BusinessJuly 28, 2020

Live updates, July 28: National internal polling leaked; teen candidate apologises for Hitler photo


Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for July 28. The latest on New Zealand news, politics and the Covid-19 crisis, updated throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

7.45pm: The day in sum

New Zealand’s extradition treaty with Hong Kong was suspended due to China’s controversial national security law. China responded by calling the suspension a “gross interference” in its internal affairs.

There was one new case of Covid-19, in managed isolation.

Contact tracing is underway for a man who tested positive for the virus after landing in South Korea from NZ. A Countdown supermarket he visited prior to departure was closed for deep cleaning today.

National’s teen candidate William Wood apologised for impersonating Hitler.

The party’s internal polling was leaked, with National at 36% – a big improvement on Sunday night’s Newshub poll.

Air New Zealand extended its international flight freeze due to the lack of quarantine beds available.

Family Planning received $427,000 in government funding, its biggest cash boost in more than a decade.

7.30pm: Countdown supermarket closed for cleaning over Covid fears

A Christchurch Countdown supermarket that was visited by a person who later tested positive for Covid-19 in South Korea has been closed today for deep cleaning. The supermarket adjacent to Christchurch Airport was visited by a man who arrived on a flight from Auckland at 5.30pm on Monday, July 20 and flew out to South Korea about 11am the following day.

Korean-language newspapers said the man in his 20s arrived in South Korea on July 22 and tested positive on July 23. Today health minister Chris Hipkins said there was no evidence he was infected here, which would mean he was either infected on the plane or shortly after arriving back home.

Because of the low risk involved, the Ministry of Health did not require the closure of the Countdown store for extra cleaning, but a spokesperson said the ministry did “appreciate the effort Countdown have gone to”.

6.25pm: National’s internal polling leaked

National’s much ballyhooed internal polling numbers have leaked, and as expected they’re quite a lot better for the opposition than Sunday night’s dismal results. In that Newshub-Reid Research poll, Labour was on 60.9% and National on a new low of 25.5%. The internal numbers shared with the National caucus today by pollster David Farrar are: National 36%, Labour (just short of) 50%, Greens 6%, and NZ First and ACT on 3%.

4.35pm: Suspension of Hong Kong extradition treaty a ‘gross interference’, says China

The Chinese embassy has called New Zealand’s suspension of its extradition treaty with Hong Kong a “serious violation of international law” and a “gross interference in China’s internal affairs”. Earlier today the NZ government announced the suspension, citing Hong Kong’s controversial national security law which includes a provision allowing those arrested in Hong Kong to be transferred for trial in mainland China.

“Any attempt to pressure China on the issue of Hong Kong will not succeed,” the embassy spokesperson said. “The Chinese side urges the New Zealand side to abide by the international law and the basic norms governing international relations, immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs in any forms to avoid further harm to China-New Zealand relations.”

2.35pm: National’s teen candidate apologises for impersonating Hitler

A photo of National’s Palmerston North candidate William Wood appearing to impersonate Hitler has been doing the rounds on social media this afternoon.

The photo, which depicts the now 18-year-old with a painted-on moustache and performing the Nazi salute, was allegedly taken when Wood was 14.

Wood has told TVNZ he is sorry for any offence caused by the image. He said it was an error on his part.

Yesterday, Wood was on the campaign trail along with party leader Judith Collins, as he aims to win the Palmerston North seat being vacated by Labour’s Iain Lees-Galloway.

Wood was embroiled in another social media photo scandal last year, when he was snapped posing with someone wearing a MAGA hat and making a hand gesture used by white supremacists.

2.20pm: Politics roguecast: A bombshell poll for Collins and National

Toby Manhire, Annabelle Lee-Mather and Ben Thomas dust off the bazookas scattered around New Zealand politics in this week’s Gone By Lunchtime. A new Newshub poll has put Judith Collins’ National Party on 25.1%, Jacinda Ardern’s Labour on 60.9%, and many jaws on the floor. Gerry Brownlee has dismissed it as a “rogue poll”.

Read more and listen here

1.45pm: Case numbers continue to rise in Victoria

A further 384 new cases of Covid-19 have just been reported in the state of Victoria, with six more deaths. Dire though the situation remains, it is at least a lower number than yesterday’s 532.

Four aged care residents are among the latest deaths, with almost three quarters of the 22 deaths in the last three days linked to nursing home outbreaks.

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison will on Tuesday cut short his planned tour of Queensland to return to Canberra for urgent discussions about aged care.

1.00pm: One new case of Covid-19


New Zealand has another case of Covid-19, in managed isolation. It follows a three day stretch with no new cases.

The new case is a woman in her 20s who arrived in the country from from Afghanistan. She tested negative at day 3 and positive at day 12. Director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield said this reenforces the need for double testing in our facilities.

The woman had been staying at the Distinction Hotel in Hamilton and has since been transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility.

The total number of active cases remains at 21, as someone who previously had the virus has now recovered. It’s now been 88 days since the last case of community transmission in the country.

