Little Change for Sport in NZ at Level 3

There will be little change for the country’s sports people no matter what level you compete at when the alert level for Covid-19 moves from 4 to 3 next week.

Sport New Zealand has issued guidelines on what can and can’t be done at level 3.

Sport New Zealand chief executive Peter Miskimmin said moving to level 3 “provides more opportunities for people to be active outside of their home … but the safest place to be remains at home and within your bubble”.

Organised sports or physical activity outside your bubble is not allowed.

The guidelines state you cannot play frisbee or kick a rugby ball with some outside of your bubble nor use things like playground equipment or benches in public spaces for your training.

If you’re exercising outdoors, maintain physical distancing and do not arrange to meet anyone.

Outdoor sports where 2 metres physical distancing is possible for example golf, tennis, or bowls can be played but, again, only with people in your bubble.

That said public sports facilities will remain close and private ones cannot open their clubhouses, toilets or showers for members.

Common touch points must be minimized. It is the responsibility of the facility owner to sanitize all surfaces (eg. gates, flags, holes, nets etc) after each use.

Users should sanitize their hands after touching them.

Public pools and gyms remain closed and personal trainers should continue to work from home and use online and video conferencing facilities to deliver their training.

Hunting is possible at Alert Level Three, as long as participants stay local and stick to their bubble, and it does not involve a motorized vehicle in the hunting activity.

Hunting on public conservation land is not allowed while long, backcountry tramping or overnight hiking is not allowed.

Mountain biking on known trails for experienced mountain bikers is permitted.

“Remaining active is key for our physical and mental health. That’s as important as ever right now, but everyone must do this in way that is safe and in full accordance with Ministry of Health guidelines,” Miskimmin said.

“It has been amazing to see on social media how creative New Zealanders have been at finding opportunities for play, active recreation and sport while we’ve been in lockdown, and how so many individuals and organisations have shared their tips and workouts to help and inspire others.”

Source: rnz.co.nz Republished by arrangement.

Bank Support Of Loans Scheme For SMEs Too Slow – Robertson

Banks should provide more backing for small and medium sized businesses as they bear the brunt of the economic impact of Covid-19, the finance minister says.

Robertson agreed on Morning Report that SMEs are like the infantry on the frontline taking a hammering during the current lockdown.

He said the government “100 percent recognise their sacrifice”.

“We do need to see the pain being shared across the economy here and I really do call on the banks in particular to follow through on the business loan guarantee scheme that the government is carrying 80 percent of the risk of and make sure small and medium enterprises do get it.”

Although billions of dollars has gone out from banks to customers, the uptake for the business loan guarantee scheme had been “a bit slow” and he encouraged small businesses that had had loan applications turned down to go back and ask again.

“The scheme is fully up and running now and it’s one that we do believe will help a lot of small and medium businesses.”

National Party leader Simon Bridges has said SMEs are paying the price for the extension of alert level 4 restrictions to next week.

He has received hundreds of emails a day from small business owners wanting National to ask questions of the government, including about the extension of the lockdown.

In response, Robertson said Bridges’ response is the kind of politicking that doesn’t do him any favours.

“We’ve seen the best part of $7 billion to $8 billion of the wage subsidy scheme go out to small and medium sized enterprises.

“I think in many ways Mr Bridges’ words are a little bit insulting to the SMEs. Of course there’s a huge degree of anxiety out there but the 12-week payment [for wages] means that we can all get a bit of breathing space.”

He said for those businesses preparing to go back into operation from next week they had lost two business days by having the lockdown extended.

There had been strong support from business organisations and some National MPs “for doing it once and doing it right”.

The government is working on more support for SMEs that may be available before the Budget although Robertson was unwilling to say when any announcement would be made.

Robertson disagrees with Labour MP

Deborah Russell Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Asked about Labour MP for Grey Lynn Deborah Russell’s comments at
the Epidemic Response Committee meeting yesterday that some small
businesses didn’t have the structure and capital to withstand a major
setback, Robertson said he disagreed with her comments.

