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Community cases of Covid-19 have risen again as the omicron variant continues to take hold in the community.
Here’s how today’s 142 cases look against the overall backdrop of the past few months.
At the border, there were another 54 cases – down on yesterday. These are all presumed to be cases of the omicron variant.
And, finally, here’s how the vaccine rollout is tracking. Another 38,000 doses of the booster were administered yesterday and, from this Friday, another one million people will become eligible as the interval between doses drops down to three months.
Chris Hipkins has denied that he “smeared” journalist Charlotte Bellis – the pregnant New Zealander currently stuck in Afghanistan.
The Covid-19 response minister has been accused of breaching Bellis’s privacy after he released details of her efforts to secure a spot in managed isolation. Bellis said she was considering legal action against the government as a result.
Speaking today, Hipkins said he would not comment on Bellis’s situation itself due to any possible legal action but denied he had smeared her in the media. “This case was brought to my attention a couple of days ago by another member of parliament,” he said. “I Contacted MIQ [through my office] to check the case was being handled appropriately.”
On the broader issue of pregnant New Zealanders hoping to make it back home, Jacinda Ardern said “there have been no easy answers” during the pandemic. “Going forward, we can all see that within sight is a change of system entirely,” she added.
Changes to our border settings are expected tomorrow.
You’ll now be able to get a booster dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine just three months after your second dose.
From this Friday, another month will be sliced off the booster interval for those over the age of 18 as case numbers of the omicron variant begin to surge in the community. Originally, there was a six month wait between the second and third doses of the Pfizer jab. This was later dropped to four months and has now been reduced again following advice from the director general of health Ashley Bloomfield and the government’s vaccine advisory group.
“We are well positioned for the inevitable spread of omicron,” said Jacinda Ardern, speaking from the Ministry of Health. “Vaccination is one of the most important things we can do to prepare for, and fight, the omicron outbreak.”
There were 38,332 booster doses administered yesterday, taking the total to date to 1,362,811.
Another 142 community cases of Covid-19 were confirmed today, with six people currently in hospital with the virus.
“Don’t think getting a booster is just about keeping yourself safe, it’s about ensuring our hospitals and health system is not overwhelmed,” added Ardern. “As well as increasing eligibility by a million people, the booster gap reduction will result in a 59% increase in Māori eligibility from Friday.
Ashley Bloomfield said that a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine can help people become “well over 90%” protected against serious illness or hospitalisation from the omicron variant. There is also “some” protection against getting infected with Covid-19 in the first place, said Bloomfield.
While not all one million extra people eligible would be able to get their dose this Friday, Bloomfield said: “I can assure you we have excellent capacity across our system.” He said there was considerable work under way to make sure the booster was easily accessible to those at most risk from Covid-19, including Māori and Pasifika, and work was also under way to improve access to the paediatric vaccine for tamariki Māori and Pasifika.
The director general was expecting advice on when 12 to 17-year-olds can be boosted next week.
As for why the booster interval gap reduces in two days, and not today, Ardern said the decision was only formalised this morning and there needs to be infrastructure in place to deal with an increase in demand.
Watch: Jacinda Ardern, Ashley Bloomfield and Chris Hipkins speak on boosters
Chris Hipkins: Get boosted ‘as soon as possible’
“This is a significant step in our response to the Covid-19 pandemic as it now means a total of 3,063,823 people aged 18 and over – two thirds of our population – will be eligible for their booster from this weekend,” said Chris Hipkins, the Covid-19 response minister, in a press release.
“I urge every New Zealander who is eligible for a booster to get it as soon as possible. We are in a race against omicron and the more people who are boosted the more we can reduce the impact of the outbreak.”
Hipkins said the shorter wait for a booster will help people who have been immunised more recently. “It will mean more people, especially Māori, will be able to receive a booster before omicron takes hold in communities.”
Currently, the shortened interval only applies to the Pfizer vaccine. Hipkins said the vaccine advisory group will provide advice shortly on the AstraZeneca jab, which also requires a booster shot.
Additional cases have been confirmed in Northland, Waikato, the Lakes DHB area, Bay of Plenty, Taranaki, Hawke’s Bay, Nelson Marlborough and Canterbury.
There are now 994 active cases of Covid-19 in the country.
