Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said today was a "sad and sobering reminder" of what we are dealing with, given the four new Covid-19 related deaths.

Our death toll now stands at nine.

"It is our deadliest day to date."

At a wide-ranging post-Cabinet press conference this afternoon with Finance Minister Grant Robertson, the PM spoke about "considerable restrictions" still in place when New Zealand comes out of lockdown, a $130m support package for tertiary students, and the potential impacts of Covid-19 on the economy.


Earlier today epidemiologist Sir David Skegg said that Cabinet will be playing "Russian roulette" with New Zealanders' health if it made a lockdown decision on Monday without first improving contact-tracing and surveillance testing.

Ardern said she was confident in the Health Ministry's contact-tracing, which was still improving, and while surveillance testing had not officially started, it was already happening in practice with wide-ranging testing across all regions.

She also said Cabinet will be looking at all the available data on Monday, but even if lockdown was lifted after four weeks, the new normal would include physical distancing and a likely ban on big social gatherings where strangers interacted, such as music concerts or festivals.

That was because it was much harder to contact-trace unknown people, as opposed to people in a classroom, for instance.

She said the continuing decline in new daily cases showed that the measures the Government had taken were working.

"We are successfully over the peak.

"But that is not the same thing as getting out of the woods."

Ardern supported the review of aged-care facilitates announced this afternoon, as it will help provide clarity. It will look at Rosewood Rest Home, where six people have died, and the facilitates that have managed to contain Covid-19.


The review is something she "absolutely agreed with and supported".

Ardern said that under alert level 4, there have been 1452 reports of people breaching the lockdown.

Police have set up checkpoints around the country to stop people who were planning on traveling during the Covid-19 lockdown. Video / Dean Purcell

There have been 169 prosecutions so far.

"Now is not the time to let up," she said, praising the vast majority of New Zealanders who are abiding by the lockdown rules.

The Government are hashing out the details of alert level 3 which still has "considerable restrictions".

But she said the Government was thinking about people's mental health and wellbeing.


She is still waiting for legal advice on next steps around the Ruby Princess cruise ship, but is not ruling out legal action.

Fifteen passengers from the Carnival cruise ship have died, and more than 650 people have been infected. They include passengers and other points of contact.

The cruise ship headed to New Zealand for a two-week cruise around the country.

The Ruby Princess berthed at the port in Napier on March 15, its last port of call in New Zealand before heading back to Sydney.

$130m package for students

The Government will spend more than $130 million on a student support package, which aims to assist financially embattled students dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

A raft of new initiatives have been announced, aimed at providing students with as much certainty as possible during these uncertain times.


The announcement includes:

• Increasing the student loan amount available for course-related costs for full-time students from $1000 to $2000, on a temporary basis

• The continuation of support payments for students unable to study online for up to eight weeks

• Ensuring students receive partial tuition fee refunds in 2020 if their course has been discontinued due to Covid-19 (this will not affect their future entitlement to student loans)

• Ensuring that if a student is unable to complete a course of study in 2020 due to Covid-19, it will not affect their entitlement to Fees Free tertiary study.

Ardern said education and retraining will be a key part of New Zealand's economic recovery. The package was important for struggling students across the country.


She thanked the Student Volunteer army, and those who have been helping students over these uncertain times.

She also thanked teachers for helping with distance learning.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said in a statement: "Covid-19 is impacting students' ability to financially contribute to and continue their studies."

He added that this support package would help support students until tertiary education providers can put in place alternative ways of delivering teaching and learning.

"This package provides relief to students straight away while we adapt to the immediate challenges posed by our response to Covid-19."

Domestic students who are enrolled in full-time tertiary study can access these supports from tomorrow.


Hipkins revealed that the Government is also working on a second package of changes.

These, he said, would prepare the tertiary system for "significant growth in participation" as more New Zealanders look to retrain to get back into the workforce.

The cost of the package is $133 million, split between $35 million in operating funding and $98 million in capital expenditure.

This money will come out of the Government's Tertiary Education budget.

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Who does this package apply to?

It applies to all full-time domestic students studying at university, polytechs, or private training establishments this year whether they are enrolled already or planning to enrol.


What do students have to do to apply for support?

Information will be available from StudyLink (MSD), the Ministry of Education and their provider.

Do students have to extend their allowance or loan?

No, students will be able to opt-out if they do not want to increase their loan.

What additional support is available for students' mental health needs?

Students can access mental health support services through their providers. The way these services are delivered may have changed, for example interviews may now be online or by phone. Students should talk to their providers regarding how to access these services.


Govt spending on the way

The Treasury this morning released a range of economic scenarios which show as a worst case scenario, New Zealand's unemployment rate may rise to 26 per cent.

But Finance Minister Grant Robertson said we won't be in a scenario where unemployment gets that high.

The unemployment rate can be kept under 10 per cent if the lockdown ends after the planned four weeks and the Government injects more money into the economy.

"They show the Government was right to go hard, and to go early in our fight against Covid-19," Robertson said this afternoon.

Robertson said the scenarios were "extremely sobering".

He said the scenarios show "why there is a need for further, significant investment" - in other words, why it's important the Government spends more money.


The initial $12b spending package announced roughly a month ago was "just the start", he said. Any new spending would have a "wellbeing" lens - meaning it would have a focus on some social development elements.

"We are in a strong position" to spend a lot of money to support Kiwi households and businesses.

"We're prepared to spend the money that we need to, to get New Zealanders through this."

He talked up New Zealand's net debt levels - "we start this journey from a strong position".

Asked what's next, Robertson said further support for businesses, specifically around tax.

"We're also looking at what comes next, after the wage subsidy scheme."


Ardern said the Government is sticking to its guns and will not be raising the age of superannuation entitlement, despite the pressure on the economy.

She also ruled out a capital gains tax.

Asked if the Government was doing enough to support the media, Ardern said the Government was looking at a response to this "very shortly".

She said New Zealand needs "robust journalism".

"Yes, we will be moving quite quickly," she said.

Four new deaths

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield this afternoon revealed there has been a further four further deaths linked to Covid-19.


He said this was a "sobering reminder" of what's at stake in the fight against the pandemic.

The Covid-19 death toll is now nine, including six from the Rosewood cluster, but despite the sad news, Bloomfield said New Zealand appeared to be past its Covid-19 peak.

He confirmed 17 new cases since yesterday, made up of eight new confirmed cases and nine new probable cases.

There are 628 cases that have recovered, an increase of 82 from the previous day.

Bloomfield said New Zealand has passed the peak of new cases, but warned the public against any complacency.

"It was important to know now where new cases come from, and then to ring-fence them by using comprehensive contact-tracing," he said.

There are four further deaths linked to Covid-19 and Director General Health Ashley Bloomfield says it is a "sobering reminder" of what's at stake in the fight against the pandemic. The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website