Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for September 1, bringing you the latest on New Zealand news and the Covid-19 pandemic. The whole country is now in alert level two, with extra restrictions in Auckland. Official information here. Contact me at email@example.com
7.10pm: The day in sum
There were 14 new cases of Covid-19, with five of those in the Auckland community.
Between August 21 and 27, 97% of MIQ staff were tested for Covid-19, according to the government.
A Roy Morgan poll put Labour at 48%, down 5.5 points since the same poll in July but still 20 points clear of National. The poll also had a surprise jump of 3.5 points for the Green Party, to 11.5%.
MetService became the latest NZ organisation to be hit by a DDoS attack, following sustained attacks on the New Zealand Stock Exchange and less successful attacks on RNZ and Stuff.
Green Party co-leader James Shaw made a public apology for his decision to support a controversial “Green School” in Taranaki.
Health minister Chris Hipkins urged Auckland parents to send their children back to school, but said the government had no plans to make masks mandatory on school premises.
Facebook threatened to block Australian users from sharing news if a proposed code forcing the company to pay for the news content it uses becomes law.
6.50pm: MetService hit by cyber attack
MetService is the latest organisation to suffer a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, following a sustained multi-day attack on the NZX and failed attempts to bring down RNZ and Stuff. A MetService spokesperson told 1 NEWS that the attack was dealt with in a “timely manner” and visitors to the website likely did not notice anything amiss. TSB bank also reported an issue that brought down its website and app today, but would not confirm that it was related to the current wave of DDoS attacks.
As The Spinoff’s Alex Braae explained yesterday, “A DDOS attack basically involves sending an overwhelming volume of traffic to a website, which it cannot handle. These can come from anywhere in the world, and often involve either armies of bots, or computers that have been taken over by viruses or malware. A DDOS attack isn’t a hack, as such – that is where a malicious actor tries to gain unauthorised access to a computer or network.”
It’s still unclear where the current attacks are originating, or what purpose they serve. Andrew Little, the minister in charge of New Zealand’s GCSB spy agency, last week convened an emergency group to deal with the ongoing attacks.
5.20pm: New Roy Morgan poll puts Labour 20 points clear of National
The Labour Party has dropped under 50% in a new Roy Morgan poll, but remains in the zone where it might govern alone. The Jacinda Ardern led party sits on 48%, down 5.5 points since July. National is up two points to 28.5%. The poll, which is not considered as reliable as the television-commissioned surveys, brings particularly happy news for the Greens: on a day in which co-leader James Shaw apologised at length for successfully winning funding for construction at a private “green school” (see 12.00pm), the party rises by 3.5 points to 11.5%. Act is on 6% and NZ First on 2.5%.
Meanwhile, 71% said New Zealand was “heading in the right direction”, while only 19% thought the country was “heading in the wrong direction”. The poll was conducted by landline and mobile, with 897 people surveyed..
5.00pm: Facebook threatens to block Australian users from sharing news
Facebook Australia says it will stop news being shared on Facebook and Instagram in the country if a law passes forcing Facebook to pay news media for the content they produce. Facebook’s ban would apply both to publishers such as news sites and to individual users.
“Assuming this draft code becomes law, we will reluctantly stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram,” Facebook’s Australia and New Zealand managing director Will Easton said.
“This is not our first choice – it is our last. But it is the only way to protect against an outcome that defies logic and will hurt, not help, the long-term vibrancy of Australia’s news and media sector.”
The proposed law would also apply to Google which earlier this month published an open letter to its Australian users, arguing that the proposed law “is set up to give big media companies special treatment and to encourage them to make enormous and unreasonable demands that would put our free services at risk”. Google users in Australia have been served with a pop-up telling them “the way Aussies use Google is at risk”.
Public consultation on the draft code closed on Friday and the Australian government is now considering the feedback.
Former Mediaworks head of news Hal Crawford will be writing about the latest developments, and the threat to Australian news, on The Spinoff tomorrow.
3.00pm: Treasury opposed Green School grant
The $11.7 million grant awarded to Taranaki’s private Green School was opposed by Treasury, RNZ reports. The decision to sign off on the funding, which came out of the government’s shovel-ready fund, was made by Green Party co-leader James Shaw, who earlier today apologised for the “error of judgement” (see 12.00pm update).
The Treasury advice to Shaw said the Green School did not have “full private school registration” and would be unlikely to get that until mid 2021, reports RNZ. “We believe it would be inappropriate to announce or provide government funding for a project that does not yet have the necessary education approvals,” the advice said15.
