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No apology for Northland lockdown ‘error’

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for September 7, I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. You can get in touch with me on

The agenda

  • The government won’t apologise for plunging Northland into lockdown for what has since been outed as a clerical error.
  • Singer Marlon Williams is hitting the road in early 2023.
  • #Spitgate is the best story of the year.
  • There are 1,793 cases being reported today, while 260 people are now in hospital with the virus.

No apology for Northland lockdown ‘error’

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for September 7, I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. You can get in touch with me on

The agenda

  • The government won’t apologise for plunging Northland into lockdown for what has since been outed as a clerical error.
  • Singer Marlon Williams is hitting the road in early 2023.
  • #Spitgate is the best story of the year.
  • There are 1,793 cases being reported today, while 260 people are now in hospital with the virus.
Sep 7 2022

Rita Ora, Benee, Shapeshifter to perform at Rugby World Cup


New Zealand’s most recent unruly tourist, Rita Ora, has been announced as a guest performer at the women’s rugby world cup. The tournament begins in Auckland next month (October 8) with a three-match festival at Eden Park.

The chart-topping singer songwriter will perform at the end of the second match (Fiji vs England) and again at halftime of the main event: Black Ferns vs Australia. “I can’t wait to perform in Aotearoa and join these incredible female athletes in such a historic moment for women’s rugby,” Ora said in a statement. “New Zealand holds a special place in my heart and I look forward to connecting with the fans, players and everyone involved during my time at the tournament.”

Tickets to the opening day triple-header are $10 ($5 for kids) and would likely be the cheapest ever admission ticket to a Rita Ora performance. Head along and if you see Ora, stop and say hello – she’d love to connect.

Benee and Shapeshifter also performing

Local stars will also be making appearances at the tournament, with Shapeshifter performing at the semi finals and Benee at the final. Ticket prices to those matches (and performances) won’t exceed $40. Would be rude not to, really.

Middlemore’s imposter doctor pleads guilty

(Photo: LDR / Stephen Forbes)

A man who successfully posed as a patient-facing doctor at one of the country’s most high pressure hospitals has pleaded guilty to using a forged document.

Yuvaraj Krishnan spent six months as a doctor at Middlemore Hospital, using falsified medical documents. He now, as reported by Stuff, faces up to 10 years in prison.

It’s reported that Krishnan was mainly involved in research but also ran out-patient clinics and examined as many as 80 patients.

According to court documents, Krishnan was outed by a colleague. “The defendant was only discovered after a doctor recognised his name from a previous incident in 2012 when he was caught attending the University of Auckland without being accepted into the course,” the agreed summary of facts said.

“The defendant was trespassed from the university after that incident, having two years’ worth of tertiary education without authority.”

Read more here.

We’re going deeper underground: A dispatch from inside Auckland’s CRL project

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern tours the City Rail Link project in central Auckland. Photo: Chris Schulz

“Hello and…” says prime minister Jacinda Ardern to a waiting throng of about 20 media. We’re dressed in safety pants, florescent jackets, glasses, gloves, boots and bright pink helmets to protect us from the dangers of the live construction site we’re standing in: the Te Waihorotiu station of Auckland’s Covid-delayed City Rail Link project.

Today, it’s not the concrete saws and tunnel boring machines we need protection from – it’s the vicious noise levels. One level down a rickety flight of scaffolding steps is where, sometime in the next few years, passengers will be able to jump on and off an underground train system linking Britomart to Mt Eden, Karanghape Rd and the city centre.

Right now, the CRL is still being built, and construction doesn’t stop for a gaggle of media or the Prime Minister. The racket, an excruciating combination of low level hums to hammering, sawing, drilling and yelling is overwhelming, surely ruining all the tape the gathering 6pm news crews are filming.

Jacinda CRL
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern tours the City Rail Link project in central Auckland. Photo: Chris Schulz

Ardern struggles with it too. I’m standing just 1.5 metres away from her, yet neither my ears, nor my tape recorder, can pick up a word. To make matters worse, as she kicks off her introduction the shrill noise of a siren manages to top all the other noises. Ardern smiles, nods, says something about “breakthroughs”, then, probably wisely, hands things over to those in charge of the project, who are there to update everyone on where CRL’s at.

It’s a good question, because there have been delays. There’s no doubt CRL is a huge deal, the largest ever transport infrastructure project attempted in Aotearoa. Installing twin 3.45-kilometre-long tunnels up to 42 metres below the country’s biggest city to carry 54,000 people per hour has not been easy. The pandemic did not help things, with stay-at-home orders and staffing shortages affecting construction times.

