The Government was flying mostly blind on how essential workers were being protected during the alert level 4 lockdown or whether people with Covid-19, or suspected of having Covid-19, were properly keeping to themselves.

The revelation is one of many contained in thousands of pages of official advice that has just been dumped by the Government.

The documents, about the national Covid-19 response, have been broken down into "alert Levels and restrictions", "border", "education", "health response", "housing", "income support measures", "offshore issues", "supporting the economy" and "wage subsidy and leave schemes".

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The documents reveal top-level advice received by ministers, draft policy plans and hundreds of reports spanning a period since early February.

A report from the All of Government team, dated April 15, also found that one-third of Kiwis felt that the lockdown didn't go far enough, meaning that tougher measures could be rolled out if necessary.

This was the first weekly monitoring report into the lockdown that was used to inform Cabinet about decisions to move between alert levels.

It noted that the number of daily cases at the time had been flattening for a week, and there were signs that there was no community transmission of Covid-19.

But the paper also noted that there were gaps in the data that had the potential to undermine confidence, including a lack of end-to-end data that could show how much time it took from the onset of any symptoms until contacts had been traced and isolated.

That data has only just been published by the Ministry of Health for the first time two days ago - more than three weeks after the report.

The weekly report added that there were gaps in the Ministry's data.

"A significant number of cases have missing information and some others have been under investigation for a long time. This somewhat reduces our confidence in the data on community transmission."


The paper said that stopping the spread of Covid-19 relied on people with the virus, or suspected cases, to stay isolated - but there was no monitoring of whether this was occurring.

"We currently have little understanding of compliance with that self-isolation."
Nor was there widespread understanding of how businesses were protecting 529,000 essential workers under alert level 4.

The Ministry for Primary Industries had made 2730 on-site checks and 2401 remote checks, and issued nine warning notices, but beyond these checks there was "limited information".

"We do not have data on whether other essential workplaces have robust plans and processes in place."

Independent surveys showed that there was strong support for the lockdown, the paper said, including a "significant proportion" believing that it should be extended.

"The majority consider the measures imposed are about right, but a third think they do not go far enough. This may indicate some appetite for measures to be strengthened if necessary."

The paper also noted the deferring of health services to create capacity for Covid-19, and there was a "substantial risk of latent demand for health services which may translate into actual demand" at a lower alert level.

It also noted how alert level 4 had exacerbated issues for Maori and Pacific Island communities, as well as disabled people.

"Disabled people and older people are reporting concerns about limited access to services, disruption to services (including disruption due to limited access to PPE for those providing personal care) and concerns about accessing food and other vital supplies."

This could lead to an increase in demand for aged care facilities, the paper said.

"Maori and Pacific island communities report pre-existing concerns made worse by the Covid-19 situation, including poverty, disruption to seasonal employment, digital exclusion and increased family violence under alert level 4 restrictions.

"There are also reports of a reluctance to seek testing for Covid-19 owing to fears about missing work while self-isolating."

Lack of trust in data

The documents also show the National Management Crisis Centre told the Covid-19 Ministerial group they didn't have confidence in the reported rates of community transmission.

In a weekly briefing to the Ministerial group on 15 April, the crisis centre said there was undetected community transmission around three weeks earlier, but they didn't know how widespread.

It told the government there were gaps in the data making it harder to prepare the report.
It said a significant amount of cases had missing information and others had been under investigation for a long time reducing its confidence in the data on cases of community transmission.

Contact tracing shortfall

Contact-tracing capacity has repeatedly been referred to as a weak point in New Zealand's Covid-19 response and has been ramped up in recent weeks to a point where director general of health Ashley Bloomfield now refers to it as a "gold standard" system.

But on March 17, a document proactively released by the Health Ministry put the capacity at the time as "estimated at 10 active cases".

That morning the Covid-19 case count was 11 confirmed cases and two probable cases.
The paper said that the capacity needed to be improved within a month so the contacts of 50 cases a day could be traced.

The daily testing capacity on March 17 was 700, to be more than doubled to 1500 by March 22.

On that day, March 17, World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for nations to "test, test, test", and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern defended the scale of testing in New Zealand at that point.

The same paper saw the Government move from mitigation to suppression, or going from flattening the curve to breaking up an outbreak into smaller, more manageable waves.
"We would need to maintain this approach until a vaccine is developed, which is at least January 2021, and/or the global pandemic has passed," the paper said.

Liquor shops

The Government rejected advice to deem liquor shops an essential service.

Cabinet was advised liquor shops could operate in a similar manner as supermarkets and if they were shut could have implications for people with addiction issues where alcohol can't be bought at supermarkets.

