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Live UpdatesJul 5 2022

New omicron variant confirmed in NZ as case numbers jump

It’s Tuesday, July 5 and welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates. I hope you’re keeping warm and dry! I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund, you can contact me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


The agenda

  • Covid-19 update: Nearly 10,000 new cases, new omicron variant detected.
  • The release of a review ordered into the hiring of TVNZ host Kamahl Santamaria has been delayed.
  • Jacinda Ardern has downplayed expectations that progress will be made on the 501 deportees issue ahead of her meeting with Anthony Albanese.
  • A micro-satellite launched by Rocket Lab on the Mahia Peninsula is on track to make it to the moon.
blog-july-5.jpg

New omicron variant confirmed in NZ as case numbers jump

It’s Tuesday, July 5 and welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates. I hope you’re keeping warm and dry! I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund, you can contact me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


The agenda

  • Covid-19 update: Nearly 10,000 new cases, new omicron variant detected.
  • The release of a review ordered into the hiring of TVNZ host Kamahl Santamaria has been delayed.
  • Jacinda Ardern has downplayed expectations that progress will be made on the 501 deportees issue ahead of her meeting with Anthony Albanese.
  • A micro-satellite launched by Rocket Lab on the Mahia Peninsula is on track to make it to the moon.
Jul 5 2022

Wall Street Journal barred from restricted briefings after budget embargo breach

The Wall Street Journal has been barred from restricted media briefings in New Zealand through until the 2025 budget.

It follows a breach of this year’s budget embargo by the publication when it accidentally published a news story one hour early.

Struan Little, deputy chief executive of the Treasury, said the Wall Street Journal reporter had mistakenly kept their mobile hotspot running during the budget lock-up.

“WSJ also told us the editor handling the story skipped one of the protocols that would have provided a failsafe against accidental publication, and despite the story being marked with a 2:00pm embargo it was published on the Dow Jones website at approximately 1:00pm,” said Little.

“The Treasury takes any breach of New Zealand Budget information security extremely seriously. We communicate this very clearly to all attendees of the budget restricted briefing. As stated in the briefing’s terms and conditions, ‘any individual or organisation that breaches the lock-up terms and conditions may be refused permission to attend future restricted briefings’.”

It’s expected there will be nine restricted briefing events between now and the 2025 budget.

‘No expectation’ of a move back to red, says Ardern

The prime minister has made it clear New Zealand won’t be moving to the red traffic light setting anytime soon.

Almost 10,000 new community cases of Covid-19 were confirmed overnight, along with a new subvariant of the omicron strain. The last time New Zealand was in the red we had roughly 10,000 cases each day.

Despite this, Jacinda Ardern told media she had “no expectation” that stricter Covid restrictions would be required. “Keep in mind we have really important rules at the orange setting that are there to protect us,” she said.

Hospitalisations due to Covid-19 have also been rising steadily in recent days, with nearly 500 people now being treated with the virus.

Ardern signalled that mask use and vaccination were key to keeping Covid numbers down. “Having just come from Europe and the United States, I can tell you that New Zealand is still using measures that many other countries don’t,” Ardern said. The two most important things we can be doing were mask use and vaccinations, she added.

Ardern is currently in Melbourne where she has just wrapped a meeting with the Victoria state premier Dan Andrews. Ardern said it was “fantastic” having the chance to catch-up with Andrews in person, calling him a friend.

Producers’ Guild hits back after ‘misleading’ report on Avatar subsidies

The Screen Producers’ Guild has hit back at a Newstalk ZB story about the amount of taxpayer money directed at the Avatar sequels.

Shot in New Zealand, the four planned Avatar sequels will be some of the biggest and most expensive films ever produced.

In his report for Newstalk ZB, Jason Walls said that more than $140 million worth of film subsidies have been paid so far to help produce the upcoming Avatar sequels. That upset the Act Party, with deputy leader Brooke van Velden questioning why taxpayers should be dishing out so much money for the films.