People often poured their own money into SMEs, and got cash from friends or families. It was hard to get going and sustain them even in normal times, Robertson said.

“One of the things that has come to light is that for a lot of small business owners they haven’t had the relationships with their bank, or with Inland Revenue, partly because they haven’t had the time for it.

“And that why we’ve put in place a significant investment in business advisory services which we really do encourage SMEs to take up now because this is the opportunity to take a look at the business, see what support is available …”

Asked about the possibility of state sector pay cuts, Robertson said people in the sector were working incredibly hard to help the country recover from the pandemic’s effects.

“We need a strong public service at the moment to be able to help deliver the support and the recovery…

The managers of Crown entities which are standalone bodies are responding to leadership from government in terms of reducing salaries during the course of the economic difficulties brought about by Covid-19.

Source: rnz.co.nz Republished by arrangement.

Spark On Target For $1.1b Profit Despite Pandemic Challenges

Spark is on track to meet its full-year profit expectations, despite the closure of its retail stores and a significant drop in mobile roaming services as a result of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.

The telecommunications and digital services company said underlying profit was expected to be between $1.1 billion and $1.12 billion, with a dividend of 25 cents for the year ending in June.

“We expect to experience flow-on impacts from the broader economic downturn, as our customers reduce usage or find it difficult to pay for our services, and with the indefinite closure of international borders we also expect the loss of all mobile roaming revenues,” chief executive Jolie Hodson said.

Jolie Hodson, Spark Chief Executive

Data roaming, which accounted for about 5 percent of its annual mobile revenues, had evaporated and was expected to remain below expectations for some time with travel restrictions in place.

Voice calling and broadband usage had increased significantly, but most of Spark’s customers were on unlimited plans and those on data capped plans were not being charged overage fees as part of a financial support package.

Late payment fees and disconnections, as a result of financial hardship, had also been waived.

Spark was undertaking a company-wide cost review and was reviewing its $370 million capital spending programme, which included the rollout of a 5G mobile network.

“As an essential services provider we must ensure we are sustainable over the long-term so we can keep New Zealand connected, help to close the digital divide, and support the transition to new ways of working,” Hodson said.

Source: rnz.co.nz Republished by arrangement.

Migrant Workers In Queenstown Without Jobs & Food

Some migrant workers in Queenstown have been stranded without pay for weeks, the Salvation Army says.

The resort town is grappling with thousands of workers who have limited or no income after the tourism industry ground to a halt.

More than 5000 requests for welfare have already been made to the district council’s Emergency Operations Center.

Community Ministries Queenstown director Lieutenant Andrew Wilson said those stranded included families and young people.

Many were made redundant before the lockdown and tried to leave but their flights were cancelled, he said.

They could not access government support so were left to pay for essentials and high rent with no income.

“They’re the ones that have now been without income for upwards of four to even six weeks, and are still stuck in lockdown for a considerable period more and are staring down a barrel of no means of supporting themselves whatsoever.”

The government needed to offer support, he said.

Queenstown Chamber of Commerce agreed, urging the government to review its support for migrant workers.

Its chief executive Anna Mickell said some commercial landlords were subsidising utility bills and rent to help people out.

“I’m working regularly with our members who run boarding house businesses who haven’t had payments for their rent for weeks.

“All of them are on subsidised rent. When I asked them ‘how many people have paid them’, they said ‘they can’t even get food, let alone pay their rent’,” Mickell said.

Migrant workers needed additional assistance as many struggled to pay high rents and for essential supplies, she said.

“They need to be treated as New Zealanders in terms of being able to get either the Jobseeker allowance or some emergency funding needs to be made available to keep these people safe, fed, warm and accommodated during this period of lockdown until we can either get them into work in other areas in New Zealand – because there’s no work coming back here in Queenstown in the foreseeable future – or home.”

Source: rnz.co.nz Republished by arrangement.