1.45pm: Breakdown of Auckland Covid-19 cluster
Here’s a handy breakdown of the age brackets for the cases in the Auckland community cluster, for which the earliest known case relates to the Americold facility in Mt Wellington.
Today, there were five new community cases and nine in managed isolation facilities.
1.00pm: 97% of MIQ staff tested for Covid-19 last week
Between August 21 and 27, 97% of MIQ staff were tested for Covid-19, minister Megan Woods said today. No staff tested positive from this testing. The remaining 3% that weren’t tested were on leave or did not enter a facility during the testing period, Woods confirmed.
Woods, who is the minister in charge of managed isolation, is updating media today alongside air commodore Digby Webb. There is no representative from the Ministry of Health – today’s Covid-19 case information was provided in a media briefing (see 12.50pm update).
The next round of testing of MIQ workers is currently under way and due to be completed by this Sunday. From July 18 to August 24, 97% of day 12 tests in MIQs were completed and 95% of day three tests were completed, Wood said.
As has been the focus of some media scrutiny, day three tests are not compulsory, but Woods said these results highlight the significant uptake.
The 95% figure comprises 11,647 day three tests, out of 12,240 returnees. Reasons why the day three tests may not have been completed include that the returnee was a baby, that the person was medically exempt, that they were a maritime or other transit passenger and weren’t in an MIQ long enough, or they refused a test.
No one leaves a managed isolation facility without a day 12 test unless approved by the director general of health. Those who refuse must stay in an MIQ facility for longer, and most end up taking the test, said Woods.
More than 44,000 have now completed their time in managed isolation and entered the community successfully, Digby Webb said.
Capacity across all facilities is 6,628, with 5,035 spots currently occupied, said Webb. By the end of the week, 5,638 people are expected to be in isolation.
Of the extra 500 defence force personnel being rolled out at MIQ facilities, 108 are currently at their posts and 75 per week will be rolled out for the next five weeks, bringing the average of defence personnel per facility to 19.
Exemptions are granted in very limited circumstances, said Webb, and most are granted for people to join unaccompanied minors, if they’re in transit or they have health conditions that require hospital care.
Woods confirmed today’s Wellington MIQ case was the first to occur in a facility in the capital. The person arrived in Auckland on NZ1 from Los Angeles and transferred via a special transit flight, said Webb. The Wellington facility is a dual facility with both managed isolation and quarantine areas, said Webb.
“It’s much safer to put them into quarantine where they already are,” said Woods, rather than transfer the person to the Jet Park in Auckland.
12.50pm: 14 new cases of Covid-19, five in community
There are 14 new cases of Covid-19 today, with five of those in the Auckland community. The remaining nine of the cases are in managed isolation, the Ministry of Health has confirmed in a press release.
The five new community cases are all clearly epidemiologically linked to cases that are either epidemiologically or genomically linked to the Auckland cluster.
Two cases are household contacts of previously reported cases, and the other three are all in a household that is linked to an existing case.
Of the nine cases in managed isolation, five are in Christchurch, three are in Auckland and one is in Wellington. They are all in strict quarantine arrangements, the Ministry said.
The Christchurch cases are a man in his 20s, a woman in her 30s, two women in their 20s, and a man in his 40s, who all arrived on the same flight from India via Fiji on August 27.
The Auckland cases are a woman in her 20s and another in her 30s, both of whom arrived from India on August 23. The third MIQ case in Auckland is a woman in her 50s who arrived on August 26 from Qatar.
The final MIQ case is in Wellington – a man in his 50s who arrived on August 18 from the United States and tested positive in routine testing around day 12 of his stay in MIQ.
Since August 11, 2,743 close contacts of cases have been identified, of which 2,676 have been contacted and are self-isolating.
The ministry said it has located 51 close contacts of the Tokoroa health professional who tested positive for Covid-19. Of those, 48 have already been contacted. They have either already been tested and returned a negative result, or are isolating awaiting a test. The team is continuing to follow up with the remaining three close contacts.
There are 123 people linked to the community cluster who have been transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility, which includes 79 people who have tested positive for Covid-19 and their household contacts.
There are 10 people with Covid-19 in hospital today; two in Auckland City, three in Middlemore, three in North Shore, and two in Waikato. Eight people are on a ward, and two are in ICU – one each in Middlemore and Waikato Hospitals.
