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blog march 16


24 new deaths reported; 971 in hospital with Covid and 19,542 new community cases

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 16.

The latest

  • Eight people died with Covid-19 yesterday, with a further 16 deaths reported to the ministry today from the past few weeks. There are 971 people in hospital, 21 of whom are in ICU.
  • There are 19,542 new cases in the community.
  • The border will open to tourists months ahead of the original timeline, with vaccinated Australians able to travel here from April 13, and others from May 2.
blog march 16

24 new deaths reported; 971 in hospital with Covid and 19,542 new community cases

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 16.

The latest

  • Eight people died with Covid-19 yesterday, with a further 16 deaths reported to the ministry today from the past few weeks. There are 971 people in hospital, 21 of whom are in ICU.
  • There are 19,542 new cases in the community.
  • The border will open to tourists months ahead of the original timeline, with vaccinated Australians able to travel here from April 13, and others from May 2.
Mar 16 2022

“I’m just a regular dickhead”: Simon Bridges on his shock exit

The morning after announcing he’s quitting politics, the former National leader and self-proclaimed “regular dickhead” joined Gone By Lunchtime for a candid conversation to explain the decision and his future plans – and reflect on the people “who exploded on me”.

Follow Gone By Lunchtime on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.

Willis accuses Robertson of ‘gaslighting’ in fiery first exchange in finance role

Nicola Willis (Photo: Getty Images)

National’s Nicola Willis has taken on finance minister Grant Robertson in the house for the first time in her new role as finance spokesperson.

In a supplementary question to an initial one about inflation, Willis accused Robertson of “gaslighting” New Zealanders – before changing her wording to “patronising” and then “trying to fool” after speaker Trevor Mallard took issue with the first two phrases – by “claiming his statistics prove they’re getting ahead under his government when they know they’re not”.

Robertson said he rejected the premise, saying that wages had outpaced inflation between 2018 and 2021 and were projected to do so again, and adding that inflation had outpaced wages at two points under the last National government.

Willis then presented Robertson with quotes from “middle-income Kiwis” who wouldn’t be eligible for the April 1 changes to benefits and tax credits. Robertson responded that the government was faced with difficult choices in balancing investing in long-term issues like roads and public transport and helping those on the lowest incomes. Robertson pointed to the low rate of unemployment and accused National of offering tax cuts to the richest New Zealanders.

When Willis presented the finance minister with figures about young New Zealanders wanting to leave the country, he implied the National Party wanted to “ban the OE”.

Willis to take on finance minister in question time

National Party leader Christopher Luxon and deputy leader Nicola Willis (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Brand new National finance spokesperson Nicola Willis will go head to head with finance minister Grant Robertson in question time at parliament today, just hours after it was announced she was taking the portfolio held by her outgoing colleague Simon Bridges, who announced his retirement from politics yesterday.

Unsurprisingly, the cost of living crisis will be the focus of Willis’s question, as she’ll ask if Robertson agrees with an economist’s statement that “inflation is now running laps around wage growth”, and “households are going backwards at an alarming rate”.

In a statement announcing her appointment this morning, National leader Christopher Luxon promised Willis would “take the government to task over the cost of living crisis and their wasteful spending decisions”.

You can watch live below:

Eight new deaths plus 16 additional; 971 hospitalisations; 19,542 new community Covid cases

Image: Toby Morris

The Ministry of Health has announced the deaths of 24 people with Covid-19 today, eight of whom died yesterday and a further 16 who died in the past three weeks.

The 16 additional deaths were reported to the ministry by local public health authorities in the past 24 hours as part of changes to the reporting of deaths announced last week. “Delays to reporting can be associated with people dying with, rather than of Covid-19,  and Covid being discovered after they have died,” said the ministry in a statement.

Eight of the 24 deaths announced today were at aged residential care facilities.

Of the 24 people being reported today, three died in Northland, seven in Auckland, seven in Waikato, two in the Bay of Plenty, two in MidCentral and two in Wairarapa.

One of these people was in their 40s, one in their 50s, four in their 60s, three in their 70s, eight in their 80s and six in their 90s. Eleven were women and 12 were men. Demographic information for one person is not available.

The average age of the people announced today was 79 and this has been increasing over the last week, said the ministry.