$3 Billion Tax Break to Help Small Businesses Survive Covid-19 Crisis

Small businesses in New Zealand will get a $3 billion boost through tax breaks to help them ride out the worst of the impending economic crisis.

The latest rescue package comes as the country prepares for a possible lift of level 4 restrictions next week.

Cashflow is one immediate problem, which the government is wanting to help fix through the tax system.

Businesses forecasting losses will be able to claim cash payments against tax previously paid on profits.

The IRD will also have discretion to be more flexible with deadlines, and the law will be changed to take some pressure off commercial rents.

On the broader economy, scenarios that can only be described as alarming have been released by Treasury experts, but no-one can accurately say how bad the damage is really going to be.

All predict a sharp drop in growth this quarter, but the economic recovery is dependent on the level and duration of restrictions, balanced against the size of government rescue spending.

In the worst case economic scenario unemployment soars past 20-percent – that’s based on New Zealand being on level 4 for six months and level 3 for another six, with no further government support.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said that was not something the government was willing to see happen, indicating it could borrow more to shore up the economy.

“Certainly that level of unemployment would not be acceptable to me … or the prime minister; I simply don’t see that scenario playing out.”

Robertson: ‘There’ll be more to come’

Businesses claiming previous tax payments as cash refunds could have the money in their pockets as soon as May, Robertson told Morning Report.

Legislation did not allow commercial rents to be frozen – unlike the six-month rent residential freeze – but government had extended the current timeframe for cancelling a lease from 10 days to 30 working days.

“These are just the next steps on top of what we’ve already done in terms of the wage subsidy scheme, the business loan guarantee scheme, the mortgage deferral scheme and a recognition there’ll be more to come as well as we look to how we support households and firms through the next phase of our recovery.”

The government was working now on what would come after the initial 12-week period of the wage subsidy.

“We’re working on a package of stimulus that I think New Zealanders will see is about kick-starting the economy.

“Keeping that unemployment level under 10 percent is a really important goal for me. It’s going to be hard work.

“I’m not prepared to countenance the idea of unemployment going up around 20 percent.”

Robertson would not specify how much more the government would borrow, but repeated the debt to GDP ratio would go beyond the 15-25 percent range previously talked about.

Former chief executive of Business New Zealand Phil O’Reilly said today’s announcement was a welcome move for small and medium businesses, but expects more will still be needed.

“A number of governments around the world have used the tax system in this way to basically refund prepaid taxes or to use provisional taxes to put money in the hands of businesses, so it’s a very good idea.

“But it’s unlikely to be wholly effective because the challenge is many of these small businesses that we are talking about that employ plenty of people won’t be all that profitable in a normal year so the tax back to them probably won’t be enough to stave off the inevitable bad news of closure so probably more needed yet I suspect.”

O’Reilly believes the wage subsidy scheme would need to be extended to ensure businesses don’t shut down completely.

He said businesses also other costs such as rents and equipment leasing to worry about on top of wages and he believes what the Australian government has done could be implemented in New Zealand.

“The [Australian] government has simply given businesses effectively cash to use as cash-flow and that can be helpful not just in terms of paying the landlord, but it can also be used as collateral for a loan for example, so the idea of simply … giving businesses some cash to take them through and enabling them to spend it on whatever their big costs are is likely to be the next best thing the [New Zealand] government can do.”

Businesses look to lockdown end

While many New Zealanders are getting cabin fever, for many business owners each extra day under lockdown is a day closer to shutting up shop altogether.

Tomorrow they will get a better idea of what kind of activities might be allowed under level 3 but businesses are already desperate to get back to work.

Robertson said the government’s approach would be based on the principle of ‘what constitutes safe economic activity?’ under level 3.

Max Whitehead of advocacy group Small Business Voice said that presented opportunities for maybe a small cafe to start delivery or takeaway service, or a sole digger driver getting on with their work.

“Allow those people who, who are usually business people with common sense, to apply it, and it’ll be in their own interest to keep things safe.”

