UK PM Boris Johnson delivering a recent speech (Getty Images)
UK PM Boris Johnson delivering a recent speech (Getty Images)

Covid-19July 21, 2021

The Bulletin: ‘Freedom Day’ in England, and the consequences

UK PM Boris Johnson delivering a recent speech (Getty Images)
UK PM Boris Johnson delivering a recent speech (Getty Images)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Consequences for “freedom day” coming in England, Chinese embassy responds to hacking allegation, and exclusive new polling on government’s Covid response.

“Freedom” has come to England, with the lifting of all coronavirus restrictions. It is happening at a time when the rolling 7-day average of new cases is above 40,000 a day, and that’s just in England alone, let alone the entire UK. Even in a country that has done an exceptionally poor job of managing the pandemic – especially from a health perspective but the economy hasn’t done much better – this represents a new phase. Logistically, there are plenty of complaints being heard about a new “ping” system, which tells people when they need to be isolated, reports the BBC.

The reasons for the move are entirely political. England’s lockdowns have always been implemented soft and late as it were, and as such the population has spent far longer living with some form of restriction than it should have. PM Boris Johnson wants to avoid more restrictions in the northern hemisphere winter, and said in a speech yesterday “there comes a point where further restrictions no longer prevent hospitalisations and death but simply delay the inevitable”. I hate to say it, dear reader, but death is inevitable for all of us, and most public health policy is geared around delaying it. Johnson himself was forced to go into isolation this week, after his new health minister Sajid Javid tested positive.

One saving grace of the situation in England is relatively high levels of vaccination, and the death rate hasn’t risen alarmingly yet. But it’s almost certain there’ll be an explosion of people that end up affected by “long Covid”.That detail came out of an interview on Q+A with epidemiologist Dr Deepti Gurdasani, who said it is hitting people of all ages and can be debilitating for months afterwards – and possibly longer, we don’t yet know if everyone will recover from it. We published a piece last year by a Covid long-hauler explaining how sick they remained four months after testing positive.

And the wider world is at risk from England’s policy. Johnson has provided the perfect conditions for new vaccine-resistant variations to emerge, which would be a huge danger when so many countries are fatigued by the pandemic. Radio NZ republished a Conversation piece by AUT law professor Kris Gledhill, who speculated England could be taken to an international court on charges of failure to protect the human right to life.

The Chinese embassy has strongly condemned an accusation from the New Zealand government and others over alleged state-sponsored cyber-attacks. Newshub reports an embassy statement described it as a “malicious smear”, said it was an accusation made without proof, and that a “solemn representation” had been made to the NZ government. “We urge the New Zealand side to abandon the Cold War mentality, adopt a professional and responsible attitude when dealing with cyber incidents, and work with others to jointly tackle the challenge through dialogue and cooperation rather than manipulating political issues under the pretext of cyber security and mudslinging at others.” Meanwhile, Rebecca Howard at (paywalled) Business Desk reports exporters are on edge about what the fallout of this all could be.

Public sentiment towards the government’s Covid response has slipped slightly, but is still strongly positive, according to exclusive new polling conducted by Stickybeak for The Spinoff. Within that picture, there has been a sharp fall in respondents rating the government’s performance as “excellent” (the highest rating) though a plurality of respondents have still picked that option. We also asked about bubble plans, and the vast majority of respondents have no plans at all to go to Aussie any time soon. Speaking of Australia, thoughts and prayers for our very own Alice Webb-Liddall who is currently stuck there, after making an “impossible, failed rush to get home”.

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Officials are worried about the boom in “buy-now, pay-later” services since lockdown, reports Madison Reidy for Newshub. The big concern is a lack of assessment for repayment that gets made – it’s upfront, easy money given to people who haven’t necessarily been made aware of the consequences. Now MBIE officials say some of those taking it up have been pushed into financial hardship. BNPL companies have defended the terms in their models.

Former RBNZ chair Arthur Grimes has accused the Reserve Bank of presiding over a “wellbeing disaster” with their monetary policy, reports Jenée Tibshraeny for Interest. His comments came in the wake of figures showing fast-rising inflation, along with a year of wild increases in house prices. Grimes was also critical of the government’s wish for the RBNZ to target “maximum sustainable employment” in setting interest rates, and said more should be done to make the RBNZ consider asset prices.

A complaint has been laid with the ombudsman over the workability of the managed isolation booking system, reports the NZ Herald’s Chris Keall. Jonathan Brewer is an NZer living in Singapore, and as a tech expert could probably find a technical fix not available to others, but intends to play by the rules. In case you missed it, David Farrier wrote about having similar problems.

The New Zealand economy has come out of hosting the 2021 America’s Cup worse off, according to a new cost-benefit analysis. The NZ Herald’s Tom Dillane reports that has been put down to a range of factors, including Covid-19 and lack of interest from a wide array of syndicates. But even so, the total economic deficit has been put at $293 million. Higher than expected public expenditure also contributed to that. Imagine the savings if Emirates Team NZ make good on their threat to take the cup overseas.

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Right now on The Spinoff: George Driver has a detailed explainer on SNAs – a bit of legislation that has farmers up in arms. Tom Doig talks to John Summers about his exciting looking new book of essays about Old New Zealand. Alice Webb-Liddall, in partnership with TradeMe, writes about the Kindness Store getting kids what they need for winter. Megan Dunn spends an afternoon with the surrealists at Te Papa’s blockbuster exhibition. And Chris Schulz looks back at some of the weirdest and wildest press conferences given in New Zealand by rockstars.

For a feature today, an expose of a hacking and spying scandal, with allegations a spyware company had clients in governments around the world. The Guardian and other major media outlets have been calling it the Pegasus Project, named after the particular spyware produced by the Israeli-based NSO Group. Pegasus effectively allows iPhones to be turned against their owners, and was used to target activists, lawyers, journalists and opposition politicians. Here’s an excerpt:

In India, the numbers of a variety of activists were found in the data.

Umar Khalid, a student activist at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi and the leader of the Democratic Students’ Union, was selected ahead of a possible targeting in late 2018, shortly before sedition charges were filed against him. He was arrested in September 2020 on charges of organising riots, and police claimed the evidence against him included more than 1m pages of information gleaned from his mobile phone, without making it clear how the information was obtained. He is in jail awaiting trial.

The mobile numbers of writers, lawyers and artists who advocated for the rights of indigenous communities and low-caste Indians were also in the data. Members of the network have been arrested over the past three years and charged with terrorism offences, including plotting to assassinate the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi. The network included an 84-year-old Jesuit priest, Stan Swamy, who died this month after contracting Covid-19 in prison.

In the next two days, both of New Zealand’s representative football teams will begin campaigns that could end up surprisingly successful. The Football Ferns have the tougher path to the playoffs, facing Sweden, Australia and the mighty USA in their group, and Radio NZ reports optimism in the camp is high. Meanwhile the All Whites have been given a comparatively easier draw, being drawn with South Korea, Honduras and Romania. Both teams will be bolstered by players currently performing on the world stage, including Burnley’s Chris Wood, Liverpool’s Meikayla Moore, and North Carolina’s Abby Erceg. My personal hope: I’d rather see both teams take a risk and play some lovely footy than just grimly hang on for 0-0 draws.

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