blog feb 8


Omicron outbreak: 202 new community cases

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for February 8 – it’s a short week! I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. Get in touch with me at or on Twitter.

The headlines

blog feb 8

Omicron outbreak: 202 new community cases

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for February 8 – it’s a short week! I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. Get in touch with me at or on Twitter.

The headlines

Feb 8 2022

NZ ‘tracking at lower end of predictions’ – PM on latest omicron modelling

The prime minister says we’re tracking at the lower end of Te Pūnaha Matatini’s latest modelling on an omicron outbreak, but “no one should be complacent”.

“The determining factor will continue to be booster uptake,” said Jacinda Ardern at this afternoon’s post-cabinet press conference. “We are in an unknown period.”

The modelling released today simulated baseline, low-transmission and high-transmission scenarios that produced outcomes comparable with recent outbreaks in London, South Australia and New York respectively. Ardern said the South Australia “low-transmission” comparison was looking most likely.

Today’s modelling predicted that if booster uptake reached 90% of the eligible population, peak hospital admissions would range from 200 to 800 a day and would put “significant strain” on our health system. Asked whether she was expecting 2,000 daily hospitalisations as per the higher-transmission scenarios, Ardern said, “I’m really cautious about giving any certainty about what we can expect, but what we have said is we need to prepare ourselves for both low and high scenarios.”

Responding to ongoing criticism of a lack of ICU capacity in New Zealand hospitals, at today’s post-cab Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said there were “differing accounts”.

“If you speak to people in ICU they are nervous and they are anticipating coming under increased pressure,” he said. “We also get advice from our health professionals that say we are ready. They deal with peaks in ICU demand and have to make decisions and they’re as well prepared as they’re able to be.”

On concerns raised in the modelling about waning immunity among people who got their boosters earliest, Ardern said, “At the moment the research suggests a short window for the vaccine decreasing the likelihood of you passing it on picking it up, but it’s holding when it comes to the severity of illness and whether y0u end up in hospital.”

Hipkins added: “Overwhelming international evidence is that the best preparedness is to do everything you can to stop people going to hospital.”

Boosters were important in that, as were additional public health measures like mask use, said Hipkins, adding that the government’s mask use policies were in the process of being adapted “based on emerging international evidence”.

Free flu vaccines on offer to more people people this winter

Up to two million New Zealanders will be eligible for a free flu vaccination this year as the government funds 250,000 more jabs.

The phased border reopening kicking off at the end of February means more seasonal flu is likely to be seen in New Zealand, said health minister Andrew Little in a statement. “Vaccinating more people from the flu will save lives, preserve capacity in our hospitals, and is a part of our plan to get through the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Currently flu vaccinations are free for pregnant women, over 65s, and people who have certain medical conditions, including those with cancer and diabetes.

The eligibility criteria is currently being updated, with a focus on reducing the age of eligibility for at-risk populations, and “potentially including a wider range of young people”, said the statement.

Funding to help farmers and growers prepare for omicron announced

Farmers and growers have been allocated $400,000 of government funding to prepare for omicron in a bid to “keep vital workforces going”, agriculture minister Damien O’Connor has announced.

The cash is intended to fund contingency planning and response if a farmer or grower contracts Covid-19, and will be administered by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). It will be directed to Rural Support Trusts, which are “well woven into rural communities to provide wrap-around support services”, as well as other organisations, including those supporting Māori agribusinesses. It will initially be available until April 1.

Contingency planning by farmers, growers and lifestyle block owners will minimise the risk of further Covid-19-related disruptions, which can occur anywhere along the supply chain, said O’Connor in a statement.

“It’s vital all food and fibre producers have a plan. It makes it easier for other people to step in and help run your farm, or feed your livestock, at short notice.”

As it happened: Anti-mandate convoy descends on parliament

Protesters outside parliament on February 8, 2022.

The latest protest against vaccine mandate to descend on parliament largely follows a script set last year: flags and speeches on the forecourt to a few thousand gathered protesters.

Today’s protest seems smaller than the first one in November, with the Trump flags replaced by upside down Canadian maple leafs. The one addition is the mode that got the protesters to the capital, an assembly of camper vans, utes and cars parked haphazardly on the streets around the parliamentary precinct. The sitting area around Wellington’s cenotaph, a memorial to the dead of the two world wars, was turned into a parking lot by cars covered with signs calling for “freedom”. No parking tickets were visible.

While trucks were slowing traffic and blowing air horns earlier in the day, they stopped in the afternoon to listen to a speaker calling for an end to Covid-19 restrictions. Inside parliament, the house was back into debate. Outside, there was a juxtaposition between the speaker’s words calling for peace, along with signs warning that the media and government were committing treason and trials would be held for their crimes.