The IRD will have discretion to be more flexible with deadlines. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Cabinet ministers will decide on Monday whether to move into level 3, potentially giving the country two days’ notice.

Kirk Hope from Business New Zealand said that was workable, as long as there was certainty around the rules before then.

Any business would take the opportunity, Whitehead said.

“Right now a lot of small businesses are just sitting there with him staring into the headlights, they just do not know what to do.

“So I think this will give hope … if a small business were able to get back on those limited conditions, it’s certainly going to put a lot of positive thinking into our society and that’s what’s going to help us recover a lot quicker.”

Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff recognised the need to reignite business, and therefore jobs, but said personal safety could not be sacrificed.

“To ensure that people are safe from Covid, safe from either catching it and, or passing it on to other people … unless we do that there will be a real risk.”

If that wasn’t the case, Wagstaff said, people would be reluctant to return to the workplace

Source: rnz.co.nz Republished by arrangement.

Long Term Grounding of Large Planes is 400 Hours per Aircraft

As thousands of planes lay dormant around the world, a senior aircraft technician explains a lot of work goes into taking planes out of action.

The Covid-19 Coronavirus has left the aviation industry in a state of flux, and more than half of Air New Zealand’s fleet is being stored at airports around the country.

Shutting a plane down is not like storing a car however, and lifetime aircraft technician Eric Reynolds says it will get more complicated the longer the lockdown lasts.

Reynolds is the maintenance controller at Massey University’s flying school and has worked in the aviation industry more than 40 years, including for the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

He said the process for short-term storage and maintenance, while time consuming, was relatively simple.

“Typically if you were only storing it from 14 to 28 days you wouldn’t do anything to the aircraft particularly,” he said.

“You would just go out weekly to start the engine, bring it up to temperature, check its parameters and then park it up, shut it down and put blanks and things in like you’d normally do.”

Blanks are engine covers that are routinely used on planes when they’re not in motion.

For longer periods, there is a tipping point for aircraft that requires engines to be essentially frozen, Reynolds says, right on the four-week mark.

“If it’s going to be more than 28 days then it becomes a little bit more extensive. They need to run up the engines, get them warm, then drain the operating oil out of them and put an inhibiting oil into them.

“That inhibiting oil is thicker and heavier and sticks to things better, therefore gravity doesn’t drag it to the bottom of the engine over time.”

Air New Zealand has grounded 58 planes due to Covid-19 so far.

The airline could not provide anyone to talk about how it looks after grounded planes, but in a statement it said it took 400 hours to put a single jet into storage and initially maintain it.

For turboprop planes – which are smaller – the initial push is 100 hours.

After that, turboprops take about 20 hours of labour per aircraft, per week to maintain while in storage.

This includes towing the aircraft with a tractor so the wheels don’t get flat spots, security and fluid checks, and idling engines to charge batteries.

Reynolds said birds and insects would sometimes build nests in the multi-million dollar machines.

“Or even some of the smaller orifices can get mason bees. I’ve only ever come across it once and they were building nests in the fuel vent, and that was causing issues with fuel flow.”

Air New Zealand could not provide an estimate on how long it would take to bring its planes out of storage, but said it “varies between fleet and is dependent on the length of time each fleet has been grounded for”.

Reynolds said it would take as long to get the planes out of storage as it had to put them in, if not longer.

He said that after 28 days of being in lockdown most of his flying school’s 14 aircraft would have had their calendar safety inspections expire.

“If we were to go back to work and start flying again after four weeks, we would only have two serviceable aeroplanes at eight o’clock on the first day.”

He said some aircraft safety certificates were based on hours of flight, but could last between 12 months and 12 years.

Air New Zealand said none of its planes were being broken down for parts, but Reynolds said it would be reasonable to expect.

He spent 20 years in the Royal New Zealand Air Force and remembered when eight of the force’s planes were broken up for parts in Woodburn, Blenheim.

He said an airline would first try to sell parts on demand, then parts would get stripped and stored in warehouses.