Update on South Korean case

The Minister of Health also provided an update on the case of the man who tested positive for Covid-19 after travelling from New Zealand to South Korea.

“Health officials have had a very valuable exchange of information with South Korean counterparts,” he said. But, Hipkins said it still cannot be ruled out whether he caught the virus from community transmission in New Zealand. 

The man received a “rapid test” in South Korea, which Hipkins said is less conclusive than the type of testing we use here. 

Contact tracing is underway of those on the same flights as the man (more information below) and five close contacts of the man from when he was in Auckland are now in self-isolation, but show no signs of the virus. 170 contacts have been identified of the South Korean case and “the vast majority” had been spoken to.

Hipkins said the risk to the public remains low.

Update on managed isolation and quarantine

From Saturday, district health boards will take over the delivery of health services in managed isolation and quarantine facilities, Hipkins announced. Until now these services have been provided by contractors.

Mask policy under review

In light of research and experience overseas, the Ministry of Health is reviewing its advice on the use of masks. In response to a question from The Spinoff’s political editor, Justin Giovannetti, at today’s briefing, Ashley Bloomfield said: “We’ve gone back to our technical advisory group – some of the members of which we know have very strong views about this, like Professor Michael Baker – to get clear advice about who and in what settings. Once we’ve got that advice we will incorporate it into our overall planning.

He added: “As part of that, we will work out also how people can access and how we can distribute masks to the general population should that be part of our response.”

12.45pm: Ministry to update media on Covid cases

The health minister and director-general of health will be fronting today’s 1pm press conference on the latest Covid-19 cases in New Zealand.

Meanwhile, contact tracing is underway after a man tested positive for the coronavirus after landing in South Korea from New Zealand last week. He travelled domestically from Auckland to Christchurch before catching an international flight. People who were seated in the two rows immediately around the passenger for the 95-minute flight from Auckland to Christchurch were being contacted as “first priority”.

12.00pm: Cash boost for Family Planning

The government’s unveiled the biggest funding boost for Family Planning in more than a decade.

Associate health minister Julie Anne Genter’s announced the service will get $427,000 in the wake of Covid-19. Genter said Family Planning was experiencing financial pressures before the pandemic, but things have got worse in the months since.

The funding will help reduce wait times by increasing hours for existing staff, hire new clinical and administrative staff, and other cost pressures.

11.05am: NZ suspends extradition treaty with Hong Kong

In the wake of China’s controversial national security law for Hong Kong, the foreign minister Winston Peters has announced New Zealand will suspend its extradition treaty with Hong Kong.

You can read more about the law and its impact right here on The Spinoff.

In a statement, Winston Peters said: “China’s passage of its new national security legislation has eroded rule-of-law principles, undermined the ‘one country, two systems’ framework that underpins Hong Kong’s unique status, and gone against commitments China made to the international community.”

“In light of this, it is important that New Zealand responds proportionately and deliberately to the passage of the national security law. As part of that response, cabinet has decided to suspend New Zealand’s extradition treaty with Hong Kong.”

Peters said the government is deeply concerned with the law and will continue to monitor the ongoing situation in Hong Kong.

Breaking: The Spinoff has merch!

Ever wanted to flash your shiny Spinoff pen, while drinking a soy latte from your Spinoff mug, and carrying all your accessories in your Spinoff tote? Well now you can! You can check out everything we’ve got on offer here, but among other things we’ve got tea towels, pens, coffee cups, tote bags and T-shirts for sale. You can also buy copies of The Spinoff Book, which we released at the end of last year, featuring dozens of the best pieces of writing to appear on the site over our first five years.

And of course, Spinoff Members get a discount on all of it, which you can sign up for here.

9.45am: National caucus to be shown internal polling today

Judith Collins pledged yesterday that she would be showing her caucus the party’s internal polling today. It follows a devastating Newshub-Reid Research poll on Sunday night which had the party on just 25%, compared to Labour on 61%. Collins and deputy Gerry Brownlee have both gone so far as to totally discredit the poll – labelling it “rogue”, “ridiculous”, and “false.”

We’ll surely know soon enough what the results are: National MPs having been on a leaking spree since the final weeks of Simon Bridges’ leadership.

So if any National MPs are reading this, my email address is stewart@thespinoff.co.nz. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

9.25am: Businesses asked to repay wage subsidy after ‘audits, allegations’

Reports from Newshub this morning that 750 employers accessing the wage subsidy have been asked to return the money “following audits, allegations or investigations.”

The value of refunds received from these employers sits at $6.8 million of a total $11.5 million requested.

Figures from the Ministry of Social Development show 781,994 applications have been received under the subsidy scheme in total, with $13 billion paid out.

“We have requested 13,163 refunds from employers who contacted us voluntarily and 10,114 of those had been received as of the week ended 17 July,” George van Ooyen, group general manager of client service support, told Newshub.

The total value of voluntary refunds received is $316.8 million.