Before disbanding for the day, the protestors took a moment of silence to remember all those whose “lives were lost over the last year” after all that New Zealand has faced. It was unclear if they meant the 53 deaths due to the pandemic or deaths they blame on restrictions to try to control Covid-19.

Protesters outside parliament on February 8, 2022 (The Spinoff)

The shape of the outbreak

Today’s Covid-19 case count once again topped 200, the majority of which were in Auckland.

Here’s how that looks against the backdrop of our Covid-19 outbreak since September last year.

For more pandemic statistics and analysis, visit The Spinoff’s Covid-19 Tracker page here.

Protesters gather as parliament resumes for 2022

Jacinda Ardern addresses media during a press conference in June, when Wellington was at alert level two. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The day began with a question on rental affordability from The Spinoff. Rent control is out of the question in New Zealand, the deputy prime minister said earlier today. “The prime minister and I have ruled it out,” Grant Robertson said, responding to the associate housing minister’s musings that a cap on rental increases could be part of the government’s package to helping struggling renters. Today’s edition of The Bulletin looked at the increasingly difficult situation many renters find themselves in. 

In the house, the prime minister’s regular slot at question time was replaced by a statement to start off the annual legislative session. Jacinda Ardern said that future generations will look back at the pandemic and how New Zealand has responded with compassion.

“Just as generations before us have met the uninvited hardships of global events, together we have risen to the challenge,” she said. As she spoke, a crowd gathered on the forecourt of parliament to protest vaccine mandates. The so-called freedom convoy had gathered from across the country to call for the government to remove all pandemic restrictions. Their call came despite a building wave of omicron infections that will likely be the country’s most difficult moment with Covid-19 yet.

The prime minister then went over the rest of her government’s programme, over a speech that spanned 23 pages. From the three waters plan to the end of district health boards, electric car subsidies to an unfinished immigration revamp.

“New Zealanders have entrusted this government with the responsibility of leading the country through a crisis. This government has provided stable, united leadership through the most challenging times New Zealand has had to face in modern times,” Ardern said.

Update 2.30pm: The prime minister did not finish her prepared speech during her allocated 20 minutes. It probably would have taken her an hour to get through the whole thing. Her soaring conclusion about the trust New Zealanders have put in her government exists only on paper.

New modelling: Omicron outbreak could see 800 daily hospital admissions

Staff at University Hospital Monklands in Scotland monitor a Covid-positive patient on the ICU ward on February 5, 2021 (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

New Covid-19 modelling suggests our ongoing omicron outbreak will put significant strain on our health system – even with vaccinations and the restrictions of the red setting.

The modelling, funded by the government and carried out by Auckland University, started before community transmission of the omicron variant was detected, but simulated outbreaks starting at different times and with different rates of transmission.

For a modelled outbreak starting on February 1, peak hospital admissions ranged from 200 to 800 per day, and peak demand for hospital beds ranged from 800 to 3,300. That was despite high booster uptake being factored into the model.

Dr Audrey Lustig, one of those involved in the modelling, said: “Even in scenarios with high booster uptake and moderate public health measures… demand on hospitals and intensive care units remains high and would put significant strain on our hospital capacity.”

The modelling notes that, should case numbers skyrocket, public health measures “may be necessary” to flatten the curve. However, the authors do not specify what measures could be required and note that the modelling does not take into account a “stringent policy response”, such as a lockdown, being implemented.

A vaccine being administered in South Auckland. (Photo: Supplied)

Professor Michael Plank said that boosters remained the key to keeping people safe. “For most people, if you’re up to date with your vaccinations, the risk of getting severely ill with omicron is very low,” he said. “But omicron still has the potential to overwhelm healthcare systems because of the sheer number of cases it can cause in a short space of time. This modelling shows that the key to avoiding this is boosters.”

Covid restrictions such as mask wearing and limits on gatherings would also help slow the spread, said the modellers. The red setting will mean demand on the healthcare system is spread over a longer period of time rather than coming all at the same time.

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern today told media that she anticipated our omicron outbreak would peak in March. The weekend saw a record for Covid-19 cases with 243 reported on Saturday. There were just over 200 more cases confirmed today.

202 new community Covid-19 cases after low testing day

The Covid-19 testing centre at White Cross St Lukes in Auckland (Photo: Matthew McAuley)

Another 202 community cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed today, with the majority in Auckland.

Cases were also confirmed in the district health board areas of Northland, Waikato, Lakes, Bay of Plenty, Taranaki, Hawke’s Bay, Hutt Valley, Capital and Coast, and Nelson-Marlborough.

