’m not on twitter.
Media: —and also Dr Bloomfield around tangihanga and the need for that to be looked at again. I mean, could you provide some sort of response to those concerns please?
Dr Ashley Bloomfield: Yes, sure, and the advice around tangihanga has been led very much by our team—our Māori health team and John Whaanga, who’s the deputy
Director-General, and have discussed it with Māori communities, with iwi leaders, and so on. But it’s definitely something that should be under constant review.
PM: Otherwise, to answer your question, I’d say that we’ve been particularly mindful of tailoring our public health response specifically for Māori and Pacific communities. And that is why very early on we ring-fenced, within the $500 million we put aside for our COVID-19 response, specific Māori health packages and Pasifika packages, and that is because we’ve been really aware that taking a generic and uniform approach wasn’t always going to work for all of our communities in New Zealand that, particularly, we need to focus on, and who might be more vulnerable than others. And so, we have relied on the expertise of others for that.
Media: Just following on from that, the national Iwi Chairs Forum wants police to enforce the lockdown with military support in those remote areas, as they say police don’t have the resources. How vulnerable are those remote areas?
PM: Again, if there are specific examples of where there’s been concern that the police haven’t followed up on issues, or they feel that police aren’t resourced, because— again, the Defence Force have always been available for any need, but the police have consistently given reassurance that they did feel that they have the resources to meet any issues. So again, if I had specific examples. We did on one occasion have one raised, but, actually, found that there was actually no need for concern in that region.
Media: Have you checked with all your Ministers and all your MPs if they’ve breached the lockdown rules?
PM: No, I haven’t, because the lockdown rules are for everyone, and it’s implicit. In the same way that I don’t start every Cabinet meeting asking everyone whether they’ve complied with the Cabinet manual; I expect it of them.
Media: On testing of close contacts, a doctor has been in touch with RNZ: a man displaying clear symptoms of COVID-19 was tested, but his wife was refused a test. Should she have been refused a test?
Dr Ashley Bloomfield: Yeah, if she was not symptomatic, then, even under the current case definition, we wouldn’t routinely test her, and that’s been the case under previous and is the case under the current case definition. We test symptomatic people and we may use testing in the case of, for example, specific settings, like in a healthcare setting or to help with cluster management.
Media: [Inaudible] around the loss of sense of smell has been added to the case definition, but it’s only if they’re also presenting an acute respiratory infection. Should— given that it’s an early sign of the virus—it be broadened that if they only present that loss of smell they should still be tested?
Dr Ashley Bloomfield: I think there’s still not enough information to know just quite what the significance is of the loss of smell. I’m pleased, and I think it’s good that it’s been added as one of the cluster of symptoms, but in and of itself it’s not significant enough or sensitive enough to be a sign for testing.
Media: Numerous people have told Newsroom that they’ve had to wait five, six, seven days, sometimes even longer, to get the results of their COVID-19 test, and this is after lockdown has started. Is this the norm? Why is it happening?
PM: So I’ve had a couple of reports, including via the Prime Minister, of quite long waits for testing results to GPs and then on to people. What I can say is this: if the test result is positive, the person is contacted immediately by the public health unit and the appropriate action is taken. It has been taking, it sounds like, in some instances too long for the negative result to get back, but what I can do is assure both practitioners and people waiting for results that if the test result is positive they will be notified immediately.
Media: How long are you seeking to get these results? In an ideal world, would a positive result be reported from when a swab is taken to when the report then comes to the individual?
Dr Ashley Bloomfield: So the aim is to process all the swabs within a 24-hour period and then report the results from there, and then everybody should be notified within the next 24 hours, and, of course, our aim would be—and where I’ve had specific examples, including one this morning, I’ve contacted the DHB chief executive to follow up on how they could get the results out just as quickly to the GPs to make sure that they can notify patients, because people will be waiting, and they will be anxious while they wait.
PM: Yeah, that is one of the things that, of course, was raised with me when I raised a specific case. Just to get to the bottom of some of this is that, of course, the people often raising these issues are the person who’s had the test done. It might not necessarily be the test hasn’t been processed; it’s that that information hasn’t been passed on always necessarily through the chain, ending with the GP itself. So that’s something that obviously we’re acutely aware of and now working to make sure that that information reaches people, even if the processing has already been done.
