blog march 7

Live UpdatesMar 7 2022

New Russian sanctions regime revealed

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 7, I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. You can reach me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


The latest

  • A new targeted sanctions regime will mean Russian superyachts, ships and aircrafts could soon be barred from entering New Zealand. Russian assets on our shores could be frozen, and the sanctions could also be applied to trade and financial institutions. Read more here.
  • There are now 696 people in hospital with Covid-19, including 13 in intensive care.
  • The number of new community cases has risen to 17,522. That’s more than yesterday and follows two days of decreases, but is below the peak of over 22,000 recorded last week.
  • There is no “cost of living crisis”, says Jacinda Ardern. It follows a state of the nation address by Christopher Luxon in which he argued for tax relief for New Zealanders
  • Viv Beck has announced her bid for Auckland mayoralty. Toby Manhire reports on that here.
blog march 7

New Russian sanctions regime revealed

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 7, I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. You can reach me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


The latest

  • A new targeted sanctions regime will mean Russian superyachts, ships and aircrafts could soon be barred from entering New Zealand. Russian assets on our shores could be frozen, and the sanctions could also be applied to trade and financial institutions. Read more here.
  • There are now 696 people in hospital with Covid-19, including 13 in intensive care.
  • The number of new community cases has risen to 17,522. That’s more than yesterday and follows two days of decreases, but is below the peak of over 22,000 recorded last week.
  • There is no “cost of living crisis”, says Jacinda Ardern. It follows a state of the nation address by Christopher Luxon in which he argued for tax relief for New Zealanders
  • Viv Beck has announced her bid for Auckland mayoralty. Toby Manhire reports on that here.
Mar 7 2022

Record wait times as ambulance services face highest ever volume of 111 calls

After recording their highest ever volume of 111 calls at the weekend, ambulance services are asking the public to phone 111 only in genuine emergencies.

At its peak on Sunday, St John and Wellington Free Ambulance recorded 2,322 calls for help nationwide into its ambulance communications centres in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, according to a statement from the services. That’s about 100 more calls a day than the previous record.

With many staff off sick due to the omicron outbreak, there have been reports of record wait times of up to seven-and-a-half minutes for a 111 call to be answered, and delays are expected to continue.

“Our emergency call handlers have noted a rise in the number of people calling for non-urgent matters and people who do not need an ambulance,” said Dr Tony Smith, St John’s clinical director. “For example, we’ve had people phoning us with a headache, wanting advice and people asking us how to get a Covid-19 test.

“We know the current omicron outbreak in the community is causing anxiety and some people’s Covid-19 symptoms are making them feel miserable. We understand the discomfort and uncertainty can be stressful but most people with Covid-19 can safely manage their health at home without needing an ambulance,” said Smith.

If it’s a genuine emergency, stay on the line and a call handler will answer as soon as possible, urged the statement. If it’s not, please don’t call 111. “If people are feeling unwell, or need health advice, they should call their regular health provider, for example, their GP, or Healthline, or visit covid19.govt.nz and consider alternative methods of transport to medical facilities for non-urgent conditions.”

National leader Christopher Luxon tests positive for Covid-19

National Party leader Christopher Luxon has become the second National MP to test positive for Covid-19, after former leader Simon Bridges.

Luxon tested positive today, he said in a statement. “I have not been showing Covid-19 symptoms, but have been testing myself regularly as a precaution, including on Sunday morning, with all tests returning negative results,” he said.

“The test earlier today returned a positive result and I am now isolating at home with my family, who have all tested negative.

“I feel fine and intend to participate in parliament and meetings remotely.”

Last week, attorney-general David Parker became the first MP – and first government minister – to contract the virus. Labour MPs ‘Anahila Lose Kanongata’a-Suisuiki and Poto Williams, the minister of police, have since revealed they’ve also tested positive.

Yesterday, Luxon gave his state of the nation speech in Wellington, where he was pictured hugging supporters.

Christopher Luxon (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

New Russian sanctions regime: Assets can be frozen, ships could be barred

A new targeted sanctions regime will mean Russian superyachts, ships and aircrafts could soon be barred from entering New Zealand. Russian assets on our shores could be frozen, and the sanctions could also be applied to trade and financial institutions, along with countries complicit with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, like Belarus.