Just 13,997 people were tested for Covid-19 yesterday – however this was to be expected with yesterday being a public holiday. The seven-day rolling average for testing is 18,679.

The number of hospitalisations related to Covid-19 has risen to 14, with one in intensive care.

At the border, another 63 cases were confirmed.

The Ministry of Health said “a number” of Covid-19 cases have been identified at schools, but this was to be expected. “A range of public health measures have been established to help ensure our tamariki are well protected from Covid-19 at school,” said a spokesperson.

Today’s confirmed cases include four associated with Te Mata Primary School in Havelock North, with two of them unknowingly infectious while in the classroom.

Today’s case details

There are 119 new cases in Auckland today. There are 2,670 people isolating in the community, 1,099 of whom are cases.

In Northland, 17 new cases have been confirmed. “Investigations are ongoing to determine links,” said the Ministry of Health.

There are 39 new cases in Waikato today. Of these, 29 have links to previously reported cases. Public health staff are continuing their investigations into the remaining ten cases. Twenty-five of today’s cases are in Hamilton, two in Ngāruawāhia, two in Ōhaupō, two in Taupiri, one in Morrinsville and the remaining locations are to be confirmed.

There are four new cases to report in the Lakes DHB area today – two of which are in Rotorua and two are in Tāupo. Three of these cases have links to previously reported cases, while the source of the remaining case is under investigation.

Eight new cases have been confirmed in Bay of Plenty, all in Tauranga or the wider Western Bay of Plenty. This number includes one mariner aboard the SF Maui, which has been at the Port of Tauranga

Six of these cases are linked to previously reported cases.

There is one new Covid-19 case to report in Taranaki today which is linked to a previously identified case in Northland. This case was reported by Taranaki DHB on Sunday, but is officially included in today’s numbers. “The case and their household contacts are isolating in South Taranaki, and at this stage there are no new locations of interest for the region,” said the ministry.

There are eight new cases to report in Hawke’s Bay today, four of which are associated with Te Mata Primary School in Havelock North. As two of the cases were unknowingly infectious while at school last week a number of individuals have been identified as close contacts. Hawke’s Bay DHB’s Public Health Unit is working closely with the school and the Ministry of Education.

Pop-up testing is available for close contacts of the Te Mata School group today. The other four Hawke’s Bay cases are linked to known cases.

There are five new cases in the Wellington region today, all are household contacts of existing cases.

Finally, one new case has been confirmed in the Tasman region. This case is linked to a previously reported case.

Investigations are continuing to determine the source of a case who was staying at Tahuna Beach Holiday Park at the time of the positive test. Mobile testing and vaccination was available at the park over the weekend and Public Health staff are wanting to thank people at the park for the strong testing and vaccination turnout.

How the top four National MPs will vote on conversion therapy

Image: Tina Tiller

Three of National’s top MPs will vote to ban conversion therapy.

The bill is up for its second reading and will pass regardless of opposition support. Last year, all National MPs voted down the bill at first reading, causing ructions within the party.

Christopher Luxon told media that the “vast majority” of National MPs would now be backing the ban. “I’ve read through the legislation and I’m supportive of it,” he said.

But one of those voting against it will be National’s justice spokesperson Simon Bridges. He said he is concerned parents will lose out. “I think most reasonable New Zealanders would want as parents the ability to sit down and talk things through with their children,” he said. “There are permanent consequences of treatments and medical procedures. This bill allows for none of that nuance.”

He wasn’t voting down the law because he was bigoted, said Bridges, but because parents should be allowed to be parents.

National’s deputy Nicola Willis and the party’s number four Chris Bishop will vote to ban the bill. Act will also vote in favour of the ban – but said they could pull that support at third reading.

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Watch the trailer for new documentary series Takeout Kids

Takeout Kids is a new observational documentary series from director Julie Zhu (East Meets East, Conversations With My Immigrant Parents) which follows four young people juggle school, friends and everything else while growing up in their parents’ restaurants and takeaway shops. Watch the trailer below – all four episodes will be available on The Spinoff from next Tuesday, February 15.

Takeout Kids is made with support from NZ On Air

Martin Devlin to return to radio on Sean Plunket’s new talkback network

plunko devlin

Former Newstalk ZB sports host Martin Devlin is set to return to the airwaves on Sean Plunket’s upcoming digital talkback network The Platform.

Devlin resigned from Newstalk ZB last year after suffering “an almost fatal mental health event”. He also faced accusations of attempting to punch a staff member and admitted sending “unwelcome messages to other colleagues”.