The deaths announced today take the total number of publicly reported deaths to date to 141, and the rolling seven-day average of deaths publicly announced over the past seven days is seven, up from four yesterday.

“At this point in the outbreak, we are seeing increasing numbers of people dying with omicron. Sadly, this trend is not unexpected, and our thoughts are with the families of these people,” said the ministry.

“As has occurred with omicron overseas, while Covid-19 cases are usually seen in higher numbers among younger people early in the outbreak, over time the more severe and fatal consequences of the virus fall disproportionately on our older and more vulnerable populations.”

 The average stay in hospital for Covid-19 patients in the northern region is lengthening, said the ministry, with the average age increasing. “This indicates those being admitted are more likely to be vulnerable because of their older age and pre-existing non-Covid health conditions.”

Meanwhile, 971 people are in hospital with Covid-19, 21 of those in ICU. There are 19,542 new cases in the community, a slight drop from yesterday.

Border opens to Australians from April 13; visa-waiver countries May 2

Vaccinated Australians will be able to travel to New Zealand with no need to isolate from 11.59pm on April 12, the prime minister has announced. Vaccinated travellers from visa-waiver countries, and those with eligible visitor visas, will follow from 11.59pm on May 1.

They will need to carry out a pre-departure test, either a supervised rapid antigen test or a PCR test, and two more on days zero/one and five/six, said Jacinda Ardern in a press conference from the Beehive this morning.

“We’re ready to welcome the world back,” she added.

Visa-waiver countries include the large tourist markets of the UK, US, Japan, Germany, Korea and Singapore.

Speaking via video link, tourism minister Stuart Nash said, “We are ready to roll out the green and gold carpet for our Australian neighbours, and in time for their school holidays.”

Tourism New Zealand will this week start a new campaign in Australia to coincide with the reopening, said Nash.

Nash said he expected bookings would be “measured” initially, with most people travelling to reconnect with friends and family in the first few months. He thought tourism would pick up for the winter ski season, followed by the peak summer season.

Ardern thanked tourism operators for “doing the hard yards” over the past two years when the borders have been closed.

Asked if travellers would be required to show vaccine passes in New Zealand, Ardern indicated these would not likely be required by the time of the border reopening. She said there would be an announcement on the future of vaccine mandates, vaccine passes and the Covid-19 Protection Framework next week.


RATs going out to schools for students, staff

Photo: Getty Images

As schools across the country continue to feel the pinch of the omicron outbreak, the Ministry of Education has announced nearly a million more rapid antigen tests will be made available to them.

Some Auckland schools have been forced to shut or roster off entire year groups due to the continuing spread of Covid, RNZ reported this morning, with 86% of schools in the region having reported cases in the past 10 days. Almost 20,000 community cases from that period are linked to schools in Auckland.

Schools, kura and early learning centres can now opt in to receive supplies of rapid antigen tests (RATs) to give to symptomatic students, staff and people in their households, said education minister Chris Hipkins in a statement, adding that the ministry will receive nearly a million more RATs over the next week, in addition to the several thousand it currently has to hand.

“The goal is to keep schools and early learning centres open, and the advice and feedback I have received from the education sector is that greater access to rapid antigen testing could help them to do that,” said Hipkins.

Early learning centres will also be able to access rapid antigen tests for “reassurance testing”, said the statement, and can opt in to receive enough tests for staff to do twice-weekly testing. Specialist schools and special needs units will also be able to access rapid antigen testing for this purpose, as will staff at school hostels.

The measure is voluntary and short term and will be reviewed in a few weeks’ time, said Hipkins.

Covid response minister Chris Hipkins tests positive for Covid

Chris Hipkins (Photo: Hagen Hopkins – Pool/Getty Images)

Chris Hipkins, the Covid response minister, has tested positive for Covid, he has announced on Twitter. Hipkins had already been isolating as a household contact and was on day seven when he tested positive himself.

Today’s 1pm Covid update stand-up has been cancelled, and the latest numbers will be delivered by written statement.

Hipkins joins David Parker, Poto Williams and Anahila Kanongataá-Suisuiki on the roll call of Labour MPs who have tested positive for Covid in recent weeks.

National’s Chris Luxon, Simon Bridges, Joseph Mooney, Penny Simmonds and Stuart Smith have also tested positive.