Media: When can businesses expect to receive guidelines about how they might expect to operate under a level 3? They say that’s crucial for them.
PM: Yeah, and look, one message that I can share now is with every business, whether or not you’re operating in an essential area, or even if you’re operating in some of those areas where it is more difficult in a COVID environment, such as hospitality, what I’d ask you to do is prepare. Our new normal is going to be an environment where we need everyone to be able to help us with contact tracing. So if you think about your business having now, basically, new health and safety needs—so think about every person coming through the door. If you need to, would you be able to find every person that came through the door on any given day? Would you be able to look at who’s had contact with different parts of your supply chain? This is the kind of information and preparation we need businesses to do, because it will be critical. Equally, for your workforce, what measures have you got in place so that people can use appropriate social distancing, and have you looked at the PPE guidelines for your area of work and think about what protective equipment may or may not be needed in your line of work. Businesses can do that now, and we’d really encourage them to do that,
Media: Do you expect all businesses to be able to operate under level 3?
PM: No. Not under level 3. You’ll see that there are some specific caveats. We will keep providing guidance and we’re working up, based on our level 4 experience, some really thorough guidance around our expectations at level 3, but, again, regardless of which field you operate in as a business, you can think now about social distancing and contact tracing.
Media: Do you have a time frame on when they can expect that guidance?
PM: It is in train as we speak. The alert levels, of course, already contain broad parameters, but we’re digging into that in more detail.
Media: May I ask via Dr Bloomfield and one of you afterwards, Prime Minister, from my colleagues. Dr Bloomfield, the amended case definition, you talked about broadening testing for clusters. Is the case definition broad enough for broader community testing in general, and would you look to widening that criteria?
Dr Ashley Bloomfield: So the case definition isn’t designed to support or identify when we should do community testing. Any community testing would be part of broader surveillance and you might use different approaches. For example, one of the approaches being used, I know, in Israel is they swab a group of people, but, instead of testing each swab individually, they will run a batch of 50 swabs through one test, and only then go back and retest if they get a positive test from that. And that way you cannot use up so much of your laboratory capacity but still do wider testing. That would be more part of our ongoing
surveillance to support our efforts to keep stamping it out as we go into levels 3 and then down to 2.
PM: Yeah. I think it’s fair to say as well, as Dr Bloomfield’s already said, that when you’re doing cluster management, you don’t necessarily apply the case definition in such a strict way as well.
Media: Will the Warriors be granted an exemption if the NRL competition were to restart in Australia, and is the Government in conversations with them?
PM: Unfortunately, I cannot answer that question for you. I would be happy to make sure that the Minister for sport does though.
Media: Are you aware of lab workers still planning to strike through to May?
PM: No, but I do know on the previous potential strike action, we had confirmation that that would not affect our COVID-19 lab testing, but, Director-General?
Dr Ashely Bloomfield: Yes, and that particular negotiation has now been settled.
Media: Prime Minister, a Washington Post headline this morning read, “New Zealand isn’t just flattening the curve, it’s squashing it.” Would that be a right characterisation of where New Zealand’s at?
PM: Well, of course, our focus has been stamping it out. And so they’ve chosen to use a particular descriptor, but I think what I’d say is that none of us are working or focused on trying to create a model for anyone other than ourselves. We are trying to do what is right for New Zealand, for New Zealand’s population, for New Zealand’s geographic isolation, for New Zealand’s economy, and for New Zealand’s people. And so that means that our approach might be different to others, but we stand by that.
Media: We’re halfway through the lockdown—I’m just wondering, has it actually changed your life very much? Is there anything you’re looking forward to doing once the lockdown rises?
PM: I’ll spend a bit of time tomorrow reflecting on the halfway mark, but not really in a personal way at all. But to answer your question—I did get asked this this morning—I miss people, and so this is nothing against any of the fine people in this room, but I am in this job used to having a lot of contact with the public, and I miss people. Yep.
Media: Why is New Zealand not participating in the sentinel trial—this is the solidarity trial around testing and trials of all clinical treatment of COVID-19?
Dr Ashely Bloomfield: Look, I don’t know the answer to that specifically, but what I can tell you—and what’s the date today; the 8th—that our own Health Research Council has canvased research proposals, including clinical trial proposals, and I know they are close to making a decision and announcement about what clinical trials New Zealand may be involved in.
