matariki
blog april 7

Live UpdatesApr 7 2022

Covid death toll rises, but cases and hospitalisations trending down

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


The latest

  • There have been 13 more deaths linked to the Covid-19 pandemic. Hospitalisations and overall case numbers continue to trend down.
  • Public health director Caroline McElnay is finishing up in the role today, just a day after Ashley Bloomfield announced his intention to step down in July.
blog april 7

Covid death toll rises, but cases and hospitalisations trending down

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


The latest

  • There have been 13 more deaths linked to the Covid-19 pandemic. Hospitalisations and overall case numbers continue to trend down.
  • Public health director Caroline McElnay is finishing up in the role today, just a day after Ashley Bloomfield announced his intention to step down in July.
Apr 7 2022

Phil Goff cleared by SFO as investigation into donations closed

The Serious Fraud Office has closed an investigation into Auckland mayoral donations.

The investigation was launched in 2020 after police referred complaints about the 2016 and 2019 donations onto the office.

“The SFO takes allegations of electoral funding fraud very seriously,” said acting director Paul O’Neil.We have completed our investigation and we are satisfied that this matter can now be closed.”

A statement from mayor Phil Goff’s campaign office welcomed the news. “We are pleased that having completed the investigation, the SFO is satisfied that this matter can now be closed,” a spokesperson said.

“The campaign has always been confident about the integrity of our procedures and that the rules governing donations were always followed.”

Goff won’t be seeking reelection in this year’s local election, and it’s been speculated he could be lining up a diplomatic posting in London.

‘Sex survey’ aims to learn more about our relationship with dating apps

A new “sex survey” aims to find out how New Zealanders are using dating apps in 2022.

Project Gender, a self-described “social change agency”, has launched the Aotearoa Online Dating and Sex Survey to gather data on the relationship New Zealanders have with apps like Tinder.

Along with finding out more about the toxic side of apps – like the sending of unsolicited dick pics and catfishing – it’s hoped the survey will help to develop real-world solutions for making online dating a safer and more enjoyable experience. “It is also going to really help with information on safety and consent which is so important where we are seeing a rise of issues and crimes relating to apps,” said a Project Gender statement.

The agency are hoping for a wide range of New Zealanders from across the gender and sexuality spectrum to participate, with men being particularly encouraged as they “can be less open to these types of conversations”.

You can find out more – and take the survey – here.

Peter Jackson cracks global billionaire list

New Zealand director Peter Jackson has made Forbes’ list of the world’s billionaires for the first time.

There were 236 new billionaires from 34 different countries on the 2022 list, including pop star and businesswoman Rihanna. After a year of Covid and conflict in Ukraine, the number of new billionaires is down from the record of 493 in 2021.

Jackson’s billionaire status was ratified after he sold a stake in Weta’s digital branch for around $975 million late last year.

Meanwhile, it was announced this week that Weta will branch out of New Zealand for the first time ever. A Canadian arm of the effects company will launch with 75 employees, working on films such as a future instalment of the Avatar series.

Could mask wearing be regionalised in the future?

The outgoing director of public health has signalled that masks will be here to stay, even as the country drops down from the red traffic light setting.

At green, masks will not be a mandatory requirement. Asked by The Spinoff’s Justin Giovannetti about whether that point will be reached, Caroline McElnay suggested that mask use may eventually become a recommendation as opposed to a requirement.

“Masks are very effective,” she said. “What we’ve seen in countries overseas… that are a little bit further ahead in their Covid response, they’re allowing more regional decision-making. That may be where we end up, where we have got an appreciation of the benefits that masks bring. I think that is the way forward – where we as a community understand what we need to do and make those choices ourselves.”

McElnay said if we all keep a mask in our pocket, we can use it as needed.

61 people linked to alleged offending at Gloriavale

An investigation into offending at the Gloriavale Christian commune has identified 61 people allegedly involved.

Five people have so far been charged with “a range of offences” and remain before the court.

“While Operation Minneapolis has concluded, police have continued to investigate a range of alleged offending and have identified further lines of enquiry,” said West Coast area commander inspector Jacqui Corner in a statement.

Operation Minneapolis was launched in 2020, with police working in partnership with Oranga Tamariki to investigate concerning behaviour at the religious community. Last year, police told media that “at least” 60 people were involved in alleged harmful sexual behaviour.

