blog march 3 upd

Covid-19March 3, 2021

Live updates, March 3: Hipkins backs PM’s contradictory Case L comments; no new community cases

blog march 3 upd

Live coverage of the snap lockdown and the search for a source of the latest infection. Auckland is now at alert level three, NZ at level two. Get in touch at 

Top stories

3.40pm: ‘High levels’ of fake MDMA being sold at universities

Drug testing organisation Know Your Stuff is reporting almost half of all samples of “MDMA” tested South Island universities turned out to be eutylone – a much more dangerous substitute.

The group says 40% of the samples tested for UCSA and LUSA’s O week events turned out to contain eutylone, while in Dunedin, it was as high as 45%.

As I reported for The Spinoff over the summer, the dangers associated with eutylone are nothing to scoff at. “Eutylone has been linked to a number of hospitalisations, and a much larger number of people just having a terrible, scary time, with some feeling unwell up to 10 days later,” say Know Your Stuff.

“You cannot tell the difference between MDMA and eutylone based on sight or smell alone. We’ve found eutylone in many different forms this year, including pressed pills and crystals of all sizes and colours, so no type of substance is safer than another.”

Read more here.

2.45pm: Dame Naida Glavish leading a ‘sit-in’ to protest Erebus memorial

The planned Erebus disaster memorial in Parnell will lead to the “desecration” of Mataharehare, according to Naida Glavish.

The Māori community leader is leading a “sit-in” on the central Auckland site, questioning the integrity of the process.

She’s sent a letter to prime minister Jacinda Ardern, which said: “communication with local iwi has been unclear and not inclusive. All the facts have not been at hand to make a proper and informed decision.”

Glavish can’t understand why Parnell has been chosen for the memorial. “Erebus has no link with Mataharehae – it has nothing to do with it. Where is the integrity? The whenua is a Pā,” she said.

“It’s only the fact that some very rich people live in Parnell, and I said that to the prime minister. How many Māori were on the flight? How many Māori live in Parnell?”

Erebus families have pushed back against the memorial as well, claimed Navish, with many personally contacting her. “I understand that there may be steps afoot for the Waitematā Local Board to hold an emergency hui. I will be asking them to rescind support and withdraw,” she said.

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1.00pm: No new community Covid-19 cases; third batch of vaccine arrives


There are no new community cases of Covid-19, Chris Hipkins has confirmed. “That’s despite 16,000 tests being processed yesterday” he said.

As of midnight last night, more than 9,431 have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, including more than half of our border staff. That is ahead of schedule.

More than 70% of the vaccines have been given in the Auckland region, equating to 6,688 people, a fifth of whom are Māori and Pasifika.

The third batch of the Pfizer vaccine arrived yesterday, said Hipkins, numbering 65,500 doses. This brings the total number of doses in the country to more than 200,000. Next week the vaccination of around 50,000 family and household contacts of the border workers will begin.

Non-frontline health workers are next in line for the jab; those that may have to deal with patients who have Covid-19, but are not working in MIQ or at the border. “This will help prevent spread to other at risk communities,” Hipkins said.

Meanwhile, there are two new Covid-19 cases in managed isolation – one of which is historical and therefore not infectious.

Contact teams continue to work hard to follow up with all contacts of the latest community cases, said Ashley Bloomfield. Symptomatic people and those connected to the latest outbreak should remain isolated while they wait for test results, he reiterated.

Bloomfield showed the media a box that goes to the vaccination centres containing up to 1,170 vaccinations. He clarified that, despite appearances, it was not a pizza box.

Asked about whether Auckland is in line to move down alert levels if the string of zero cases continued, Hipkins said we’re still in the critical period while waiting for test results. “We’re not quite there yet.” There are a lot of considerations to take into account when cabinet meets to discuss alert levels, he said.

The 150-plus casual plus contacts from the gym, for example, are only being tested today on account of the time of exposure.

Hipkins doubles down on Ardern’s contradictory Case L comments; refutes claims of ‘pile-on’

On the contradictory advice around Case L (see: 10.35am update), Bloomfield said the family had “had had very clear instructions” via a letter from the school.