Media: Of the WHO and the CDC and the kind of divide on face masks—is it fair to say that New Zealand’s basically just taking the WHO’s side on that debate?
Dr Ashely Bloomfield: On face masks? No, I think we’ve had consistent advice throughout, and what we’ve seen is that the WHO advice, at the moment, is consistent with the approach we’ve taken, and we keep it under active consideration.
Media: [Inaudible] the 40 million masks that were ordered last week—have they arrived yet and have they been distributed?
Dr Ashely Bloomfield: They are arriving—so they are coming in batches.
Media: And the ventilators—is there an update on that?
Dr Ashely Bloomfield: Not at this stage, but as soon as we have confirmation of the dates that any additional ventilators will arrive, then we’ll let you know.
Media: Prime Minister, would extra efforts be taken over the Easter break to enforce the lockdown, particularly in those sort of typical holiday hotspots?
PM: Yes, you’ll be hearing more from the Commissioner of Police, Andrew Coster, on this issue. We are aware that some may be contemplating leaving their homes and travelling to, for instance, holiday homes. And we’ve given the clear advice that nothing changes because it’s Easter; the rules remain the same and the police will be enforcing that. So they will be looking to be in the vicinity or at the access point for holiday hotspots to police that.
Media: Do you have any update on when the surveillance testing might start? I know there’s been a lot of—
Dr Ashely Bloomfield: What I can say is that the surveillance testing will be used as part of a broader range of surveillance measures, and it may not be now; it may be that it is used as we go into level 3 and, hopefully, on to level 2, because that is when it will give us the most additional information. But the first point we might use it is if we don’t feel there has been enough testing done in a particular region or a particular population, and we will know that over coming days, once we have a better analysis and as the testing numbers keep growing. Remembering that we have now done a large number of tests—our testing rate is good compared with other countries—and we’re continuing to grow that laboratory testing capacity so that we can use it to really support our efforts to remain in lower levels of alert.
Media: Dr Bloomfield, on community pharmacies, some of them are saying they are looking at closing their doors because they can’t get enough financial support. We need them more than ever, so what do you say to them?
Dr Ashley Bloomfield: Well, I think community pharmacy will know—and the Minister of Health made some announcements about some funding for community pharmacy. I think it was originally, initially a $15 million package. I know there is active policy work happening about further funding. You’re right—community pharmacy and our general practices are and will remain the mainstay of provision of care for a whole range of illnesses. So we’re working closely to make sure that they can do so.
PM: I just remind them as well that even though they’re an essential service and open, if they have had a decline in business over this period, they will be eligible for the wage subsidy as well.
Media: Just another quick question, please, Dr Bloomfield: are you worried about staffing levels at the Southern DHB?
Dr Ashley Bloomfield: Not at the Southern DHB. I think there was a question about staffing levels at Invercargill Hospital, where I think 11 staff members had to go off duty. I’m not concerned at the moment if I think about the overall staffing there, and also I know that the Southern DHB will be looking at if they need to provide other staff from Dunedin to support them at the moment.
PM: OK, thank you, everyone.
Hon Chris Hipkins: Good afternoon. Kia ora koutou, everybody. I’m going to run through a few details of the Government’s distance learning announcement for you all, then happy to take some questions, and then, if we have time and there is an appetite for it, happy to do a little bit of show and tell at the end. I want to make it clear before I do that that I drove myself to work today. I have remained in my bubble and intend to do so all the way home again this afternoon.
So over the last couple of weeks, the Ministry of Education’s been working very hard to make sure that we’ve got—and working with partners to make sure we’ve got—support for young people to continue their learning from home when term 2 begins on 15 April—that’s next Wednesday, one week from today. I want to emphasise up front that we’re still working to the four-week lockdown timetable but we’re planning for a whole variety of scenarios at
the end of that. It’s important that even at the end of that time, young people are able to continue to learn from home, if they need to do so. So that means, in education, we will be developing robust distance learning infrastructure—a much more resilient system so that learners can receive education in any scenario and so that parents can receive the type of support that they need in order to support learning at home.
So our goal is to make sure that all families have access to at least one learning channel from home from the time that term 2 starts next Wednesday. The Ministry of Education surveyed all of the schools to see how prepared they are to support learning from home. Around half are very well set up for distance learning using the internet already, and we’re taking action to ensure that there are new connections and resources available to all schools. We’re anticipating a number of short-term logistical challenges, as you might imagine, with device availability and connectivity, so our plan’s a pretty broad one, and there are four main channels to make sure that we are covering all learners throughout the country.