There are 13 previously reported cases who are considered to have recovered today – all community cases – taking the number of active cases to 132. Of those, 33 are imported cases in MIQ facilities, and 99 are community cases.
Our total number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 is now 1,401. Yesterday our laboratories processed 8,599 tests for Covid-19, bringing the total number of tests completed to date to 766,626.
There are now more than two million registered users of the government’s Covid tracer app. Uptake of the app increased significantly following the return of Covid-19 to the community. It means the equivalent of half the population aged 15 and over are now registered on the app, and there has been an average of more than 1.7 million scans per day over the last week.
Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield has been absent from the past few 1pm media briefings, but is believed to be back in action from tomorrow.
12.00pm: Decision to support Green School ‘error of judgement’ – Shaw
James Shaw has apologised for his decision to support a controversial “Green School” in Taranaki, but hurled criticism at the previous National government for underfunding schools that need help.
The private school received almost $12 million in money from the government’s shovel ready fund, drawing criticism from those across the political spectrum.
“The decision to support this project was an error of judgement,” Shaw said at a media conference today. “If I was making the same decision again I would not support the project.”
Shaw said he understood the Green School had approached representatives of the Crown to find a solution.
“These discussions can take time, and whatever you think of the process, ministers cannot insert themselves in commercial negotiations. But I hope that everyone involved will take the time to reflect how strongly people feel about this and take these views into account in those discussions.
“My personal view is that the best way to do this is that support for the Green School to come in the form of a loan, rather than a grant. That would ensure the money is paid back in full.”
Shaw thanked those who had contacted him about their concerns. “I have taken the time to reflect on your concerns and I’m acting on them,” he said.
“When the mayor of New Plymouth first told me about the Green School, what I saw was an opportunity to employ hundreds of people on an environmentally friendly building project.”
He said he’s been asked a lot over the past week about why the government is providing support for construction at a private Green School when there are other needy schools that require help. That, Shaw said, is a “fair question” – however he then criticised the previous National government for “systematically underfunding” public schools.
The current government was trying to rectify this, but “underlying much of the disappointment people have felt in the last few days is that the money is not getting into the community fast enough,” Shaw said.
The criticism and questions over the past week were an opportunity to learn, Shaw said, and he believed the Green School was working towards a workable solution.
“So again, I apologise. I apologise to parents, to teachers and unions. I apologise to Green Party members who… have felt demoralised by this decision. I apologise to the schools in Taranaki who quite rightfully want the best for their children. And I want you to know, all of you, that I have listened to your concerns,” Shaw said.
He would like to see the Green School funding now come as a loan rather than a grant, Shaw said, but it’s not for him as a minister to decide.
In response to a question from a reporter, Shaw said the New Plymouth mayor, Neil Holdom, introduced him to the couple who started the school. “Ironically, one of the things I said to them was ‘are you sure you want to come to the Crown because often government money is more trouble than it’s worth.’ They were clear at that point that the project would not proceed, and the mayor was quite keen for it to proceed.”
Shaw confirmed he had no plans to resign, but admitted the Green School saga might put his party’s election hopes at risk.
11.25am: YouTube now the most popular channel in the country
Online video platform YouTube has overtaken TVNZ 1 as the most popular channel in New Zealand. Almost one in every two New Zealanders, 48%, say they use it daily, and consumption of online video is now at over an hour a day, with SVOD at 90 minutes. As Duncan Greive writes on The Spinoff today, this result shows that the space is challenging the dominance of television, and has already won the battle for younger people.
10.10am: Hollywood couple forced to stay in 5-star hotel
Hollywood stars Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons were forced to mingle with regular people, in shocking news reported this morning. It’s been revealed the couple had their application to self-isolate at a rural property declined by MBIE. The pair were, however, given an exemption to enter the country for filming on Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, which has been shooting in Southland.
Despite questions by Stuff about where the stars were isolating going unanswered, Dunst recently told Variety magazine she was staying in a New Zealand hotel, believed to be the SO Hotel in Britomart.
8.30am: All eyes on NZX after five days of disruption
Investigations are continuing into how attacks were made against New Zealand’s stock exchange, with the minister in charge of the GCSB saying the disruption was forewarned.
Yesterday marked the fifth day of disruption to the NZX website, with trading halts last week, after DDOS attacks took the website offline.
Minister Andrew Little, who oversees our GCSB spy agency, told RNZ last night the NZX and other institutions received messages foreshadowing the attacks.