But in a statement, the producers’ guild called the news story was “misleading”.

“The story completely ignores the fact that the [Screen Production Grant] is a money back incentive. Rather than large amounts of taxpayer money being given to projects, the [Screen Production Grant] is triggered by a production’s spend in New Zealand. In simple terms, it’s like when you spend $100 in a shop, and they give you $20 back. You’ve still got the $80 dollars,” said a spokesperson.

“Large international screen projects like Avatar have brought millions of dollars into the New Zealand economy, money that would be lost if, as ACT Deputy Leader Brooke van Velden is quoted as saying, we stopped paying out the [Screen Production Grant].”

Avatar 2 – the first of the planned sequels – is set for release later this year.

Covid-19 update: Nearly 10,000 new cases, new omicron variant detected

The number of new community Covid-19 cases has risen once again, as the Ministry of Health warns of a winter surge in respiratory illnesses.

There are 9,629 community cases today, with the rolling seven-day average of cases up to 7,246. Last Tuesday it was 5,480.

“The rise in Covid-19 cases today is not unexpected as New Zealand moves towards the winter peak for respiratory illness, including Covid-19,” said the ministry, in its 1pm statement. “In addition, it is not unusual for reported cases to rise following a weekend. It is encouraging that people are uploading their test results in My Covid Record, and the Ministry of Health and Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand would like to remind people to continue to do this.”

Hospitalisations have also risen slightly, to 493. There are now 11 people in intensive care.

Another 24 deaths have been reported of people with Covid-19, all since April 14. That takes the total number of publicly reported deaths with Covid-19 to 1,591 and the seven-day rolling average of reported deaths to 15.

New omicron subvariant confirmed in NZ

The ministry has confirmed the first two community cases of omicron subvariant BA.2.75, a second generation subvariant of the dominant BA.2 strain of Covid-19.

“At this stage, there is no evidence that BA.2.75 requires a shift in public health settings already in place to manage other omicron variants,” said the ministry. “BA.2.75 has only been recently identified as distinct from BA.2, and evidence on its transmissibility, immune evasiveness and severity is still preliminary and emerging.”

The two cases arrived from India, where the subvariant has been detected previously.

“We do know BA.2.75 has some characteristics that looks like they may enhance its ability to evade immunity, similar to the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants, and there is some early evidence overseas that it may be slightly more transmissible that BA.2,” said the ministry. “There is no current evidence that it leads to more severe disease, although assessing the evidence is at a very early stage.”

Brand new documentary goes inside the whimsical world of Lynley Dodd

When Lynley Dodd doodled a rhyme about a scrappy dog on the back of a shopping list, she didn’t know she was creating one of our most iconic children’s characters. Now, nearly 40 years since the first Hairy Maclary book was published, the celebrated author invites audiences into her whimsical world for the very first time. 

What inspired her decades of cats in boxes, dogs up trees and the elephants in attics? How does the creative process work when one is both the illustrator and writer of their work? And what project is she working on next at the age of 81? The one-off documentary special Lynley Dodd: Writing the Pictures, Painting the Words arrives on The Spinoff today, made with the support of NZ On Air.

Watch the full documentary:

New stats: New Zealanders improving at, and more supportive of, te reo

The number of New Zealanders able to speak “more than a few words” in te reo Māori has risen over the past few years, according to new Stats NZ figures.

The data comes from the General Social Survey and was collected between April and August last year. It’s revealed that the proportion of New Zealanders with proficiency in te reo has upped from 24% to 30% since 2018. That followed a smaller rise between 2016 and 2018.

And the number of people able to speak “at least fairly well” has also increased over the same period, from 6.1% in 2018 to 7.9% last year. This is the first time a significant increase in this level of te reo Māori proficiency has been observed from GSS data, said Stats NZ.