First, we’re focused on increasing the number of students who have access to the internet at home and have access to devices at home. Second, we will be delivering hardcopy packs of materials for different age groups and different year levels. Third, we have almost concluded arranging for two television channels to be broadcasting education-related content for at least a month. One will be in English, and the other will be in Māori. And we are working to ensure that we’re also providing content for Pasifika and other communities. And the fourth is making sure that we’ve got more resources available for parents, particularly online, but also connecting them up with learning support—additional learning support—resource remotely where their children have additional learning needs. So supporting all of that, we’ve got a strong focus on professional development and support for the teaching and school leadership community to make sure that they can support remote learning. To fund all of that, we fast-tracked immediate emergency funding of $88.7 million, and it’s likely that further funding will be required.
I want to make it clear here that devices and materials will be delivered in waves. We estimate that there are around 80,000 households in New Zealand with children in them that don’t have access to the internet at the moment, and we’re not going to be able to have all of that resolved on day one, and we’re also not going to be able to have hard pack materials to every home on day one. So the materials will be delivered in waves, and bear in mind that the work the ministry is doing and the resources the ministry is supplying is to supplement what schools are already doing. Many schools have already been supplying materials to their families so that young people can continue to work from home. The ministry’s following very closely public health advice in the distribution of all resources.
As I’m sure you can imagine, it’s a very big and complex piece of work covering thousands and thousands of households, and it’s being done at high speed. There are some constraints, as you can imagine, on the stock of equipment that we have in the country. So not everybody who needs internet access or digital devices will be able to get them, and that’s why we’ve also put the emphasis on hard packs as well.
We are having to prioritise and sequence the delivery of support because we’re unable to make sure that we get things to every household on day one. Our initial focus is on connecting up senior secondary school students who are working towards the NCEA, because we want to minimise the amount of disruption that they experience, and then we’re also working to deal with the areas where there is the greatest need, and we’re going to move our way down through the schooling system and through to early learning from that point onwards.
So while we’re getting packs printed and delivered, while we’re getting devices and connections under way, we also want to beam content into people’s households through broadcast. They will start on 15 April, and at least a month at this stage but we have the ability to extend that if we need to. We expect around 6.5 hours of content will be broadcast every day.
At different times of the day, different age groups will be targeted There’ll be material for early learners, for schools, which will include things like wellbeing, numeracy, literacy, science, movement, music, and physical education, and, over time, we hope to be able to supply adult learning content too if we need to. There’ll be advice and guidance broadcast for parents to give them ideas and inspiration as to how they can support the learning that’s taking place in the home.
We’re in touch with a number of well-known Kiwi presenters and others who’ll be fronting the broadcasts and helping to provide that specialist content. So to wrap all of that up, I want to emphasise that public health is remaining front and centre in the work that we are doing. As families, learners, and schools are increasingly focused on preparations for term 2, we do want to reassure people that we are mobilising all of the resources that we have available as fast as we can to prepare for all of the different possible scenarios that may eventuate at the end of this four-week lockdown period.
I want to acknowledge all of the people at the Ministry of Education and all of the suppliers, who have been working very hard to make sure that they have been able to pull these resources together at short notice. We’ve received, just by way of context, over 100 offers of help from different businesses around the country who are offering to supply resources and help to put these packs together.
So I’m very happy to take your questions, and then I can go through some of the materials should you wish.
Media: Minister, how many children don’t have devices, and how many still won’t have a device after you ship out the first 17,000?
Hon Chris Hipkins: So we understand it’s around 80,000 households—more children than that. So it’s in the early 100,000-plus number in terms of the number of children, because, obviously, some of those households have more than one child in them. And we’ve managed to locate and source around 17,000 devices to purchase or lease, and so those are in various stages of arriving in the country and being prepared for delivery.
We’re also working with schools at the moment—many schools have a stock of devices at school which, at the moment, are just sitting at school. So we’re working with the schools to work out how we can safely access those devices, have them appropriately cleaned if they need to be, serviced if they need to be, and then, potentially, have those delivered to families as well. So that potentially increases that number. Because we don’t have a definitive number of devices we’ll be able to get back out of schools, I can’t give you a final total, but, as I’ve said, our goal is to make sure that all families have at least one channel of learning support available from the 15th.