As omicron has been deemed the dominant variant of the virus, the Ministry of Health has not identified how many of today’s cases are omicron or delta. It’s presumed the majority will be the omicron strain.
At the border, another 54 cases have been confirmed. These are also presumed to be omicron.
Jacinda Ardern and Chris Hipkins are set to hold a 1.30pm press conference today, which is tipped to be about booster shots of the vaccine.
Today’s case details
There are 103 cases to report in Auckland today. Health and welfare providers are now supporting 1284 people in the region to isolate at home, including 515 cases.
There are 11 new cases in Northland today, spread across three areas. Ten are linked to previously reported cases and investigations are under way to determine a link for the remaining one. Nine of these cases are in Kerikeri, one is in Whangarei and the 11th is in Kaikohe.
There are 12 cases to report in the Waikato. Case investigations are under way to determine a source of exposure for a number of unlinked cases.
There are two new cases being reported in the Lakes area, both in Rotorua. One case is linked to a previous case and the other case is under investigation.
Five cases have been detected in the Bay of Plenty. Three of the cases are linked to previous cases and investigations are on-going for the remaining two. All five cases are in Tauranga.
There is one new case in Hawkes Bay. They are linked to a known case and any locations of interest associated with them will be published on the Ministry of Health website.
Two new cases have been confirmed in Nelson Marlborough today. Both are linked to existing cases.
Finally, there are three new cases to report in Christchurch (this includes two of the cases announced yesterday). “Following data reconciliation, there are now nine total active cases in Canterbury,” said the ministry.
Omicron means that, yet again, we at The Spinoff will be devoting significant resources to covering this enormous and complex story. If you value what we do, please consider becoming a member today. Every dollar donated is ring-fenced to support our journalism, and right now we need audience support more than ever. Is your organisation keen to support The Spinoff? We would love to hear from you – contact us today to find out more about our organisation memberships.
We’ve got a couple of Covid-related announcements scheduled for this afternoon.
Firstly, as normal, the daily update of Covid-19 cases is due around 1pm. I’ll have the latest numbers and locations for you when it arrives.
Secondly, we’re expecting a government press conference with Jacinda Ardern and Chris Hipkins at 1.30pm. It’s expected to be about booster shots and reports suggest the interval between second and booster doses could be reduced yet again as the omicron outbreak worsens. I’ll have all the details for you and a livestream.
The government paid around $36.50 for every dose of the Pfizer vaccine, it has been revealed.
Newsroom has obtained the exclusive figures through an official information act request, despite the government wishing them to remain secret. The documents, dating back to the start of 2021, were provided despite being listed as withheld.
In addition, the documents show that purchase agreements were also made for $80.6 million worth of the AstraZeneca vaccine ($10.60 per dose) and $384.7 million of Novavax vaccines ($35.89 per dose).
A $1.5 million cash injection will help support the Pacific community encourage boosters and child vaccinations.
The government’s provided the financial boost to the Prepare Pacific Community Vaccination Fund, and hopes it will help ready the community for omicron.
“We need to ensure our five to 11-year-old Pacific children are vaccinated and that all of our eligible Pacific peoples get their booster when they become due,” said associate health minister Aupito William Sio. “It’s critical that we vaccinate our children before the coming winter.”
Booster uptake by the Pacific community has so far been low, said Sio. “Only 32% of Pacific people due for a booster have received one so far compared to 42% of Māori.”
Pacific community groups can apply for funding, with each group eligible for up to $40,000.
Public consultation has opened on the government’s proposal to help workers who lose their jobs claim back most of their salary.
The income insurance scheme would see workers who are made redundant, laid off, or who have to stop working because of a health condition or disability, receive 80% of their usual salary for up to seven months, up to the current ACC cap. Designed in consultation with Business NZ and the Council of Trade Union, the scheme also includes up to twelve months of support for re-training.
Finance minister Grant Robertson said it would help protect workers after crises like the ongoing pandemic. “We think it’s time for an enduring solution,” he said.
“Our proposed scheme provides economic security to individuals directly, and supports them to transition into a good, new job, as opposed to economic support packages which keep people in their existing job even if that role is no longer viable.”
