blog march 4

Live UpdatesMar 4 2022

Covid case numbers drop slightly but hospitalisations rise to 562

Hello and welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 4. Somehow it’s Friday already! I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. Have a question or just want to say hi? I’m on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


The latest

  • There are now 562 people in hospital with Covid-19. Today saw over 22,000 new community cases recorded.
  • Parliament is officially a crime scene. Police have begun their formal investigation into the events of Wednesday’s riot.
  • Arrests connected to the riot have risen by two today, up to 102. Roads around parliament are set to reopen.
  • From 11.59pm tonight, all vaccinated and Covid-free New Zealanders who arrive at the border will be able to go straight into the community.
blog march 4

Covid case numbers drop slightly but hospitalisations rise to 562

Hello and welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 4. Somehow it’s Friday already! I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. Have a question or just want to say hi? I’m on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


The latest

  • There are now 562 people in hospital with Covid-19. Today saw over 22,000 new community cases recorded.
  • Parliament is officially a crime scene. Police have begun their formal investigation into the events of Wednesday’s riot.
  • Arrests connected to the riot have risen by two today, up to 102. Roads around parliament are set to reopen.
  • From 11.59pm tonight, all vaccinated and Covid-free New Zealanders who arrive at the border will be able to go straight into the community.
Mar 4 2022

Countdown to the end of self isolation for returnees

From midnight tonight, all vaccinated New Zealanders who enter the country will be able to skip any form of self isolation and go straight out into the community – unless, of course, they test positive for Covid-19.

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced earlier this week that the government had agreed to bring forward step two of the border reopening plan. That was based on health advice from Sir David Skegg and a team of scientists, who agreed that the risk to the community from overseas arrivals was low considering the thousands of active cases already in the community.

Today, for example, just eight new cases were confirmed at the border compared with more than 22,000 in the community.

Returnees from Australia have, for the past 48 hours, already been able to skip any self isolation.

Managed isolation will be retained for unvaccinated returnees with Jacinda Ardern telling a press conference last month that there was no set timeline for when this would be dropped.

’10 times larger than Chernobyl’: Ukrainian nuclear plant on fire

Europe’s largest nuclear power plant is on fire after an attack by Russian forces.

The Zaporizhzhia plant, near the Ukrainian town of Energodar, is being targeted “from all sides”, according to Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba.

“If it blows up, it will be 10 times larger than Chornobyl,” said Kuleba in a tweet. “Russians must IMMEDIATELY cease the fire, allow firefighters, establish a security zone!”

The mayor of Energodar, Dmytro Orlov, took to Facebook where he proclaimed Russia’s actions today were “a threat to world security.”

He wrote: “As a result of relentless shelling by the enemy of the buildings and blocks of the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is on fire!!!”

A livestream from the plant’s operators

But American national security consultant Jon Wolfsthal, in a thread on Twitter, suggested any potential disaster may not be Chernobyl-level bad. “The design of the VVER [the reactor at Zaporizhzhia] is inherently more safe and protected than the Chernobyl RBMK systems,” he said.

Has Auckland hit its omicron peak?

The short answer: maybe, hopefully. The last three days have seen a remarkably uniform new case count – 13,231 on Wednesday, 13,237 yesterday, 13,252 today. Speaking at a briefing a moment ago, Andrew Old, chief clinical officer for the Northern Region Health Coordination Centre, said: “We are cautiously optimistic that our case numbers – around that 13-14,000 level – might represent the peak for us in Auckland. Based on our modelling and what we have seen from overseas we expect that we might be about to turn the corner.”

He noted the lag in hospitalisation numbers meant that pressure would continue to grow beyond any peak in case numbers, and only reflect a drop in cases after a week. Other parts of the country will be watching closely the Tāmaki Makaurau curve for an indication of how the wave might roll through. 

The chart below shows the last fortnight of daily reported cases in Auckland. Some of the bump will be impacted by the backlog in PCR test processing and the shift to the vast majority of results being returned via rapid antigen test. 

Covid-19 update: Hospitalisations rise to 562, with 22,527 new cases

The number of Covid-related hospitalisations has risen to 562, with 11 people now in intensive care – an increase of four. Over 380 of those in hospital are in Auckland, with 186 in Middlemore Hospital alone.

The number of new cases has slightly dropped from yesterday, with 22,527 reported nationwide today.

During a press conference today hosted by health officials from the Northland and Auckland DHBs, the number of new cases was reported as being eight higher: 22,535.

The daily case numbers have remained fairly consistent the past few days, particularly in Auckland. On Wednesday, Auckland registered 13,231 new cases, with 13,237 yesterday and 13,252 today. It’s possible, suggested Dr Andrew Old at today’s press conference, that Auckland may be turning a corner in the omicron outbreak.