Media: It’s likely more difficult to focus on a web stream than a real person. Are you expecting a dip in the NCEA results?
Hon Chris Hipkins: Look, I think it’s very early to sort of speculate about that. We’ve been doing a lot of work over the last four or five years to move NCEA progressively to an online environment anyway. So over the last few years, an increasing number of students have been sitting their exams online, for example, and the overall vision there is to get NCEA assessment to the point where it’s available when it’s needed, rather than having a block of exams at the end of every year. I think that—I know schools will be pulling out all of the stops to ensure that this disruption doesn’t have too big an impact on students’ overall learning, and that will include, potentially, some catch-up later in the year, if that’s needed.
Media: Could this style of learning continue once we exit alert level 4, or will kids be able to return back to school once we go to those lower—level 3, for example—alert levels?
Hon Chris Hipkins: So the Ministry of Education and me—we’re very actively engaged in the planning beyond level 4 lockdown in terms of what happens there, and we’re working through all of the different scenarios. I do want to say that when level 4 ends, people should not assume that that means that schools and early childhood services will all automatically reopen on day one. So we’re working through all of the different scenarios around how you
would reopen the education system, and under what circumstances some parts of that system may stay closed. So hence we’re doing all the work we need to do to support learning from home for as long as we need to support it. Obviously we want to have kids back in a face-to-face learning environment as soon as we can, but I can’t put a fixed timeframe on that; that’s why we’re putting all this emphasis onto making sure we’re planning for every scenario.
Media: Parents will be counting down right now—especially maybe if they’ve got multiple kids at home—until schools open again. What’s your message to them?
Hon Chris Hipkins: Look, I do want to acknowledge—and I’m in this situation myself— that being at home with your kids all day, every day, and not really able to go out anywhere can be incredibly challenging. I do want to acknowledge as we come out of lockdown and many of those families start to see one or more members of the adult community in that household going back to work, that’s going to create additional pressures on them as well. So we’re working through all of those scenarios. We’ve still got at least two weeks of the level 4 lockdown to continue to prepare for all that, and we’ll have further announcements on what happens at the end of level 4 once we’ve worked through all of that. But look, I do want to just take a moment to take my hat off to all the parents out there. I know that this is a challenging time for them. It’s a challenging time, I think, for everybody who is stuck at home with the same people all day, every day.
Media: Just in terms of the package that’s been created and that you’re announcing today, what’s being done to ensure that, I guess, the resources being put out—the production of the television show, all of those things—that people are safe and people are staying within their bubble, I suppose?
Hon Chris Hipkins: Yeah, so there’s a variety of things here. One is making sure all of the supply chain is safe. So just as if you order something online, an essential good online, much the same delivery process will take place here. The supply chain will all be very carefully managed to ensure that all the people putting the packs together are kept safe. When the material arrives, it will be delivered contactless, as you would get if you were ordering something online and it was being delivered at home at the moment. There will be cleaning instructions, if needed, in each pack. So that’s all being done very carefully and, I think, as everybody who’s stood in this spot has emphasised time and time again, we want people staying at home and staying in their bubbles, and so everything that we do around getting this material out will be mindful of that.
Media: Minister, you talked about there will be two channels: one in English and one in Te Reo Māori. Well, could you confirm that all resources—being booklets, being everything online—there will be a Māori version for every single resource?
Hon Chris Hipkins: I can’t say that there will be for every single resource, but I can say that there will be extensive Te Reo Māori resources available as well. In some cases, they might be slightly different resources provided in English and in Te Reo Māori, but there will certainly be the ability for people who are doing immersion Te Reo Māori study to continue to do that in the home context if they need to. So we’re doing all that we can. Now, obviously, in some cases there aren’t immediately available Te Reo Māori equivalents of some of the English-language products. So for example, if you look at a storybook, for example, you might get a different storybook in Te Reo to what you’re getting in English but you’ll get a storybook.
Media: Doesn’t that then disadvantage students that are doing full-immersion Māori?
Hon Chris Hipkins: No, it doesn’t, because they’ll be getting at least the equivalent. It might not be exactly the same, but they’ll be getting at least the equivalent level of support.
Media: Minister Hipkins, picking up on your personal situation: how are you juggling having kids at home while trying to get work done, and is it making you more sympathetic towards other parents and teachers who have kids at home with them?