Inspector Corner said speaking with the “significant” number of people identified during the investigation will be an “extensive process broken down into phases”.

NZ response to online harms ‘isn’t working’ – InternetNZ boss

The interim CEO of InternetNZ, Andrew Cushen, has responded to concerns around a surge in online toxicity, such as the Nuremberg-themed example reported by The Spinoff this week that sits on the .nz high-level domain. “We think the system for dealing with harmful, hateful and potentially illegal content online isn’t working as it should,” he said in a blogpost.

The Domain Name Commission, which sits within InternetNZ – itself a non-governmental membership-based organisation – told The Spinoff last week that it had referred the Nuremberg site to police but in the absence of any instruction to remove it, the site did not meet the “very high threshold” for a temporary, unilateral suspension. Police told The Spinoff they are aware of the site and “working with a number of agencies in relation to this website and similar matters”.

“The New Zealand Police, the courts, the Department of Internal Affairs, and other non-government organisations have the power to review, judge and enforce what content should and shouldn’t be online,” wrote Cushen. “When we are asked by one of those parties to help, we do so quickly and promptly, because we honour their role in our shared system.”

He accepted, however, that the system as a whole was failing. “We know there are real concerns right now, real risks right now and real hurt occurring right now too. It isn’t effective enough, and it doesn’t act fast enough … The solutions need to be designed with and for the people suffering from this sort of content. Finding better solutions is becoming more urgent as the landscape is shifting.” He added: “We will do our part, and we will work with others to make the system work better. There are solutions to this, and we want to do our part to make this system work better.” 

Covid-19 latest: 13 more deaths, 639 in hospital, 11,634 new community cases

Another 13 people with Covid-19 have died, bringing New Zealand’s pandemic total up to 456.

Of the new deaths, three people were from Northland, one from Auckland, two from Waikato, one from Bay of Plenty, one from Whanganui, two from West Coast, and three from Southern. Three were in their 30s, two in their 50s, two in their 60s, four in their 70s, one in their 80s, and one over 90. Seven were women and six were men.

Speaking at the Ministry of Health, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield there had been a “small decline” in hospitalisations since yesterday, with 639 being treated. There are currently 29 people in intensive care.

Bloomfield said nationwide case numbers continue to decline. There are 11,634 being announced today, with the seven-day rolling average down to 11,791 from last Thursday’s 14,515.

It’s only been in the last couple of weeks that cases have started to decline across the country, said Bloomfield, and that will go into cabinet’s decision about the traffic light settings next week.

Hospital admissions in the northern region are declining, but quite slowly. Around 30-40% of those in hospital are estimated to be there for reasons other than Covid.

Outgoing public health director Caroline McElnay questioned over timing of her resignation

Bloomfield is joined at today’s briefing by public health director Caroline McElnay. It was yesterday revealed she has resigned from her post and today will be her final day in the role. Reflecting back on her time in the role, McElnay said today was the 299th Covid press conference. “It’s been an honour and a privilege to serve as director of public health throughout this time,” she said.

“I’m travelling overseas and it will be some months before I come back to New Zealand. It’s been an honour and a privilege to have served as director of public health during this time.

Perhaps anticipating questions regarding the departure of McElnay’s departure, Bloomfield said it had been “several months” since the public health director revealed her intention to leave the ministry. He said she had “very good reasons” for wanting to depart. Dr Jim Miller has joined to act in the director of public health role while Dr McElnay’s replacement is  appointed.”

Bloomfield paid tribute to McElnay, saying she had been “a real rock” for him and it had been “a real pleasure” fronting the 1pm briefings together. “I’m pleased you’re having a break.”

McElnay said after five years in the role it was time to leave, citing her regular commute between home in Napier and the ministry in Wellington. She said she planned to spend more time with her family in New Zealand and visit extended family in Ireland and Europe.

Despite her decision to leave, McElnay said she did not feel burnt out. She has not thought about what her next job would be, but did not rule out taking up a job with the new Health NZ organisation. Preferably, however, her next role will involve next travel.

Reflecting on New Zealand’s Covid response, McElnay said our low death toll is an indication of how successful it has been. She acknowledged that every death is a tragedy and said in the early days of the pandemic she felt like every time she addressed the country it was to announce a death. “I knoew that social media for a while trolled me as ‘doctor death’,” she said. “I would challenge anyone who said our death rate was high.”

