Police patrol the empty streets of the central business district in Christchurch, New Zealand, Thursday, March 26, 2020. New Zealand has declared a state of emergency as the unprecedented 28 day lockdown began in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

NZ’s three-month wage subsidy does not mean there will be a three-month lockdown

AAP FactCheck April 16, 2020

The Statement

A Facebook post claims that the New Zealand government has secretly planned to extend its Level 4 lockdown over the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic for three months.

The March 30 Facebook post features a screenshot of another post that reads: “WOW!! Just herd (sic) from a source in government that the full plan is to lock us down for 3 months But easing us in with 4 weeks. Also spoke with many business owners over the past days that have received 3 months government subsidies in full already”. The post concludes: “Hope your (sic) ready for 12 weeks Lock down fam”.

The post has been viewed more than 47,000 times and shared more than 170 times.

 A Facebook post claims “a source in government” says NZ’s lockdown will last for three months. 

The Analysis

The Facebook post attempts to link the length of the national lockdown to the New Zealand government’s wage subsidies plan for businesses affected by the coronavirus.

However, the two are separate issues.

On March 23, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that New Zealand was moving to its highest alert level in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19. All non-essential services were closed and the country’s nearly five million citizens were asked to shelter in place for at least four weeks beginning March 25.

The virus has infected more than two million people worldwide and killed more than 134,000 people as of April 16, according to the Worldometer website.

New Zealand has 1,401 cases and has had nine deaths as of April 16.

When the lockdown was announced, Ms Ardern said the duration of it would depend on how effective it had been. “If we after those four weeks  have been successful, we I hope will be able to ease up on restrictions. If we haven’t, we’ll find ourselves living with them for longer,” she said.

More than two weeks in, New Zealand’s spread of coronavirus has apparently slowed. Recovery rates have improved and the number of new infections has dropped. 

New Zealand’s Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said Tuesday, April 14, that “it’s clear that we are past the peak” of new COVID-19 cases.

As part of a major economic package to help New Zealand’s economy, a Wage Subsidy scheme was announced to help businesses affected by virus-related closures.
The subsidy, which supports employers and their staff, is available to all businesses that have had at least a 30 per cent revenue drop due to COVID-19.

The initial subsidy covers 12 weeks per employee and is paid as a lump sum.

The general manager of employment for New Zealand’s Ministry of Social Development, Jayne Russell, said in a statement to AAP Factcheck that the 12-week period for the subsidy was chosen “to allow businesses time to understand the impact of COVID-19 and support them to keep their employees connected,” she said.

“Decisions on the COVID-19 alert level and duration of the alert level for New Zealand are completely separate and made by the New Zealand Government,” Russell said.

Police patrol in Christchurch
 Police patrol empty streets in the central business district of Christchurch, New Zealand in March. 

The Verdict

The suggestion that there is correlation between the amount of wage subsidies received by businesses and the length of the lockdown is not supported by evidence.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Social Development has advised that the three-month duration of the wage subsidy was chosen to give businesses time to understand the impact of COVID-19.

Currently no date has been announced for the end of New Zealand’s lockdown under Level 4. Prime Minister Ardern announced on April 16 that the country was in a position to prepare to go to a lower Alert Level 3 but would not risk going too early.

False – The primary claim of the content is factually incorrect.

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