Hon Chris Hipkins: Look, I think we have a bit of a system going in our household about taking turns to go out, and we’ve set up the spare bedroom for Zoom calls and so on. I think every family where there’s parents who are working from home is jugging with this. It’s certainly not easy. As Minister of State Services, if I could speak with a slightly different hat on at the moment, my message across the Public Service to all those public servants who are working from home, and to all of their employers, is that we do need to be reasonable in our expectations of what people can do when they’re working from home. We cannot expect the same level of productivity from people who are at home with their families, without the support they might normally rely on, as we might have from them if they were coming into work every day and sitting at their desk.
Media: Was the wider State sector ready for this? Were public servants ready to work from home the moment the lockdown happened?
Hon Chris Hipkins: I think the public sector has been very well prepared. It’s never possible to completely replicate every work environment in a home setting, though, and so if you look at something as complex as the schools’ payroll, for example, that’s not been perfect, and it won’t be perfect, because that involves every school inputting their payroll data, education payroll then processing that data. Everyone in that chain now is working from home, and so there are some quick fixes that are being done to keep that going. And I think you’ll find that across the Public Service. But I want to say that I think the Public Service has pulled out all of the stops, and New Zealanders can be very, very proud of the way the Public Service has responded.
Media: Are you talking to AUT at all about their plan to change all their papers, kind of, one at a time, in one-month blocks that would’ve stopped students being able to work over summer by extending the year into Christmas? Or was that wholly a decision by them?
Hon Chris Hipkins: That is a matter for AUT. I mean, our universities have, sort of, in terms of the institutional autonomy universities have around the way they structure their programmes, they are the most autonomous part of the education system, and so those are discussions that they’ve had. Most of the universities, most tertiary providers, whilst they can do some things online, they have been putting out term dates and rearranging term dates and so on.
Media: A lot of BAU has been paused for the Government. Is the NCEA review and kind of reform package still going ahead, or is that paused for now?
Hon Chris Hipkins: Well, some of the NCEA review package, of course, is actually helping to contribute to the work that we’re doing at the moment, particularly around the onlining of NCEA, which is one of the things that we’ve been working towards. If anything, we’re accelerating the work in that area so that students can access the NCEA assessments and so on online at home if they need to. Other parts around some of the longer-term work around NCEA review—of course, that’s not happening at the moment. Some of the teachers engaged in that actually might be using this opportunity while they’re at home to catch up on some of those developments, and that’s all fine. But I think coming out the other side of this, our expectations around time frames for a whole lot of Government’s business-as-usual work are going to have to change.
Media: With your Leader of the House hat on, the Parliament’s due to come back later in April. What will that look like at this point? Do you have an idea? Will the Epidemic Response Committee still meet, and will the House sit, kind of, normal sittings, or will it be quite different?
Hon Chris Hipkins: Look, we haven’t had that conversation yet, and I think that really depends on what alert level we are at any given time. We did, as a Business Committee and as Parliament, make preparations for if Parliament needs to gather without a full muster of MPs—so if you ended up with 30 or 40 MPs in the Chamber instead of the full 120, which we saw just before the lockdown. So Parliament is well set up for all of those different scenarios if we need to use them, but we’re longer than two weeks’ away from having to deal with that and answer those questions.
Media: Are there any broadcasters that you’re talking to, and what will those channels look like? Will it just be kind of a classroom-type setting, or will it be a bit more dynamic than that?
Hon Chris Hipkins: So Television New Zealand and Māori Television are the two broadcasters who have offered, effectively, what you call an end-to-end solution, so they’re doing everything from the studio preparation of the content, through to the broadcast, through to every other bit in between in that. Some of it will be drawing on content that’s already available. I mean, we’ve got extensive libraries of resources that are already available. Some of it will be about bridging content—so making sure that there’s bits joining up the content—and some of it will be new content. So there are some familiar faces I think you’ll expect to see back on TV.
Media: Will there be advertisements on those channels?
Hon Chris Hipkins: To be honest, I don’t know the answer to that, but I wouldn’t expect there to be advertisements on them.
Media: Broadly, as education Minister, the NZUSA have presented its COVID-19 action plan to the Government. What are your thoughts on things like their calls for a temporary universal student allowance, support for mental health—that sort of thing?