Watch: Bloomfield to reveal latest Covid numbers

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield and public health director Caroline McElnay are both fronting this afternoon’s Covid-19 briefing.

The pair announced yesterday they’ll be standing down from their posts in the coming months.

Tune into the briefing below or follow along with our live coverage from around 1pm.

Thousands text bomb RNZ after network discusses Bloomfield knighthood

RNZ has been bombarded with “thousands” of identical messages after a discussion on the possibility of Ashley Bloomfield being knighted.

In a post on Twitter, the broadcaster suggested anti-mandate protesters had coordinated to text bomb the station. It shared a screenshot of the text machine, showing the repeated messages sent in quick succession.

The news of Bloomfield’s resignation sparked widespread discussion among conspiracy theorists on online chat groups. The Spinoff has seen messages which encourage people to text RNZ in opposition to Bloomfield’s possible (and very much not confirmed) knighthood, or simply say “no”.

Te Punaha Matatini’s Disinformation Project researcher Sanjana Hattotuwa later spoke to RNZ, where he said that the end of the parliament protest had certainly not marked the end of conspiracy theories being spread online. “The end of the protest at the beehive… has not meant the dissipation, the amelioration, of the networks that fuel antivax, anti-mandate communities,” he said.

“It’s sophisticated and tactical. These are offline and online communities who are assembling, planning, communicating, strategising and putting out communications and media – misinformation and disinformation – that is hugely compelling.”

Greens call for immediate rent freeze to combat cost of living crisis

The Greens want more done to curb the growing cost of living, calling for an immediate rent freeze to be implemented until “meaningful and permanent” rent controls are brought in.

The party’s released an open letter addressed to the prime minister and is calling for 2,000 members of the public to add their signature.

“The rental market more closely resembles a game of monopoly than a public good – and it’s landlords who hold all the cards,” said Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson.

“Over the last year landlords have hiked up rents like never before – by 5.6% on average, compared to a 2.8% increase in wages.”

Last month, the government announced cuts to petrol prices and public transport fares to tackle the cost of living crisis. However, nothing was done to directly target other costs like rent. The government then argued that its April 1 package, which included a rise in the minimum wage, showed they was helping people meet their everyday needs.

National has criticised the Green Party proposal, with housing spokesperson Chris Bishop calling it “economically illiterate nonsense” on Twitter. “The headline should be ‘Homelessness Minister calls for policies to create more homeless people’,” he said in response to a Stuff story on the subject.

Dunedin council looks at options to remove Octagon occupiers

An occupation at the Octagon started on February 11 and Dunedin’s mayor and council have had enough. The Otago Daily Times reports that they are looking at ending the protest, including forcibly removing them. Vaccine pass requirements are over at council facilities and the mayor said the protest had run out of reasons to exist. The protesters say they want all pandemic rules gone and everyone who lost a job to vaccine passes to be reinstated and compensated. In Wellington, day five of a fortnight of protests has continued to fizzle with little turnout.

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Health sector reforms behind ‘exhausted’ Bloomfield’s decision to leave – Little

The health minister said it’s not ideal to have three of the most senior health experts leave amid reports of burnout and fatigue in the sector.

Ashley Bloomfield announced yesterday that he’d be stepping down as director general of health in late July. He was later followed by two more senior colleagues, including Caroline McElnay who has also fronted a number of Covid-related press conferences over the past two years.

Speaking to RNZ, Andrew Little said Bloomfield and his colleagues were simply exhausted. “I suspect the prospect of him stepping into a big change process after what he’s done in the last two years, and indeed the last four years, is probably something he didn’t want to do at this point,” he said.

The “big change” referred to by Little is the planned health reforms that will see the country’s DHB network replaced by two overarching organisations – Health NZ and the Māori Health Authority. It’s been speculated, including by Newstalk ZB’s Barry Soper, that these changes helped Bloomfield in his decision to resign.

Little said while it wasn’t ideal that Bloomfield was leaving, he left behind an extraordinary legacy. “History has a funny way of serving up things that you don’t get to control, what you do get is to manage the response. And they’ve done that. They’re humans too and there are limits to their capacity,” he said.