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NZ readies for shift to traffic light framework

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for December 1 – happy summer! I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. Get in touch on

Today’s headlines

blog dec 1

NZ readies for shift to traffic light framework

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for December 1 – happy summer! I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. Get in touch on

Today’s headlines

Dec 1 2021

Waiheke Island set to reopen to vaccinated Aucklanders

Waiheke Island will reopen to the rest of Auckland when the traffic light system begins on Friday.

During lockdown, the popular tourist destination has been off-limits to non-residents in an attempt to stop spread of delta. Just two cases were confirmed on the island.

To make travel as safe as possible, Fullers360 has announced that it will implement new vaccination travel guidelines on its Waiheke Island, Rangitoto Island, Tiritiri Matangi Island, Rotoroa Island and Coromandel ferry services. All passengers over 12 years old are required to be fully vaccinated, have a vaccine exemption or have returned a negative Covid-19 test within 72 hours of travel.

Similar to how the Auckland border will be managed, regular spot checks will be in place across these Fullers360 services and passengers may be asked at any time to present their vaccine pass, exemption or a negative Covid-19 test.

Restaurant Association ‘crushed’ after hospitality left out of discount voucher scheme

The hospitality industry has been left disappointed after it was ignored by the government’s new Auckland reactivation plan.

Thousands of discount vouchers for attractions and venues will be offered to Aucklanders over the summer months – but hospitality businesses won’t be part of the scheme.

“We are absolutely crushed for our Auckland businesses that have been closed for months on end and are left with nothing in this package,” said a statement from the Restaurant Association.

“They may as well just call the campaign ‘explore Tāmaki Makaurau minus hospitality’ this summer.”

The move is “another kick in the guts” for the hospitality industry, the association said.

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins responded to the concerns earlier today, saying the vouchers are designed to give people the confidence to get out and about again. “Of course the hospitality sector is going to benefit,” he said. “People will be out enjoying hospitality as they enjoy other things.”

Today’s key Covid-19 numbers, charted

There were 41,077 total vaccine doses administered yesterday, including 7,432 first doses and 14,223 second doses. To date, 93% of eligible people in New Zealand have had their first dose and 86% are fully vaccinated.

Here’s a look at how the overall outbreak is tracking, less than two days before the move into the traffic light framework. For more, visit The Spinoff’s Covid Tracker page here.

In-person events at Waitangi Treaty Grounds canned for 2022

In-person festivities will not go ahead at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in February 2022.

Instead, virtual commemorations will be held due to the ongoing uncertainty created by Covid-19. Waitangi National Trust chairman Pita Tipene said New Zealand was in “unprecedented times and the health of our people and of our visitors is our primary concern”.

In a statement, Crown relations minister Kelvin Davis said he backed the decision. “I expect members of parliament, ministers and the prime minister will still play a key role in virtual elements on the day and we will work with the Waitangi National Trust on what this looks like,” he said.

“While it’s unfortunate that there will be no in-person events at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds next year – there will be other parts of the country who will be celebrating our national day in person, and the virtual Waitangi Day experience will still offer people across Aotearoa a sense of Waitangi Day on the treaty grounds.”

New Covid case in Manawatū; ’emerging’ school cluster in Papamoa

A new Covid-19 case has been confirmed in Manawatū.

It was not announced by Ashley Bloomfield at the 1pm press briefing, but was included in today’s Ministry of Health statement that arrived around 2pm.

Public health staff are continuing to interview the person who is understood to live in Waikato and work in Manawatū, said the ministry.

New school cluster in Bay of Plenty

The ministry is also reporting an “emerging” cluster of Covid-19 cases at Te Akau ki Papamoa School. As of 9am this morning, five people associated with the school have tested positive.

“Given the number of close contacts among the teaching staff, the decision was made to close the school on Tuesday,” said the ministry.

“Testing has been stood up in the Papamoa area, and anyone with symptoms in the is encouraged to come forward for testing. Local health authorities are setting up additional testing at the school in response to expected demand.”