“We need to consider all of the context around this particular family,” added Hipkins. “There was clearly enough risk here for this family to know they should not be engaging widely with the community.”

Bloomfield said that family members of those being tested should also wait at home until the result is known. The comment on Facebook had been about the “general advice” rather than the specific advice that had been given to the family, added Bloomfield.

All household members were told to get a test, said Hipkins, and no one in this family had at the time Case L went to work, when her siblings were showing symptoms.

“Where a member of your family starts showing symptoms, especially when you’re in a higher risk category, of course you shouldn’t be going into work,” said Hipkins, despite the Unite against Covid-19 Facebook page saying Case L’s family had complied with the advice given.

Asked whether the government would apologise for “starting a pile-on” over Case L, Hipkins responded: “I don’t think putting facts out there is doing that.”

Hipkins said border workers who declined to get vaccinated will be redeployed into other positions. He couldn’t say how many had refused the vaccine so far.

“We can all feel there’s light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel’s a very long one,” Hipkins said. “Progress is being made but we’re still going to have to do the hard yards over the next year.”

Asked about National’s proposal for employees to receive 100% of their income while forced to self-isolate, Hipkins cited the government’s existing support schemes. “We’ve got quite a range of support available,” he said. “We’re doing what we can.”

12.45pm: Bloomfield, Hipkins, give vaccine update

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield and the Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins will be giving a vaccination update at 1pm, along with revealing any new cases of the coronavirus.

Jacinda Ardern will not be making an appearance amid pressure from the opposition to apologise over contradicting information given to a Covid-positive KFC worker. We’ve got a livestream below.

While you wait for the press conference…

How to recognise possible symptoms of the new B.1.1.7 variant of Covid-19, in illustrated form, in seven different languages.

The Spinoff’s sister creative studio Daylight has worked with Toby Morris and Siouxsie Wiles to create and animate a new chart focused on the symptoms of the UK variant, and translate it into six languages commonly spoken in South Auckland, where the outbreak is centred.

We’re releasing the charts, both animated and static versions, in English, Māori, Samoan, Mandarin, Hindi, Tongan and Punjabi, and we’ve made them Creative Commons – free to reproduce and share across social media, print, or place in emails and on websites.

You can check those out here and watch the 1pm press conference below:

12.35pm: Anti-inflammatory drugs reduce risk of Covid-19 death, NZ researchers learn

Two anti-inflammatory drugs sometimes used to treat rheumatoid arthritis reduce the risk of ICU patients dying from the effects of Covid-19 by 24%, new research has uncovered.

New Zealand researchers led by Auckland City Hospital’s Dr Colin McArthur were part of the team behind the discovery, with the trial results now published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“This is a truly significant finding,” said McArthur. “To find a second effective treatment for critically ill Covid-19 patients within a year of a global pandemic is remarkable.”

McArthur said he suspected that targeting the body’s immune response in the sickest patients was “theoretically possible” as a Covid treatment, but the new findings confirm it. “[This] will help critical care teams around the world improve outcomes for the most severely ill Covid-19 patients,” he said.

On the agenda

It’s a big day for health officials with a number of Covid-19 tests coming back from those who were at locations of interest ahead of Auckland going into lockdown over the weekend. So, when can we expect the next tidal wave of information?

1pm: Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins and director general of health Ashley Bloomfield will be giving a vaccine update today. Of course, we can also expect an update on any new Covid-19 cases confirmed since this morning.

As an aside, it’s interesting that Jacinda Ardern won’t be fronting the vaccine update. As noted in the 10.35 update below, the PM is being called on to apologise after apparently contradicting advice given by the official Covid-19 Facebook page.

10.35am: Official Covid-19 Facebook message contradicts Ardern, Bloomfield advice

A Facebook message from the official government Covid-19 account, left four days ago, appears to contradict comments in the media by Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield this week around a KFC worker’s need to isolate.

Now, both National and Act have called for the government to apologise to Case L, who complained that she had not been told to self-isolate before going to work.

Case L tested positive on February 26 while in quarantine – three days after attending a shift at work.

Earlier this week, Jacinda Ardern said Case L – a sibling of casual plus contact Case I – should have been in self-isolation, rather than working her KFC shift. 

