Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is demanding the names of landlords treating tenants poorly during the coronavirus lockdown, and for non-essential businesses to shut shop – including the Mad Butcher.
Businesses could be fined $4000 or see three to six months’ jail if they were improperly open, she told media in a press conference today.
The Government’s coronavirus alert level 4 came into effect at 11.59pm yesterday and will be in place for at least four weeks.
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Ardern said the lockdown was “broadly” running smoothly so far, and while there were reports of poor behaviour from some landlords and employers, most New Zealanders were doing the right thing.
Supermarkets were “generally” orderly and panic-buying seemed to have somewhat subsided, and she asked people to only shop when they needed to – preferably only one person per household.
The National Party had this morning asked for greengrocers and butchers to be opened in smaller communities, but Ardern said that dairies and superettes had been allowed to stay open for that very reason.
Allowing every food outlet to be open would undermine the goal of the lockdown, she said.
“The whole goal for this period is for people to limit contact with one another.”
Following anxiety from tenants in Quinovic-managed properties, Ardern said it was “obviously frustrating” to hear about cases where tenants weren’t being treated with compassion.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson repeated that the new law, which passed yesterday, meant that landlords could no longer kick out tenants except for specific reasons, such as assaults or threats, or if a tenant was 60 days behind in rent payments.
He said there had also been feedback from the business community about commercial landlords being inflexible about rent payments, and he urged those landlords to talk to their tenants.
Robertson said the wage subsidy scheme had already saved hundreds of thousands of jobs, but he urged businesses to talk to banks and their workers in an effort to prevent more layoffs.
About $1.54b had already been paid out for 244,887 workers; 72,913 applications had been paid out, while a further 111,898 had been approved and were about to be paid, and 47,434 were being processed.
While there were reports of employers pocketing the Government’s money and then laying off staff, or forcing staff to use their own sick leave instead of the Government subsidy, Robertson said most businesses were playing by the rules.
But any business not properly passing on the wage subsidy to workers or forcing them to use their own sick leave would be looked into, he said.
The scheme was available to all businesses, he said, but it was based on employers taking a lump sum from the Government and then making “best endeavours” to pay their workers.
He said it was hard to predict how high the unemployment rate would get to, but it would be much worse than what it was during the GFC.
Some economists have predicted it will hit 30 per cent, but Robertson said there were much lower predictions as well.
He said he was still looking at a universal basic income beyond the next 12 weeks, when the wage subsidy scheme is set to end.
“Income support is going to be an important issue over the coming months.”
Ardern also spoke about this morning’s guilty plea from Christchurch gunman Brenton Tarrant.
She said it was disappointing for victims that they weren’t in court this morning, given the surprise change in plea at short notices, in the same way the March 15 memorial had also been cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
“Nothing will bring their loved ones back, but this is a small reprieve,” she said about the guilty plea.
She let out a massive sigh of relief, she said, when she heard of the guilty plea.
And she will still refuse to speak his name.
Cabinet has approved a $27m package for social sector groups to help those most vulnerable to deal with the increase in demand for such services during the lockdown.
It would help ensure society’s most vulnerable had a place to live and food to eat, and to help those suffering from family violence.
Salvation Army did 3100 parcels last week, with higher demand in Auckland and Northland, Ardern said.
Women’s Refuge would also get more funding.
The $27m package should also help social services find more temporary housing, not only for the homeless, but also those seeking refuge from violence.
Asked about price gouging, Ardern said Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi had already sought assurances from supermarkets that they would not engage in such behaviour.
“That is the degree we are willing to go to … to ensure New Zealanders are being treated fairly.”
Ardern reminded people to act as if they had Covid-19.
She thanks nurses, doctors, police and firefighters for their efforts, as well as supermarket workers, bank tellers and cleaners who were also now on the frontline.
Ardern had previously worked at a checkout, and she said it was hard to imagine what they had gone through in previous weeks.
Ardern said the 109 Kiwis on a cruise ship in Perth could still get home using commercial Air NZ flights, even though those flights were not as frequent as normal.
She said businesses were offering help and support during the lockdown, and she had appointed former Air NZ chief executive Rob Fyfe to work with Police Commissioner Mike Bush to coordinate private sector help.
Ardern said Parliament would not sit again until April 28, but a special select committee chaired by National leader Simon Bridges would allow accountability.
The committee will meet on Tuesday at 10am, and will be held remotely.
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It is likely to have 11 MPs, with the majority held by Opposition MPs.
The Ministry of Health said this morning that there were 78 new cases – confirmed and probable – of Covid-19 overnight, bringing the total number to 283 cases.
They were mostly linked to overseas travel, but several clusters of suspected community transmission were being looked into including:
• Marist College in Auckland
• the World Hereford cattle conference in Queenstown
• a wedding in Wellington
• a trip by a Wellington group of friends to the US
• a contact with the Ruby Princess in Hawkes Bay
• a rest home in Hamilton.
Seven people are in hospital with Covid-19, all in a stable condition. There are three in Wellington regional hospital, two in Nelson hospital and one each in Waikato and Northland hospitals. None are in ICU.
Yesterday more tests were processed than ever before in New Zealand, with 2417 tests. A total of 12,683 tests have now been carried out.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush said that police were having a presence on the streets this morning, and people were being talked to about whether they had a valid reason for being outside their homes.
Those who seriously breached the lockdown rules could be charged with obstructing police and face up to six months’ jail, he said.
Businesses that were not essential services would also be shut down, and Bush said that had already happened this morning.
Crackerjack in Hamilton was visited by police this morning, but it is unclear whether it had been forcibly shut.
Strict new border measures had seen 168 people arriving into Auckland Airport taken into quarantine, eight for showing symptoms and 160 for failing to have a proper plan to self-isolate.
About 200 others with suitable self-isolation plans had been allowed to travel on, but police would be checking on them to ensure they were self-isolating properly.