Listen: Gone By Lunchtime on National’s new leader

In a Gone By Lunchtime exclusive the identity of the new National Party leader can finally be revealed. Who is Christopher Luxon, what kind of job does he have in front of him now, how has he performed in his first 24 hours as leader of the opposition, is Nicola Willis a good choice as deputy, will we see any signs of Luxonmania at the polls – and what now for Judith Collins and Simon Bridges? Join Toby Manhire, Annabelle Lee-Mather and Ben Thomas as they answer all this and more.

Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.

Hipkins refuses to apologise for ‘preventable’ Covid deaths

The Covid response minister would not offer a government apology to the families of those who died from Covid-19.

A recent report concluded that two deaths of people with the delta variant were “potentially preventable” after the home isolation scheme failed to pick up on the seriousness of their illness.

Chris Hipkins said that while he takes any death seriously, he would not apologise for them. “It’s a global pandemic. So do I accept responsibility for the consequences of a global pandemic? I’ll accept responsibility for doing everything we can to keep New Zealanders safe within the limits of what we can reasonably do,” he said.

Fepulea’i Margie Apa, the CEO of Counties Manukau Health, apologised this week for the failings in the system – an apology endorsed by Ashley Bloomfield today. “There were things that didn’t go as well as they should have in the system,” he said. “It’s appropriate for us to apologise for that.”

Asked whether it was therefore appropriate for the government to also apologise, Hipkins said: “I am sorry for anybody who loses their life to Covid-19.”

Plan to vaccinate 5-11 year olds by end of January

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins says officials are “well advanced” in the planning for the rollout of vaccines for 5-11-year-olds.

New Zealand is on track to surpass the 90% target for fully vaccinated eligible New Zealanders in the next two to three weeks.

Speaking at parliament, Hipkins said it was anticipated those under 12 would be eligible for the vaccine by the end of January. Medsafe will be providing advice to the government’s technical advisory group on this by mid-December. Supplies of the paediatric dose have already been secured from Pfizer.

Omicron ‘cause for concern – not panic’

Hipkins said the government was “ready” should the new omicron variant of Covid-19 make it to our shores. It’s a “cause for concern but it’s not a cause for panic”, he said. “Our readiness and response planning remains the same as it has been for previous variants – we are ready and have plans in place.”

PCR samples from the border are being prioritised for whole genome sequencing so we’ll know as soon as omicron arrives in New Zealand, he said.

146 new delta cases, including one more in Nelson area

There are 146 new community cases across the country today, including one new case in Nelson-Tasman – the fourth in the region.

There are 124 new cases in Auckland, 14 in Waikato and four in Bay of Plenty. Speaking at parliament, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said the new Nelson case was not connected to the three previous cases there. The link to any North Island outbreaks is not yet known but genome sequencing is under way.

There are now 83 people in hospital with Covid-19, including nine in intensive care.

Bloomfield said hospitalisations have levelled off across Tāmaki Makaurau, as has ICU bed use. The proportion of cases requiring ICU care has dropped from 5.7% across the full period of the outbreak down to 3% in the last month or so.

This reflects the impact of vaccination, and the work of clinicians using the latest treatment protocols, said Bloomfield.

As Auckland moves to red on Friday, Bloomfield said the number of locations of interest is expected to increase. As such, he said using the Covid Tracer app remained important. “Places like gyms and pubs and hospitality venues will be open. It’s very important that you continue using the NZ Covid Tracer app to scan in,” he said.

The best way to read The Spinoff

As you will have noticed, The Spinoff has had a glow up – a full redesign and incredibly fast new platform across mobile and desktop (read Toby Morris explaining it here). What’s even better is our two amazing new apps, one for iPhone, the other Android. They’re probably the best way to stay across everything we’re doing – and if you turn on push notifications you’ll get the Covid-19 numbers as soon as they come out, plus our best story of the day, every day. Plus they’re totally free.

Watch live: Hipkins and Bloomfield give today’s Covid-19 update

It’s the final scheduled press conference before the country moves into the new traffic light framework from Friday.

Chris Hipkins and Ashley Bloomfield are due to speak at 1pm, revealing today’s Covid case details plus taking questions from media.

Watch along below or keep the live updates feed open for rolling coverage.

Goff proposes new Auckland levy to tackle climate change

Up to a billion dollars could be invested into climate change initiatives over the next decade under a range of new proposals announced today by Auckland mayor Phil Goff.