There’s also been a marked rise in the number of New Zealanders who believe te reo should be taught more widely. Stats NZ said 62% of people “agreed or strongly agreed” that te reo Māori should be a core subject in primary schools, up from 57%. In addition, 57% (up from 53%) agreed or strongly agreed that the government should encourage and support the use of te reo Māori in everyday situations.

Release of TVNZ review into Kamahl Santamaria hiring delayed

The release of a review ordered into the hiring of TVNZ host Kamahl Santamaria has been delayed.

TVNZ initially announced the review on June 8 and said it would be completed within four weeks. However, a spokesperson for the national broadcaster told The Spinoff it will take “a few weeks longer than originally envisioned”. No date for its release has been set.

Santamaria was hired by TVNZ to replace John Campbell on Breakfast at the start of May, but was gone from screens a month later following at least one complaint of inappropriate behaviour from a female colleague.

The Spinoff reported last week that TVNZ knew it hadn’t followed proper protocol during the hiring process of Santamaria, but launched the internal review anyway. Correspondence released to The Spinoff under the Official Information Act showed TVNZ’s deputy chair Kevin Malloy acknowledging that the company’s “recruitment policy was not followed” because “thorough reference checks were not undertaken”.

TVNZ said the network was “pleased” with the progress being made and would “rather not rush it”.

“We’ll be sharing the recommendations with TVNZers and the public when it’s complete,” the spokesperson added. “We haven’t set a date yet, but plan to release the recommendations at an appropriate time following receipt.”

The Spinoff requested information related to Santamaria’s hiring under the Official Information Act, but were instead told by TVNZ that this would “soon be publicly available”.

Kamahl Santamaria (Photo: Supplied)

Rocket Lab launches Nasa satellite on mission to the moon

A micro-satellite launched by Rocket Lab on the Mahia Peninsula is on track to make it to the moon.

The Nasa Capstone satellite was sent into low orbit around the Earth late last month on a Rocket Lab craft. Overnight, it was released from the Rocket Lab “Photon” and is now headed toward the moon where it is expected to orbit from November 13.

501 deportee issue unlikely to be resolved ‘in weeks’, says Ardern

Jacinda Ardern has downplayed expectations ahead of her meeting with her Australian counterpart.

The subject of the controversial 501 deportation scheme is expected to be on the agenda, but the prime minister’s not expecting it to be resolved during this visit.

It’s the second face-to-face meeting between Ardern and Anthony Albanese on Australian soil in as many months. The last time the two met in Sydney, Albanese said he would continue to look at the deportation scheme – but said that he backed the existing policy in general.

Ardern told media in Melbourne last night that it was a tricky subject – and one that won’t be quick to resolve. “One thing we are very mindful of is that underpinning the 501 issue is actually the issue of citizenship. We wouldn’t be having the issue of people being so easily deported from New Zealand were we not to have that stability of people having status in Australia,” she said.

“None of those issues can be resolved in weeks, I understand that, what I’m looking for is a commitment to start working them through.”

She added: “What I’m looking for is signs we continue to be heard and that progress is being made.”

While the topic is the main source of tension in the trans-Tasman relationship, Ardern previously said the new Albanese-led government would allow for a “reset” of the friendship between Australia and New Zealand.

The Bulletin: Avatar rebates second largest in film commission’s history

Newstalk ZB’s Jason Walls reports that the more than $140 million worth of film subsidies have been paid so far to help produce the upcoming Avatar sequels. The Act party wants the Government to immediately stop providing subsidies to studios producing movies in New Zealand. Film commission acting chief executive Mladen Ivancic said the grants support thousands of jobs every year, whilst also creating economic benefits across industries including accommodation, tourism and technology.

For a long read on our film subsidy scheme, I recommend Madeleine Chapman’s October 2021 feature for North and South. It’s estimated that New Zealand could spend between $200–250 million on the Avatar sequels, more than the government’s entire 2020 budget allocation for transitional housing ($150 million).

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