blog march 23 upd

Covid-19March 23, 2021

Live updates, March 23: Family member of new Covid-19 case returns ‘weak positive’ test

blog march 23 upd

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 23, bringing you the latest news throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

Top stories:

2.40pm: Covid-19, on this day

Your daily look at where we were in the Covid-19 pandemic one year ago:

March 23, 2020: One year ago today, Jacinda Ardern announced that the country would shift into a 48-hour period at alert level three before stepping into the abyss: alert level four. People are instructed to stay at home; schools and other educational facilities will be closed. All non-essential businesses will shut.

On this day, there were 36 new cases of Covid-19 bringing the total to 102.

2.10pm: Ardern rejects capital gains tax argument in fiery debate

Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins are facing off over today’s housing package announcement.

After questioned about whether she believed the bright-line test extension would see house prices rise, Ardern said she believed it would have the same impact that National did when the party introduced it in the first place.

The PM, to laughs and applause from her side of the house, also quoted several National MPs – including John Key – who rejected that the bright-line test was a capital gains tax.

Ardern also pushed back on a question from Collins around the lack of houses that have been built under the KiwiBuild scheme, saying that she expected the opposition would therefore support the initiatives for building included in today’s package.

Watch the exchange here

1.50pm: Ministry confirms single Covid-19 location of interest

Updated

Following the new Covid-19 information (see: 1.00pm), the Ministry of Health has formally confirmed a single location of interest.

That location is the Countdown in Mount Roskill, at 112 Stoddard Road. The date is Saturday March 20 and the time is 3-3.15pm. The advice is as follows: “Monitor your health until April 3. If you begin to feel unwell or develop any Covid-19 symptoms, contact Healthline, get tested and stay at home until a negative test result is received.”

1.00pm: Family member of new Covid-19 case returns ‘weak positive’ test

Updated

A family member of the latest case of Covid-19 – a cleaner at the Grand Millennium managed isolation facility – has returned a “weak positive” Covid-19 test, Chris Hipkins has announced.

The original worker tested positive for the coronavirus after “regular, routine surveillence testing,” Hipkins said. They were immediately moved into isolation at home along with their family.

Three other family members have returned negative tests, said Hipkins. “This is the system working as we intended.” The person works in an environment that requires diligent use of PPE.

Contact tracing has identified “very limited exposure” from the worker. The individual was asymptomatic, Hipkins confirmed.

The family member who returned a weak positive result is being retested today and genome sequencing is being carried out for the whole family, results of which are expected back today.

Since March 1 there have been eight cases at the Grand Millennium, which is the country’s biggest managed isolation facility, said Ashley Bloomfield. All were identified on day zero or one.

The person who has tested positive worked yesterday, confirmed Bloomfield. They wore a mask and two workmates are now in isolation.

The family is being spoken to about moving to the quarantine facility.  The new case was on fortnightly swabs, with the last one taken on March 4. They had received the first dose of the vaccine on February 23 and the second on March 16. Full protection from the vaccine generally kicks in only seven days after the second dose, said Bloomfield.

One location of interest has so far been confirmed: the Mount Roskill Countdown on Stoddard Road. The Covid-infected individual visited the store for a 10 minute period on March 20.

The time period of interest will soon be on the Ministry of Health’s website and anyone who was there at the relevant time should be aware of symptoms.

How effective the vaccine is at preventing spread is the subject of intense research and evidence changes daily, said Bloomfield. When large portions of the community are vaccinated, it is effective at preventing spread, he said.

The worker’s family had not yet been vaccinated, Bloomfield confirmed. Family members of MIQ workers are in group one of the government’s vaccine roll-out.

In addition to the new MIQ worker case, there are three positive cases in MIQ and one historical case, bringing the rolling seven-day average to five. There are now 68 active cases, with 2,112 cases in total.

Hipkins reiterated his earlier message that the risk to the public from this new case is low. Even lower was the risk of an alert level change: “very very very low”, said Hipkins.

The person should have been swabbed last Thursday on the fortnightly schedule, confirmed Bloomfield, but had a good personal reason not to be tested. They were tested a few days later before they returned to work.

The CCTV upgrade at the Grand Millennium is almost complete, which allows visibility of most of the common areas in the facility and will therefore help with the investigation into how the person was infected, said Hipkins.