Appearing on The Spinoff’s podcast The Fold, Plunket defended hiring Devlin to host a new drive show. “I saw no proof and no claim substantiating that [Devlin] had a pattern of harassing colleagues,” he said. “It’s important that we don’t smear people by allegation.”

Plunket called Devlin “the most talented sports talk broadcaster in the country” and added that he had not recently discussed the allegations against him as Devlin was “not convicted of any crime”.

The Platform’s full line-up will include Plunket hosting the breakfast show, Michael Laws from 9am-12pm slot and Leanne Malcolm from 12-3pm. Columns from the likes of Chris Trotter, Martyn Bradbury and Don Brash will also be published online.

The Platform is expected to launch next month. Listen to the full interview here.

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

Liam Gallagher, Jack Harlow, many others plan NZ shows

Will live international tours return to New Zealand with gusto by July?

That’s the bet promoters are making with more than a dozen sideshows featuring big names and small from Australia’s Splendour in the Grass music festival announced this morning..

The biggest concerts includes a solo performance by former Oasis front man Liam Gallagher at Auckland’s Spark Arena, and young pop-rap sensation Jack Harlow, who will play at West Auckland venue Trust Arena.

Among the other concerts include performances by UK genre-straddler Yungblud, rap innovator JPEGMAFIA, country singer Orville Peck, and rapper Teirra Whack.

Most shows are based in Auckland through the second half of July, with just one act, the UK rapper Aitch, making it to Wellington.

It comes after a rough couple of years for the touring industry, with many big name festivals and major shows cancelled in the face of Covid-19.

This seems to be year promoters are banking on the touring industry returning in full force, with visits planned by Billie Eilish, Tyler, the Creator, Dua Lipa, The Killers, Kings of Leon, London Grammar and Tame Impala.

But it’s still a risky time, with the industry taking another pummelling in the face of the spread of omicron, with most live music venues unable to operate with numbers restricted to just 100, making concerts financially unviable.

Promoters will be hoping omicron and red alert levels are a thing of the past by then.

The full list of shows:

  • Orville Peck, Powerstation, Auckland, July 17
  • Still Woozy, Tuning Fork, Auckland, July 18
  • Yungblud, Shed 10, Auckland, July 20
  • Liam Gallagher, Spark Arena, Auckland, July 21
  • Joy Crookes, Powerstation, Auckland, July 24
  • JPEGMAFIA, Powerstation, Auckland, July 26
  • Jack Harlow, Trust Arena, July 31
  • Yungblud, Shed10, July 20
  • Tierra Whack, Powerstation, Auckland, July 30
  • Aitch, San Fran,  Wellington, July 30
  • Renforshort, Tuning Fork, Auckland, July 30
  • Aitch, Powerstation, Auckland, July 31
  • Holly Humberstone, Tuning Fork, Auckland, July 31

Slow start to planned day of protest at parliament

Photo: Getty Images

It’s a quiet start to a planned day of protest at parliament.

A convoy of trucks and cars from around the country was expected to converge in Wellington this morning. Their arrival time was pushed back due to the North Island convoy’s decision to meet earlier today in Levin and then compounded by rush hour traffic.

According to NZME’s TimeSaver Traffic, the convoy accidentally split into three groups, causing backlogs along the Kāpiti Coast.

It’s not known how many of the South Island drivers will even make it to Wellington as a vaccine pass is needed for the ferry and the protestors are protesting, well, vaccine mandates and Covid restrictions.

The Spinoff’s political editor Justin Giovannetti said earlier that only a small group had settled in outside parliament: “a couple of people and vans”.

The main branch of the convoy is expected to arrive at parliament momentarily, but it’s still unclear how many will be in attendance.

Support for Act halves in latest TV poll

Support for the Act Party has crumbled by eight points in the latest Newshub Reid Research poll. That puts it back below the Greens, but still gives the party 8% – or 10 MPs.

Labour has risen in the latest poll, despite concerns around rapid antigen testing and the rise of omicron. It’s on 44.3% and with the Green Party’s 9.6% would comfortably return to power. The Māori Party is on 2%.

Under Christopher Luxon, National has returned to the 30s. It’s sitting on 31.3%, up four points. Coupled with Act, it would give the right bloc of parliament 49 seats to Labour and the Greens’ 68, with the Māori Party supplying three seats on the cross benches as well.

Jacinda Ardern still comfortably preferred PM

There’s little sign of Luxonmania in the preferred prime minister stakes. The National leader has shot up to a respectable 17.8%, above where both Judith Collins and Simon Bridges debuted in the same poll. But, it’s below what celebrity prime ministers like Jacinda Ardern and John Key first recorded.