Case L disputed this and called on Ardern to apologise.

However, a comment posted by the official “Unite against Covid-19” Facebook page appeared to contradict the PM’s message and back up what Case L told media.

“The advice for all staff and students of Papaetoetoe High School to self-isolate was updated on 23 February, after the two had attended their shifts at their workplace,” the comment read. “Initially, casual plus contacts… were advised to get a test and self-isolate but their household members were not required to do so”.

National’s Judith Collins said an apology is owed. “It now appears the health ministry, via a Facebook post, has confirmed the KFC worker who was vilified for going to work instead of staying home was told not to self-isolate by health officials,” she said. ”

“The prime minister needs to explain whether the Covid-19 Facebook post is accurate. If it is then she should apologise to the KFC employee.”

Act’s David Seymour agreed, posting on social media to label the PM “cynical”.

ICYMI: A map of the February Covid-19 outbreak

10.10am: Wage subsidy applications reopen tomorrow

The government has confirmed the next round of financial support for businesses impacted by the current Covid-19 lockdown in Auckland.

Businesses and self-employed workers nationwide can, from tomorrow afternoon, apply for the next round of the wage subsidy.

“This payment is available to all businesses in New Zealand that meet the eligibility criteria, not just those in Auckland, to recognise that firms throughout the country may have their revenue affected by Auckland being in higher alerts levels for longer,” said social development minister Carmel Sepuloni.

Meanwhile, a further resurgence support payment has also been activated with the move to the higher alert levels, said Grant Robertson. Applications open on March 8. “Business who meet the criteria are able to apply for both the resurgence support payment and the wage subsidy scheme,” he said.

9.40am: Destiny Church leaders escape Auckland lockdown; describe supercar as ‘blessing’

A brief diversion away from Covid-19 news to something else.

Destiny Church’s Brian and Hannah Tamaki escaped Auckland late on Saturday night in order to avoid the city’s return into lockdown.

Arriving in Rotorua early on Sunday morning, the pair held a church service in the city where they asked for money and justified their Tesla car as a “blessing”.

“We had a jubilee blessing that we didn’t even ask for. We got given a Tesla. We didn’t need another car,” Tamaki said, according to RNZ.

During the service, Tamaki encouraged those in attendance to donate.

“The thing about Brian and I the whole time is that we’ve always believed you never come to the house of the Lord empty handed, even though you may do an AP [automatic payment],” she said.”

“$1 coin, $2 coin – bring something into the house of the lord, bring what you can, over and above”.

She continued: “The tithe is being obedient, so you bring 10%. That belongs to God. And then you get to thrive on the 90 percent. And then if you go over and above and give a little bit more for an offering, that’s where God commands the blessing. So it’s up to you – you make the decision, you make the choice.”

9.10am: Covid Card ‘not hugely successful’, government looking elsewhere

The government is investigating a phone app that can reportedly detect Covid-19 days before a formal diagnosis.

Made in Auckland, ëlarm connects to a smart watch of wearable device (like a FitBit) to monitor subtle changes that could indicate the coronavirus.

The app, according to epidemiologist Michael Baker, has “real potential” and could be “the future of healthcare”.

The government’s interest in the app comes at the same time its Covid Card trial was dubbed a failure. Chris Hipkins told RNZ that the bluetooth functionality on the Covid Tracer app is, effectively, the same as using a Covid Card.

“We’ve gone with a form of Covid Card in the sense that the Bluetooth functionality on people’s phones, if they’ve switched it on, does more or less the same thing,” he said.

The recent Rotorua-based trial of the card was ineffective, Hipkins said, as the cards weren’t picking up enough contacts – or weren’t picking up the right ones.

The Ministry of Health hoped it would be able to provide more details about any plans for ëlarm later this month, RNZ reported.

Tracer app use spikes during outbreaks

Ministry of Health data graphed by Newsroom’s Marc Daalder shows that use of the Covid Tracer app roughly aligns with outbreaks of Covid-19.

The latest figures show a trend where scans spike when alert levels are raised but drop back down again during alert level one. For example, when Auckland moved into level “2.5” last September, daily scan counts spiked to a peak of more than 2.5 million in one 24-hour period. In October, that was back to about 600,000 a day. And in early January, well below even that.