Business NZ chief Kirk Hope said job losses harm more than just the individuals involved. “Businesses lose out on important productivity gains because the current system doesn’t give people time to find work that matches the skills they have,” he said. “Sectors facing critical skill shortages may miss out on key workers, simply because a vacancy wasn’t available in the few weeks a worker was looking for work.”
Consultation closes on April 26. More detail can be found here.
The National Party want all school children, teachers and staff to get two rapid antigen tests a week – amount to 1.74 million tests every week.
Leader Christopher Luxon announced the policy during the party’s retreat in Queenstown and said he’d be happy for the government to adopt it.
He told RNZ that Australia’s already approved 60 different providers of rapid antigen tests. “New Zealand’s approved less than 10,” said Luxon. “Why don’t we go off and approve the full quantity that Australia has? That means we’ll be talking to a wider set of companies and production companies. I would also use the private sector… who have big procurement agencies.”
New Zealand has actually approved 11, but still well below the total number in Australia. It was announced yesterday that an additional 36 million tests will arrive in the country by the end of next month, with 123 million ordered through to June.
Luxon said we need to be doing more. “If Australia has approved 60 providers that have met their standards, we should adopt those. There’s no reason why those same companies are good for Australia but not good for New Zealand,” he said, denying that there would be any issues regarding quality.
“Immediately you could have a six time increase in the number of people producing rapid antigen tests.”
Charlotte Bellis, the New Zealand journalist who has made global headlines over her fight to return home from Afghanistan, has described the past few days as a “circus”.
The former Al Jazeera reporter published an opinion piece in the Herald on Saturday morning, detailing how she was denied a spot in managed isolation despite being pregnant.
Bellis told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking she didn’t expect the outpouring of support she’s had since the piece went online. “I wrote the op-ed, [thought] maybe some people might want interviews, and then people hooked onto the Taliban side of things and it spiralled out of control.” Bellis was offered protection by the Taliban, leading some international headlines to suggest the regime was more welcoming than New Zealand.
Deputy prime minister Grant Robertson said yesterday that Bellis had been offered a spot in MIQ and would return home at the end of the month.
Bellis confirmed she had accepted it, but said she was still disappointed in the state of the MIQ system. “We didn’t really move the dial for pregnant women abroad,” she said. “I’m going to keep on top of things, but I can’t wait for this press conference on Thursday.” It’s anticipated the prime minister will tomorrow outline details around New Zealand’s border reopening.
Bellis confirmed her partner would also be able to come with her in February, but said if the borders would be freely reopening in April he may stay working overseas a little longer.
Asked whether she would pursue legal action against the government, Bellis remained open. “There’s been such a circus, so I don’t really want to add more fuel to the fire,” she said. “But [the government] did breach my privacy twice in a matter of days and their entire response was so condescending, like, they suggested I take this seriously. I mean, did anyone think I wasn’t taking it seriously? My lawyer would like to pursue it, but let’s see.”
Following the shift to the red traffic light setting and ongoing pressures on the arts and culture sector, the government has allocated over $100 million to cushion the blow, including targeted support for individual organisations and eligible self-employed individuals/sole traders. With this announcement also comes changes to existing funding criteria, which now extends to cover cancellations due to a lead performer contracting Covid-19 or needing to isolate.
“The government has been actively engaging with the arts and culture sector to understand their needs as the pandemic has progressed, and we’re responding by delivering much-needed financial relief,” Carmel Sepuloni, minister for arts, culture and heritage said in a statement. “The arts and culture sector contributes approximately $10.9 billion to the New Zealand economy, making up about 3.4% of GDP.”
The specifics of the boost include:
The Arts and Culture Event Support Scheme will be boosted by $70 million, and extended to January 31, 2023 for events that were planned before the move to red. Key eligibility criteria have also been extended.
The Cultural Sector Emergency Relief Fund has been provided an additional $35.5 million to fund more direct support for individuals and organisations
The limit on funding for individual organisations has been increased from $100,000 to $300,000.
A one-off grant of $5,000 will be available to eligible self-employed individuals/sole traders in the arts and cultural sector who have lost income or opportunities to work.
The Screen Production Recovery Fund has been boosted by a further $15 million. $7.9 million of this funding will be allocated to New Zealand Film Commission and $7.1 million to New Zealand on Air.