In response to a question from The Spinoff’s Justin Giovannetti as to whether the person was still being paid, Hipkins said MBIE worked very closely with hotels to ensure this. “Certainly our expectation is staff will continue to be paid and treated well if they contract Covid-19 or have to isolate.”

Asked by Giovannetti about there being only one vaccination centre for the families of border workers – located in East Tamaki –  Hipkins said more vaccination centres will be opening up in coming weeks. He said that the booking system for those seeking a vaccine is “new” and will be improved.

12.45pm: Watch – Bloomfield to reveal new details about MIQ Covid-19 case

It’s been a while since an unexpected Ashley Bloomfield presser, but today’s the day. Jacinda Ardern announced this morning that the director general of health would be fronting a 1pm briefing to provide an update on the latest Covid-19 case.

As reported earlier, the new Covid-19 case is a worker at the Grand Millennium managed isolation hotel in Auckland. We’re expecting the latest genome sequencing and contact tracing information shortly.

Tune in below:

On The Spinoff: ‘It’s a drop in the bucket and it’s a leaky bucket at that’

I know there’s a risk of overwhelming you with critical reaction to today’s housing announcement, but the sheer range of reactions indicates just how big the announcement actually was.

Right now on The Spinoff, our business editor Michael Andrew has chatted to Kiwibank chief economist Jarrod Kerr who said the policy changes simply “tinkered at the edges”.

Here’s an extract:

“It was pretty disappointing to be honest. Some of the ideas are good, but the size is pathetic. It’s a drop in the bucket and it’s a leaky bucket at that.”

Kerr said the tool with the most potential was the $3.8b infrastructure accelerator, which is intended to help local councils create the necessary services infrastructure – plumbing, roads, power – to unlock remote land for property development.

“I think the idea is great; we need to get funding into councils to sort out woeful infrastructure and get it to areas that need to be developed. But the fact that it only got $3.8b means that it’s going to be ineffective – $3.8billion spread across all our councils is a rounding error.”

To take some of the heat out of housing demand and curb property speculation, the government announced an extension to the bright-line test – which requires investors to pay income taxes on profits from selling houses they don’t live in – from five to ten years. The IRD will also be phasing out a provision over the next four years that allows investors to deduct interest payments from their income taxes.

Read the full piece here

11.30am: Housing announcement a ‘very small start’ – Greens

The Greens are underwhelmed by the government’s new housing package, describing it as “a very small start” that “doesn’t go far enough.”

The party’s finance spokesperson Julie Anne Genter said while the announcement is a step in the right direction, more should be done. “It needs to go further, faster to meet the scale of the housing crisis,” she said.

“We welcome the government identifying and closing a tax loophole which allows investors to deduct mortgage interest costs from their taxable income. This will go some way to discouraging property speculation.”

Genter said there are “more tools” in the government’s toolbox to stop accelerating the housing crisis. “We urge the government to remove the cap for the bright line test altogether,” she said. “A 10-year cap extension just kicks the can down the road a few years, while property speculators will hold on to their properties until the day after the bright line test is over.

11.00am: Latest Covid-19 case had received one dose of the vaccine

A Covid-infected managed isolation worker had receive one dose of the vaccine. To become effective, the Pfizer vaccine required two doses several weeks apart.

According to Stuff, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said there are very few locations of interest in relation to the case, and the situation is looking fairly low-risk.

He said the vaccine took a while to become effective and it doesn’t always stop infection.

We’ll know more at 1pm.

10.10am: Update on MIQ worker Covid-19 case expected this afternoon

In case you missed last night’s sudden Covid-19 news, here’s a quick debrief:

A worker at the Grand Millennium managed isolation hotel in Auckland tested positive for Covid-19 as part of routine surveillance testing. “The information available indicates the worker is asymptomatic. Further investigation is being undertaken,” the ministry reported last night.

We’re expecting more information on this case today at 1pm, with Jacinda Ardern confirming that Ashley Bloomfield will be fronting a press conference. We’ll have a livestream for you then and any other details as they become available.

9.40am: ‘Just bizarre’ – a property investor reacts to the housing plan

Andrew King from the NZ Property Investors Federation told the Herald the decision to eliminate interest rate tax deductions was “crazy”.

