blog march 8


Covid case numbers bounce back as hospitalisations continue to rise

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 8. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. Get in touch with me at

The latest

blog march 8

Covid case numbers bounce back as hospitalisations continue to rise

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 8. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. Get in touch with me at

The latest

Mar 8 2022

Number of MPs linked to Covid-19 cases grows

“About 11” National MPs are now in self-isolation, connected to potential Covid-19 cases.

That includes leader Christopher Luxon who yesterday tested positive for the virus. In addition, three Labour MPs (including two government ministers) have tested positive.

National’s deputy leader Nicola Willis told media that Luxon had followed all the rules prior to his positive result, even though he was pictured hugging supporters at an event on Sunday.

“He was wearing a mask, we intentionally kept that event small and people who were sitting in the audience were socially distanced, all those rules were followed,” said Willis. “I think like many New Zealanders who had a clear negative test he didn’t believe he was a risk and he conducted himself completely within the rules.”

‘Their numbers don’t add up’: Grant Robertson questions ‘accuracy’ of National tax plan

Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson on budget day 2021 (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The finance minister has questioned the accuracy of National’s new tax plan, accusing the party of altering an online factsheet since Sunday’s policy announcement.

In a press release sent out via the Labour Party, as opposed to under government letterhead, Robertson also called for National to release the full costings of the tax policy.

“It’s becoming clear National’s announcement on Sunday was a rush-job and their numbers don’t add up,” Grant Robertson said. “Christopher Luxon has fallen into the same trap as former leaders’ Simon Bridges, Todd Muller and Judith Collins and hasn’t done his homework before making a policy announcement.”

Robertson said Luxon had simply re-announced a January 2019 policy from then-leader Simon Bridges, and suggested the numbers in the new policy may not have been changed. “National originally published a factsheet on its policy which said the costings ‘were based on an updated version of the Treasury’s 2019 model for estimating the fiscal impact of tax changes’. However, a newer version of the factsheet now on National’s website has that line deleted.”

He added: “I’m calling on National to release its costing spreadsheet so it can be independently checked. This includes being able to tell whether National has used at least-three year old numbers, or what updates it has attempted to make.”

Robertson’s comments are essentially the latest episode in the “fiscal hole” saga which routinely pops up whenever a party announces a new economic policy. Late last year, the Herald said Act had joined the fiscal hole “club” after its plan to tackle inflation had a $43 billion error. In 2020, then-National finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith had to admit a $4 billion hole in the party’s alternative budget. And in the 2017 election campaign, former finance minister Steven Joyce accused Grant Robertson of creating an $11 billion hole in his fiscal plan.

Supermarkets will be slow to change, warns Consumer NZ

(Photo: Getty Images)

Consumer NZ says today’s Commerce Commission report into the supermarket duopoly doesn’t go far enough, and warns any change will be slow.

The industry watchdog said it was disappointed by today’s announcement, which saw the Commerce Commission back away from breaking up the country’s supermarket duopoly and instead settling for a series of codes of conduct that would require more transparency in the way the two major grocers, Foodstuffs and Progressives, operate.

Consumer NZ chief executive Jon Duffy said putting responsibility into the hands of the supermarkets was the wrong move.

“While we’re happy to see the spotlight put on the supermarket sector, we are concerned that if the spotlight is removed, supermarkets will revert to the practices that brought about the need for this market study in the first place,” said Duffy. “Change is likely to be slow and consumers are not going to see lower prices at the checkout any time soon.”

Recent Consumer NZ research found three out of four shoppers removed items from their weekly shop because of cost, proving just how widespread consumer worries about prices are.

“Food has become unaffordable for many consumers,” said Duffy. “It is times like this that we need competitive markets producing good outcomes for consumers. The problems highlighted in the commission’s report demonstrate strong regulatory intervention is required, and we will be looking to minister Clark to address the problems in the sector as he considers the Commission’s recommendations,.”

