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blog march 17

Live UpdatesMar 17 2022

Auckland outbreak peaks – but hospitalisation and death rate lags behind

Hello and welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 17, I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. Let me know your thoughts on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


The latest

  • There have been 10 new deaths related to our Covid-19 outbreak.
  • Covid-related hospitalisations have dropped to 930 overnight, with 23 in ICU. There are 19,566 new community cases nationwide.
  • Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield says Auckland’s omicron outbreak has peaked.
  • A review of our traffic light restrictions will take place within the next week, said PM Jacinda Ardern.
blog march 17

Auckland outbreak peaks – but hospitalisation and death rate lags behind

Hello and welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 17, I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. Let me know your thoughts on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


The latest

  • There have been 10 new deaths related to our Covid-19 outbreak.
  • Covid-related hospitalisations have dropped to 930 overnight, with 23 in ICU. There are 19,566 new community cases nationwide.
  • Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield says Auckland’s omicron outbreak has peaked.
  • A review of our traffic light restrictions will take place within the next week, said PM Jacinda Ardern.
Mar 17 2022

Labour just ahead in new poll

A new Taxpayers’ Union-commissioned Curia poll has Labour just ahead of National, with less than a point between them.

Labour is on 36.1%, a drop of 6.1 percentage points on the last Curia poll, with National polling at 35.3%, a decrease of 3.1 percentage points. With both major parties down, the big winners of the poll are the Greens and Act, up 6.1 to 12.4% and 4.6 to 11.2% respectively.

The result would have Labour able to form a government with the Greens, giving the centre-left pairing 62 seats in parliament, compared to 58 for a National-Act pairing.

In the preferred prime minister stakes, Labour’s Jacinda Ardern came out on top at 38.7%, with Christopher Luxon on 26.6%.

It’s a much better result for Labour than in last week’s 1News Kantar poll, which saw National overtake the current governing party for the first time since February 2020. The sample size for both polls was 1,000 eligible voters, with the Curia poll using landlines and mobiles and the Kantar one mobiles and online.

Image: Getty Images, additional design by Tina Tiller

‘I cried like a small child’: Tova O’Brien speaks out about recent employment battle

An emotional Tova O’Brien has spoken out for the first time about the legal battle that delayed the launch of her new radio gig.

The former Newshub political editor was prevented from starting work at Today FM until this week after a restraint of trade clause was enforced against her. While her former employer attempted to stop her launching her new show until April, a court decision saw that reduced until mid-March – a seven week delay.

Speaking on Today FM podcast The Core, O’Brien said it meant the end of her 14 year stint at Newshub was tarnished. “Those last days at Newshub you really want to cherish that stuff. I didn’t really get an opportunity to do that,” she said. “I was leaving a job that I loved, so a massive decision… I just didn’t think that my 14 years would end up that, in terms of it feeling personally punitive.

“It was a shitty way to end what had been a really good relationship.”

O’Brien said she “cried like a small child” when she was first informed the restraint clause was being enforced against her. “I was gutted, I was so surprised,” she said. O’Brien had already sought legal advice about the clause when she first accepted her political editor role. She never expected it to be used against her unless she was going for a “like-for-like” job such as the political editor role at TVNZ.

“If you speak to any employment lawyer in the country – and I spoke to a lot – no one would have thought the restraint would have applied in this place,” she said. “I don’t even think Discovery thought they would win this case. It just seems so unfathomable.”

Tova O’Brien’s new self-titled breakfast show launches 6.30am Monday on Today FM.


A closer look at Auckland’s omicron numbers

Ashley Bloomfield today said Auckland’s omicron outbreak had peaked, a sentiment reaffirmed by NRHCC’s chief clinical officer Dr Andrew Old at today’s 1pm press conference.

“We’re pleased to see that case numbers in Auckland have continued to track down which has confirmed last week’s optimism that we have passed the peak in Auckland,” he said.

So just how is the outbreak tracking in our largest city? Take a look.

Earlier today, prime minister Jacinda Ardern seemed less keen to definitively say the outbreak had peaked. For her, the key indicator was the hospitalisation rate which lags behind the daily case numbers. “We’re using hospitalisations as a guide to whether we really have reached our peak,” she told a press conference, suggesting that it could take a few more days before we know for sure.

Rideshare operators support drivers as fuel prices rise – but is it enough?

As fuel prices rise here and around the world, it’s not just regular motorists bearing the brunt. Rideshare drivers – such as those working for Uber – have to pay for their own petrol, meaning it’s more of a struggle to make even the minimum wage.

To help combat the rising cost of living, both Uber and the locally-owned Zoomy have introduced new surcharges that directly benefit drivers, with 100% of the extra cost going straight into their pockets. But there’s concern it won’t be enough to stop drivers feeling the pinch.

Uber’s per-kilometre surcharge will only result in about 40 cents extra per trip, on average. Zoomy estimates it’s eight cents per kilometre surcharge will mean an extra 70 cents, on average, per ride. “Recently, drivers have seen a substantial increase to their largest operating cost, so we’re helping them out by adding this temporary surcharge,” said Zoomy in an email to customers.

