VIRUS LATEST
* More than 110,000 cases worldwide - more than 62,000 people have recovered, and 4000 have died
* Number of deaths in Italy has risen sharply to 631, with the entire country in emergency lockdown and Kiwis told to avoid travel there
* New Zealand has five cases - but no deaths - and almost 9000 Kiwis and households are self-isolating

There may have been a hiatus in new coronavirus cases being declared yesterday but there has been no hiatus in debate on how to respond to an expected increase in cases.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern requested confirmation from health officials that it was okay to continue with the Auckland Pasifika Festival in Western Springs this weekend and the March 15 memorial service - and got it last night.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and National Party leader Simon Bridges. Photos / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and National Party leader Simon Bridges. Photos / Mark Mitchell

And Ardern and Finance Minister Grant Robertson resisted pleading from the Opposition to reconsider a planned increase in the minimum wage that will cost employers nearly $50 a week for a worker on 40 hours a week.

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National says things have changed dramatically since the decision was made and it does not make sense to increase the costs of employers at the same time that the Government is planning to subsidise wages for some businesses.

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But Ardern does not believe officials' advice suggesting that lifting the minimum wage will lead to unemployment.

"Every time we have done that, we have had jobs go up and unemployment go down," she said in Parliament in response to National leader Simon Bridges.

"The lowest paid workers should not have to pay for the impacts of Covid-19."

Almost 9000 people or households had registered with Healthline to self-isolate, according to the ministry's statement.

Currently 2334 people or households were registered for self-isolation while another 5929 had finished their self-isolation.

While there were still five confirmed cases and two probable cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, 47 cases were classified as "under investigation". Another 281 cases had tested negative for the virus.

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Ardern revealed yesterday she had sought advice about the large-scale events she is due to attend at the weekend.

She is thought to have been especially worried about the risks for the Pasifika Festival because of the potential spread to Pacific countries.

The Ministry of Health said that because there was no wider community spread of the virus at this stage the health advice was that public events could go ahead, but with strong health measures in place.

"Large-scale public events can proceed, but it's up to organisers to ensure people can practise good hygiene at the event, and up to everyone who attends to ensure they don't put others at risk by attending if they are unwell," the ministry said in a statement.

"The Ministry of Health is working to ensure there is information about Covid-19 at Pasifika.

"We will be constantly reviewing this advice if the current situation changes."

The political row over the minimum wage stepped up from Monday when Ardern flatly ruled out backtracking on the long-planned increase in the minimum wage on April 1 from $17.70 to $18.90.

For those on the minimum wage, that equates to an extra $48 to be paid by employers for a 40-hour week and officials last year estimated that up to 242,000 workers would receive the increase.

The officials from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment also estimated that it would result in "6500 fewer individuals in employment than there would have been if the minimum wage had not increased", compared to forecast employment growth of 43,600 in 2020.

Ardern argued that people on low incomes would spend the extra money and it would stimulate the economy.

But Bridges said the wage hike would be "the final straw" for many small businesses.

"It is much better to have people in jobs in tough times like this than to have them on the dole."

Meanwhile, Health Minister David Clark that there are currently nine cruise ships in New Zealand with a further 11 expected to arrive in March, the peak season, and 10 in April.

He said he had not been advised of any current concerns about vessels in New Zealand but with having made Covid-19 a quarantine-able disease "we now have the full range of powers necessary to respond in the future".