Online grocery delivery service Supie agrees, saying the recommendations won’t change the high prices customers pay for groceries at checkouts. “This process was the opportunity to make a meaningful change to set up a fair food future and a better outcome for every New Zealander,” it said in a supplied statement.

“Fairer access to food will not improve, the cost of food will continue to rise and we as a country will continue to be treated unfairly by the status quo, being the supermarket duopoly.”

Covid-19 update: 757 in hospital, 16 in ICU, almost 24,000 new cases

Image: Toby Morris

There are now 757 people in hospital with Covid-19, with 16 in intensive care. The largest proportion of hospitalised cases continues to be spread across the three Auckland hospitals.

That figure of 757, which came direct from the Ministry of Health, is one more than the number given at today’s 1pm press briefing.

Hospitalisations are about the same as yesterday in Auckland City, slightly up in Waitematā and slightly down in Middlemore.

Meanwhile, daily community Covid cases have bounced back to a high of 23,894, with more than 9,000 of these in Auckland. Speaking at today’s 1pm press conference, director of public health Caroline McElnay said the actual infection numbers are likely to be much higher.

From March 1 to March 7, the seven day rolling average increased from 10,698 to 17,921, and over the same period, hospitalisations increased from 373 to 696. “These numbers clearly show that omicron is still spreading in our communities,” said the ministry. “We all need to continue to wear a mask, physical distance, and get tested where required to reduce the spread of the virus.”

Yesterday saw a record 43,735 rapid antigen test results from Aucklanders, added McElnay. That’s 25% higher than the previous high recorded last Monday. McElnay reminded people that self-reporting their rapid test result was incredibly important. Parents will, from later this week, be able to report children’s RAT results via My Covid Record. Parents currently have to report children’s RAT results to an 0800 number, and have faced lengthy delays.

McElnay said critical healthcare workers could now return to work earlier than usual, but only if it could be done safely and was needed to provide the service.

Over 10,000 booster doses were administered yesterday, bumping up the total boosters given out to 2,470,222.

Watch: Latest Covid-19 numbers to be released

Director of public health Dr Caroline McElnay speaks to the press during a media update. (Photo: Mark Mitchell – Pool/Getty Images)

Director of public health Caroline McElnay will reveal today’s Covid-19 hospitalisations and case details at a Ministry of Health press conference. She’ll be joined by the ministry’s group manager of data and digital, Michael Dreyer.

You can tune in below

New valuations show Auckland property up 34%

An aerial view of Māngere (Photo: Getty Images)

Auckland homeowners have seen a 34% rise in capital value over the past three years, according to new Auckland Council valuations released today.

It’s been a five-year wait for property owners waiting for their new CVs, which can be used as indicators for anyone attempting to buy or sell a home. The last was in 2017, with Covid-19 lockdowns delaying revaluations until today.

The biggest rises were in Māngere-Ōtāhuhu, Henderson-Massey and Maungakiekie-Tāmaki, which saw rises between 41-49%, but property on Aotea (Great Barrier Island) topped the chart with a 59% increase in value. According to a recent Spinoff story, Aotea is becoming more popular than ever.

While for many the news may be cause for celebration, those valuations will be used to determine new AC rates charges starting from July 1.

Gary Blick, Auckland Council’s chief economist says the effects of the Unitary Plan implemented in 2016 can be seen in the valuations, with apartments rising just 8% and flats 27%.

“We started to see these impacts in the 2017 revaluation but realistically the effect is showing now,” he says. “The value increases have moved out from the city centre, which is what we would expect as housing in those areas becomes more desirable.”

Property owners can check their new CV figures here.

Supermarket industry overhaul will begin this year

Health minister David Clark (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Legislation will be drafted this year to move forward with the recommendations made by the Commerce Commission about the grocery sector.

David Clark, the commerce minister, has just wrapped a press conference where he doubled down on his commitment to fix the supermarket industry. He will bring legislation to parliament this year, but hoped some change could happen immediately. “There’s nothing to stop the supermarkets implementing much of this change right here right now”, he said, singling out the unit pricing recommendation.

