PACIFIC PANDEMIC DIARY: By Sri Krishnamurthi, self-isolating in Auckland under New Zealand’s Covid-19 lockdown as part of a Pacific Media Watch series.
As New Zealand edges toward the third week of lockdown having passed 1000 cases threshold (1039) with 89 new cases, 12 clusters and one death on day 11 the bigger angst during the week was for the 237 jobs lost with the folding of the magazine giant Bauer New Zealand.
While Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said yesterday the projections were for 4000 cases by now she was relieved it had not come to that.
“Modelling showed we had the potential to face as many as 4000 cases this weekend, we’re instead just over 1000 those 3000 fewer cases shows the difference that cumulative action can make,” she told her televised press conference.
However, the bigger debate during the second weekend of lockdown was whether or not the German magazine corporate had intended to pull out of New Zealand even before the Covid-19 crisis.
Bauer, in a media statement, said the closure was due to the “severe economic impact of Covid-19”.
However, not so said the minister responsible for media Kris Faafoi, who said no one from Bauer ever lobbied his office on that point, and the company had rejected any government assistance through the wage subsidy.
He and the prime minister insist Bauer’s exit is unrelated to the Covid-19 crisis.
“The government actively sought assist Bauer through this period,” Ardern of the dramatic and sudden collapse of the company on Thursday.
That assertion was backed up by Paul Dykzeul, who was hired to lead the company here when Bauer Media moved into New Zealand in 2012.
“No doubt they have been working on this for some time,” he told RNZ’s Mediawatch.
“Bauer is involved in much more media than just magazines now. They’ve been looking at publishing business around the world five years ago and exited from some countries because the model is in decline,” Dykzeul said.
“Government support for the media should include community newspapers,” said Journalism Education Association of New Zealand (JEANZ) president Dr Greg Treadwell last week.
“If the government is going to act it is a pretty good place to start.”
The other issue during the Covid-19 pandemic to raise its ugly head was the creeping authoritarianism that was starting to take hold in the Pacific.
‘Responding with paranoia’
“While the Pacific infection rates are still relatively low, many governments have been responding with panic, paranoia and especially in relation to freedom of information, media independence and constructive and accurate communication, so vital in these critical times,” wrote my colleague Pacific Media Centre director Professor David Robie in Saturday’s Pacific Pandemic Diary.
Such as President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines who has ordered his troops to “shoot dead” anyone caught violating Manila’s three-week lockdown period.
The first death happened on Saturday when a 63-year-old man was shot dead in the Philippines after threatening village officials and police with a scythe at a coronavirus checkpoint.
In Indonesia, President Joko Widodo’s government has pressed ahead with fast track a debate to adopt three controversial laws.
In Papua New Guinea, East Sepik Governor Allan Bird, controversially called for a “shoot to kill” order to frontier troops against border-crossers from Indonesia.
And, Vanuatu, despite having no Covid-19 cases has seen the government conveniently use the pandemic to introduce draconian, authoritarian rule and censorship last week.
Covid-19 cases escalate
It was a week which saw Covid-19 cases escalate in the Pacific with Tahiti, Guam and Hawai’i all experiencing a rise is cases.
New Caledonia now has 18 cases, while recorded five new cases on the weekend to take its tally to 12 including one who is suspected of contracting the disease at a religious festival in India.
Meanwhile, Fijians do not seem to be taking the threat of Covid-19 seriously with 134 people being arrested for breaching curfew regulations on Saturday night with 24 of them found drinking kava or holding drinking parties.
If that was not enough, Tropical Cyclone Harold – now category 5 – was bearing down on Vanuatu today and could reach Fiji early this week.