“They take them with these chainsaw-type metal cutters and cut them up and sell off the aluminium for re-smelting.”

Air New Zealand has 23 Airbus A320 planes on the ground. Some of these have an average age of close to 16 years, according to its website. Their working life is 25 years.

“I think you’ll only find the breaking down will happen to older aircraft in the fleet,” Reynolds said.

In the meantime, airports remain waiting rooms for aircraft with have nowhere to go.

Source: rnz.co.nz Republished by arrangement.

Dramatic Changes In Consumer Spending In March

Consumers dramatically changed their spending patterns last month because of Covid-19 and the government ordered lockdown.

Official numbers show overall retail spending using electronic cards fell a record seasonally adjusted 3.9 percent on the previous month.

Stats NZ senior manager Sue Chapman said spending on eating out and accommodation plunged by $338 million, about a third, as the shutdown loomed and then came into effect.

“This hit hospitality hard. Restaurants, cafes, and bars, as well as hotels, motels, and other accommodation, saw sales drop sharply,” Chapman said.

“Hospitality was also affected by fewer international visitors due to travel restrictions since February.”

However the slide in eating out was offset by a $341m increase on supermarket, grocery and liquor sales.

Spending on big ticket items, such as appliances, clothing and fuel and vehicle spending were all markedly lower.

Core retail spending, which excludes fuel and vehicle-related sales fell 1.5 percent.

The numbers include sales on credit and debit cards, and cover about two-thirds of retail spending.

An economist said the near-term retail outlook for anything but essential goods was weak, and might not improve much even when the lockdown restrictions were lifted.

“Despite policy makers throwing in the kitchen sink to cushion the household sector, a retail spend-up after the end of the lockdown from pent up demand may be muted as households remain cautious with an eye on the weaker economic prospects ahead,” ASB senior economist Mark Smith said.

Source: rnz.co.nz Republished by arrangement.

Week in Politics: The Exit Plan and Life After Level 4

Analysis – Unless there’s an unexpected spike in Covid-19 cases, level 4 will most likely end on 22 April. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is preparing the country for a marathon recovery and life under “the new normal” is starting to take shape.

The number of new Covid-19 cases reported over the last five days were 89, 67, 54, 50 and 29. The last figure was lower than the number of people who had recovered from the virus during the previous 24 hours.

Unless the trajectory reverses or there’s a serious spike, level 4 will most likely end on 22 April.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says we’ve turned the corner, we’ve dodged the catastrophic exponential spread experienced by Italy, Spain, France, the United States, the UK and others, and so far there has been only one death.

But she has a warning, If level 4 was a sprint to get ahead of the virus, staying in front of it is going to be a marathon.

Ardern used that word several times during her speech on Thursday when she announced mandatory quarantining of returning residents and gave a glimpse of what life was going to look like after level 4.

It won’t be a neat step down to level 3. The alert levels were designed to deal with an escalating crisis, not a de-escalating one. The basic level 3 restrictions will be tweaked to meet the circumstances existing on 22 April, using the experience gained from level 4.

Under level 3, as it is set out on the Ministry of Health website, travel in areas with clusters or community transmission will be limited, affected schools will be closed, mass gatherings will be banned, public venues will be closed, alternative ways of working will be required, some non-essential business will be closed, elective surgery will be deferred.

Those restrictions were very broad. They had to be, because when they were drafted the government didn’t really know what it was facing or how bad it was going to get.

By the time level 4 ends they will be clearly defined, there will be a new set of rules, and they could be in place for many months. Level 3, if that is what it will still be called, might not have an exit date.

The border will stay closed for a long time. Asked at her press conference how long the mandatory quarantine would be in place, she replied: “There is no end point.”

An outline of life after level 4 will be released in a few days. The Cabinet won’t make a final decision on leaving it until two days before 22 April, because it has to base that decision on the latest data.

