Morning Briefing April 17: Life at Level 3 brings excitement, concern and caution

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is warning Kiwis not to get too excited yet about the changes that will come with moving to Covid-19 Alert Level 3.

A woman wearing a face mask, pushes a shopping cart in Christchurch. (Photo by Sanka Vidanagama/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Ms Ardern revealed how life under Level 3 would work yesterday, but warned people not to jump the gun during a Facebook Live last night.

“Don’t change your behaviour yet,” she said, given the country’s still abiding by the current Level 4 lockdown.

If New Zealand does shift to Level 3 next Wednesday night, bubbles can be expanded “a small amount”, with some businesses able to get back up and running if they can remain contactless.

Bars, cafes, restaurants and malls will remain closed, but food delivery, drive-thru and online shopping can begin.

Outdoor activities like hunting, boating and team sports will still be off the cards .

But funerals, tangi and weddings will be allowed again with a maximum of 10 people, while travel restrictions will move from local to regional .

However, Ms Ardern says, “The main message remains ‘stay home to save lives.’” 

Full details of what life will look like at Level 3 can be found here , while this document outlines restrictions at all levels of the Covid-19 alert system.

Cabinet is due to decide on Monday if the current Level 4 lockdown will be extended or not. Other countries, such as France and the UK , have already made the decision this week to extend their own lockdowns. 

Sign up to get the Morning Briefing delivered direct to your inbox – here.

Schools sound concerns

Early childhood centres and schools will also be open for children up to Year 10 under Level 3 guidelines, with attendance purely voluntary.

The Government says distance learning is still the best option for children who are able to.

However, the Principals' Federation says it wasn’t consulted about this new plan, which they say they have serious concerns about .

President Perry Rush says teachers face the prospect of juggling both in-class and online teaching and adds that contactless engagement “is an impossibility” in a school setting. 

Auckland Grammar Headmaster Tim O'Connor has also been a vocal critic of the partial reopening of schools, telling RNZ’s Checkpoint he has no idea how it will all work. 

"The Government's not making a decision about education, it's making a decision about how to provide childcare for reopening the country,” he says. 

The Principals Federation is due to meet with the Ministry of Education today. 

Relief for some businesses 

A large chunk of the workforce that’s been side-lined during lockdown will be back in business once the country does move to Level 3.

People must still work from home if they can, but where that’s not possible, rules around physical distancing and contactless engagement apply. It means industries like building, construction and forestry can resume, which Stuff reports will allow tens of thousands of tradies to get back to work. 

Retail businesses, hardware stores and restaurants can open, but only for online or phone purchases and contactless delivery or click and collect.

The Restaurant Association says that’s a “lifeline” for their industry .

They say while it’s not a full solution and won’t suit everyone, “it may help keep some businesses afloat where it is appropriate”. 

Meanwhile, new data from Infometrics this morning shows New Zealand’s economy could take up to two years to recover from the Covid-19 crisis.

They predict the loss of international tourism alone will knock GDP by 5.2 percent, with unemployment averaging above 9 per cent next year and house prices falling 11 per cent.

The big question remains

Of course, the big question now is whether or not New Zealand moves to Level 3 next week.

Advisors said yesterday there appears to be gaps in the Government’s Covid-19 data that must be filled before reducing the lockdown level.

Epidemiologist Michael Baker says that includes data around border control, contact tracing and testing. 

CNN has put together this comprehensive wrap-up of how other countries are reopening following Covid-19 restrictions, but how successful those measures are still remains to be seen.

Some nations are already battling a second wave of the coronavirus.

The most prominent of these is Singapore, which is seeing record daily spikes in new cases , despite being originally hailed as a success story in containing the virus. 

'Specific, targeted testing' begins

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health says it’s widening its community tracing of coronavirus by starting testing at supermarkets.

Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says “specific, targeted testing” began at a supermarket in Queenstown yesterday , with 300 people swabbed in order to see if community transmission is happening there.

Dr Bloomfield says they’re actively looking at carrying out similar testing at two or three other areas of concern around the country.

New Zealand’s total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases increased by 15 yesterday, with no further deaths or clusters of the virus to report. 

Stark warning over fresh water

In amongst the flurry of news around a potential life under Level 3, a report into the country’s freshwater quality was also released yesterday – and the news is grim .

The report says between 95-99 per cent of rivers in areas affected by human development are polluted. It also found that 76 per cent of the country’s freshwater fish are either threatened with, or at risk of, extinction.

Forest & Bird is among the organisations calling for urgent action.

“New Zealand's fresh water has reached breaking point,” says Forest & Bird freshwater advocate Tom Kay.

“Political and policy leaders have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make the changes we need to save our people and our natural world. We need clean water and flowing rivers and right now our fresh water needs us to protect it.”

Other news of note this morning:

There’s still concern over whether the biggest day on the sharemilking calendar, Gypsy Day , will go ahead in six weeks’ time. 

For the first time in decades, changes are being made to how free-to-air programmes are rated in a bid to protect kids from harmful content.

Job losses in the US continue to rise, with the BBC reporting a decade of job growth has been erased in four weeks. 

Stuff is the latest media company asking its staff to take a pay cut for the next 12 weeks due to the impacts of the Covid-19 crisis. Their CEO, Sinead Boucher, also revealed she’s taking a 40 per cent pay cut. 

Kiwi troops deployed overseas will have to wait longer to be relieved of their duties as the Defence Force postpones its routine rotations .

A Kiwi mother and daughter trapped in Iran with no money after their holiday was affected by Covid-19 restrictions are on their way home , thanks to the generosity of the public.

And pet owners are being told puppies need to be prepared for life at Level 3 , too, with separation anxiety a potential new problem.

And finally...

Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions have put some of our closest relationships to the test, forcing people to think outside the box when it comes to dating. (Although you probably don’t need to wear a face mask for a date over Skype like the photo above.)

Psychologists say it’s not unusual for people to develop tighter bonds in strange situations - while other experts say the current shifts in how we date may just become permanent