Jacinda CRL
Media and the Prime Minister examine the CRL project in Auckland. Photo: Chris Schulz

Originally scheduled to be finished in late 2024, and estimated to cost $4.5 billion, officials are renegotiating with contractors and admit they won’t have announcements to make on a final end date, or cost, until the end of the year. “Current Covid-related impacts, and those before, are of a scale and uncertainty we could not have reasonably predicted a couple of years ago,” City Rail Link chief executive Dr Sean Sweeney has admitted.

“It is highly likely there will be significant consequences for the project.”Perhaps the most telling moment of today’s tour came when Sweeney admits the hardest part is still yet to come, once the tunnel boring machine hits the spot we’re standing on in about a week’s time and finishes digging out the twin train tunnels. More than 16km of train tracks and 1500km of cabling needs to be laid.

“Turning a tunnel like this into a railway, that’s still to come,” Sweeney says, barely managing to be heard over the din. “We’ve never built a metro of this size in New Zealand.”

Factchecking Morning Report’s factcheck of Christopher Luxon


On Morning Report today, things got tense during an interview between RNZ host Susie Ferguson and National leader Christopher Luxon.

After an initial discussion of the government’s plan to tackle youth offending – which Luxon described as “soft” – the conversation moved to education. Luxon called Chris Hipkins “the worst education minister in New Zealand’s history” and used statistics to back that assertion up.

Here’s an excerpt from their exchange:

  • Luxon: “When you have 55% of our kids not at school regularly, when you have 100,000 kids chronically truant… it’s unacceptable.”
  • Ferguson: “Those are not the accurate figures on truancy… I’ve got the figures right in front of me here. Attendance is running at 83%, that’s the latest figure… unjustified absence in term one, 2022 was 6.6%. Your figures are incorrect.”
  • Luxon: “Term four to term one [figures] are down from 60% down to 40% in regular attendance and we have over 100,000 kids chronically truant.”
  • Ferguson: “Those don’t appear to be the figures that we have here that I understand are accurate.”

So who has the right stats? We checked the latest Ministry of Education figures which appeared to back up Luxon’s claim. According to the ministry, 46.1% of students met the criteria for regular attendance in term one of this year. That means almost 55% of students aren’t at school regularly, like Luxon said.

Ferguson was just 0.1% off, however, when she said unjustified absences this term were at 6.6% (it’s 6.5%), but I can’t personally work out how she concluded that attendance was at 83%. (We’ve asked RNZ for comment on what statistics they used, but have yet to hear back). The closest I could get was by subtracting the 9.1% justified absences and the 6.5% unjustified absences figures, but that would still equal 84.4%.

As for the truancy statistics cited by Luxon, ministry figures claim that 101,861 students attended school 70% or less – which is the ministry’s marker for chronic absence – in line with Luxon’s comments (although he said truancy not absence).

Statistics can be confusing and interpreted in different ways. It’s entirely possible I’ve misinterpreted something here, too, but a spokesperson from Luxon’s office told The Spinoff: “We are confident we are using accurate and authoritative figures”.

Covid-19 latest: Case numbers stay below 2,000

Image: Toby Morris

It’s another sub-2,000 Covid case day. There are 1,793 cases being reported today, while 260 people are now in hospital with the virus. Five people remain in intensive care.

There are 1793 new cases of Covid-19 today, and 260 people in hospital. Five people are in intensive care. A further six Covid-related deaths have been reported.

Andrew Old, head of the public health agency, told media at a briefing this afternoon that both case numbers and hospitalisations were as low as at the start of the omicron wave in February.

“Levels of the virus detected in wastewater have continued to decline in the last week,” he said. “Case rates among health care workers have continued to decline since mid-July.”

The rolling average of new cases has also dropped nationwide and “all age groups”, said Old. The same was true for hospitalisations.

It all showed “real and sustained evidence of Covid-19 declining in our community,” added Old.

Watch: An update on our Covid-19 response

Image: Toby Morris

Health officials in Auckland are today giving an update on our slowing omicron outbreak.

Tune in below:

Image of the day: Petunia the Snow Woman


Today’s image of the day comes from The Spinoff TV writer and Dunedin bureau chief Tara Ward.

The miracle of snow hit Te Waipounamu and briefly, (perhaps tenuously) Wellington on Tuesday morning and Tara’s kids were delighted to meet Petunia the Snow Woman. By the afternoon the snow was gone and Petunia was slipping away, but her memory will live on. Gone too soon.