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern said the Russia Sanctions Bill – which will pass under urgency this week – was the first time a bespoke set of arrangements like this had been brought before parliament.

“When we first responded to Russia’s invasion by issuing targeted travel bans, prohibiting exports to the military and suspending bilateral foreign ministry consultations we said no options were off the table,” said Ardern. “Today we take the next step in our response to increase sanctions, in line with the actions of our partners.”

Watch live

The new sanctions, which will need approval from foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta, can be imposed on people, services, companies, and assets related to those in Russia who are responsible for or associated with the invasion, or that are of economic or strategic relevance to Russia, including oligarchs. A public sanctions register will be set up to list every individual, entity, asset, or service that is sanctioned.

Mahuta said it was too early to name those who would feature on the list, but an initial list of people who can no longer travel to New Zealand can be found here. Unsurprisingly, Vladimir Putin is right at the top. However, just because someone was wealthy and Russian they would not necessarily be barred from our shores, added Mahuta.

The sanctions will also enable the government to freeze assets located in New Zealand, said Ardern. “Those sanctioned will also be prevented from moving assets to New Zealand or using our financial system as a back door to get around sanctions increasingly imposed by other countries.”

The bill will be brought to the House on Wednesday and Ardern hoped it would pass all steps, with the support of all parties, by the end of the day. Sanctions could be introduced within a week.

The government will now continue to seek advice on a full autonomous sanctions regime. Last week, the government announced $2 million in humanitarian aid to help those impacted by the invasion of Ukraine.

More than 1,500 people may need another booster after vaccines stored incorrectly

More than 1,500 people in the Queenstown and Otago area are being encouraged to get another dose of the Covid-19 vaccine after it was revealed their doses were stored at an incorrect temperature. That may mean people miss out on the vaccine’s full protection. The issue mainly affected booster shots but some first and second doses were also affected.

In a statement, reported by RNZ, Southern DHB’s medical officer of health Susan Jack said there was no risk of harm to anyone who received the incorrectly stored jabs. “In these circumstances the vaccine is not considered to be potent nor to produce a reliable level of immunity,” she said.

Chief executive Chris Fleming added: “The SDHB recognises the inconvenience and anxiety it may cause for the affected individuals. We sincerely apologise to those people who have been impacted by this incident, and also to their whānau,”

The DHB said it was contacting affected individuals and encouraging them to get another dose to ensure they had a high level of protection against the virus, while the provider responsible has stopped vaccinations until a full investigation has been completed.

*This update was amended at 4.20pm to state that the storage issue affected some first and second Covid-19 vaccine doses, not just boosters.

Grocery sector report due back tomorrow

The commerce commission will be reporting back on Tuesday on how it wants to increase competition between the country’s grocers.

In a draft report in July reported on by The Bulletin’s Justin Giovannetti, the commission found the current system isn’t working and left itself significant room to recommend changes. It could go so far as to call on the government to break up the Countdown and Foodstuffs duopoly.

Justin, writing about that report, said that the country’s grocery sector is “effectively broken”.

“It’s a duopoly, split between two grocery giants that squeeze their suppliers, control food prices by dominating wholesale, don’t compete for customers and then offer misleading specials to keep them confused,” he wrote. “In the end, Foodstuffs and Woolworths pocket excessively high profits, the study concluded.”

Tomorrow we’ll get more detail on what could be done to fight the so-called duopoly. We’ll have all the details in the morning and reaction throughout the day.

Want to read The Bulletin in full? Click here to subscribe and join over 36,000 New Zealanders who start each weekday with the biggest stories in politics, business, media and culture.

Covid-19 update: 696 now in hospital, 17,522 new cases

Covid-related hospitalisations continue to rise and daily community case numbers have bounced back slightly as well.

There are now 696 people in hospital with Covid-19, an increase on yesterday’s 618. There are 13 people now in intensive care, a rise of three from yesterday.

“While still early in the omicron outbreak, the figures show that, based on the data available, unvaccinated people are four times over-represented in the current hospitalisation data,” said the Ministry of Health. “Just 3% of eligible people aged 12 and over in New Zealand have had no doses of the vaccine, however, of the eligible people in Northland and Auckland hospitals with Covid-19, 13% have had no doses of the vaccine.”