New Zealanders were “demonstrably paying too much at the checkout,” said Clark, who once again reiterated that he would look to make further changes to the sector if today’s recommendations did not work.

“I don’t want to wait three years before we see change,” he said, in response to a question from The Spinoff about whether he would consider the overhaul a “failure” if prices hadn’t dropped by then. “I think change here will occur over time, but some of it can happen immediately,” he said.

Some supermarkets were making profits in excess of $1 million a day across New Zealand, said Clark, making more than double what was considered a fair rate of return on capital investment.

‘Victory for suppliers’: Food lobby group welcomes grocery sector recommendations

A supermarket shopper wearing a mask in Auckland (Getty Images)

The New Zealand Food & Grocery Council (NZFGC) was “delighted” with the Commerce Commission’s final report on the grocery sector, with chief executive Katherine Rich describing its recommendations as a “victory for suppliers” and a “ringing endorsement” of the industry body’s long-held stance.

The competition regulator has backed away from its earlier thinking that New Zealand’s supermarket duopoly of Woolworths NZ (Countdown, SuperValue and FreshChoice) and Foodstuffs (New World, Pak’nSave and Four Square) could be broken up, instead settling for a series of codes of conduct that would require greater transparency in the way the two major grocers operate.

Other key recommendations released this morning included calling on the government to free up more land for new grocery stores and ban restrictive land covenants used by the major chains to block new entrants.

NZFGC, which represents manufacturers and suppliers behind the country’s food, beverage and grocery brands – a sector that generates more than $40 billion in domestic sales and $34b in export revenue – has been pushing for a code of conduct for 12 years, and “we are now closer to having this vital tool”, said Rich.

“The findings and recommendations confirm what we have been saying for years – competition in the market is not working well, stifling innovation, consumer choice, and genuine competition, and creating an environment where suppliers are treated unfairly. But there is still a duopoly, and ideally there needs to be two or three more sizeable players in the market for there to be genuine competition. It remains to be seen if recommendations to improve wholesale distribution and land availability will be enough to encourage new entrants.”

Rich said suppliers were happy with the recommendation of greater oversight, including a dedicated grocery sector regulator with the power to monitor, seek information and resolve disputes. “The sunlight from additional regular scrutiny will make a difference. Already the supermarkets have made concessions not on the table prior to the market study.”

All parties benefited from a “flourishing food industry” where suppliers could negotiate and receive fair terms, and which ultimately benefited consumers with innovation and a greater range of grocery products, said Rich. “The big question now is the government’s response to the report. We hope there will be cross-party support in the parliament to put this report into action.”

Act Party: Families of Ukrainian-NZers should be able to come here now

Act deputy leader Brooke van Velden (Photo by Lynn Grieveson – Newsroom/Newsroom via Getty Images)

The families of Ukrainian-New Zealanders should be able to come to New Zealand as soon as possible, Act believes.

The party’s launched a petition calling on the government to give sanctuary to Ukrainian-NZ families, saying it’s “a simple thing” that would show solidarity with the impacted community.

“It’s time to step up,” said Act’s deputy leader Brooke van Velden. “The world is uniting against Russian aggression to help the Ukrainian people. The question is what are we doing for our Ukrainian-Kiwi neighbours?”

A new Russian sanctions bill will go through parliament under urgency tomorrow. But while that deals with trying to stop Russia’s invasion, it would do little to help Ukrainian’s who need safe refuge. The government last week gave $2 million in humanitarian aid, but van Velden said that was a “tiny amount for some blankets”.

She added: “Act has spoken to Kiwi-Ukrainians who are watching with horror what’s happening to their homeland. These are people who have parents, brothers, sisters, partners and children caught in the conflict. The New Zealand government has been far too slow to act.”

Act said it would back the government’s sanctions bill, but criticised the time it took to have it ready for debate.