Police were concerned shutting them could also lead to stockpiling and a run on liquor stores for the two days New Zealand was at level 3 before going into lockdown.

"Another risk is that closing liquor outlets may lead to people doing "booze runs", where they travel beyond their communities to get alcohol. This will impact our ability to contain transmission," advice to Cabinet on March 24 said.

Cabinet was advised liquor shops could operate in a similar manner as supermarkets but the Government rejected the advice. Photo / NZME
Cabinet was advised liquor shops could operate in a similar manner as supermarkets but the Government rejected the advice. Photo / NZME

There was a concern allowing booze shops to stay open during lockdown would create perceptions "of unequal treatment between retail stores" but that could have been managed by "communicating the need to avoid causing undue harm to people with addiction issues".

But Cabinet ultimately deemed liquor stores non-essential, except for areas where alcohol can't be bought in supermarkets, like West Auckland.

West Aucklanders form huge lines to get alcohol during the nationwide lockdown. Video / @observationsnz

Massive spike in porn and online harm

The day New Zealand went into lockdown, there was a massive spike in PornHub's traffic.
In a briefing on online harms from the Minister for Internal Affairs Tracey Martin, a graph from Pornhub showed a 20.6 per cent increase in their New Zealand traffic when the country moved to alert level 4 on March 25.

It dropped back to 4.8 per cent increase by March 29 but then crept back up to 15.8 per cent on April 2.

The briefing also showed children were experiencing online threats and harm by spending more time on Netflix, YouTube, online games and social media.

This increased the risk of young people experiencing:

• Mental and psychological harm from seeing inappropriate content (from porn to age-restricted films and illegal content);
• Online bullying and harassment on social media sites and forums;
• Online grooming and other malicious activity that can lead to sexual exploitation and abuse.

Martin proposed at $1.5 million cross-government public campaign to provide parents and caregivers with information to help them create a safe online environment during the lockdown. Cabinet agreed to the proposal.

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GST plan to help businesses rejected

One paper, written by the IRD in early March, outlined a number of potential tax measures the Government could undertake to ease the burden of Covid-19 on businesses.

The papers said officials were aware of some policy ideas whereby the obligation of businesses to pay GST was removed.

But the idea was shot down.

"Removing an obligation to pay GST will provide more benefit to unaffected taxpayers and no benefit to exporters or taxpayers getting refunds," the paper said.

"Inland Revenue and the Treasury strongly recommend that these sorts of measures are not implemented."

Officials said the idea was likely to create "significant administrative issues" and would be too complex to deliver within tight timeframes.

The documents include advice to Cabinet (pictured). Photo / Mark Mitchell
The documents include advice to Cabinet (pictured). Photo / Mark Mitchell

It also said it would be difficult to police compliance.

The report was prepared on March 5, when New Zealand had only three cases of Covid-19.

But even back then, Cabinet was considering a "range" of tax options that were able to be deployed, "given the likelihood that the economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 outbreak may be longer and deeper than initially anticipated".

Wage subsidy warning

The Government removed the need for companies to prove they had suffered a drop in revenue to obtain the wage subsidy, despite warnings this would lead companies which could survive without it would take it anyway.

As the country moved towards lockdown, Treasury officials warned that the initial scheme was not designed for such widespread disruption to the economy.

Any hurdles could encourage companies to keep operating which may hinder attempts to control the spread of the virus.

As a result, the Government was urged to broaden the scheme to include even industries deemed essential.

"There is a public health objective reinforced by maintaining broad eligibility to the wage subsidy. There is a risk that firms not covered by the subsidy would not provide special leave to workers who are required to self-isolate and can't work from home. This could create an incentive for essential service workers to go to work."

The wage subsidy scheme the Government launched to help coronavirus-hit workers could cost as much as $12 billion.

Treasury advised that the "30 per cent income loss eligibility test" be removed to ensure broad take up, even though they acknowledged that this would mean companies which could afford not to take the subsidy would do so.

Now businesses can simply say they anticipate revenue will drop in the coming month to access the subsidy.

"It is difficult to attempt to design and implement a test that filters needy businesses from ones that may be able to absorb the lockdown," Treasury warned.

"Retaining a more objective eligibility test may discourage employers from taking the subsidy when they do not need it.

"For example, larger businesses could have more ability to use existing working capital, or raise more from their banks to manage the lockdown period, and so not in fact need a wage subsidy."

This week a series of major prestigious law firms which initially claimed millions of wage subsidies agreed almost simultaneously to repay the money.

While the firms all said they had not seen the drop in demand that they had expected, the decision came as criticism of the firms mounted.

Meanwhile a number of major NZX listed companies took the wage subsidies, including retirement care companies Summerset and Metlifecare.

