VIRUS LATEST
UK death toll nears 30,000 - the highest in Europe and second only to the United States
• Globally, there are now 3.63 million cases and 254,400 deaths
NZ has recorded its second straight day of zero cases - now only 164 active cases
Jacinda Ardern and Scott Morrison agree to start work on transtasman travel agreement
Dying dad left alone in hospital for 10 days - 'I felt like I was killing him'
Kiwi's bedtime story poem goes viral - and attracts A-list attention
Latest developments and essential information


A second day of zero new cases of Covid-19 has prompted pressure from National Party leader Simon Bridges for the lockdown to be reviewed earlier than next week – earning him a sharp rebuke from the Prime Minister.

Bridges argues Cabinet should not be waiting until next Monday to decide when to move to level 2 - he says the Prime Minister needs to be asking every day what can be safely opened up now, to save jobs.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters also entered the debate this morning, indicating he too was fighting for a quick release from level 3 lockdown, possibly as early as Wednesday next week.

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"I don't break Cabinet confidentiality but take a wild guess," he told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking, when asked about who was leading the debate to get to level 2 quickly. "Our job is to get out, and get out as fast as possible."

At the same time, he said, "we can't guarantee a safe future until the vaccine turns up", so the country needed to minimise risk while trying to get the economy back on track.

The level 2 rules were still being worked through, and he said people should wait seven or eight days before rushing to judgment. "We're looking at the total framework. You'll all have different views about it and they've got to be thrashed out."

The level 2 rules are due to be publicly released tomorrow, but Cabinet is not due to decide until Monday when the country can come out of level 3.

The debate comes as the UK's death toll passes 29,500, pushing it above Italy to become the second worst-hit country in the world, behind the United States. UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced the new toll, adding that the outbreak was "not over yet" and the next phase of the virus would not "be easy".

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters spoke on Tuesday about a possible bubble deal with Australia and getting the economy going again. Video / Mark Mitchell

Back in New Zealand, Ardern is again trying to dampen down impatience after a second day of no new cases, saying that in other places where cases had dropped they had risen again afterwards.

Bridges repeated his call for the Government to consider on a daily basis whether it was time to open up the economy more rather than waiting until next Monday to make a decision.

He said National had supported the lockdown but the purpose of "going hard and going early" was to also move out the other end faster. He said the Government was taking too conservative an approach to moving out of lockdown, and business owners and workers were suffering needlessly.

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When he questioned Ardern about it in Parliament later, it earned him a sharp rebuke from the Prime Minister for chipping from the sidelines while she had to be held accountable for the decisions she was making.

"That member may have the luxury of sitting on that side of the House, not bearing the consequences of a wrong move, but we do not. We have to factor in the livelihoods of every New Zealander."

Bridges told Hosking this morning that if he were Prime Minister, the country would be in level 2 now. Every day now counted in terms of jobs.

"We have got caught up in this arbitrary system. What the PM should be asking every day is 'what can I safely be opening up?' With unemployment going up, just having low Covid cases is not success when there's people out of work."

At her daily press conference, Ardern pointed to the Australian state of Victoria, where a case at a factory had resulted in a spike of new cases, saying it showed just how easily the virus could take off again.

That view was echoed by director general of health Ashley Bloomfield who said the second zero was "very encouraging".

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However, he warned people should not breach the level 3 rules as it would put out an invite to the virus: "It will only too readily accept if we do that."

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Yesterday Ardern and Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison also formally agreed to begin work on a transtasman Covid-safe travel zone.

The commitment was made in a joint statement released after Ardern took part by video conferencing in Australia's national Cabinet – a special grouping called in times of crisis.

However, both Prime Ministers warned that travel between the two countries would still be some time away and would depend on adequate health and transport processes.

Peters told Hosking decisions about a transtasman bubble were not entirely up to Australia's government - states also needed to have a say.

He would not say whether he was disappointed with the outcome of yesterday's Australian Cabinet meeting.

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If interstate and domestic travel was allowed in Australia and New Zealand then travelling between the two countries made sense, he said.

On the issue of a contact tracing app, he said the biggest hurdle would be the take-up, which needed to be 60 per cent or more - it is well below that. He was not knocking technology but said without "buy-in" it wouldn't work.

Ardern and Morrison pointed to the 1.4 million visitors who flowed each way each year, saying re-commencing that travel would be a big bonus for both sides and a potential lifeline for some businesses.

National Party leader Simon Bridges and MP Paul Goldsmith head to a press conference. Photo / Mark Mitchell
National Party leader Simon Bridges and MP Paul Goldsmith head to a press conference. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Morrison said it was unlikely to happen before the travel restriction for some states in Australia were removed, but after that there was little reason why people who could fly from Melbourne to Cairns could not also fly from Melbourne to Auckland or Christchurch.

However, Ardern warned those sectors that relied on international travellers not to get too excited about moving beyond that.

"We will not have open borders for the rest of the world for a long time to come."

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Bridges also delivered the first part of the National Party's plans for an economy salvage package in an address by Zoom to a Business NZ audience yesterday.

National would introduce a GST refund scheme for businesses badly affected by the Covid-19 crisis to help with cash flow, leader Simon Bridges said in a major pre-Budget speech today.

That was an $8 billion package, including GST refunds of up to $100,000 for companies that had lost more than half their revenue over the Covid-19 months, and changes to calculating depreciation on capital investments.

In that speech, he said the wage subsidies were swift and necessary at the early stage of the lockdown. However, future assistance should be targeted at those who needed it. He used the example of major law firms, which had claimed millions in wage subsidies as those who arguably did not need the extra help.

He said his concern would be in turning a $40-50 billion cost into a $100b cost if untargeted help continued, leaving a massive debt. "Not all of it is good spending."

On Thursday the Government will release new rules to apply in level 2, before Cabinet considers whether New Zealand can move down to that level next Monday.

That will allow many businesses to work out if they can return to work and what they will need to do.

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Those rules were agreed on by Cabinet on Monday, and the delay before releasing them has caused some frustration among schools and businesses. Auckland Grammar headmaster Tim O'Connor told the Pandemic Response Committee that reopening would be a massive effort and as much warning as possible was needed for schools to ensure the necessary measures were in place.

He said there appeared to have been little effort to inform or involve schools by the Ministry of Education – and if senior classes did not return soon the damage would be "irreparable".

Early Childhood Council chief executive Peter Reynolds also said the sector was yet to hear anything about guidelines for working at level 2. "We don't need a sales job about reopening. We need a realistic view of the risks with reassurance around what we're doing to fix it."

Both questioned why those in the sector could not be given advance material on the condition of confidentiality.