VIRUS LATEST
* New Zealand has 589 cases of coronavirus - after 76 new cases reported - and one death
* The US and Europe are now the epicentre of the virus - Donald Trump's u-turn, extends restrictions as one expert has predicts up to 200,000 American deaths
* What will New Zealand look like in a post-lockdown world?
* Extraordinary Air NZ email reveals extent of virus crisis on airline
* Prince Charles out of self-isolation, in 'good health'
* Latest developments and essential information

Generations of New Zealanders will be paying for the economic recovery caused by the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic, says Finance Minister Grant Robertson.

Robertson told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking this morning the Government needed to take a long-term view - balancing what was needed now to help individuals and businesses, with how a diversified New Zealand economy would look in the future.

"Generations will be paying for it, that's the truth. The massive investment we are making and that other countries are making ... will take many years to deal with. That's why we have to have a plan for what the economy looks like ... [one] that allows us to pay debt back, have taxes at a reasonable level and allows us to maintain living standards.

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"We are all aware that in the short term we want to make sure people have money to put food on the table we want to make sure that businesses have a sense of continuity."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is setting up a website for Kiwi to raise concerns about supermarket price rises during the coronavirus lockdown.

Robertson's comments come as the Government is enlisting Kiwis to be its eyes and pass on any proof of supermarkets price-gouging, or to report their neighbours for breaking the lockdown rules.

The number of coronavirus cases has reached almost 740,000 globally, with more than 35,000 deaths. The US and Europe are now the epicentre of the outbreak, which began in mainland China in late December.

In the US, President Donald Trump - siding with public health experts' dire projections - defended his decision to extend restrictive social distancing guidelines through to the end of April, while bracing the nation for a coronavirus death toll that could reach 200,000 people.

The Government will today release the sets of modelling on the spread of Covid-19 that it has based many of its decisions on, including the decision to go into lockdown.

That is expected to be released this morning, ahead of the first meeting of the new Pandemic Response committee, chaired by National Party leader Simon Bridges. That committee of 11 MPs will hear from Covid-19 response team head John Ombler and Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield first.

Robertson said a post-lockdown New Zealand economy would need to diversify, to overcome gaps left as industries such as tourism and international education recover.

"We need to look at manufacturing, and adding value to products in New Zealand as well as exporting them. Tourism, international education won't be coming back for a while," Robertson said.

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The Government was working on a package of initiatives, including infrastructure and other regional schemes, to roll out as soon as possible to help the economy recover.

Credit ratings agencies would be looking at all countries, not just New Zealand, and in that sense, we were in a relatively good position, Robertson said.

Net core Crown debt was at just under 20 per cent of GDP, but this would significantly lift as a result of the initiatives caused by the virus economic impact. "Other countries have higher debt in most cases than we do."

He had seen predictions of unemployment growing to anywhere from the current 4 per cent to anywhere between 8 and 30 per cent. Some economists, he said, were putting their fingers in their wind, but the Government would have an outlook soon.

Robertson said the Government was working with Air New Zealand "every day" as the airline felt the full impacts of Covid-19. Airline CEO Greg Foran revealed in an email to customers last night that annual revenue was set to fall from $6 billion to $500 million.

Up to a third of staff and 95 per cent of its schedule are set to be cut, and Robertson urged the airline to use the Government's wage subsidy scheme.

About 580,000 Kiwis are already on the scheme.

"Air New Zealand is in an incredibly difficult position... we are working with them every day. We want an airline that comes through this."

LISTEN LIVE TO NEWSTALK ZB VIRUS COVERAGE
7.05am: Grant Robertson; 7.50am Warriors CEO Cameron George; 8.05am: Sir John Key


EARLIER

The Government is enlisting Kiwis to be its spies and pass on any proof of supermarkets price-gouging, or to report their neighbours for breaking the lockdown rules.

A direct email address has been set up for people to send through pictures of receipts or items with questionably high price tags.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said officials were in daily contact with the two supermarket chains and had been assured they were working.

"If retailers are taking advantage of their duopoly in the market and are taking advantage of people who are going out in good faith to buy their everyday needs, then we will act on that. That is illegal."

The developments come as the number of coronavirus cases reaches almost 740,000 globally, with more than 35,000 deaths. The US and Europe are now the epicentre of the outbreak, which began in mainland China in late December.

