Impact of COVID-19 on Stats NZ’s data and statistics presents challenges and opportunities

COVID-19 is affecting workers and businesses throughout New Zealand and creating challenges and opportunities for Stats NZ as it measures the impact of the pandemic, Stats NZ said today.

“COVID-19 is affecting almost all aspects of daily life and is having one of the most significant impacts on data and statistics we have seen in decades,” social and population insights general manager Jason Attewell said.

“Now more than ever, it is critical that new and existing statistics provided by Stats NZ are credible, coherent, and relevant, so our customers can make decisions to support the wellbeing of New Zealanders.”

Today, Stats NZ published an information paper to help customers, including expert data users and decision-makers, understand the impact of COVID-19 on our data and statistics.

Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on Stats NZ’s data and statistics discusses the impact of COVID-19 on a range of topics – from labour market statistics to business and economic indicators, price statistics, macroeconomic accounts, population and environmental statistics.

“To protect the safety of the general public and our staff, we suspended face-to-face interviews across government, to help stem the spread of COVID-19. This makes it harder to collect data,” Mr Attewell said.

“Data collection for some of our social surveys ended early, such as for the 2019/20 household economic survey, or have been temporarily delayed, as is the case with the 2020 general social survey. Trying to collect data by phone or email, instead of face-to-face, is also likely to mean lower response rates, particularly for some harder-to-reach people, like those in their teens or twenties. This could lead to more uncertainty in our statistics, if we are unable to reach a broad cross-section of society.”

Postal surveys may also be less effective due to COVID-19, especially for businesses in tourism and hospitality that may have closed temporarily during the lockdown. Instead, Stats NZ has moved to using emailed forms and responses.

“We know there are gaps in the information that all decision-makers need right now,” economic and environmental insights general manager Richard Evans said.

“There has never been a greater need for fast, up-to-date information, nor a more challenging time to collect it. We are now providing weekly travel and trade data to show how exporters and importers fared during the alert level 4 lockdown. Provisional weekly trade estimates have never been provided before in New Zealand and are a world-leading innovation for a statistical agency.”

Stats NZ also launched a new COVID-19 data portal, bringing together daily and weekly data from a range of sources, to help fill information gaps. This is helping policymakers make rapid decisions.

“Stats NZ remains committed to reliable statistics, but some estimates may be less certain than usual,” Mr Evans said.

“However, there may be new data sources which will enhance our understanding of the impact of COVID-19 – for example, wage subsidy data and tax data may provide new insights into the labour market.”

Stats NZ is grateful for the support of its respondents.

“We would like to thank all the New Zealanders who have filled in our surveys in these difficult times – tens of thousands of Kiwi households and businesses,” Mr Evans said.

“Without their help, Stats NZ would not be able to deliver its data in this difficult time. The information you provide in our surveys may help your family directly, your community, or your employer, as the government makes decisions about how to provide support during the pandemic,” Mr Attewell added.

Stats NZ will continue to be transparent about the challenges posed by the impact of COVID-19 on New Zealand’s society, economy, and environment, with regular updates ahead of key statistical releases.

/Stats NZ Public Release. View in full here.