Petunia the Snow Woman (Photo: Tara Ward)

Film star denies #spitgate claims

I mainly just wanted to write “spitgate” in a headline, but this story is hilarious for anyone out there following the drama around Olivia Wilde’s new film Don’t Worry, Darling.

After months of speculation over the film, including reports its production became increasingly tense due to a relationship between Wilde and star Harry Styles, it finally premiered this week to what can only be described as tepid reviews. Basically, the behind the scenes drama is a lot more exciting than the film.

At this week’s premiere screening, a video emerged that appeared to show Styles spitting on his co-star Chris Pine (I, for one, cannot actually see any spit but it’s still a funny conspiracy).

Pine has now come out and denied being brutally spat on by the world’s biggest pop star.

“This is a ridiculous story – a complete fabrication and the result of an odd online illusion that is clearly deceiving and allows for foolish speculation,” a spokesperson said.

And so the saga continues.

Ex-Covid minister won’t apologise for Northland lockdown based on ‘clerical error’

Chris Hipkins speaks to media during a press conference (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The former Covid-19 response minister has defended shifting Northland into a lockdown last year based on what has since been revealed as human error. 

It was reported this morning that the women who crossed Auckland’s border in October last year, plunging the region into lockdown, had not used false documents as alleged at one time. They also had no substantiated links to gangs or sex work, as had been claimed by some.

Fronting for media in Auckland today, prime minister Jacinda Ardern was asked about the revelations – but chose to pass the question to Chris Hipkins, the ex-Covid response minister.

Hipkins said he would not have changed the decisions made regarding Northland’s lockdown. “We have to consider the whole context of this particular case which is that we had Covid-19 in Northland. The actions we took were to protect Northland,” said Hipkins, citing the region’s low vaccination rates and the fact delta was not circulating at the time.

“I don’t want to get into all the ins and outs… we were making decisions based on all the information we had at the time.”

Asked whether he would apologise to the women at the centre of the Northland lockdown, Hipkins chose not to. However, he acknowledged that “unsubstantiated allegations” were made about the women. “We were pushing back and asking people not to make those. We shared information as much as we could,” said Hipkins.

Chris Hipkins speaks to media during a press conference (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Marlon Williams announces nationwide tour

Marlon Williams. Okay-looking jumpshot: not pictured (image: supplied)

Ahead of the release of his third album My Boy this Friday, singer Marlon Williams has revealed he’s hitting the road around Aotearoa early next year.

He’ll visit Auckland’s Civic Theatre on January 20, before heading to the Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington, the Town Hall in Christchurch and the Regent in Dunedin.

Tickets for the tour go on sale next Monday.


The Bulletin: Law and order announcements continue

Police and social development ministers Chris Hipkins and Carmel Sepuloni made a second announcement yesterday morning about measures to curb youth offending and crime. The government is investing in a youth engagement package, including “wraparound support” for young people involved in ram raids. It follows Monday’s announcement on legislative amendments giving police broader powers to seize assets. National and Act have called the measures too little, too late, with David Seymour suggesting 11-year-old offenders could wear ankle bracelets.

While soft on crime/tough on crime rhetoric is an age-old political jousting stick, the Herald’s Adam Pearse actually looked at one of the programmes being funded as part of the package to find it has had success. Youth worker Aaron Hendry has five recommendations on how to approach youth offending.

Later today on the Spinoff, lawyer Andrew Grant makes his case for what could work as evidence shows that harsher sentences don’t.

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.  

The story behind Northland’s snap 11-day lockdown

Empty streets of lockdown Auckland

It’s been almost a year since Northland was sent into a sudden 11-day lockdown, which took place concurrently with Auckland’s ongoing nearly four-month stint in levels three and four.

Cast your mind back: there were allegations those responsible for the lockdown, a trio of women, were linked to gangs, or maybe sex workers. There were claims they had used false documents to move across Auckland’s closed border.

According to The Herald’s David Fisher (and RNZ who later had the story), none of those publicly discussed claims had any truth.

Documents released via the Official Information Act have revealed that travel documents were issued to the women “in error” by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. This human error was known to officials before the lockdown began, yet then-Covid response minister Chris Hipkins publicly claimed that “false information” was used to get across the border.

Winston Peters also proclaimed on national television that the women had links to Hawke’s Bay-based Mongrel Mob leader Harry Tam (police found “no evidence” of this nor of the claim they were involved in “prostitution”).

You can read the full report here.