Meanwhile, Ardern rises 1.6% to 43.3% and David Seymour falls by four points to 7.9% – still the third most popular in the poll.

Almost 40% of people think Luxon’s doing well

While Labour and Ardern are still riding high, Newshub also found people were generally supportive of Luxon’s performance as opposition leader. Just under 40% thought Luxon was “performing well” in his new role, a 17 point bump from Judith Collins’ last result in the same poll. But Jacinda Ardern still has a strong lead: 58.4% of people think she’s performing well as prime minister.

Magic Talk replacement to launch next month

(Image : MediaWorks/Tina Tiller)

Today FM, the replacement for MediaWorks’ Magic Talk brand, will officially launch on March 21.

It’s a delayed start date for the new network following the well publicised legal challenge against breakfast host Tova O’Brien from her former employer Discovery.

“Today FM has some exceptional hosts, outstanding producers, an incredible newsroom and many people working behind the scenes preparing for its launch,” said MediaWorks news and talk director Dallas Gurney. “We can’t wait to get on-air and offer Aotearoa something fresh and new.”

Alongside O’Brien in the breakfast slot, Today FM’s line-up includes Rachel Smalley, Duncan Garner and Mark Richardson. And, announced today, former New Zealand Idol host Dominic Bowden will host a weekend show called WellBeings – a radio version of his new health and lifestyle podcast.

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

Jacinda Ardern admits petrol is expensive

Jacinda Ardern addresses media at the Beehive. (Photo by Robert Kitchin – Pool/Getty Images)

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern has acknowledged the high cost of petrol – but said it’s not her government’s fault.

As I wrote for The Spinoff today, fuel prices have soared in recent months with some pumps surging beyond $3 a litre for premium petrol. And, in Auckland, your standard 91 is still sitting around $2.80 a litre.

Jacinda Ardern told Newshub’s AM that fuel “prices are high”. However, she said the government had not – and would not – make it worse. “Cutting healthy spending is not the way to resolve the issue of inflation that we are seeing many of our counterparts experiencing as well.”

Some commentators, said Ardern, had suggested that prices would start to return to normal over the coming months.

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

Government should come clean on RAT chat – Act

ACT leader David Seymour (Photo: Jessie Chiang/RNZ)

There’s one easy way to clear up the debate on rapid antigen tests and whether they were pinched by the government: release all the correspondence.

The Act Party said the government should release any communication it and the Ministry of Health have had with rapid test manufacturers. It follows the government and the director general of health explicitly rejecting taking RAT orders from the private sector. But, a report over the weekend appeared to show the Ministry of Health backtracking on that.

David Seymour said it’s not possible for both the ministry and the government to be correct. “If the prime minister is right, and the ministry has done nothing wrong, the government will be eager to release the documents publicly,” said Seymour.

“If it chooses to keep them secret, New Zealanders will come to their own conclusions.”

An antigen test (rapid test device) showing a negative result (Photo Illustration: Marcos del Mazo/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The Fold: Sean Plunket is platforming himself

Image: Simon Chesterman

After abruptly leaving Magic Talk last year, veteran broadcaster Sean Plunket did something unusual: he started his own digital radio station, recruiting some high profile radio personalities including Michael Laws and Martin Devlin. On this week’s episode of The Fold he tells Duncan Greive why, and what listeners can expect from The Platform once it launches.

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

‘Factually incorrect’: Ardern joins debate on rapid test requisition

(Photo: Mark Mitchell-Pool/Getty Images

The debate on whether rapid antigen tests were taken by the government has continued this morning. Jacinda Ardern has stepped in to reject media reports that health officials had snapped up rapid antigen tests from private businesses.

It follows a report in the The Herald that claimed rapid tests already in the country from manufacturer Roche had been consolidated into the government’s stock. A spokeswoman from the ministry acknowledged it “did take the full February allocation from Roche and their stock on hand in New Zealand as part of having our orders fulfilled by Roche”.

That went against previous statements by director general of health Ashley Bloomfield. “Many businesses already have tests onshore and we’re not requisitioning those or doing anything like that,” he told reporters last week.

The prime minister told Newshub’s AM that the claim Roche’s stock had been requisitioned was “factually incorrect”.

“I understand that Roche themselves are correcting that assertion … The assertion that we have taken orders from other countries, that is just not correct.”

No private company had their orders delayed by Ministry of Health involvement, she said. “What I’m telling you is what Roche has advised, which is they had rapid antigen tests in the country, they were moving through the sequencing of their orders, in order, and that is the basis on how we received ours. So the assertion that we have taken orders from other companies is just not correct.”