“We certainly are expecting hospitalisations to go up from where they are now but if we are genuinely turning the corner with cases, we hope that hospitalisations might peak in the next week before starting to come down as well,” he said.

Five people with Covid-19 have died

Five people have died with Covid-19 overnight, making today one of the deadliest days of the pandemic. However, the Ministry of Health said all of them had unrelated medical conditions.

These include a patient at Tauranga Hospital who was in hospital for an unrelated condition, a patient at Waikato Hospital who died of an unrelated medical condition, a person in Dunedin who died of an unrelated medical condition while receiving palliative care, and two patients with Covid-19 in Middlemore Hospital – both people had unrelated medical conditions.

Dr Anthony Jordan, one of the health officials at today’s press conference, confirmed that as hospital number rise, the number of Covid wards per hospital will be extended from one or two to three or four. “We’ll see that happening a lot more because people will need to come to hospital for other reasons,” he said.

It was important to keep track of the numbers of people coming into hospital “with” Covid versus those coming into hospital “because” of Covid. “It hasn’t really exceeded our expectations at this stage for Covid-related sickness,” he said.

High demand for rapid tests

More than 130,000 orders were placed through the new RAT requester site for free rapid antigen tests yesterday, covering more than half a million people – or about two million tests. “The ministry wants to reassure people that we have enough RATs to help New Zealand through a widespread omicron outbreak in the coming months,” said a spokesperson.

“Over the past week, 8.8 million million RATs have been distributed. Over the weekend, another eight million are expected to arrive in the country with another 99 million confirmed for delivery this month.”

The priority for free RATs remains those who are symptomatic or a household contact, reminded the ministry. “Please do not order or request RATs from testing centre or collections sites unless you are unwell or a household contact.” International travel requirements are not covered the free testing scheme.

Yesterday, there were 15,195 booster doses administered.

Watch: Auckland health officials give omicron briefing

Today’s 1pm Covid-19 is a little different. Health officials in Auckland will be providing an update on how Tāmaki Makaurau is managing the response to the omicron outbreak. It’s expected to touch on hospitals, the primary care sector and home isolation support. You can watch the briefing below.

Meanwhile, the latest Covid-19 numbers are expected to be revealed via written statement from the Ministry of Health. I’ll have those numbers for you in a separate update when they arrive.

Wellington riot: More arrests as roads around parliament to reopen

Another two people have been arrested in relation to Wednesday’s clash between police and protesters outside parliament. That brings the number of arrests linked to the riot up to 102.

Police said there were no significant issues in or around the parliamentary precinct overnight, but they are aware of a group of people and vehicles moving between Mahanga Bay and Wainuiomata. Officers are monitoring the situation.

Meanwhile, the roads around parliament will soon reopen to vehicles. Police will today begin removing the large concrete bollards that were installed in an effort to stop new protesters arriving at the occupation.

Access will be restored to the bus depot along with Hill and Aitkin streets. However, Lower Molesworth Street will remain cordoned off.

Fact-based journalism is more important than ever

With omicron cases increasing and tensions running high, fact-based and level-headed journalism is more important than ever.

The generous support of our members powers all of The Spinoff’s journalism, including live updates, the award-winning collaborations between Toby Morris and Siouxsie Wiles, and richly reported feature writing. It’s what you need to know, without the sensationalism – and member donations keep it free to all, without a paywall. Tautoko mai, join The Spinoff Members today.

The Friday Quiz!

After a brief one week hiatus, The Spinoff’s iconic and universally acclaimed news quiz returns. And there’s a lot to catch up on! How closely were you following the protest outside parliament? How much do you know about rapid antigen tests? And there’s been developments in the world of television too.

Test your knowledge in our quiz below.


Police minister blames social media for violent protest

The police minister has blamed social media for the violent events that occurred outside parliament on Wednesday.

Speaking to Newshub’s AM, Poto Williams said that online influences had contributed to many of the protesters feeling marginalised or disaffected.

“From my point of view, having come from an environment where violence, family harm and mental health are apparent, there’s no doubt that there are people who live on the edges, there’s no doubt that things like social media and the algorithms that form the content that we access have contributed to a lot of what’s happened here,” she said.

“There’s no doubt that there is some further work to do, not just by police but all of us, to ensure those who are feeling really marginalised, who are feeling disaffected are able to have a sense of being restored back into the whole.”

Williams said that the more “moderate voices” that had been at the protest at its beginning had already left by this week. “The people involved had become increasingly violent and threatening,” she said, suggesting that the clash between police and protesters “had to happen”.