8.05am: Air New Zealand extends international flight freeze

A number of New Zealanders still abroad and hoping to make it home anytime soon will be forced to wait a little bit longer, as our national airline extends its overseas flight freeze in the wake of Covid-19.

Announced three weeks ago, the hold was put in place until tomorrow – but has now been extended until August 9.

The pause on new bookings into the country is to ensure there’s enough room in our mandatory isolation and quarantine facilities. A spokesperson for the airline said, “there may be a small number of customers who will need to be moved to other flights, and the airline will contact any affected customers.”

8.00am: And for some lighter relief…

We’ve launched a new hard-hitting, weekly political column on The Spinoff today.

Memebers of parliament (not a typo) is a political column for people who just want the memes, written by Madeleine Chapman. In an election season that’s seen its fair share of WTF moments, Madeleine will be your definitive source of political insight* and analysis**.

Read the first edition right here.

* memes

** memes

7.55am: The race for a Covid-19 vaccine

Right now on The Spinoff you can dive into an excellent explainer of all the different potential vaccines under development right now. Last week, we reported on the fact that two vaccines have done well in early-phase human trials – but there are a lot more at lesser stages of development.

Here’s an extract from the new piece by Siouxsie Wiles, with illustrations from our very own Toby Morris.

According to a recent analysis by the World Health Organisation, there are currently well over 150 vaccine candidates for Covid-19 being developed. About 140 of these are currently undergoing what is known as “preclinical” testing. This means they are still at the lab stage, perhaps getting as far as being tested to see if they work in animals. The more exciting news is that more than 20 candidates are already in various stages of being tested in people.

Read the full story on The Spinoff right here.

7.45am: No decision yet on charging returnees

Labour and New Zealand First haven’t decided whether or not Kiwi returnees will be charged for mandatory isolation from later this year. But, the Greens are ruling out supporting any legislative change.

RNZ’s reporting that time is running out for the government to bring in a law change, and the coalition partners may be forced to accept National’s help if they want to get it in place before the election.

“We’ve always indicated it is something that would require legislative footing, so it is not something that’s just simply going to happen at a quick pace, it needs to be done right,” the prime minister said. But, she said once cabinet’s made a decision, they’ll have to move fairly quickly.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has made his opinion clear: returning New Zealanders should pay.

“The country is in dire economic straights, you’ve got tens of thousands of people out of work and businesses in trouble and it is all down to the taxpayer and if they can pay, they should pay,” he said.

The Green’s have said they won’t be supporting the move, which means Ardern could be left asking National for help. The party’s deputy leader Gerry Brownlee wouldn’t rule out supporting a government bill, but said it was hard to decide a stance on legislation the party hasn’t seen.

Ardern told RNZ she doesn’t expect National’s help will be needed: “That hasn’t been the case or necessary on the vast majority of the things that we’ve done.”

7.35am: Top stories from The Bulletin

If it wasn’t already on the cards, the international education sector got a clear message that students would be unlikely to return this year. The sector is worth about $5 bn a year to the wider economy, which made it one of the country’s most important export industries, and is a particularly important source of income for institutes and some secondary schools. However, with the borders closed and managed isolation facilities at a premium, institutes were told that they couldn’t expect the situation to change. Universities were not included in this particular package, because as education minister Chris Hipkins put it, their balance sheets are healthy enough for now.

The warning came with money, intended to keep the sector afloat until things improved. Our live updates carried details of that – $51 million from the Covid response and recovery fund will be used to keep jobs in place and prevent a collapse. Of that money, $10 million will be spent on developing “new products and services”, which could theoretically allow students to remain in their home countries while studying. It’s hard to imagine how that would replicate the experience of actually being at a New Zealand institute though.

There have been some suggestions that a way be found to allow international students in to assist the sector. National has argued that students could do their managed isolation periods in student accommodation buildings, but the government has ruled that out on the grounds such facilities aren’t fit for purpose, reports Stuff. Economist Eric Crampton has also consistently called for the sector to be able to take advantage of the country’s ‘lifeboat’ status, making it a particularly attractive destination. Education minister Chris Hipkins talked up the possibility of the sector sharing in the wider reputational benefits of that in the future, and $3 million of the package was put towards marketing, to keep New Zealand in the view of potential markets.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

The international education sector received a $51.6m funding boost from the government to help protect jobs and stabilise the industry.

Judith Collins criticised Newshub’s latest poll as “rogue”, “ridiculous” and “fake”. Jacinda Ardern was also sceptical, but wouldn’t go so far as to totally dismiss it.

The legality of the level four lockdown was scrutinised in the High Court.

Stronger protections for migrant workers were introduced by the government in the wake of Covid-19.

There were no new cases of the coronavirus in New Zealand, for the third straight day.

The number of Covid-19 cases topped 16 million worldwide.

In Victoria, 532 were recorded as having the virus overnight, the highest yet for the state.

Read yesterday’s live updates here

Keep going!