The email from Zoomy (Supplied)

But while both Uber and Zoomy claim they are helping rideshare workers, the union representing drivers said it’s no where near enough. Anita Rosentreter​, spokesperson for First Union, told Newsroom that Uber’s surcharge was miniscule. “It won’t make that much difference for drivers who are already struggling and already earning on average less than the minimum wage,” she said.

Ola, another large rideshare company operating in New Zealand, has not publicised any sort of a surcharge on their website. They have been approached by The Spinoff for comment.

Covid-19 update: 10 more deaths, 930 in hospital, 19,566 new cases

Another 10 Covid-related deaths have been recorded overnight, pushing the total number of reported deaths across the pandemic to 151. The seven-day rolling average of reported deaths is now 8.

Of the 10 new deaths, one was in Northland, five in Auckland, one in the Bay of Plenty, one in Hawke’s Bay and one in the Hutt Valley. One person was in their 30s, one in their 50s, three in their 70s, two in their 80s and two in their 90s. Four were women and were five were men.

However, hospitalisations have dropped down overnight from 971 to 930 across the country. Of those, 618 are in Auckland – with Middlemore Hospital alone looking after 250 Covid patients. There are now 23 people in intensive care with 10 of these in Auckland.

There are 19,566 new community cases of Covid-19, with 4,867 of those in Auckland – another drop and reaffirming the view that the omicron outbreak in the city has peaked.

“We’re pleased to see that case numbers in Auckland have continued to track down which has confirmed last week’s optimism that we have passed the peak in Auckland,” said NRHCC’s chief clinical officer Dr Andrew Old, speaking from outside Middlemore Hospital.

An initial case review of 400 hospital admissions showed about one-third clearly had Covid as the reason for their admission, said Old. A further third had Covid as a secondary finding and a quarter were diagnosed with Covid while they were in hospital and Covid’s contribution was unclear. The remaining 8% was people for whom more information was needed, said Old.

People who are boosted make up just 11% of hospital admissions, while unvaccinated people make up almost 37%.

“We continue to see pressure on our hospitals as hospitalisations remain high,” said Old. “Prior to Covid, DHBs in Auckland were running about 15% under staff levels. Now on any given day there’s about 10% further reduction on those already reduced figures.”

About 30% of people arriving at Middlemore’s emergency department are testing positive for Covid, said Dr Vanessa Thornton, clinical director of the ED.

Over the past 24 hours, 43,980 rapid antigen test results were recorded. The Ministry of Health once again reminded people to register the results of their RAT – either positive or negative. “It is the best way to give public health officials an overview of case numbers in particular areas of New Zealand, to help determine the best spread of public health resources,” said a ministry spokesperson. “It is also important if your condition worsens, and you require additional healthcare.”

Watch: Auckland outbreak in spotlight at today’s Covid briefing

The growing hospitalisation rate in Auckland will be scrutinised at today’s Covid-19 update.

The briefing is being fronted by the NRHCC’s chief clinical officer Andrew Old and Vanessa Thornton from Middlemore Hospital. The pair will will outline the national and regional daily case numbers and hospitalisations, then face questions from media.

You can watch below:

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Transmission Gully finally set to open

The long-awaited, long-delayed, Transmission Gully motorway out of Wellington finally has an opening date – almost. Waka Kotahi said the road is safe for public use and will be opened to traffic before the end of this month.

While this is the most definitive opening date provided in some time, motorists in the region likely won’t have yet breathed a sigh of relief. The four lane highway has repeatedly been pushed out from its 2020 opening date, largely due to Covid-related delays.

In a statement, the transport agency said that in order to support the road opening sooner than would otherwise be possible, Waka Kotahi has agreed to defer a number of quality assurance tests until after the road is open. None of these tests will compromise public safety, the agency said, as they relate to ensuring the long-term quality of the road.

“Waka Kotahi has been committed to finding a pragmatic solution that ensures we are doing everything we can to open a safe motorway, while meeting the public expectations for it to be open for use as soon as possible and to ensure we safeguard good use of public money,” said agency chair Sir Brian Roche.

Several key requirements will need to be met for the road to be opened by the end of March, including a final pre-opening safety inspection. An exact date has not been confirmed.

Traffic light restrictions to be reviewed ‘in the coming week’ – Ardern

Cabinet will be evaluating our current traffic light restrictions within the next week.

It’s been announced overseas tourists will be able to enter the country without isolating from mid-April, prompting some to question whether our Covid restrictions will still make sense then.

Speaking in Auckland today, prime minister Jacinda Ardern indicated an update would be coming soon. “As we come down from this first omicron peak we will be re-looking at everything from mandates to vaccine passes which we don’t believe will need to be used so widely,” she said.