“As I understand it, the organisations that came under attack received messages before these attacks saying that they would be attacked,” he said. Little wouldn’t reveal if a ransom was demanded, but confirmed it is government policy not to offer money in exchange for an attack to stop.
The attacks, Little said, appeared to be by criminal actors rather than a foreign state, but their motives were so far unknown. Little said the names of “state actors” had been used during the attacks, but that it was “looking increasingly likely that the use of those names are a decoy”.
Similar attacks were taking place around the world, including in South East Asia and North America. Little, however, would not reveal the precise countries involved.
8.00am: No plans to make masks mandatory at school – Hipkins
The education minister is urging parents in Auckland to send their children back to school, despite new cases of Covid-19 being detected in the community each day. At alert level two, schools are allowed to reopen, and students are exempt from having to wear face coverings on the school grounds and the school bus. However, yesterday saw widespread concern from parents on social media, with a number of parents claiming their children would stay home for the entirety of alert level two.
Chris Hipkins, who is also the health minister, told RNZ this morning that after the first lockdown it took a while for schools to get regular attendance.
“We want kids back in school as quickly as possible because it’s their learning that’s being compromised,” he said.
Pressed on whether masks should be made mandatory on school grounds, Hipkins said students can wear face coverings if they want but it can be difficult to ensure they are worn constantly. If they aren’t being worn all the time, Hipkins said they can become a bit redundant.
“The current health advice is that in a school setting masks wouldn’t necessary increase protection and, in fact, could do the opposite,” he said.
Parents should take comfort, Hipkins said, in the fact that all the new cases of Covid-19 arising in the community are coming from people who were known contacts of existing cases, so they were already in isolation and not at school or in the workplace. “This cluster has been contained,” Hipkins said. “There’s no 100% guarantees with anything, but any cases where there was a connection with a school have been identified.”
7.45am: Aucklanders divided over lockdown extension – new poll
A Herald poll this morning shows that Aucklanders weren’t entirely onboard with the government’s decision to extend the level three lockdown by an extra few days. Yesterday marked the first day in “alert level 2.5”, with shops allowed to open but gathering restrictions still in place and mask usage encouraged.
According to the new poll, 62% of those polled nationwide backed the decision to extend the lockdown by the extra four days until Sunday night, with 19% saying it should have been extended even longer.
But Aucklanders were less sure, with 56% saying the four-day extension was an appropriate response, 19% wanting it extended further, 14% supporting the original end point and 9% saying it should never have happened.
7.40am: Top stories from The Bulletin
We’re starting to see a wide divergence in outcomes from the Covid-19 Income Relief Payment benefit, introduced at the start of the pandemic. At the time, many welfare advocates criticised the new benefit because it was set at a much higher rate than the original benefit – they argued that it basically set up a ‘two-tier’ welfare system, which punished those who had been unemployed before the pandemic hit, who were already on unlivable low incomes. And it turns out, a lot of those concerns have turned out to be fair.
Two stories from yesterday illustrate this in particular. The first comes from Radio NZ’s Sarah Robson, and is based on survey data compiled by a group of organisations. The conclusion is pretty clear – those on the Covid relief payment are faring a lot better than those on the standard unemployment benefit, and have reported fewer occasions in which they’ve been unable to meet basic needs. A crucial point of it all is that many on the Covid relief have additional resources to fall back on – be it home ownership, or passive income streams – that those who have been unemployed for a while are far less likely to have. The survey also found that the $25 increase a week to general benefits is having little impact.
And who exactly are the people getting the better payments on the Covid relief? As the NZ Herald’s Isaac Davison reports, they’re much more likely to be Pākehā than those on the unemployment benefit – on which Māori are vastly over-represented compared to the general population. In other words, the two-tier benefit system could well be contributing to an increase in racial inequality. Clear warnings about this were made when the Covid relief payment was set up, and it’s exactly what has come to pass.
7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories
Auckland has moved to join the rest of the country in alert level two, but with some added restrictions.
Face masks are now mandatory on public transport nationwide.
There were nine new cases of Covid-19, including five in the community.
The PM said the public can trust her and the government, despite a communications bungle about testing over the weekend.
The government plans to “modernise” the Earthquake Commission (EQC), and make it more friendly to claimants, following an inquiry.
School repairs and upgrades would be fast-tracked under National’s $4.8 billion education policy.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.