Christchurch will get its stadium

It’s Thursday, July 14 and welcome along to The Spinoff’s live updates –  your daily digest of what you need to know. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund, you can get me on

The agenda

  • Covid-19: Free masks and rapid tests – but no move to red.
  • Christchurch’s long-delayed stadium gets the green light.
  • Bloomfield: BA.5 set to become dominant omicron, case numbers surge.
  • Once again, there are more than 11,000 new community cases nationwide.
  • Billy Joel is coming to NZ – and he’ll be the first international star to play Eden Park.

Christchurch will get its stadium

It’s Thursday, July 14 and welcome along to The Spinoff’s live updates –  your daily digest of what you need to know. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund, you can get me on

The agenda

  • Covid-19: Free masks and rapid tests – but no move to red.
  • Christchurch’s long-delayed stadium gets the green light.
  • Bloomfield: BA.5 set to become dominant omicron, case numbers surge.
  • Once again, there are more than 11,000 new community cases nationwide.
  • Billy Joel is coming to NZ – and he’ll be the first international star to play Eden Park.
Jul 14 2022

Christchurch stadium gets council green light

An artist’s impression of the proposed Christchurch stadium during a sports game (Photo: Christchurch City Council)

After years of waiting, a budget that’s expanded by millions, and a live rendition of Imagine – Christchurch will get its new stadium.

The city’s councillors today voted 13-3 in favour of the $683 million project.

Christchurch hasn’t had a permanent stadium for over a decade. The AMI Stadium was closed after damage sustained during the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011.

Those who voted against the stadium – Melanie Coker, Sara Templeton and Celeste Donovan – warned of the burden that would come from the additional $150 million that’s required for the project. Rates are expected to rise to cover this.

When completed, the stadium’s projected to bring in almost $500 million over its first 25 years.

School mask mandate ‘missing’ from latest Covid announcement – Michael Baker

Epidemiologist Michael Baker (Photo: RNZ/Philippa Tolley)

Top public health expert Michael Baker has welcomed the news masks and rapid antigen tests will be more easily accessible over winter. But, he’s criticised the government for not going a step further.

It was announced today that while New Zealand will stay in the orange traffic light system, anyone will be able to access free rapid antigen tests and masks.

Baker, who has been a vocal advocate for mask use throughout the pandemic, said it was a “very positive” announcement.

“The main element missing from this announcement was any expansion in requirements for mask use indoors. The obvious setting where a mask mandate is needed is in schools,” Baker told the Science Media Centre. “Schools have been left to make their own individual decisions about mask use, which means that many children and their teachers are missing out on this protection.”

Speaking to the Herald, Baker went a step further and suggested the government was ignoring the science community. “It’s almost like we’re denying transmission happens at schools which is bizarre,” he said. “I think people will look back in horror at our laissez-faire approach to this.”

Covid-19 response minister Ayesha Verrall today defended the government’s decision not to expand Covid restrictions, saying the rules at orange were sufficient for getting the country through the new omicron wave.

Epidemiologist Michael Baker (Photo: RNZ/Philippa Tolley)

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The Covid-19 outbreak, charted

Image: Toby Morris

We’ve heard today just how the BA.5 omicron subvariant is surging – but what does that look like?

Here are the latest Covid numbers and how they look in the context of the pandemic.

  • New cases: 11,382, including 412 reinfections. Rolling average now 9,826.
  • Hospitalisations: 765, including 11 in intensive care.
  • Deaths: 23, including a child under 10 years old.

Could information be our next big export?

Made in partnership with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, the fourth episode in The Spinoff’s new podcast series Going Global is out now. This week sees Ethique’s Brianne West and Business is Boring’s Simon Pound talk to Lucy Blakiston, co-founder and CEO of Shit You Should Care About (SYSCA), a global news brand that’s amassed 3.6 million social media followers.

Blakiston is an unlikely exporter – she’s not sending physical products overseas, but her brand is undeniably international. SYSCA is known best for digesting the biggest news stories in the world and giving them context relevant to their young audience through podcasts, a daily newsletter and their social media.

Listen to Going Global on The Spinoff Podcast Network.

Free masks and rapid tests – but no move to red

Image: Archi Banal

The Covid-19 response minister has reiterated that New Zealand will remain in the orange setting of the traffic light setting. But, she says the “red” setting is not redundant.

Instead, free masks will be rolled out to anyone accessing rapid antigen tests at any collection point nationwide. These rapid tests will now be free to everybody – you no longer have to say you have symptoms or be a household contact.

Most people will be given free medical masks, but those deemed most vulnerable will be provided P2/N95 masks.

“We can improve how we are using the tools available to us at orange,” said Ayesha Verrall, citing rapid tests, antiviral medications and mask use. “The rapidly rising rates of reinfection show… now is not the time to stop wearing masks.”