“What, so every other business in New Zealand can still claim tax deductions, but not landlords?” King asked. “You’re joking! This is just bizarre, it’s crazy.”

He also speculated that today’s announcement could make it harder for people to find a rental property. “This change will make it almost impossible for people to provide new rental accommodation. This means the only people able to buy rental properties in the future will be those with almost all the cash to pay for the property.”

9.10am: ‘Underwhelming’ – first reaction to housing announcement

It’s been out in the open for just 10 minutes, but the first expert analysis on today’s housing announcement is already in with  Bernard Hickey labelling it “underwhelming”.

In an update on his newsletter The Kākā, Hickey told readers that the package added “no new specified housing supply and gives landlords four years to adjust to the removal of interest as a taxable expense”.

He added: “There appears to be no increase in borrowing for Kāinga Ora to build beyond its existing plan for 14,400 new homes by 2024.”

Hickey said that the only major new spending is the creation of the $3.8 billion fund to help councils and developers with infrastructure, and to buy more land for housing. “The last Housing Infrastructure Fund ($1b) announced by the Key/English Government in October 2016 stopped making grants in late 2018 and was underspent by around $100m.”

While you’re here: check out Bernard’s new podcast for The Spinoff

9.00am: Bright-line test extended, more support for first home buyers, in major package announcement

Updated

The government has unveiled its long-touted housing package, confirming speculation the bright line test will be extended.

The package does not increase the first home grant available for those looking to purchase their first home, but it does increase the price cap for houses it can put towards.

The announcement includes:

  •  $3.8 billion fund to accelerate housing supply in the short to medium term
  • More New Zealanders able to access First Home Grants and Loans with increased income caps and higher house price caps in targeted areas
  • Bright-line test doubled to 10 years with an exemption to incentivise new builds
  • Interest deductibility loophole removed for future investors and phased out on existing residential investments
  • Government to support Kāinga Ora to borrow $2 billion extra to scale up at pace land acquisition to boost housing supply
  • Apprenticeship Boost initiative extended to further support trades and trades training

Read more: New housing plan promises help for some first-time buyers

Speaking at parliament, Jacinda Ardern – flanked by senior ministers Megan Woods, Grant Robertson and David Parker – reaffirmed her message that there is no “silver bullet” to fix the housing crisis.

“We are undertaking activity to both bring down the heat and the demand but also increase the number of houses being built in New Zealand,” she said. “We want our first home buyers to be able to get into the market … We do hope that over time this will make a difference, but we’re also clear: this is a complex issue in which there is no silver bullet so we are pulling all the levers we have to make a difference,” she said.

“Property investors are now the biggest share of buyers,” Ardern added. “First, we need to dampen property speculation. Last year, 15,000 people bought homes that already owned five or more. Second, we need to build more houses.”

Housing minister Megan Woods said the $3.8 billion housing acceleration fund will speed up the pace and scale of building.

“We’ve found out just how broken the system is for getting new housing, especially affordable housing, built. There is a clear market failure in getting new houses off the ground and a significant missing link is ready-to-build land with infrastructure in place.”

Finance minister Grant Robertson said today’s announcement will tilt the housing market in favour of first home buyers and away from speculators. “The average house in New Zealand owned is for seven to eight years. Extending the bright-line test for existing properties to just beyond this mark will catch more speculative investment while protecting investors who have just a single investment property which in effect, for many of them, is a form of retirement savings.

On removing a tax loophole that favours investors, Robertson said, “Cabinet has agreed to remove the ability for future property investors to deduct interest expenses from their taxable income. It will be phased out for existing investors over a four-year period.”

Ardern said: “Our view is that this will make a difference. We have taken an approach of using every lever we have. There is no silver bullet to the housing crisis.”

As was picked up by several reporters, Grant Robertson said last September that there would be no change to the bright line test. Despite explicitly changing the bright line test today, Ardern said the government had not broken Robertson’s pledge.

“I was too definitive in my comments in that [September] interview,” Robertson added. “But New Zealanders expect us to address the housing crisis and we are doing that today.”