“What I want to see going forward is a real conversation and dialogue about how we as a country can increase the edges so we include people so much more that they don’t feel like they’re not part of the picture we are painting as a nation.”

Police were keeping a “really close watch” on the protesters that remained in Wellington after reports some had started camping up on the coastline.

Auckland petrol prices cross $3 per litre mark

Petrol prices have continued to rise over the past few weeks, with many pumps around Auckland city now registering $3 per litre for 91 unleaded.

In fact, around my home in Ellerslie, I’ve seen prices nudge toward $3.10. According to price finder app Gaspy, that’s the most expensive within a 20km radius, with prices starting at $2.77 if I headed into Kingsland (still, I wouldn’t call that cheap).

It’s not entirely unexpected, with both the global constraints that I noted in this article a few weeks back, compounded with the ongoing situation in Ukraine. But considering prices have risen by about 20 cents per litre since my piece was published on February 8, I dread to think how bad things could get.

The pain at the pump is real (Image / Tina Tiller & Getty Images)

Noting the surge in prices, National’s Simeon Brown reiterated his call to see the Auckland fuel tax scrapped. “People are feeling pain at the pump as they face a cost of living crisis here in New Zealand,” he wrote on Twitter. He said that higher fuel prices often hurt poorer people who can’t easily ditch their cars in favour of alternative transport.

We’re keeping an eye on the price of petrol here at The Spinoff – we’ll have more on it soon.

This week’s new podcasts: Bernard Hickey on strawberries and our economy

New Zealand has a lot of small businesses, but relatively few of them expand into larger, more productive operations. Strawberry farms, Bernard Hickey discovers on this week’s When the Facts Change, are a perfect example of this. He talks to strawberry scientist Geoff Langford and Kiwibank business banking manager Wayne McEntee about the sorts of choices small businesses face around going up, going out, or just remaining stagnant.

Follow When the Facts Change on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.


Also new this week on The Spinoff Podcast Network…

The Spinoff’s political editor Justin Giovannetti joined Toby Manhire and Annabelle Lee-Mather on Wednesday morning for a special episode of Gone By Lunchtime which was immediately rendered out of date by the events of that afternoon. Still a good listen though!

Follow Gone By Lunchtime on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.


Emily Writes joined Duncan Greive on The Fold earlier this week to talk about how Substack changed her life – and why writers need to get more comfortable straight up asking for money.

Follow The Fold on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.


And The Real Pod recapped all the action (a lot of it pure comedy this week) as three new couples entered the Married At First Sight Australia arena.

Follow The Real Pod on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.

Iconic soap ‘Neighbours’ officially cancelled after almost 9,000 episodes

Iconic Australia soap opera Neighbours has been cancelled after nearly 37 years on the air.

Almost 9,000 episodes of the television show have been produced, helping to launch the careers of the likes of Kylie Minogue, Chris Hemsworth and Margot Robbie.

“Following the loss of our key broadcast partner in the UK and despite an extensive search for alternative funding, we simply have no option but to rest the show,” said a statement from the show’s Twitter.

Just so long as they don’t come for Shortland Street, I’ll be happy.

What was it like to be in the middle of the Wellington riot?

Many of us would have watched hours of news coverage and read countless reports this week detailing the aftermath of the police operation outside parliament on Wednesday. But few of us, unless you were a protester yourself, will know what it was like to actually be there.

Stuff reporter George Block, along with photographers David Unwin and Braden Fastier, were on the frontline for most of the day. They documented their experience and have put together an extraordinary moment by moment account of what took place. From confrontations with angry protesters, to watching hundreds of police officers march under cover of darkness, to seeing violent clashes between occupiers and officers.

It’s a record of New Zealand history and well worth the read. You can check out the full report here

Parliament grounds now a crime scene

As police move into the “investigation phase” following the Wellington riot on Wednesday, parliament grounds have been deemed a crime scene.

Forensic investigations are now under way to determine those responsible for the arson on the grounds. As we now know, the rumour that the police started the fires has been disproven – but just who the instigators were remains unclear. Police said a “check for hazards” will also be completed before the area reopens to the public.

“Police investigators have also begun the process of reviewing a huge amount of footage taken of yesterday’s operation, to identify possible further lines of enquiry and prosecution,” said a statement.

Once the police operation wraps up, the mammoth job of restoring parliament grounds can continue. Newshub’s Jenna Lynch reported that the ready lawn was ordered a fortnight ago when it became clear the grass around parliament would need replacing.

Police officers climb the graffiti covered steps to the Beehive inside the cordoned off area (Photo by Lynn Grieveson/Getty Images)