In a morning press conference, Goff revealed that he will be seeking support from the public and councillors for a new climate action targeted rate (CATR) to be introduced in next year’s annual budget. The new fixed rate, which is separate to general rate charges that are based on council valuations and property use, is predicted to raise $574 million directly, with a further $471 million to come through co-funding arrangements with central government. With the rate paying for significant upgrades of Auckland’s public transport system, including the purchase of 66 low-emissions buses and the establishment of new routes – meaning 170,000 more Aucklanders will live within 500m of a bus stop – it is expected to have the effect of generating more council revenue from increased bus and train usage. Plans will also invest $228 million for walking and cycling infrastructure and $13.3 million for tree planting in areas like Māngere and Ōtara, which have the lowest urban canopy coverage of any suburb in Auckland.

Goff says this is the “most significant action taken by this or any council to respond to climate change”.

Read more here

Chlöe Swarbrick: Voucher scheme not enough for struggling Aucklanders

The Green Party has welcomed the new support package for Auckland businesses – but said the government needed to go a lot further.

Under the newly announced scheme, 100,000 discount vouchers will be made available over summer. It will mean Aucklanders can freely access some attractions and facilities, and receive a cheaper price for others.

Auckland Central MP Chlöe Swarbrick said those struggling to make ends meet deserve more help. “Liveable incomes and affordable, secure housing is what’s required for everyone to be able to participate in their communities and engage in these attractions,” said Swarbrick.

“This announcement, unfortunately, does not support or ‘thank’ Aucklanders equitably. It doesn’t deal with the inequities Covid not only exposed, but amplified. These won’t go away unless they’re addressed.”

Swarbrick said while the voucher scheme will mean some families can enjoy a day out over summer, others will be left to go hungry.

‘The focus is on the pandemic’ – Ardern not worried by Luxon

Jacinda Ardern says she remains focused on the job of prime minister – and not on the new opposition leader Christopher Luxon.

Speaking to media at Auckland Zoo, Ardern said Luxon was the fifth opposition leader she had gone up against. “I’ll keep focusing on what I’m doing,” she said. “The focus for me has to be on the pandemic [and] managing the transition into the traffic light system.”

Ardern said she has “never particularly done things differently” depending on the different National leaders. She would not speculate on how long Luxon would last in the job, but wished him well.

Aucklanders offered discount vouchers to help ‘reactivate’ the city

The government’s offering 100,000 discount vouchers to attractions and council facilities in Auckland, in an effort to boost foot traffic after the lockdown ends.

Part of a new support package, the scheme is aimed at reviving Auckland economy and culture across summer.

Social development minister Carmel Sepuloni said the new funding will encourage people to re-engage with Auckland. “There will be 100,000 vouchers available for families and individuals as well as discounts or free access to Auckland Council facilities to help get Aucklanders out and experience the city while providing much needed foot traffic in the CBD,” she said.

“We are also immediately boosting funding for foodbanks and community food organisations to meet demand and to ensure they’re able to support households this Christmas.”

It’s expected the scheme will be up and running in a few weeks, said Sepuloni. Auckland residents can register interest for a voucher from 15 December.

Attractions like the zoo, swimming pools, museums and galleries may be part of the scheme. Commercial operators will have to opt in and could include a range of activities from outdoor adventure to tech exploration spaces.

The $37.5 million package also includes a new “local activation programme”, a contestable fund for businesses or community organisations to organise events that are free for the public. “We encourage Aucklanders to rediscover the best of local businesses and visitor attractions,” added Sepuloni. “This support will reach a wide range of communities and neighbourhoods, through activities like Christmas markets, New Year cultural performances, and council-run sports and leisure facilities.”

Carmel Sepuloni speaks to media during a press conference at Parliament on April 28, 2020 (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

New local podcast network boasts shows from Guy Williams and James Mustapic

Comedian Guy Williams has launched a new podcast – the first release by a new local podcast network.

The New Zealand Today podcast, a spin-off from Williams’ popular TV series of the same name, is the first podcast released by new local network “Freddyboy”. It comes from producers Kevin & Co, the team behind local productions Creamerie, Taskmaster NZ and Funny Girls.