Hon Chris Hipkins: I think I’ll be taking some further recommendations to Cabinet in due course—so in the next few weeks—about additional things we can do to support tertiary students. It won’t be at the—I guess on this continuum of lots and lots of money to a slightly more modest package, it will be at the more modest package end of that, so I want to keep expectations reasonable. But I do acknowledge that tertiary students, for example, who work part-time in order to support their tertiary studies will be really feeling the pinch at the moment, and so there are some things that we can do to provide further support to them.
Media: In terms of today’s package, do you have any concern, because we don’t know the time frame of how long this is going to go, that, potentially, some devices are rolled out to households and then, a couple of days later, they go back to school?
Hon Chris Hipkins: So the ownership of those devices will rest with the school. Many schools, of course, have “bring your own device” policies at the moment, so kids are bringing their own devices from home, and increasing the overall stock of devices that are out there in the school system is no bad thing. And so the device will belong to the school, though, not to the family.
Media: Some childcare for under-5s are still charging full rates because they say they are kind of delivering online materials. What do you make of that?
Hon Chris Hipkins: Look, that’s a matter for those services and for their parent communities. The Government subsidies for early childhood education are continuing through this lockdown period. So the Ministry of Education’s subsidies that would normally go to those services continues to go to those services now, even though there are no kids in them, and they are eligible, if their income has decreased by over 30 percent—i.e., if parental contributions make up more than 30 percent of their income—they’re eligible for the wage subsidy as well.
Media: Given they’ve got that double subsidy, then do you feel you think it’s reasonable for them to be charging the full rate for online materials for 2- or 3-year-olds?
Hon Chris Hipkins: It’s difficult, because a lot of early learning services—the parental contributions will make up less than 30 percent, which means they won’t be eligible for the wage subsidy. But they’re not, in many cases—particularly some of those smaller services, won’t be operating on large margins, and so I do acknowledge that there’s some difficult decisions there for them, and I’d encourage them to have open and honest conversations with their parent communities about that. But I wouldn’t expect—they certainly can’t compel parents to continue to pay those fees.
Media: What role will teachers have amongst all this, because a lot of them are still doing lesson planning at the moment, remotely. Given all this information’s coming out, what sort of workload will teachers have?
Hon Chris Hipkins: So we’re working very hard to try and line up the material that’s being supplied by the Ministry of Education with what schools would otherwise normally be teaching, so, of course, it’s all connected to the New Zealand Curriculum. That won’t be perfect—let’s be frank about that—because we’re talking about doing something at scale, at speed, and schools structure their programmes differently. But we’ll work very hard to make sure that we’re trying to line that up with what schools would otherwise be doing, and it may mean that teachers might have to slightly reshuffle the order of things that they were doing to line up with the materials that might be available to them. But I do want to say, again, the teaching community have proven to be incredibly adaptive and resilient through this, and have been working incredibly hard to support kids and parents to learn from home, and I want to acknowledge them and thank them for that work.
Media: Some parents, teachers, and maybe even some students might be feeling quite stressed at the moment not being in the classroom and what that could mean for exams and test results for the rest of the year. What’s your message to them?
Hon Chris Hipkins: Look, reach out for additional support if you need it. Your schools are still available online and through phoning, and so on. Different schools are doing different things about keeping in touch with their student communities to make sure that they’re identifying those pressure points and those stresses where they are, and are helping young people, particularly, to cope with those things.
As we move into the recovery phase, of course we’re going to be looking at what support we supply to schools, particularly in that mental health space, because a big event like this does create additional pressure for young people, and schools will want to support them with that, and so we’re looking at what additional support they might need to be able to do that.
Media: Who are some of the Kiwi presenters you’ve shoulder-tapped, and sort of what was the process for that?
Hon Chris Hipkins: Look, there’ll be more announcements on that in due course, but I can say with confidence you should look forward to seeing Suzy Cato on TV a bit more frequently again in the future—a well-known household name for New Zealanders. But there’ll be some other announcements on that shortly. We should be in a position to start releasing programming details fairly soon.
Media: Minister, are you confident that students in the regions with no internet will get the same quality product and same quality education, if they’re getting booklets and things, than those with internet?
Hon Chris Hipkins: Look, they’ll be getting a good standard of education. It won’t be 100 percent consistent because, obviously, some kids are going to be learning online and some are going to be learning using hard-pack materials and some will be using a mixture of both. But I can certainly assure people that they will be getting a good standard of support for their learning wherever they are.