Ardern added: “At that time we were just not seeing the rampant house price growth that we are now. In fact, during the last year we were told that house prices would come down, that potentially the housing market could collapse. We have seen the exact opposite. It is incumbent on us to make sure that we as a government are acting responsibly to try and support first-time buyers, to act on what we’re seeing in the market. So when the advice to us was that we should move on extending the National Party’s bright-line test, we’ve accepted that and we’ve done it.”

Asked how many new houses would be built from this package, Woods said it was “highly dependent on partnerships”, but modelling suggested 80-130,000 over 20 years.

In response to a question from The Spinoff’s Justin Giovannetti about why the government wasn’t targeting speculators in a more active way, Ardern said, “I don’t think anyone who operates in this space would consider this package to be passive. I think some may underestimate the impact of the tax deductibility changes.”

Watch below:

8.00am: No ‘silver bullet’ to fix the housing crisis – so what could we expect?

As reported in The Bulletin, the government is this morning set to unveil a long-touted housing policy that will reportedly “tilt the balance” of the housing market towards first-home buyers. However, as the prime minister warned yesterday: there is no “silver bullet” to fix a market that is continually spiralling out of control.

So what might we expect?

Bernard Hickey, in his newsletter The Kākā, said an extension of the bright line test seems likely as does higher caps for first home buyer grants. “The wild cards could be a tax on undeveloped land and changes to rules about how much interest landlords can claim as a taxable expense,” Hickey said.

Independent economist Michael Reddell told the Herald that an extension of the bright-line test is “almost a done deal”; a view also held by Infometrics economist Brad Olsen. He told RNZ he wanted everything thrown at fixing the crisis.

“There are no good ideas that should be left on the cutting room floor, we need to put all of them in practice to give ourselves the best shot of addressing the housing crisis in front of us,” he said.

National’s Nicola Willis said extending the bright line test would constitute a capital gains tax – a breach of the election promise not to introduce new taxes (although arguably an extension is not a “new” tax).

Hickey isn’t the only one anticipating an extension of first home buyer grants. Lesley Harris from the First Home Buyers Club said that banking criteria is often the problem for first home buyers.

Over on Stuff, Thomas Coughlan said the “smart money” remained on a bright line extension. “The big question is how long the test would be extended. Extending the tax out for 30 years – the length of the average mortgage – could fundamentally change the investment equation for many property investors, and essentially turn the test into a CGT in all but name,” he said.

Most of the above measures would speak to the demand side of the equation, but Ardern has also indicated today’s announcement will address supply. We’ll know more in just over an hour and, of course, we’ll have everything you need to know right here.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

Today’s the day in which we find out how the government intends to confront the housing crisis, which has been dragging them down ever since winning reelection. The problems are multifaceted – in some cases the crisis reflects a lack of supply, in some cases it’s about people living in inadequate or unsafe homes, in some cases it’s about people being unable to get on the ladder because of extreme price inflation – and of course all of those problems are connected. As such, the package of measures is expected to cover supply, demand, and access for first home buyers.

Why is the demand part important? Because right now, the housing market is fuelling a severe and possibly irreversible increase in inequality. Several days ago Newshub reported that the share of homes being sold to people who already owned property was at a record high. The long-term consequences of that are obvious – greater concentration of wealth in fewer hands, with all of the societal and economic problems that come with that. Our economic system is also currently stacked very heavily in favour of simply buying and selling houses, which does little to grow any real wealth.

Immense pressure has come on the government from all sorts of angles. Every party currently in parliament has their suggestions and prescriptions. Economists have weighed in. Even the Reserve Bank governor has been getting into it, telling One News that successive governments had failed, allowing the current situation to develop. The announcement will be made at 9am, so if you’re reading this after that, keep an eye on The Spinoff’s homepage for our live updates and coverage.


Not every announcement can be a total showstopper, but even by generous standards yesterday’s travel bubble news was underwhelming. In fairness, we weren’t promised we’d get a date yesterday, and that non-promise was duly delivered on. Our live updates reports the announcement involved the announcing of a further announcement of a date for the bubble to open, to be announced on April 6. Unbecoming sarcasm aside, there was also more detail about the criteria by which the government will make the decision, and further confirmation that outbreaks would likely require the travel bubble to close at very short notice.

Mad Chapman, Editor
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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