Williams’ ten episode podcast series will also feature Karen Hill of “20 fucking whacks” fame.

Other productions on the future Freddyboy slate in 2022 include Exes with Brynley Stent and Eli Matthewson and Repressed Memories with James Mustapic.


‘Inevitable’ that omicron will make it to NZ – Covid response minister

The Covid-19 response minister said it’s “inevitable” that the new omicron variant will turn up in New Zealand.

So far, a handful of cases of the new strain have shown up in Australia but it has not yet been recorded on our shores.

Chris Hipkins told RNZ that our MIQ arrangements were among the tightest in the world. But even then, Hipkins said “there is no way to be 100% protected”.

He added: “It is inevitable that it will show up in our MIQ facilities at some point.”

Covid-19 minister Chris Hipkins at a Beehive press conference (Photo: Getty Images)

Round-up: Christopher Luxon faces the media

Christopher Luxon has done the media rounds this morning on his first full day as leader of the National Party.

The former Air New Zealand boss was voted into the role uncontested yesterday afternoon, less than a week after Judith Collins lost the job.

Unsurprisingly, Luxon has faced questions on a number of topics during his morning media appearances today.

On MIQ, housing, faith and portfolios

Speaking to RNZ, Luxon said he still supported National’s Covid-19 policy to reopen today – on December 1 – and to scrap the existing managed isolation system. He said MIQ should only be used for arrivals coming to the country from high risk countries and not people coming from, for example, Queensland.

He indicated that the bipartisan housing policy announced by Judith Collins and the government earlier this year could be watered down. “We want to make some amendments to the bill and we’ll be talking to the government about this,” he said. Luxon’s new deputy Nicola Willis was a key player in getting that bill across the line. But Luxon said she is on board with potential changes that have to be made.

Keeping with the housing theme, Luxon seemed baffled when asked why he owned seven homes. He said four were investments, one was a house, one was a bach, and one was his Wellington apartment. He said it was “unfair” to characterise that as contributing to the housing crisis.

One of the biggest talking points around Luxon has been his faith. He said he hadn’t been to church in around five years. “The bible guides me in terms of my faith, gives me purpose and it puts me in the context of something bigger than myself.” Luxon faced some fairly hostile questions around whether he believed in “speaking in tongues” to which he chose not to answer, saying he believed RNZ host Susie Ferguson would “misrepresent” his views.

“Importantly, [my faith is] completely separate from the state. I’m the leader of a party that represents all people of all faiths.”

He denied that his faith contributed to his decision to vote against a bill that would have implemented safe zones around abortion clinics. He voted against it at first reading due to a Bill of Rights issue but claimed to have supported it at second reading. In fact, the bill has not had its official second reading. Stuff’s Henry Cooke hypothesised that Luxon would likely already have submitted his proxy vote on the matter.

Luxon said he would have voted for same sex marriage were he in parliament.

On the matter of portfolios, Luxon did not comment on speculation Simon Bridges would be his finance spokesperson.

(Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

On wokeness, police, three waters, iwi roadblocks

Over on Newstalk ZB, Luxon faced a quick fire round of policy and personal views. After Mike Hosking expressed concern that Luxon was “woke”, Luxon laughed but rejected that description. He said New Zealand was on a path to mediocrity and had “some big challenges ahead of it.”

He said he was open to the general arming of police and that armed response units should be rolled out nationwide. Gun violence was becoming far too commonplace in New Zealand, he said.

Three waters would be repealed and replaced.

Luxon reiterated his stance around MIQ, saying trans-Tasman travel would be permitted. “There’s a heap wrong on the Covid management. It’s always on the fly,” he said.

On the idea of Northland iwi blocking travellers from entering the region after December 15, Luxon said that was “nuts”.

On abortion

Luxon told Newshub he would not relitigate the issue of abortion but reiterated his stance of being pro-life.

“I held a view that it’s a pro-life decision. If you look at my colleague and my friend, Nicola Willis, she has a pro-choice decision. I think the reality is there are New Zealanders who have those views, pro-life or pro-choice. We can hold different views and be respectful of each other as a consequence.”

Despite his opinions, Luxon ruled out making any changes to the law if he becomes prime minister. “That was settled in the last Parliament, and that’s settled.”