Read more here.

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8.15am: Employees should earn 100% of wages when isolating – National


National wants employees forced to self-isolate due to Covid-19 to be paid 100% of their income.

The opposition has proposed an alternative to the government’s leave support scheme after criticism that it paid less than the minimum wage.

Under National’s proposal, wage payments would be capped at twice the average ordinary time weekly earnings (just over $68 an hour) and payments would go directly to employees, cutting out the “middle man” of employers.

“The ‘stay home, save lives’ mantra sounds simple enough, but it’s not always that easy for people who can’t afford to not be working,” leader Judith Collins said.

The current leave support scheme paid “well below the minimum wage and below what a full time worker would earn from sick leave,” said Collins. “We must make it easier for people to stay home when required.”

Speaking on RNZ, Collins said “most people are not on really good public service salaries. Most people have to have to live in a world where they just get by.” This proposal, she said, would help encourage people to follow the rules. If they choose not to isolate, there should be a penalty.

Covid-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop said the proposed self-isolation scheme is modelled on a scheme from the previous National government that saw 100% of wages paid to people who took time off from work to donate organs.

7.45am: ‘An encouraging sign’ – no new Covid-19 cases overnight

There are no new community cases of Covid-19 this morning, on a day that health officials saw as key to determining whether the lockdown was working.

It’s the sixth day since the last confirmed Covid-19 exposure event at a “location of interest”: Case M visited the City Fitness gym in Papatoetoe on February 26.

Speaking on Newstalk ZB, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins rejected that the lack of new cases was “embarrassing” for Ashley Bloomfield. “[It’s] potentially an encouraging sign,” Hipkins said. “But… things can change quickly”.

Asked about whether we should remain in lockdown despite the string of zero case days, Hipkins said we’re back to where we were a week or two ago following the last outbreak. “Ultimately, we want to get out of lockdown as quickly as we can but we want to avoid going back into lockdown. we’re working at speed to make sure we can get decisions as quick as we can,” he said.

He revealed “eight or nine thousand” people had been vaccinated already, which is ahead of schedule. Frontline health workers are next in line along with household contacts of border workers.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

An independent review into Pharmac has been announced, and will focus on how and how quickly decisions are made at the drug-buying agency. It will be chaired by former Consumer NZ chief Sue Chetwin.Pharmac exists to decide how to group-buy certain medicines, so that they are more readily available to patients in New Zealand. It results in generally much cheaper drug prices than what many other countries get – but can offer little help for those who need drugs that don’t get funded. As Stuff reports, the review will consider “the transparency and accessibility of decision making processes, and equity”, as well as looking at how quickly new medicines get on the list – but won’t give a lot of patient groups what they really want.

A sticking point with how Pharmac currently operates is around negotiations with major drug companies. Because these are commercial relationships, it is in the interests of those companies for Pharmac to have more money to spend. Some patient advocacy groups have associations with lobbyists for this industry – that was explored in this Newsroom feature last year. One of those groups, Patient Voice Aotearoa, put out a release welcoming the review, who say New Zealand has fallen behind the rest of the world on funding, and say access to many newer drugs should be opened up. While the interests are aligned, it’s impossible to say the patient groups themselves are making the calls cynically – after all, members often have directly affected loved ones who miss out on medicines.

But it means the issue never really goes away politically – despite Pharmac decisions being made at arm’s-reach from politicians. Stories of unfunded medicines are all too frequently tragic – a recent example coming from Stuff, in which a terminally ill Timaru mother, who is struggling to come up with the money to keep paying for a drug that is doing wonders to prolong her life amid bowel cancer. Such decisions on funding could easily seem cosmically unfair.

The government seems unlikely to increase funding any further, reports Newsroom. PM Ardern described the system as “world-leading”, and noted that the government  previously announced another $160 million pharmaceutical funding over four years. Whether that is enough to take Pharmac out of the political arena is another matter altogether.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

Image: Archi Banal

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Was this the light that the prime minister stared at while designing the traffic light framework? Probably not tbh. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Excuse me, what colour is this? 

Attention drivers and other people who have from time to time looked at traffic lights: this is a scandal.