Direct payments to all New Zealanders could be made to help the economy recover from the fallout of Covid-19, the Finance Minister says.

Grant Robertson told Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB this morning that the Government had to examine all options to help this country get back on its feet.

However, he ruled out tax cuts coming this year.

"Not in this Budget, Mike," Robertson said.

Advertisement

Asked by Hosking about just handing out cash to every Kiwi, Robertson likened it to tax cuts but said the Government did have to look at all options.

"So things like helicopter money, as it's sometimes called, is part of a potential package, but it does have downsides as well because it's not particularly targeted," Robertson said.

Subscribe to Premium

As for the budget, to be announced on May 14, he said there would be skepticism but added that the country would need longer to recover from Covid-19, the flow-on effects would be felt in 2021.

He said this year's budget was about making sure the Government built up the right levels of support for people.

There were a range of options available as they decided on ensuring there was a "strong public sector but also a strong private sector".

As for businesses not being honest about the wage subsidy scheme, Robertson said they would investigate any breaches.

"We will chase down anybody who has rorted the system. If someone hasn't done it right, it's fraud and we will chase them down."

Robertson told Kiwis to go back into banks and have another conversation about lending, have a pragmatic conversation and make use of the scheme that's there to make the most of new lending regulations from banks.

Advertisement

Robertson said he had some feedback from people who were seeking loans but would now expect banks to be more pragmatic now that the country was a few more weeks into the lockdown.

When will GPs get funding? Health Minister can't say

Meanwhile, Health Minister David Clark can't confirm when $11 million in payments to GPs will be made.

Clark told Hosking the funding for GP practices was part of an ongoing conversation in the sector.

Health Minister David Clark talks to Mike Hosking on funding for GPs, flu vaccine and PPE gear. Video / Newstalk ZB

The Government has blocked $11m in funding for GP practices, just as those clinics brace for a "tsunami" of patients who had put off seeing a doctor during lockdown.

Some practices are now facing closure unless they can get urgent support.

Clark said GPs had already received $45m in total.

The Government has paid out $15m for those costs and a further $22m was set to be paid in two fortnightly installments to help practices stay afloat.

However, the second of two $11m payments has since been blocked.

Clark could not give a timeframe for when the second payment could be made.

"That is part of an ongoing conversation with the sector. I can understand why they have a sense of urgency around it.

"Small business across the board is facing huge challenges right now. I want to reassure them that we are actively working with the sector to work out what are legitimate Covid-19 expenses."

Clark said the Government had never promised $22m in funding.

Asked why the sector was expecting this amount, he said: "You would really have to ask them that".

Clark said he had heard anecdotal reports of health services not getting enough personal protective equipment (PPE) when they needed it.

Clark said most services were now getting adequate PPE, and he wanted detailed stocktake to see where the gaps where.

Asked about flu vaccines, Clark said nearly twice as many vaccines had been distributed compared with this time last year.

He said there had initially been some issues in distributing vaccines, but he believed this had been resolved.

Contact Tracing

New Zealand's contact tracing system reportedly only has the ability to chase up 185 contacts a day.

An independent audit of the system released on Monday found regional public health units trying to trace contacts were overrun and couldn't keep up even when there were fewer than 100 suspected cases of the virus each day.

That report from infectious diseases expert Dr Ayesha Verrall was written on April 10 and provided to the Ministry of Health the next day - but the ministry held on to it for 10 days before publication.

Verrall recommended the contact tracing system should be ramped up so it had the capacity to cope with 1000 new cases every day.

Dr Ayesha Verrall's audit of New Zealand's contact tracing system found the system would be overrun when the country reached 100 cases per day. Photo / Supplied
Dr Ayesha Verrall's audit of New Zealand's contact tracing system found the system would be overrun when the country reached 100 cases per day. Photo / Supplied

The ministry has now told Stuff it has capacity to chase up contacts of 185 people and make 10,000 calls each day.

READ MORE
Contact tracing audit finds system 'beyond capacity'
Scientists sound level 3, contact tracing alarm bells
Coronavirus: NZ must ramp up contact-tracing capability
Businesses in the dark about contact tracing needs under level 3
/

The Government announced this week it was allocating an extra $55m to the 12 public health units.

Stuff reports the ministry was waiting for that funding boost to be approved by Cabinet and announced by the Prime Minister before releasing the report, and the Government wanted to have a response ready before it was published.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield has told RNZ there's "no particular science" behind Verrall's claim there should be capacity for 1000 cases every day.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

Verrall told Stuff she didn't know why the ministry had delayed publishing her report - but because of the wait she didn't know what the contact tracing system's capacity was now.

On Monday afternoon Bloomfield said up to 5000 contacts of cases could be traced, and capacity would continue to be built so it could be quickly scaled up if needed.

The report also calls for other improvements such as having 80 per cent of contacts of a new case quarantined within four days. Bloomfield has said many of the suggestions in the report are being implemented.

Clark said the $55m of funding meant public health units would be expanded, with up to 300 extra staff to give extra "surge capacity".