Case numbers bounce back after two daily drops

Meanwhile, there are another 17,522 new community cases today – a rise after two days of consecutive drops, but still below last week’s peak of more than 22,000.

“Care needs to be taken when interpreting daily reported cases, which are expected to continue to fluctuate,” said the ministry. “This means that the seven-day rolling average of cases gives a more reliable indicator of testing trends. The seven-day rolling average of cases is today 17,921, up from 17,272 yesterday.”

After concern that people may not be uploading their rapid antigen test results, the ministry once again reminded people of the importance of doing that. “The self-reporting of RATs helps provide a clearer picture of how the pandemic is progressing,” said the ministry. “It is essential we have as much information as possible to inform public health decision-making.”

Yesterday, Covid response minister Chris Hipkins suggested the real daily number of Covid infections could be closer to 100,000.

Among today’s cases, two have been confirmed on the Chatham Islands – the first confirmed cases on the remote islands since the pandemic. “The two cases are already isolating and being supported on the islands,” said the ministry. “Canterbury DHB, which manages health services on the islands, is distributing RATs to all households early this week, as a precaution to allow early detection of positive cases.”

The daily number of booster doses appears to be slowing down, with just 5,697 boosters given out yesterday. Overall, 2,460,908 booster doses have been administered.

Finally, the ministry has asked people to be prepared should they need to self-isolate with Covid-19. “Ensure you have an appropriate amount of supplies before there’s a Covid-19 case in your household. In addition, organise with friends, whānau or neighbours to do contactless drop-offs of food and supplies as needed and/or discuss your medication needs with your local pharmacist ahead of time.”

For more: Visit The Spinoff’s Covid Tracker page here

A note from Toby Manhire, editor at large

On Wednesday March 2, the 23-day occupation of parliament came to an end amid terrible and unprecedented scenes on the doorstep of New Zealand’s house of representatives. It was a lot to keep up with – and a lot to get our collective heads around. At the Spinoff we were able to call on Justin Giovannetti, our political editor, to report from the press gallery, while Stewart Sowman Lund travelled to Wellington to run our news updates on location.

More than any protest action in New Zealand history, it needed to be understood not just on the ground, but in the digital undergrowth. Dylan Reeve dived into a teachable moment; I surveyed the key figureheadsMadeleine Chapman raised the alarm on a puff piece. Annabelle Lee-Mather, Justin and I discussed it all on the latest edition of the Gone By Lunchtime podcast (listen here).

The story is far from over, and we’ll continue to pull on the threads: from the global context and conspiracy theories to misinformation, disinformation and social media’s role; from the arguments around mandates to social cohesion. As we continue to struggle against commercial headwinds, contributions from our members are more critical than ever – we simply couldn’t do this work without their support. If you value what we do, please consider becoming a member today. Donate now.

Shane Reti opinion piece pulled after ‘misleading’ mental health graphs

The NZ Herald has pulled an opinion piece written by National MP Shane Reti from its website.

It comes after graphs within the piece were criticised as misrepresenting data. Reti had claimed that self-harm had increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. “The government trumpets only 65 deaths [as meaning] we have won,” he wrote on Twitter. “No we haven’t.”

Many Twitter users, including Newsroom journalist Marc Daalder, were quick to question the veracity of Reti’s claim. Daalder said he had “no clue” how the charts in Reti’s article had been made. His own graph told a different story: namely that intentional self harm hospital admissions from pre-Covid were above the average monthly figure since the first lockdown in March 2020.

Data journalist Chris McDowall, who is a specialist multimedia data journalist at the Herald, called the graphs “misleading”.

The Spinoff also charted the data and the results aligned with Daalder’s graph, showing numbers in 2020 fluctuated while 2021 was largely in line with pre-Covid statistics.

Simon Bridges confirmed as second Covid-positive MP

Simon Bridges has become the second MP to test positive for Covid-19.

The National Party finance spokesperson was not in attendance at yesterday’s state of the nation address by his party’s leader Christopher Luxon, as he was already self-isolating.

The news was subtly broken in a column by the Herald’s Claire Trevett yesterday but has since been picked up by other media today.

