A week ago on Saturday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern delivered a televised address to the nation. Two days later, she announced New Zealand was going into lockdown. The Weekend Herald looked into what was going on in the Beehive and how the Prime Minister's response unfolded.
Saturday, March 21: Level 2. 56 cases.
At noon on Saturday, March 21, the Prime Minister sat at her desk in front of strategically placed New Zealand flags and a photo of former Prime Minister the late Michael Joseph Savage.
Many Labour MPs have photos of Savage, Labour's first Prime Minister, in their offices.
But Jacinda Ardern's photo was not there just because he was an adored figure. It was because Savage led New Zealand through the aftermath of the Great Depression and into the start of World War II. Now she was in charge of a time of trial.
Ardern stared down the barrel of the camera in front of her, and read from the tele-prompter for just over seven minutes.
She announced a four-level alert system for the Covid-19 response. She announced we were now at level 2 but should be prepared to move up through the levels at pace.
The events that led to that moment had begun the Wednesday before, when a possible case of community transmission in the Wairarapa was found.
It was at that point that Ardern herself had come up with the idea of developing the alert system, a way to let people see what would happen at what points of the virus' spread.
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Officials scrambled to get that together on the Wednesday and Thursday, while Ardern went up to Rotorua for the morning.
She returned for a Cabinet meeting that afternoon.
That meeting was supposed to fairly routine – deciding who would stay in Wellington for the Covid-19 Committee over the recess.
It turned into something more significant when that Cabinet instead signed off on the total border closures.
On the Friday night, the Covid-19 Committee signed off on the new alert system, and decided to put New Zealand at level 2.
It was not long after her Saturday address that Ardern started talking to others about lifting that level again very soon.
Sunday, March 22: Level 2. 70 cases.
As he had done for weeks now, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield delivered the daily briefing and the update of cases. Few people would have recognised Bloomfield in the streets before Covid-19, but he is now a household name.
The PM had no public engagements or press conferences for the first day in a long time.
She spent the morning at Premier House, and then went to the Beehive to prepare for Cabinet the next day.
She already knew Cabinet would be lifting the alert to at least level 3. The only debate was whether to go straight to level four, or to move to level three first to give people time to prepare.
There were phone calls with her chief science advisor, Juliet Gerrard. There were calls to National Party leader Simon Bridges, who she had also spoken to before her televised address.
She spoke to the head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Brook Barrington, and key ministers, Education Minister Chris Hipkins and Finance Minister Grant Robertson.
That afternoon, Ardern had a teleconference with some business people, including former Air NZ head Rob Fyfe, Craig Heatley and one of the Mowbray siblings who had founded the Zuru toy empire. The business people had asked for the meeting. They wanted to help, and they could help. It became clear how later in the week.
She texted the Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy to advise her she intended to move up the levels quickly. She had decided by then how quickly that would be.
Then she sat down and started working on the speech she would deliver after Cabinet the next day: a speech that would move New Zealand to level 3, and then to lockdown two days after that.
Her chief press secretary Andrew Campbell had prepared the first draft of that speech. He need not have bothered: Ardern worked on it until midnight, and by the time she was done it was a completely different speech.
Monday, March 23: 102 cases. Level 2 - 3.
Battling with human nature
Ardern got to work at 7.30am. She walked down from Premier House with her partner Clarke Gayford and diplomatic protection officers sticking very close.
If Gayford had hoped the walk would be a precious few minutes of quality chat, he was out of luck.
Ardern was talking on her cellphone.
Cabinet was meeting earlier than usual, starting at 9.30am.
Before 9am, the Reserve Bank announced it would move on quantitative easing for the first time in New Zealand's history.
Cabinet was split into two, with half of the ministers calling in from their offices while the rest spread out around the Cabinet table. Those around the Cabinet table were the core Covid-19 ministers – as well as Winston Peters and Shane Jones.
Some were to return to their homes straight afterwards to sit out the lockdown from afar, including Peters and Jones. Others were staying in Wellington for the duration, as Ardern was.
At that Cabinet meeting, Ardern set out what she wanted to do – move to level 3 for a period to give people time to adjust, and then to level 4. They considered modelling that Ardern later said showed tens of thousands of people could die if the virus was not slowed down.