Stadium tours are back: Ed Sheeran returning to NZ

Ed Sheeran, sporting a shirt with LOMU on the back, performs at Mt Smart Stadium on December 12, 2015 in Auckland, New Zealand.  (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Another big name music artist is heading to New Zealand.

Ed Sheeran has unveiled a two-stop stadium tour in February 2023 that will see him visit both Auckland and Wellington. He’ll become the next music star to play Eden Park after regulations were eased last year allowing for concerts, while his visit to the capital will see him play his first show at Sky Stadium.

He joins a long list of musicians returning to our shores after a Covid hiatus. Yesterday it was teased that Coldplay could be heading our way as well.

According to a press release, Sheeran’s show will see the singer perform in the round with “cutting-edge production”.

The Wellington show is set for February 2 and his Auckland show over a week later on February 10.

Pre-sale tickets go on sale on Monday March 21.

Nicola Willis appointed new National finance spokesperson

Nicola Willis (Photo: Getty Images)

National deputy leader Nicola Willis is picking up the opposition’s finance portfolio from Simon Bridges, a day after he announced the end of his political career. Willis spoke with The Bulletin last year about her plans as deputy leader and being new leader Christopher Luxon’s “trusty sidekick”. 

The finance role, always important within National, is only more so now as the country deals with a number of economic crises, including in housing and the cost of living. With Bridges’ departure, Chris Bishop moves up to third place in the party’s ranking. That gives National’s smaller progressive wing two of the top three slots in the party.

In a statement, Luxon praised Willis’s “incredible intellect, prodigious work ethic and proven ability to hold the government to account”, adding that she would “take the government to task over the cost of living crisis and their wasteful spending decisions”.

Mana whenua hold ceremony to reopen parliament grounds

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – MARCH 3: Police officers climb the graffiti covered steps to the Beehive inside the cordoned off area of Wellington city around Parliament buildings as the clean up continues on March 03, 2022 in Wellington, New Zealand. Police broke up the anti-COVID-19 mandate protester encampment yesterday after weeks of conflict in the …  Read more

Another step in the restoration of the parliamentary precinct following the recent 23-day occupation and the violent scenes that ended it took place this morning.

Held by local iwi Te Ātiawa Taranaki Whānui, along with the Kiingitanga and representatives of parliament and the Wellington community, the whakapiki mōuri ceremony was intended to restore the mana of the land and continue the healing process.

In a statement, Taranaki Whānui chair Kara Puketapu-Dentice said whakapiki mōuri is about awakening the life force of the tupuna whenua (ancestral lands) of the iwi and healing the wounds of recent events.

Speaker of the house Trevor Mallard said the ceremony was a welcome step towards reopening the grounds to the community and public.

 “The New Zealand parliament will remain one of the few in the world where the grounds are open and accessible and allow people to engage closely with our democracy,” he said.

“The people of Wellington and those who live and work around parliament have felt the impact of the occupation, and I hope this morning’s ceremony will bring us all a step closer to feeling more settled and welcomed back into the parliamentary grounds and surrounding areas.”

Te Pāti Māori call for GST to be removed from food

Te Pāti Māori co-leaders Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and Rawiri Waititi (Getty Images)

Te Pāti Māori want GST removed from food in order to help combat the cost of living crisis.

The government announced earlier this week that it would reduce the price of petrol by 25 cents per litre, but signalled that tweaking GST was too complex.

“We are seeing the biggest wealth transfer in generations,” said Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer. “From hard working whānau to greedy property developers and landlords. We have created a generation of renters living pay check to pay check, who pay up to half their income in rent.”

GST is a “regressive tax that targets lower income whānau”, added Ngarewa-Packer.

Leading into the next Budget, the party said it will hold the government accountable to fixing the cost of living crisis.

Tourists to be allowed back into the country from April – report

(Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Tourists will be able to enter New Zealand months earlier than expected.

According to media reports, including from Newshub and the Herald, visitors from Australia will be allowed to bypass our isolation requirements from mid-April. That’s well ahead of the July date originally announced by the prime minister.

It’s then expected the border will open even wider a few weeks later, with tourists from visa waiver countries like the UK and US able to enter the country, followed by visitors from all other countries. The original timeline said the border wouldn’t totally open until October.

Jacinda Ardern is expected to formally announce these details at a press conference today.