Last week, attorney-general David Parker became the first MP – and first government minister – to contract the virus.

Simon Bridges speaks during the National Party Conference in Christchurch on July 27, 2019. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

Three key parliamentary protest pieces to read

From The Spinoff Weekend – a curated collection of the best stories published on our site across the week.

The grounds of parliament are empty of protesters this weekend, and plans are underway to rebuild the bridge, and regrow the grass, undoing the damage of the past 23 days. But the occupation isn’t over. Police are still scrolling through footage to identify those who took part in Wednesday’s violent attacks. In typically calm tones, Toby Manhire sums up what happened on the day the grounds of parliament burned, and what might come next.

(Photo by Marty MELVILLE / AFP) (Photo by MARTY MELVILLE/AFP via Getty Images)

Elsewhere, Dylan Reeve shows the power of misinformation and confirmation bias by examining a key seven-minute period in a livestream in his piece, When misinformation spreads like fire. Finally, Anna Rawhiti-Connell says she struggles to comprehend her conflicting emotions about the occupation. “My anxiety about the protests is my anxiety about the pandemic. That is why attempting to make sense of them is so taxing and upsetting,” she writes. “It is an anxiety about a life, a country and a world, forever changed. Rationally, I have known this to be true for some time and that the only course through this is to become comfortable with uncertainty.” Read her piece in full here.

Sign up to The Spinoff Weekend here

‘We want to do more’: Cabinet to consider further Russian sanctions

The government wants to do more to try and stop Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Cabinet will today consider a bespoke sanctions bill that Jacinda Ardern said would “put pressure on Russia”.

Speaking to TVNZ’s Breakfast, the prime minister said the proposed bill had been drafted specifically for this war. “We’ll be looking at the ability for New Zealand to add additional sanctions and also making sure that we can target those who may have influence on the Russian regime and the ability to continue to put pressure on Russia overall,” she said.

“[It will] ensure we’re doing all that we can in preventing any in-flow of investment as a result of other countries’ sanctions.”

After cabinet meets, Ardern will reveal more details at her regular 4pm Monday press conference. “What we’ve done to date is very much in line with what many other countries have done. But we do want to do more,” she added.

Last week, National’s Gerry Brownlee announced he had a sanctions bill all ready to go as well and called on the government to move ahead with it.

The Fold: A month watching the parliament protest online

Te Pūnaha Matatini research fellow Sanjana Hattotuwa has been studying information disorder for two decades. Over the last month he watched the occupation at parliament spread and outrate the mainstream media in venues like Facebook Live and Telegram. On this week’s episode of The Fold, he tells Duncan Greive why Aotearoa has to view this as a sign of things to come.

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

Two arrested as protesters gather at Government House

There have been a pair of arrests at Government House in Wellington, where a group of anti-mandate protesters have been gathering.

According to Stuff, two people were arrested for allegedly entering the grounds of Government House shortly before 6pm last night. “A police dog unit was deployed to apprehend them. Police are making enquiries into the incident and are speaking with the pair,” a police spokesperson said.

About 40 protesters have been demonstrating at the gates to Government House calling for parliament to be dissolved. Sadly for them, any decision on this has to be made on the advice of prime minister Jacinda Ardern.

Rhythm and Vines Easter fest cancelled; Foo Fighters on the way in December

The already postponed Rhythm and Vines has officially been cancelled.

After last year’s end-of-year festival could not go ahead due to Covid-related restrictions, organisers announced a new Easter event. With the red light setting still in place due to omicron, that’s been canned as well.

“It seems that our Easter event was not to be, so our attention now moves to an incredible milestone in the festival’s history, celebrating two decades of creating special moments,” festival co-founder Hamish Pinkham said.

To make up for it, tickets for this year’s December event are going on sale from next week. For more information, visit the Rhythm and Vines website here.

Foo Fighters announce two-date NZ tour

While RnV may have been scrapped, it’s today been confirmed that rockers the Foo Fighters will be returning to New Zealand in December. The band will play two stadium shows in Wellington and Auckland.

The Foos join a list of upcoming international tours from the likes of Dua Lipa, Guns ‘n Roses and Billie Eilish.