That gives businesses two days to get ready. It’s not much, and they’re already saying that. Ardern wants them to start now. “Treat Covid-19 like a health and safety issue,” she said. “Ask whether it’s possible for your business to have good social distancing, Can you build in contact tracing tools or mechanisms to keep track of your supply train and customers? Help us to get ready as a nation for the marathon we must all run together.”

The government’s virus eradication plan rests on three pillars – strict border control, rigorous testing and contact tracing.

Compulsory quarantine has been announced, testing is being ramped up and an app that can help with contact tracing is being developed. Government agencies are learning all the time.

An empty carpark during the lockdown. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

While Ardern has ruled out leaving level 4 early, the government is anxious to relieve the restrictions. They’re having a huge impact, economically and socially.

Figures she released on Thursday showed the severity. At the end of March there was already an extra 4866 people on a benefit, and last week that increased by another 10,000. More than a million workers are on a wage subsidy, many with reduced incomes. Numerous businesses have said they might not be able to re-open when the lockdown ends.

The plans that have been made for distance learning, released on Wednesday by Education Minister Chris Hipkins, show the government is in for a long haul. No one should assume, he said, that every school and early childhood centre would automatically open on day one when level 4 ends.

His ministry has done a remarkable job organising online learning. It has scraped up enough laptops for children who don’t have them, internet service providers will be connecting homes that don’t have access and two television channels, TVNZ and Māori TV, will be broadcasting lessons for about six hours a day .

It hasn’t done all that just for the next two weeks.

So far through level 4 public opinion appears to be firmly behind Ardern and her government. For example a Newshub poll, not a scientific one, showed 98 per cent of respondents backed mandatory quarantining.

The National Party, while worrying furiously about the economic impact of level 4, hasn’t once said we don’t need it.

Opposition MPs on the Epidemic Response Committee which meets three times a week to question ministers, department heads and business sector leaders, have teased out problems and closely questioned the detail of response plans. They have done it with a surprising degree of civility and understanding of the situation.

Over the next two weeks a clear picture will emerge of life after level 4. We are going to have to get used to it. Ardern calls it “the new normal”.

By Peter Wilson is a life member of Parliament’s press gallery, 22 years as NZPA’s political editor and seven as parliamentary bureau chief for NZ Newswire.

Source: rnz.co.nz Republished by arrangement.

Lockdown load: How’s Our Internet Holding

New Zealand’s network is holding up well despite a 75 percent increase in demand during the day, Chorus’ CEO JB Rousselot told Nine to Noon.

On Monday night the evening peak was at 2.57 terabytes per second, and Tuesday’s midday traffic was about 1.7Tbps.

“We’ve seen a 75 percent increase compared with what was typical day traffic before the level 4 restrictions.

“And we’ve also seen an increase in the peak evening time of about 34 percent.”

The network has additional capacity, he said.

“About 20 to 25 percent above the numbers that we’ve reached to date. Networks can continue to grow if we need to, at this stage we don’t think that’s the case, we think we have the capacity to handle the current traffic and some more.”

Investment in the network over the last five years, particularly in fibre, has paid off and the cap currently sits at 3.5tbps, Rousselot said.

“This is an industry that continuously grows in terms of data consumption, we grow generally at 25 percent per annum in the average data that a household consumes in New Zealand.”

There was no need to accelerate that growth at this stage, he said.

“The new norm that we’ve settled in is one that is well managed by the various telco networks around the country.”

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Photo: Supplied

With so many New Zealanders now successfully working from home he believed this could change future working habits.

“People will have discovered that they can remain very productive with part of their workforce working, at least some of the days during the week, from home.”

Chorus has partnered with the Ministry of Education to bring connection to homes where children lack internet access, he said.

“Some of those premises have a line into their homes a fibre line of a copper line, but not an active service.

“We’ve said to the Ministry of Education we’ll provide services online free of charge for the next 6 months, so they can then work with retail providers to connect those houses and make sure those kids can continue their education online.”

Source: rnz.co.nz Republished by arrangement.