Ardern has so far refused to release that modelling, but the figures are similar to those estimated this week by Te Pūnaha Matatini, New Zealand's Centre of Research Excellence in Complex Systems and Data Analytics.
The NZ Herald was told that one of the figures also showed there could be about 65,000 active Covid-19 cases smack, bang in the middle of winter and flu season. The health system would not cope.
The Cabinet did not have the update on Covid-19 cases released by Bloomfield that day at noon, but that update only confirmed the decision to move was the right one.
There were 36 new cases – a big leap on the earlier numbers - and two were now confirmed as community transmission.
One was an Orewa man who had recently been on the Milford Track. The suspicion was it was from a tourist – a tourist who had not self-isolated. The other was the earlier case in the Wairarapa. Despite extensive contact tracing, there was no idea how that person got it.
The case numbers had tipped over the 100 mark – and the daily increases were following the same trends as in other countries.
The Prime Minister later said the trajectory was clear: "We currently have 102 cases. But so did Italy once; now the virus has overwhelmed their health system and hundreds of people are dying every day. The situation here is moving at pace, and so must we."
On the Saturday, Ardern had made it clear that community transmission would be the trigger for more intensive action.
The pressure had also been growing from schools, business and the Opposition.
After cases popped up at a handful of schools, other schools were taking it into their own hands to close.
Then there were the scientists. Many had called for faster action and just as Cabinet went into its meeting, Sir Peter Gluckman – the science advisor to former PM John Key - tweeted his belief that moving to level 4 was imperative.
After Cabinet, Ardern rang National Party leader Simon Bridges to brief him. He had already called to move to level 4, and was quick to say he backed the decision.
Ardern arrived at the Beehive Theatrette at 1.45pm.
She announced the move to level 3 for 48 hours to give people time to prepare.
Then it would be level 4. Lockdown.
A bulletin went out to all schools soon afterwards telling them to close, and the Ministry of Education contacted each principal the next day.
Ardern had originally pointed to countries such as Taiwan and South Korea as countries she hoped to emulate in the Covid-19 response.
Both had managed to slow the spread to manageable levels without a full lockdown. That was through a lot of testing, rigid isolation and contact tracing.
But Ardern was not only fighting a virus, she also had to contend with human nature.
First there was the shopping. The "panic" shopping had started when New Zealand's first case was confirmed on February 28, and never seemed to abate.
Ardern said while it was unnecessary she could understand it, putting it down to simple human nature.
Breaking rules was another facet of human nature that bedevilled her. Travellers who did not abide by the 14-day isolation rule were trailing the virus with them and spreading it.
Human nature is also behind another concern Ardern has as the lockdown settles in: a fear the Wild West would set in, and vigilante justice.
"I know people will want to act as enforcers. And I understand that, people are afraid and anxious. We will play that role for you."
Tuesday, March 24: 155 cases. Level 3.
Cushioning the blow
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister again sat at her desk, this time with a piece of paper in front of her instead of a camera.
She had to sign that piece of paper, a declaration for the Epidemic Preparedness Notice.
The head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Brook Barrington, and her chief of staff Raj Nahna were in the room.
That declaration read: "The Prime Minister declares she is satisfied that the effects of the outbreak of Covid-19 are likely to disrupt or continue to disrupt essential governmental and business activity in New Zealand significantly."
It was a piece of paper that allowed a state of emergency to then be declared: giving authorities power under the Civil Defence Act and Health Act to deploy the Police and Defence Force, to restrict people's movements, to detain, and to requisition facilities – from supermarkets to private hospitals and television networks, all in pursuit of fighting Covid-19.
Outside the Beehive, the 48-hour window Ardern had allowed before shifting from level 3 to total lockdown had resulted in some confusion.
New Zealanders travelling or working away from home rushed to get back.
University students too were trying to get home.
It left Air NZ and the ferries scrambling. The Covid-19 Committee met on Tuesday and extended the window for domestic travel until Friday night.
The swift leap toward level 4 also caught the officials on the hop.
