An emergency services worker standing in front of a cloud of smoke from the Western Australia fires. (Getty Images)
An emergency services worker standing in front of a cloud of smoke from the Western Australia fires. (Getty Images)

Covid-19February 5, 2021

The Bulletin: Australia’s tough week with fires, lockdowns

An emergency services worker standing in front of a cloud of smoke from the Western Australia fires. (Getty Images)
An emergency services worker standing in front of a cloud of smoke from the Western Australia fires. (Getty Images)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Australia has tough week with lockdowns and bushfires, controlled Covid case detected in community, and lead levels in Otago towns much higher than previously thought.

Our cousins over the ditch are having a tough time of it at the moment, with Covid-19 lockdowns coinciding with fire season. It’s particularly bad in Western Australia – millions of people are locked down right now in Perth, Peel and the Southwest, in conditions similar to alert level three. Perth Now reports that with four days of no new cases, that is on track to come to an end tomorrow. The short lockdown was ordered after a person who worked at the border tested positive with the UK strain. Conditions will be phased down, but the reaction reflects a willingness to act much harder against outbreaks, after the lessons of 2020 outbreaks in Sydney and Melbourne.

But that’s not the only emergency being dealt with right now. Fierce fires are burning to the northeast of Perth, and WA Today reports a total of 81 houses have been confirmed destroyed. Fresh fires have been breaking out constantly, putting extra pressure on an already fatigued workforce. The combined situation made international headlines, with CNN reporting that people in WA who were locked down have been told that if it comes down to it, evacuating out of the path of the fire should take a higher priority.

In general terms, new cases in the community in Australia are at very low levels. But like with the cancellation of Waitangi events, there are events in doubt. A series of warm-up events for the Australian Open tennis tournament have been cancelled after a similar case, though the tournament is at this stage still going ahead. The SMH reports that has resulted in a few measures being brought back in, along with the pausing of previous relaxations.

Meanwhile, progress on vaccines for Australia continues. The ABC reports ten million more doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been secured, and at this stage the rollout is planned to start at the end of this month. That’s ahead of when New Zealand is currently scheduled to receive the vaccine. There as here, there are also calls to shun ‘vaccine nationalism’, with this piece on Crikey arguing that the situation in Australia is sufficiently secure to wait a bit longer for the doses to arrive.

A controlled case of Covid-19 has been detected in the community. The case was a family member of a previously identified case, and she has been in isolation and tested repeatedly, with Tuesday’s test coming back positive. Our live updates has the details, and health authorities say all other close contacts are isolating, and they’re not specifically expecting further positive tests. Meanwhile, the NZ Herald reports a man who came to New Zealand as a seasonal worker has died in managed isolation – he did not have Covid-19.

Waikouaiti and Karitane residents have increasing concerns for the health of local children after the lead contamination issues, reports Radio NZ’s Eleisha Foon. It has been revealed that the level of lead in the water spiked at much higher levels than previously thought – rather than being four times the acceptable limit, it was actually 40 times higher in one sample. Residents quoted in the story have talked about either themselves or this kids having long-running and unexplainable illnesses over the last six months. Blood tests for lead levels will begin next week. A public meeting will be taking place tonight for affected residents.

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There will be a public holiday for Matariki next year, with June 24 selected as the date. Te Ao News reports the decision for that was made by a Matariki Advisory Group, and the exact timing of it will shift each year. PM Jacinda Ardern said at Waitangi that it was “our first public holiday that recognises te ao Māori”. As Radio NZ reports, Ardern also said it would “break up the lag” between Queen’s Birthday and Labour Weekend – always a depressingly long period without a public holiday. Not to take too much of a victory lap, but I made an extremely confident prediction a few years ago that a Matariki public holiday would be put in place by now, and here it is.

The privacy commissioner is looking into information landlords are collecting and sharing around tenants, reports Stuff. There was a list and a facebook group of so-called bad tenants, which featured full names and locations. One fear is that people might unknowingly find themselves on blacklists, at a time when rentals are hard to find. John Edwards said there was some information landlords did have the right to collect, but often not around a tenant’s personal life.

An incredibly useful piece about the upcoming burst of vaccination: Emily Writes has looked at ten common misconceptions about the Prizer vaccine, and more generally others that will be used to combat Covid-19. It’s thorough and researched, and I must say hopefully convinces a few more people to get the jabs when they’re available. Meanwhile, here’s another masterpiece from two top science communicators – Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris have covered how knowledge about Covid-19 has been built up over the past year, and what we know about the virus now that we didn’t necessarily know then.

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Meda McKenzie, Tuariki Delamere and Lee Ralph in the new season of Scratched: Aotearoa’s Lost Sporting Legends (Photo: Scratched)

Right now on The Spinoff: Florence Dean and Andrew Geddis sort out fact from fiction on Māori wards. Political strategist Clint Smith calls on Labour to throw caution to the wind on debt, and start spending to build a legacy. Josie Adams speaks to a Wi-Fi expert on how the technology is changing. The Papercuts podcast looks at a bonanza of local books coming out at the moment. Most of our workforce took part in a ranking and reviewing of the glut of hard seltzers on the market. Tara Ward writes about the transformation currently underway at the local version of TV show Grand Designs.

And we’ve got a brand new season of the greatest webseries in the world about to drop: Check out the trailer for Scratched here, which will cover a new group of sporting legends who have faded from the public consciousness. New episodes start next week.

For a feature today, an incredible yarn about a pioneering but forgotten cricketer. Newsroom’s Suzanne McFadden has told the story of Grace Gooder, a cricketer around the war years who still comes close to the record for the best ever figures. She also lived a life beset by struggles, including a period of being put through conversion therapy. Here’s an excerpt:

Tabak remembers the story of his aunt riding her bike home one night when she was hit by a drunk driver. A car door handle ripped through the flesh on her back, and she needed 150 stitches.  

“They thought she was going to die from the blood loss,” he says. “And she had permanent damage from that accident. It may have had some influence on her cricket career; she was constantly on the physio’s table. They thought she might be in a wheelchair in her later life.”

“She was tough though. Later on, she went on a holiday to Houhora and fell down some steps. She drove all the way home to Auckland before she realised her leg was broken.

If the Olympics do actually go ahead, New Zealand athletes might be bumped up the priority list for vaccination, reports the NZ Herald’s Joel Kulasingham. Vaccination won’t be an enforced condition on competing, but it will be strongly encouraged by organisers. The NZOC has been in talks with the government on the matter, and both agree that no decisions have been made yet. This is of course assuming the games still happen – the chances of that seem to have gone up in the last fortnight, with organisers reacting strongly to reports that a cancellation was imminent.

That’s it for The Bulletin. If you want to support the work we do at The Spinoff, please check out our membership programme

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Image: Tina Tiller

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The Spinoff has covered the news that matters in 2021, most recently the delta outbreak. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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