Vulnerable children and family violence

Justice officials were concerned that children and teenagers would be increasingly subjected to online predators during lockdown, as a result of spending more time online.

Documents released this afternoon written by the Joint Venture on Family Violence and Sexual Violence say "additional risks" also included young people accessing or viewing inappropriate content such as online pornography.

And they were worried about children being particularly vulnerable to under reported abuse, and to witnessing violence at home, as abusive behaviours escalated in isolation.

To try and combat such abuse, the Government put and increased focus on prevention and early intervention, including messages about promoting the right behaviours and supporting people to ask for help as well as for people to provide help.

However, it still expected family and sexual violence to rise, including as lockdown restrictions eased.

International students quarantine would have consumed health resources

Another paper shows that Cabinet rejected the idea of allowing international students to come to New Zealand from China in early March because it would pull public health resources from the border and any outbreak response.

"Officials therefore do not recommend an exemption, given this opportunity cost," said the Cabinet minute, dated March 2, just days after New Zealand's first Covid-19 case.

In light of that first case, Cabinet decided to restrict entry into New Zealand from Iran in addition to measures already in place for non-New Zealanders arriving from China.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway was also invited to look at further border restrictions on non-Kiwi arrivals from "Italy and South Korea, particularly from the Daegu area, and to report back as soon as possible".

Ultimately those borders were not closed until March 20, when all non-New Zealanders were banned from entering the country.

Getting Kiwis home

The government estimates it could cost up to $14 million to get New Zealanders stranded overseas home.

Just-released documents show the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has drawn up a list of high, moderate and low risk countries, to prioritise any repatriation flights.

Focus: Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters says mercy flights may be required to bring home New Zealanders trapped overseas because of coronavirus. Video / Mark Mitchell

It expects there could be demand from several thousand New Zealanders stuck around the world for mercy flights.

The full list of countries has been withheld, but those in low-risk countries will not get priority.

There are more than 3000 New Zealanders in high-risk countries.

So far, more than $2 million has been spent to help 300 New Zealanders get home from countries including Peru, China and South Korea.

Up to 300,000 unemployed

A paper from April 14 showed that the hit on the economy could be similar to the Great Depression.

The lockdown was expected to slow economic activity by as much as 40 per cent over the four weeks, with activity for the June quarter as a whole down by as much as 20 per cent.

Economist Dominick Stephens warns unemployment rate could rise above 10 percent.

Unemployment could peak as high as 300,000 in the September quarter (it was 111,000 in the most recent, December 2019, quarter)

GDP was likely to fall by around 10 per cent over the year to March 2021 under a scenario in which the Level 4 alert lasts one month followed by an extended period at level 2.

Extending the periods spent at Levels 3 and 4 to a combined 12 months was estimated to see the fall in GDP more than triple, even when supported by approximately $50 billion of extra government spending.

Temporary accommodation

The Temporary Accommodation Service estimated they'd need $15m to house as many as 3500 people who would need quarantine support due to Covid-19.

The funding request came on March 26 as the country went into lockdown, and those arriving in the country without the ability to self-isolate for 14 days needed to be provided temporary accommodation.

The service had already paid a company $2 million to secure 2000 campervans, and booked hundreds of hotel rooms.

However, Cabinet granted it just $8 million on April 3.

It appears the number of people needing accommodation support on arrival was far less than expected.

New Zealanders have locked down in a bid to lock out Covid-19. A look back at the country's first week of national lockdown.

MBIE estimated about half of the 5000 or so people it expected to arrive in New Zealand between March 26 and March 30 would need their assistance.

There was also a risk some of those departing New Zealand could be stuck if overseas borders were closed, and it estimated about 3500 people overall could need support.

But as of April 2, just 239 people were being supported with temporary accommodation.
The support was calculated at $3700 per person for 14 days self-isolation, including $75 a day for food and other essentials.

Prior to April 2, those in TAS accommodation were not asked to contribute any funding as they had no other options.

But from April 2, they were asked to contribute $225 per week for a one bedroom unit,

$300 per week for a two bedroom unit, and $375 per week for a three bedroom unit.

From March 30 flights entering New Zealand were expected to drop "significantly", although MBIE estimated an additional 210 arrivals would require assistance to self-isolate until the end of the lockdown period.

On April 2, officials estimated overall 1600 people could need accommodation assistance over the following six weeks, and requested funding of just over $8m.

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Schools and non-essential services across New Zealand will be closed for the next four weeks after the Government put the country in lockdown to try to stop the spread of coronavirus.

New Zealand went into alert level 4 lockdown on March 26. Today the combined total of confirmed and probable Covid-19 cases is 1490; 90 per cent of cases have recovered.

There are three people in hospital. None are in ICU.

- Additional reporting: RNZ