The team to run the crisis – led by All of Government Controller John Ombler – had only been set up the week before.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush was charged with overseeing the operational side of that, and Civil Defence Director Sarah Stuart-Black was also in a lead role.
The Ministry of Health's official pandemic plan set out the framework for that group, and for measures to take, including the closure of all but essential businesses.
The trouble was defining exactly what an "essential business" was.
The original list was too vague and some retailers, such as The Warehouse and some small-scale food retailers, made incorrect decisions about whether they were included.
The move to a lockdown also meant the Government had to reassess what was needed to try to protect businesses, jobs and homes.
A week earlier, Robertson had set out a $12.1 billion suite of measures, from capped wage subsidies to benefit increases, to "cushion the blow".
At the time, Ardern said she hoped that $12b would be the most significant package she would deliver in her time as PM.
A week after that, it was mere peanuts.
On Tuesday, Robertson set out a new package. It widened the wage subsidies to all businesses and removed the cap completely. There was more money for health. There were mortgage holidays and Government guarantees over business loans needed to ride out the crash.
Robertson had also set out a $900 million rescue package for Air NZ.
The next day he was to ask Parliament to pass legislation to allow the Government to spend a total of $53b - $40b in operational funding, and $13b in capital spending. Asked where it was coming from, he was blunt: it would all be debt.
Wednesday, March 25: Level 3 - 4. 205 cases
'The rainy day has arrived. It's pouring, ladies and gentlemen'
The officials and businesses were not the only ones confused about "essential business".
Grant Robertson turned up to work on Wednesday morning without any food, in the habit of relying on Parliament's Copperfield's cafe.
He announced he was going for a coffee and breakfast, only to be reminded of the bad news by his staff. All cafes, including Parliament's, had already been told to close.
He had to instead pillage the office freezer, found some old bread and settled for marmite on toast.
Parliament had been called back – a skeleton crew of MPs - to sign off on the necessary measures.
If more evidence was needed of the need for the lockdown, it was coming in the numbers of cases the testing was showing. It had taken almost a month to get from that first case on February 28 to the 100th on March 23. It had taken just two days to get to 200.
The state of emergency was officially called, and Parliament voted through an Imprest Supply Bill to authorise the spending.
Robertson acknowledged the monumental sum. "This bill is the price of supporting our people and our economy. It's also the sign of a decent society. It's a promissory note to the people of New Zealand about the importance of looking out for each other."
Toward the end of his speech, he paid tribute to former Finance Ministers Sir Michael Cullen and Sir Bill English for ensuring New Zealand was ready to face a rainy day.
"It's arrived. It is pouring, ladies and gentlemen."
Thursday. Lockdown. 283 cases.
Life in bubbles
The lockdown had begun but the Prime Minister, Robertson, Bloomfield and now Bush or Stuart-Black were still giving daily press conferences. The media at the Beehive Theatrette was now drastically thinned out to allow for distancing.
The Prime Minister announced Fyfe – whom she spoke to on Sunday – had been appointed to work with Bush on the Covid-19 response team as a liaison with the private sector.
It then became clear how those businesses had said they could help, back on that Sunday phone call: some of the them, such as Zuru, had manufacturing facilities in China. Those facilities could be switched from toys to producing some of the protection equipment needed.
Adern also spoke of the first day of lockdown. "On Monday, we said we needed to shut New Zealand down. Here we are on Thursday with the streets nearly empty."
While the Prime Minister is leading the lockdown, she has her own bubble.
By necessity it is larger than that expected of most people – it is more of a Venn diagram than a single bubble. It includes Gayford, Neve, her Diplomatic Protection Squad, the core Covid-19 ministers, and her key staff.
To try to keep the PM's bubble as tight as possible, the staff of other ministers have been sent home to work.
She is sticking to Premier House, where her family is, and her Beehive office.
Parents everywhere are planning to entertain children for four weeks – including Neve's parents.
The Prime Minister had closed the playgrounds, so that included adopting a "game" from the UK of putting teddy bears into windows for children to look for while out on a walk.
If you stand in the right place on Wellington's Hill St and look up at Premier House, you might just spot a panda and a Prime Minister's childhood teddy bear in the window.