Now, I do want to say here that there are some areas where internet connectivity simply isn’t an option, so there’s just no way—we’ve looked at it, we’re only talking about a couple of hundred households in this case, but there’s just no way of technically getting them coverage. It might be that there’s a satellite connection that, over time, we could work towards, but, at the moment, there’s no way of getting that to them. Having said that, 80,000 is still a big number, and we’re not going to be able to connect 80,000 households in a matter of weeks. So we are going to, for a period of time, still be reliant on hard-pack materials.
Media: So even though that’s different though, the quality—can you assure New Zealand that the quality will be the same, the quality of education will be the same for those with internet and those getting the hard copies without?
Hon Chris Hipkins: Well, look, ultimately, the internet is simply a tool. It is simply a way of conveying information to people. It’s a bit cheaper, in the sense that you don’t have to post out materials and you don’t have to print a whole lot of materials. And like I said, what’s being supplied online might not be exactly the same as what’s being supplied in hard-pack, but it would be of an equivalent standard.
Media: There are about 40,000 public servants. Are all of them working from home right now or working in their roles as essential workers, or are some not able to work at all?
Hon Chris Hipkins: Look, I can’t give you an exact number on that. That’ll depend very much on individual agency arrangements. But I do acknowledge that there’s a heck of a lot of public servants in Wellington at the moment who are working from home.
Media: Just on the roll-out, you said that it’s prioritising secondary school students and those most at need. Have you identified any regions or areas where you are finding that there are students who are most at need?
Hon Chris Hipkins: Obviously, some of the lower socio-economic areas, the areas where we find that there is poor internet connectivity in the household. In some cases, that’s easier to remedy than in others. So we’re working as hard as we can to remedy that. But, certainly, socio-economics do play a big role here.
Now, I’m happy to talk you through, very briefly, if you would like, a couple of packs. I don’t have a secondary school one, unfortunately. I’ve got a couple of primary school ones and an early learning one.
So if you are in primary school, there’s some pens and pencils and so on here. This one here is end of year 6, so this would be the type of material that you’d be getting if you were a senior level primary school student. Your parents will get a nice little fold-out here that tells them the sorts of things that they should be doing with you and how to use the resources that they are getting. There are some workbooks that have been supplied by Te Kura The Correspondence School. In this one here, you’ve got a workbook on signs and symbols, for example, that people can work their way through. There is a copy of the School Journal. This one is a 2014 School Journal but has a particular focus on Anzacs— on Anzac Day and on the Anzacs. Obviously, it’s topical, timely content. Then you might get other workbooks, so this one’s called a Picture This workbook, which includes a number of activities that people can do both in the home and outside of the home, i.e., in their backyards. There might also be other resources. In this case, there’s a workbook on volcanoes. So that’s the sort of material that you might get if you were getting one of the packs for senior primary school.
I have a pack for the junior primary years. All of them, by the way, have messages that you’ll be very familiar with around health and safety and around COVID, but, again, materials for parents to help guide them through. This one has a particular focus—there’s some workbooks here on numbers and talking through a variety of different number activities. There’s an activity pack of fold-out cards that can be used. The Ready to Read series, very familiar to many, this one is a Margaret Mahy story book, so that material is supplied. There’s a fairly extensive workbook that’s supplied for those students.
And then the final one that I will just talk you through, with the nice big box: this is the sort of thing that you would get if you’re in an early learning setting, an early childhood education. There is a pack of materials for your parents, which includes a whole lot of activities. In this case there is a jigsaw puzzle—a hard jigsaw puzzle. A variety of well-known stories that will be familiar to many New Zealand families, including one of my favourites, The Little Yellow Digger, you’ll find in there. There are some pavement chalks for activities, some felt tip pens, some crayons, a glue stick, some fabric which goes with the activities, some coloured cardboard and regular drawing paper. So those are the sorts of activities you might get. I
have one—that’s for the older age group in the early learning bracket, there is another pack which is for the younger age bracket in early learning as well.
So those are the ones that I’ve seen so far. I haven’t seen any of the secondary school ones, but they started work on putting these together just before the lockdown started. As you can imagine, they’re putting together up to half a million of these packs, so they’ve been working at pace in order to be able to get them together.
Media: Thank you.