A new push for booster uptake and flu vaccines would soon begin, said Verrall.

Meanwhile, Verrall confirmed that the availability of Covid-19 antiviral drugs will be expanded. “The percentage of people eligible for these drugs will go from 2% to 10%, or approximately 400,000 people,” the minister said. “Anyone over 75 will be eligible and there will be improved access for Māori and Pacific peoples.”

This will help alleviate pressure on primary care by removing the need for GPs to review every Covid-19 patient that may be eligible for antivirals, Verrall said. “Antiviral medications can reduce the seriousness of Covid-19 meaning fewer people need to be hospitalised.”

On the decision not to move to red, Verrall said the setting was “not redundant”. Much of today’s press conference was spent by journalist’s questioning Verrall on whether the traffic light framework was still useful. Verrall said it was, and that New Zealand needed a flexible framework. “We believe we can get through focusing on the basics of masks, vaccination, ventilation and staying home while you’re sick,” she said.

“Flexibility” was the word of the day. “We need flexibility in order to respond to a virus that frequently changes,” Verrall said, defending the traffic light system as fit for purpose.

“Wearing masks can reduce new cases of the virus by as much as 53%. We are asking New Zealanders to keep up good mask wearing, especially over the remaining winter months where the virus is more likely to pass in indoor settings,” she added.

The expanded eligibility for antivirals will kick in from next Monday.

The 'traffic light' framework for NZ's Covid response will replaces the alert system.
Image: Archi Banal

Bloomfield: BA.5 set to become dominant omicron, case numbers surge

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – JANUARY 23: Director general of health Dr. Ashley Bloomfield during the press conference with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, after she announced the country will move to red traffic light settings, at the Beehive in Parliament on January 23, 2022 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Mark Mitchell-Pool/Getty Images)

Just the Covid numbers

  • New cases: 11,382, including 412 reinfections. Rolling average now 9,826.
  • Hospitalisations: 765
  • Deaths: 23

Image: Toby Morris

Bloomfield: BA.5 will “almost certainly” become dominant variant in the coming weeks 

The director general of health has signalled just how rapidly New Zealand’s omicron winter outbreak is surging.

Speaking in Wellington, Ashley Bloomfield said the rate of cases in people over 65 had increased by 32% in the week ending July 10. Much of this is due to the BA.5 subvariant of omicron, which Bloomfield said was responsible for the suddent increase in cases. “It is clearly better at evading immunity,” he said. If you have previously had Covid-19, you were “not immune to being reinfected.”

Bloomfield said 47% of cases are BA.5 related and that’s going to continue to increase. “It will almost certainly become the dominant variant in the coming weeks,” he said. There is “no indication” that the subvariant causes a worse illness.

“Modelling shows a peak in hospitalisations of more than 1,200 beds occupied per day, higher than in the first peak,” said Bloomfield. “The same modelling shows a peak of 21,000 cases per day.” This modelling is based on our current attitude to Covid-19 and the level of restrictions in place.

If we take measures, we can keep hospitalisations to under 1,000 and cases to under 18,000, explained Bloomfield.

Watch: Ayesha Verrall holds Covid-19 traffic light update

The Covid-19 response minister Ayesha Verrall is about to hold a briefing on New Zealand’s Covid-19 traffic light framework.

It’s expected to see little change to the framework itself, but will likely involve wider distribution of masks and rapid antigen tests.

Verrall will be joined by director general of health Ashley Bloomfield and Te Whatu Ora chief executive Margie Apa.

PSA: Parking is currently free in Wellington

A parking meter in Wynyard Quarter, central Auckland (Photo: Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

An important public service announcement for our Wellington readers (hello to you all).

A technical issue is impacting Wellington’s parking metres, meaning it’s currently free to pull up anywhere in the city.

A post on the Wellington City Council Facebook page said parking metres were currently out of action – but didn’t say for how long. “You won’t be ticketed for this so please still park as usual without paying until our provider fixes the issue,” the post said.

But: “We will be enforcing time limits so please only stay as long as permitted.”

Christchurch votes on its stadium proposal

Christchurch councillors are getting ready to vote on whether the city’s long-awaited stadium will get the green light.

It’s been a decade since the project was first floated, but ongoing delays and budget blow outs have seen any movement on a stadium halted. Christchurch locals overwhelmingly backed the project based on recent submissions to the council.

You can tune into the council meeting below.

Meanwhile, Stuff’s live blog has been covering off highlights from the meeting – including a memorable singalong by Hospitality NZ’s Peter Morrison to John Lennon’s Imagine (which started with the line “imagine there’s a stadium”).

Is the government ignoring Health NZ already?