In the US, President Donald Trump - siding with public health experts' dire projections - defended his decision to extend restrictive social distancing guidelines through to the end of April, while bracing the nation for a coronavirus death toll that could reach 200,000 people.

"The worst that could happen is you do it too early and all of a sudden it comes back," Trump said during a nearly hour-long call-in interview with Fox & Friends as members of his coronavirus task force fanned out across other media outlets to warn the virus' spread was only just beginning.

The comments came a day after Trump made a dramatic course reversal and announced that he would not be moving to ease the guidelines and get the economy back up and running by Easter on April 12, as he said last week he hoped to do.

Trump told Fox & Friends that "nobody" was "more worried" about the economic impact on the country than he was. But he said, "We want to do something where we have the least death."

Jacinda Ardern called on Kiwis to send consumer reports directly to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment with a new direct email [pricewatch@mbie.govt.nz] if they saw something which concerned them.

It is not illegal for businesses to increase their prices but a company has to give a good reason for the hike or it could be in breach of the Fair Trading Act which prohibits misleading and deceptive conduct.

Many of the recent examples were blamed on error or seasonal fluctuations, Ardern said.

"But during a period in which there is less competition in the food retail sector and increased demand, it is more important than ever that prices are fair and reasonable."

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She was also concerned about supermarket specials being canned as New Zealand's usual exporters would likely offer discounted products and those deals should be passed on.

Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi said the new system allowed Kiwis to make complaints and streamlined the reports.

"It's quite difficult to have sets of eyes and ears in terms of officials keeping an eye on those kinds of things."

Ardern will also today make a decision about supermarkets being open over Easter weekend but warned the sector had expressed the need for closures to re-stock.

And Kiwis can now buy other essential goods like heaters, whiteware and computers online during the lockdown period but only if the stores can ensure delivery is contactless end-to-end.

The race is on to find a vaccine for COVID-19.

Meanwhile, a police website to report breaches of the lockdown rules received about 4200 reports in 24 hours - at one point crashing the site.

"It shows how determined Kiwis are to determine that everyone complies with it," Commissioner Mike Bush said.

Yesterday, there were 76 new cases of Covid-19, bringing the total to 589, and there are 12 people in hospital with the infection with two in intensive care units.

Sixty-three people had recovered.

There are also nine different clusters of cases, including one with 23 cases infected at a Matamata bar on St Patrick's Day, and 47 cases at Marist College in Auckland.

Focus: An urgent testing station has been setup in Matamata as cases spike in the small town. Video / Alan Gibson

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the clusters highlighted why the lockdown was essential and proved how easily the virus could spread.

It was for this reason, people weren't able to have weddings, conferences, funerals or tangi even if the group involved were all in the same bubble.

"I know how hard it is, what we are asking people to do. But [a tangi] is the exact sort of place we can see this virus spread.

"And the last thing I want is grief, on grief."

Online order a real problem

With a broken leg in a cast, Wayne Stevens could hardly trundle around a supermarket to get food for himself and three children.

But the Wellington volunteer paramedic found it impossible to get an online delivery slot at any of his local supermarkets.

Stevens said he eventually managed to find a New World with wheelchair access and then, because he's a healthcare worker, was allowed to skip the queue.

Wayne Stevens couldn't get a slot to get groceries bought online delivered. Photo / Supplied
Wayne Stevens couldn't get a slot to get groceries bought online delivered. Photo / Supplied

"To me, I'm all right but there's going to be a lot of people who are not.

"The frontline supermarket staff are doing a great job, but the companies themselves aren't set up for this.

"They need to bring in some people who can manage this situation - it's a real mess."

Stevens said he was particularly concerned about people more vulnerable than him, especially those with severely compromised immune systems like cancer patients.

As a paramedic, he knew how vulnerable someone could be.

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

Stevens had registered as a "priority assistance" customer with Countdown but said it didn't help him get an online order slot.

"They've got to really find a way to make sure these people can be fed. I don't think at the moment they've really thought it through."

Countdown said it was reviewing its processes daily, and Foodstuffs did not respond by deadline.

And Ardern said yesterday supermarkets were "working hard" to get mechanisms in place to prioritise vulnerable people.

- Additional reporting, AP