Act deputy leader Brooke van Velden (Photo by Lynn Grieveson – Newsroom/Newsroom via Getty Images)

On Site: Women in the trades

Out today, the second episode of podcast series On Site is all about women in the trades – what the industry offers, where there’s still work to do and how we can get more wāhine on the tools. Hosts Jay and Brooke are joined by Amanda Williams, principal advisor for women at BCITO, and Genevieve Black, a builder from Tāmaki Makaurau.

Listen to On Site on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.

Overhaul of grocery sector could go further than new recommendations – Clark

Commerce minister David Clark (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The government hasn’t ruled out taking its grocery sector overhaul further than the Commerce Commission recommended.

Key recommendations released this morning include calling on the government to make more land available for new grocery stores and a ban on restrictive land covenants used by the major chains to block new entrants.

Commerce minister David Clark said the government will “immediately” get to work addressing the recommendations, signalling he supported them – in particular the ban on land covenants. “The report sets out a clear justification for change in the grocery market. The status quo will not deliver fairer prices for consumers and a better deal for producers and wholesalers, and I hope the sector will constructively engage in the changes that need to be made,” he said.

But Clark said it was also possible the government might push for “some of the other options that the Commerce Commission tabled while developing its report” if consumer benefit was not achieved from the changes recommended today.  “When New Zealand supermarkets are making more than double what the Commerce Commission considers to be a normal rate of return on capital for grocery retailing, it’s clear there is a problem with competition that needs to be fixed,” he said.

The Labour Party committed to reviewing the rising cost of groceries during its 2020 election campaign. Yesterday, Jacinda Ardern said she did not see the rising cost of living as a “crisis”.

(Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Commerce Commission backs away from breaking supermarket duopoly

Image: Archi Banal/The Spinoff

The Commerce Commission has backed away from its earlier thinking that the country’s supermarket duopoly could be broken up, instead settling for a series of codes of conduct that would require more transparency in the way the two major grocers operate.

The Spinoff’s Justin Giovannetti is at a briefing this morning hosted by the commission, where it has released a final report into the grocery sector.

“We have found that the intensity of competition between the major grocery retailers who dominate the market, Woolworths NZ and Foodstuffs, is muted and competitors wanting to enter or expand face significant challenges,” said the commission’s chair, Anna Rawlings, in a statement.

To help increase competition, the commission has called on the government to make more land available for new grocery stores and a ban on restrictive land covenants used by the major chains to block new entrants.

Image: Archi Banal/The Spinoff

The commission also recommended introducing a mandatory “grocery code of conduct” to govern relationships between the major grocery retailers and their suppliers. In order to help consumers, supermarkets would be required to make their pricing and promotional practices “simple and easy to understand” and the “consistent display of unit pricing” would be mandated.

It’s a far softer report than the draft released midway through last year. Gone is any suggestion of the government establishing an independent supermarket or wholesaler. Instead, a grocery “regulator” could be created. And while the commission recognised that competition within the grocery sector was not “working well”, no structural change has been recommended.

Asked whether food prices would drop if the government took onboard all of these recommendations, Rawlings said that was up to the market. But: “If competition was working better than it is now consumers would pay lower prices for a given range of groceries.”

– additional reporting Justin Giovannetti

New Zealand added to Russia’s list of ‘unfriendly’ countries

Minister of Foreign Affairs Nanaia Mahuta talks to media during a press conference at Parliament on April 22, 2021 in Wellington, (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Russia has retaliated to our new sanctions regime announced last night – by putting New Zealand on its new list of “unfriendly countries”.

The Russia Sanctions Bill will be brought to parliament tomorrow and passed under urgency. It’ll mean the foreign minister can freeze Russian assets, bar Russian ships and planes from our waters and airspace, and apply sanctions to trade and financial institutions.

According to Russian state-owned media outlet TASS, New Zealand has since been added to the list of foreign states and territories that “commit unfriendly actions” against Russia.

“The countries and territories mentioned in the list imposed or joined the sanctions against Russia after the start of a special military operation of the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine.”

Other countries on the list include the United States, Canada, the UK, Australia and, yes, Ukraine.