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Covid-19 live updates, May 23: NZ company joins vaccine race; Nation gets to know Todd Muller

For all The Spinoff’s latest coverage of Covid-19 see here. Read Siouxsie Wiles’s work here. New Zealand is currently in alert level two – read The Spinoff’s giant explainer about what that means here. For official government advice, see here

For all The Spinoff’s latest coverage of Covid-19 see here. Read Siouxsie Wiles’s work here. New Zealand is currently in alert level two – read The Spinoff’s giant explainer about what that means here. For official government advice, see here.

The Spinoff’s coverage of the Covid-19 outbreak is funded by The Spinoff Members. To support this work, join The Spinoff Members here.

11.00am: New Zealand company joins vaccine race

A group of wealthy New Zealand investors – including former NZ Breakers owners Paul and Liz Blackwell – have contributed half a million dollars in funding for a local company to start work developing a vaccine for Covid-19. Covid-19 Vaccine Corporation Ltd (CVC) was registered during level four, BusinessDesk reports, and will use bio-bead technology developed by Polybatics, a company started at Massey University in 2009.

CVC co-founder Dr Robert Feldman said the company’s top priority would be supplying the New Zealand market. There have been concerns that if and when a vaccine does come available, New Zealand will be well down the global list to receive it. The company’s investment group will provide more funding in due course, with the estimated cost of bringing a vaccine to market estimated at around $8 million.

Read the full story on BusinessDesk

10.20am: How close did we come to disaster?

Just how narrowly the country avoided disaster in the early days of Covid-19 has been highlighted by Herald investigative reporter Matt Nippert in his second epic long read in as many weekends. Today’s story, again based largely on the thousands of pages of government documents released earlier this month, reveals that at the start of lockdown New Zealand only had enough test kits to last six days. “The just-in-time deliveries of scarce swabs made while airfreight markets were collapsing are nothing short of miraculous,” Nippert tweeted. 

If you feel as though last week I didn't give you enough dramatic Covid tension in 3500-word doses, I've doubled the dose and published Part 2 of my Pandemic Papers series today.

— Matt Nippert (@MattNippert) May 22, 2020

10.00am: Muller vows to take small business portfolio as PM

Todd Muller says he will take the small business minister portfolio if he becomes prime minister in September. Speaking to Simon Shepherd on Newshub Nation this morning, the new National Party leader said New Zealand was facing “the greatest economic challenge of a generation” and that his party was best-placed to lead the economic recovery from Covid-19 over the next three years.

Quizzed by Shepherd on his anti-abortion stance, Muller said that was “a privately held view” in line with his Catholic values. He highlighted the fact that his deputy, Nikki Kaye, who he described as “an absolute icon of liberal thought”, had voted in favour of abortion legislation. Muller said he was opposed to euthanasia and cannabis, but was “totally relaxed” when it came to same-sex marriage. “I never said I was a perfect Catholic,” he said. 

Asked about the Make America Great Again cap that has been noticed on display in his office, Muller said he also had a Hillary Clinton badge from the 2016 US presidential election, “but nobody ever looks at that”. Asked to choose between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, he said he had seen both speak during the 2016 campaign, and had been more impressed by Biden.

National’s leader Todd Muller, next to an office shelf filled with American political paraphernalia (Photo: Alex Braae)

On the topic of working with NZ First, Muller said: “Our caucus position is clear, if it changes I’ll get back to you.”

Muller said he had a quiet night last night, celebrating his ascension to National Party leader with “a reheated meal of chicken and coleslaw” at home with his wife Michelle.

8.00am: New Zealand begins getting to know new National Party leader

Until he successfully rolled Simon Bridges to become the new National Party leader yesterday, many New Zealanders won’t have known a thing about Todd Muller. That has all changed now. If you were offline yesterday, have a read of The Spinoff’s quick introduction to the man who wants to be prime minister by the end of September. 

One thing this introduction doesn’t include is Muller’s stance on the controversial issue of spaghetti on pizza, but this was covered in a rapid fire round of questions during an interview on RNZ’s Checkpoint last night. Muller said that unlike his predecessor Bill English, he doesn’t believe spaghetti belongs on pizza. The opposition leader also revealed that his favourite native bird is the Tūī, he doesn’t think cannabis should be legalised and that his nickname is “Toddles, Toddie, Toddster … anything with ‘Todd’ on the front and something on the end.”

There will be more Muller in the media this morning, with an interview on Three’s Newshub Nation.

7.45am: Boris Johnson’s adviser broke lockdown while showing coronavirus symptoms

A senior adviser to the British prime minister was spoken to by police during lockdown after being spotted in Durham, over 250 miles from his London home, the Guardian reports. Dominic Cummings was at the time self-isolating with symptoms of Covid-19 after his boss, Boris Johnson, had tested positive with a case that required him to be hospitalised and receive intensive care. “It’s one rule for Dominic Cummings and one rule for the rest of us,” a disappointed neighbour told the paper. There are now calls for Cummings to resign, as did other government officials who were found to have broken lockdown or social distancing rules. 

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

There was one new case of Covid-19, a household contact of an earlier case. It was the first new case in five days.

Todd Muller toppled Simon Bridges as leader of the National Party. His deputy will be Nikki Kaye. He pledged a break with the negative tactics often employed by his predecessor, saying he would be happy to work constructively with the government on areas of agreement.

Almost 50,000 applications for the small business cash flow loan scheme have been received, finance minister Grant Robertson reported, and $824.5 million has been paid out so far.

Auckland Council said it would be cutting jobs as it prepares for a shortfall of more than $500 million dollars in revenue over the next financial year.

Read more in yesterday’s live updates

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The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.

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