On whether Auckland had reached its omicron peak, Ardern seemed less decisive than Ashley Bloomfield who this morning said it had. “We’re using hospitalisations as a guide to whether we really have reached our peak,” she said, suggesting that it could take a few more days before we know for sure.

Image: Tina Tiller

Preparation under way for Aotearoa-centric history curriculum

Schools will start teaching a broader New Zealand history curriculum from next year.

Education minister Chris Hipkins has announced that the final curriculum content for Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories and Te Takanga o Te Wā has been released and is now available to all New Zealand schools and kura.

“All young people will grow up understanding key aspects of Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories and how they have influenced and shaped the nation,” said Hipkins.

The subject was tested in some schools last year, and Hipkins said the feedback received was “wide-ranging, clear, and at times confronting”. “New Zealanders have a lot to say about how our nation’s histories should be examined and discussed, and that is a good thing.”

The decision to implement the subject did prove somewhat controversial. In 2021, the National Party raised concerns about politicisation and “gross simplifications”.

“Repeating and exploring the same themes for 10 years is a recipe for boredom and disengagement,” said Paul Goldsmith last year. “Māori history, colonisation and the effects of power in our country, year in year out, will elicit only groans by years 6 or 7 unless the teacher is a miracle worker.”

Similarly, Act has just released a statement saying the new curriculum leaves “huge gaps” in New Zealand’s history. “The curriculum divides history into villains and victims, contains significant gaps, and pushes a narrow set of highly political stories from our past,” Act’s education spokesperson Chris Baillie said.

The subject will exclude science, technology and the women’s movement, said Baillie. “It’s all about colonisation.”

Hipkins said the Ministry of Education had worked with history and curriculum experts, iwi and mana whenua, Pacific communities, students and ākonga, parents and whānau, and other groups to form the new subject.

It’s just the first step in a five-year refresh of the national curriculum, he added. “This exciting development in our education system means generations to come will better understand our place in the world and what has made us the nation we are,” he said.

Schools to get free rapid tests for symptomatic students

From The Bulletin – The Spinoff’s daily curated wrap of the top news stories in Aotearoa.

About one million rapid tests will be sent to schools in the coming days as the government pivots on part of its testing strategy. Students who develop symptoms will now be able to get a test in class, instead of going to a testing centre. As RNZ reports, the tests are expected to help educators keep schools, kura and early learning centres open. With omicron still spreading—the Covid minister couldn’t make the announcement yesterday because he tested positive for Covid—the country’s hospital system is now facing extreme demand. According to Newsroom, only four ICU beds were available across Aotearoa earlier this week. ICU specialists told reporter Marc Daalder that the government continues to vastly overestimate the number of available beds.

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.

Safe zones to be built around abortion clinics

Safe areas will be built around abortion clinics.

An overwhelming majority of MPs – 108 to 12 – voted in favour of the change last night, bringing to an end four years of abortion law reform. The practice was removed from the Crimes Act in early 2020, but work began two years prior.

According to RNZ, the safe zones won’t automatically apply to all clinics and will be assessed on a case by case basis. All MPs in the Green Party, Act and Te Pāti Māori voted for the bill, while conscience voting meant three Labour and nine National MPs voted against it.

The MP responsible for the amendment was Labour’s Louisa Wall. She said the change would mean “freedom from discrimination for groups that have been historically discriminated against.”

Louisa Wall on the health select committee in 2019 (Photo: Radio NZ/ Phil Smith)

Bloomfield explains the three criteria for dropping our red light setting

Auckland’s Covid outbreak has peaked, according to director general of health Ashley Bloomfield. But for other parts of the country, case numbers continue to be on the up.

Speaking to Newstalk ZB, Bloomfield said he would be providing advice to the government in the next week or two on potentially scrapping the red light setting. “Once the border reopens we will want to make sure that people can travel around as freely as possible while keeping people as protected as possible,” he said.

There were three things he was looking for before he would advise moving the country out of red. The first is the trajectory of cases. “Auckland is clearly on the way down,” Bloomfield said.

Then there’s the positivity rate. While Auckland’s outbreak may have peaked, nationwide the positivity rate for rapid antigen tests remained just under 50%. “We’d like to see that going down,” he said.

Finally, there is the hospitalisation rate. While less than 1% of cases needed to go to hospital, Bloomfield said: “We’ve got nearly 1,000 people in hospital around the country, which shows we’ve got a lot of this out there.”

Asked whether the health system was under stress despite over 99% of Covid cases being treated at home, Bloomfield said you only needed to talk to people in hospitals. “You’ll get an idea what a health system looks like when it’s under stress,” he said. “This is nearly 1,000 people in hospital who pre-Covid would not have been in hospital… there is a lot of stress on the system.”

About two thirds of people are in hospital because of their Covid symptoms, said Bloomfield.

The director general indicated it was possible that those over 65 could be asked to have a fourth dose of the vaccine. “I’m expecting advice and a discussion on that next week,” he said. “There’s some good evidence that this is the group you want to protect.” The rollout of another jab could be done alongside the annual flu shot.