Requiring nurses to wait two years before gaining green cards in New Zealand should be reconsidered, the chair of Health NZ told Tova on Today FM last week, but it seems health minister Andrew Little might be ignoring this request, just days after Health NZ was established with a goal to improve Aotearoa’s health outcomes.

Listen to Little’s chat with Tova O’Brien on Today FM here.

What can we expect from today’s Covid-19 traffic light update?

Covid-19 response minister Ayesha Verrall (Photo: Getty Images)

As the winter surge of Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations persists, we’re expecting an update today from the minister in charge about what will be done to curb it.

But while you might expect that would involve a move back into the red setting, we’re instead expecting another tampering of the orange setting.

That will mean that large events, both indoors and outdoors, will still be able to go ahead despite over 11,000 Covid-19 cases being confirmed every day.

According to Stuff, today’s announce by minister Ayesha Verrall will focus on rapid antigen tests and masks. Glenn McConnell reported that it’ll be easier for New Zealanders to access tests and face coverings, but restrictions are not likely to be tightened.

The move from the government comes amid a political storm on the Covid front. The rise in cases, coupled with winter illnesses, has put significant pressure on the health system. The death toll continues to rise, with our most vulnerable at highest risk. The opposition have called for the traffic light setting to be scrapped entirely in favour of a simpler set of pandemic guidelines. The Greens have called for tighter restrictions, though will likely be pleased with the plan to roll out free masks more widely.

All will be confirmed at a 12.30pm press conference.

Covid-19 response minister Ayesha Verrall (Photo: Getty Images)

And for some more reading on the Covid beat: Stuff has a hefty explainer of what we’re up against with this new surge in infections, while yesterday we published a new Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris collaboration looking at how to slow the growth in cases.

Billy Joel to become first international performer at Eden Park

Photo: Supplied

Acclaimed singer-songwriter Billy Joel will become the first international act to perform at Auckland’s Eden Park.

He’s announced his first New Zealand stadium show in 25 years and will play the iconic venue on December 3.

What’s interesting about Joel’s show is that it’s being held exactly a week before rockers Guns N’ Roses play Eden Park – in a gig that was widely being promoted as the first international concert at the stadium.

Joel’s back catalogue comprises some of the best known hits of all time, think Piano Man, Uptown Girl and We Didn’t Start the Fire. And as international touring ramps up on our shores after Covid-19, this will be a pretty fun night out.

For complete VIP, tour and ticket information, visit Tickets go on sale next Thursday.

Billy Joel (Photo: Supplied)

Decision day for long-delayed Christchurch stadium project

An artist’s impression of the proposed Christchurch stadium during a sports game (Photo: Christchurch City Council)

It’s an issue that’s long been boiling, and today it could finally hit pressure point: the Christchurch stadium.

We’ve covered the issue at The Spinoff a little bit over recent months, primarily in The Bulletin and via this excellent explainer on the state of play. Who doesn’t want a read an article that has the word “omnishambles” in the headline?

Now, today, councillors in Christchurch will meet for a final discussion on the stadium – and ultimately vote on whether it will sign a fixed-price contract to build it.

Despite the multi-million dollar budget blow-out, recent Christchurch surveying showed a majority of the city was in favour of the new stadium. It’s been over a decade since the city last had a major venue, with the AMI Stadium permanently damaged in the earthquakes.

Today’s meeting will have three options up for consideration: pay the price, reconsider the plan, or scrap the project altogether. We’ll be following the outcome with interest.

And I don’t normally – if ever – share Mike Hosking op-eds in the live updates, but he has an interesting point today. He’s argued in his daily column that Christchurch could become New Zealand’s greatest city if officials get a hurry on and build the stadium.

“When it’s done, and it joins the conference facility and justice precinct, and the riverside market, and the new downtown housing projects, and the many businesses… return to the city, it will be testament to what a small country at the bottom of the South Pacific, when faced with adversity, can actually do,” writes the Newstalk ZB broadcaster.

The council meeting kicks off at about 10am.

An artist’s impression of the proposed Christchurch stadium during a sports game (Photo: Christchurch City Council)

The Bulletin: Ministry considered driver licence or passport photos for My Health accounts

After a series of questions posed by RNZ, Phil Pennington has uncovered that government agencies have a facial recognition system set up to share driver licence photos with the Covid vaccine passport scheme. After a third approach from RNZ, the ministry of health said on Tuesday that it had considered using photos from driver licences or passports for the My Health account (used to issue vaccine passports) but did not.

In correspondence dating back to 2020, the trail reveals conversations between various agencies including New Zealand transport agency Waka Kotahi, the Ministry of Social Development, the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, the Department of Internal Affairs and the privacy commissioner. The Digital Identity Services Trust Framework Bill is currently due for a second reading. As Pennington writes, the bill extols the benefits of transparency.

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