Ardern denies ‘cost of living crisis’, won’t cut petrol taxes

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern has denied New Zealand’s experiencing a “cost of living crisis” and accusations her government’s wasteful spending may have contributed to it.

In a state of the nation address yesterday, the opposition leader Christopher Luxon argued New Zealanders deserve tax relief. “Inflation is at a thirty year high, with the cost of everyday basics like food, petrol and housing all through the roof. The average kiwi family is worse off than they were 12 months ago and the government needs to act,” he said.

It comes as new research from Consumer NZ found that the cost of living was the top concern of New Zealanders.

But speaking to Newshub’s AM, Ardern said she would not describe the current situation as a crisis. “We are experiencing high inflation as are many countries at the moment,” she said. “It is projected to get better this year.”

Fuel prices, however, won’t “necessarily” drop back down again, said Ardern. “What we’re seeing right now, is the impact of Covid and the recovery and of Ukraine,” she said. “The increase we’ve seen at the pump, it’s been significant. It has not come from excise [tax]… it has not come from government.”

Pushed by host Ryan Bridge to admit that if the government cut taxes on petrol, people could be paying half as much at the pump, Ardern said: “If you remove excise, which every government has used, you basically remove your ability to maintain roads and roading projects,” she said.

Ardern said that cutting tax would not help as it would mean key spending on the likes of health and education would be cut. She rejected a “broad brush claim” that her government had engaged in wasteful spending, but admitted that a few isolated incidents could be called wasteful.

Read more: Think $3 a litre is rough? Petrol prices will only get higher, warns the AA

Luxon promises tax rollback if National wins government

From today’s edition of The Bulletin:

With New Zealanders facing increasing costs for housing, at the pump and the supermarket checkout, National’s Christopher Luxon announced in his first state of the nation address that a tax cutting programme is needed. The NZ Herald reports that if National wins next year, Luxon will cancel all new taxes introduced by Jacinda Ardern’s Labour government and adjust income tax rates for inflation. That would mean ending the 39% income tax rate, cancelling the new job insurance programme, the regional fuel tax, a light rail tax, the bright line extension and resuming interest deductibility for rental owners.

The issue of income tax bracket creep.

Tax brackets have not been adjusted in years, which means as a worker’s pay increases with the rate of inflation, they could be pushed into a higher marginal tax rate. This has been identified as a problem, especially for lower-income New Zealanders. Stuff wrote about the issue a few weeks ago. Someone on the minimum wage now only needs to work 44 hours a week to end up in the 30% tax bracket. A minimum wage job probably shouldn’t be in the middle tax bracket. National’s solution is to increase the thresholds for each bracket based on the last four years of inflation. So instead of starting at $48,000, the 30% bracket would start at $53,500. That could mean significant tax cuts for people. Labour has said it doesn’t want to adjust the brackets.

Want to read The Bulletin in full? Click here to subscribe and join over 36,000 New Zealanders who start each weekday with the biggest stories in politics, business, media and culture. 

Viv Beck confirms bid for Auckland mayoralty

Seven months out from election day, the candidate list for Auckland mayor is taking shape, with Viv Beck this morning confirming speculation she’s in the running. CEO of Heart of the City, Auckland’s central city business association, since 2015, Beck hopes to provide the first centre-right mayor since the launch of the Super City in 2010.

“There are many great things about our city. However, the reality is that we have crippling congestion, we have people stuck in a housing emergency and our streets are less safe. At the same time, Auckland has borne the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic with many of our small businesses and communities struggling to survive,” said Beck. “Auckland needs someone with local and central government experience, business understanding, and someone who can work constructively with people to get the best results for Aucklanders.”

Last week the Labour Party announced that it would be endorsing Efeso Collins, the south Auckland councillor, in his bid for mayor. On the right, outspoken hospitality operator Leo Molloy has already announced his bid. Last Thursday he welcomed Beck joining the race, before she had joined it, in a pre-emptive attack stage-whispering of “backroom deals” and “shadowy political power-bosses”. For the centre-right, a real concern in a contest that is conducted under a first-past-the-post system will be to avoid splitting the vote.

The other declared candidates so far are Ted Johnston, Jake Law and Craig Lord.