blogupd march 18


Covid death toll rises by five

Hello and welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for another Friday – it’s March 18. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. Reach me at

The latest

  • The National Party wants vaccine mandates scrapped for under 18s and almost all Covid Tracer app scanning and vaccine pass requirements dropped immediately.
  • Another five people have died from Covid-19 overnight, bringing our nationwide death toll to 156.
  • There are now 943 people in hospital with Covid-19, including 616 in Auckland. The number in intensive care is 25.
  • Over 14,000 new community cases were announce nationwide. Auckland case numbers have continued to drop, reaffirming that the outbreak appears to have peaked in the city.
blogupd march 18

Covid death toll rises by five

Hello and welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for another Friday – it’s March 18. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. Reach me at

The latest

  • The National Party wants vaccine mandates scrapped for under 18s and almost all Covid Tracer app scanning and vaccine pass requirements dropped immediately.
  • Another five people have died from Covid-19 overnight, bringing our nationwide death toll to 156.
  • There are now 943 people in hospital with Covid-19, including 616 in Auckland. The number in intensive care is 25.
  • Over 14,000 new community cases were announce nationwide. Auckland case numbers have continued to drop, reaffirming that the outbreak appears to have peaked in the city.
Mar 18 2022

Refunds offered for VodafoneTV customers

It’s not quite the news spurned VodafoneTV customers want, but it’s something: refunds are being offered ahead of the service’s end in September. The refunds, announced today, range between $75 and $179 depending on when customers bought their VodafoneTV set-top box.

VodafoneTV users were shocked to be told in December that the service a $179 black set-top box that compiles services like Freeview, Sky TV and paid streaming services Netflix, Neon and Disney TV+ into one handy package would end in September.

With only 100,000 users, the company said VodafoneTV hadn’t had the pick-up it needed to continue and was running at a loss. But VodafoneTV’s users are committed to the product. “Gutted is how I felt,” one customer told The Spinoff. “I was surprised that they were giving up on it so soon.”

The wonderful yet doomed VodafoneTV box.

Customers will be emailed over the next two days with a “generous offer to compensate the loss of service”, says spokesperson Nicky Preston. “We have tried to put customer needs front and centre to help them transition to another platform, and pro-rated the reimbursement amount for fairness,” she says.

There are three reimbursement options: for those who’ve owned VodafoneTV for less than six months, they’ll receive $179; between 7-18 months, you’ll get $100; and for those diehards over 18 months, $75. Customers won’t be able to claim the reimbursement until May, through They can also return the box for recycling. VodafoneTV closes on September 30.

Seven out of eight sunscreens fail latest Consumer NZ test

Just one sunscreen out of eight tested by Consumer NZ met its SPF rating in a recent product test.

Only the Cancer Society Kids Pure Sun Lotion SPF50 actually met its protection rating, while other notable brands such as Nivea failed. Even another Cancer Society sunscreen, the “everyday sun lotion”, failed the test.

It’s the second batch of sunscreens tested by Consumer NZ – but six out of nine tested during the first round met their safety rating.

The sunscreens that failed are:

  • Woolworths Sunscreen Everyday Lotion SPF50+
  • Cancer Society Everyday Sun Lotion SPF50+
  • Invisible Zinc Sport Mineral Sunscreen SPF50+
  • Sun Bum Premium Moisturising Sunscreen Lotion SPF50+
  • Nivea Sun Kids Sensitive Sun Lotion SPF50+
  • Nivea Sun Protect & Moisture Sunscreen Lotion SPF50+
  • Banana Boat Simply Protect Kids Sunscreen Lotion SPF50+

How you can help efforts in Ukraine

The people of Ukraine need our help (Image: Supplied)

From our partners at Médecins Sans Frontières: At this crucial time, the team at Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) are working to rapidly upscale their medical and humanitarian response in Ukraine.

As hospitals become overwhelmed with war trauma patients, supplies are dwindling and with no knowledge of when Kyiv may be cut off entirely, MSF’s primary goal is getting medical supplies to where they are needed, as quickly as possible. Response teams are set up in Ukraine and surrounding countries, organising shipments of supplies from around the world to where they are needed most, but this exercise comes at a cost, and now MSF needs your help.

Please donate now to support MSF’s medical response in Ukraine.

Auckland Covid case numbers continue to drop

Auckland outbreak March 18

Auckland’s omicron outbreak has continued its downward trajectory, with 3,498 new cases reported in the region today.

As you can see from the graph, it’s still pretty clear that Auckland’s outbreak has peaked. However, the lag in hospitalisations and deaths means that the city continues to have a high number of people severely sick with the virus. There are 616 people in hospital in Auckland out of the nationwide 943, with 10 of the 25 people in intensive care in Auckland as well.

Covid-19 update: Five more deaths, 943 in hospital, 14,128 new cases

Image: Toby Morris

New Zealand’s Covid-19 death toll has increased by five. Two were from Auckland, one from Waikato, one from Canterbury, and one from the Hutt Valley. Of these people, one was in their 50s, two in their 70s and two in their 80s. Two were women and three were men.

There have now been 156 deaths linked to the pandemic since Covid first arrived on our shores.

There are now 943 people in hospital with Covid-19, including 616 in Auckland. The number in intensive care is 25.

The Ministry of Health, in a statement, said it continues to work closely with DHBs to ensure there is a good level of capacity across the health system.

Daily community cases have dropped across the country, with 14,128 confirmed overnight. Similarly, the numbers in Auckland have continued their downward trend – 3,498 new cases have been announced in the region.

Once again, the ministry has implored people to register their rapid antigen test result online. “It only takes a couple of minutes, and helps health officials assess the outbreak and better understand the spread of omicron.” Over the past day, 40,157 rapid results were recorded.

Speaking from downtown Auckland, NRHCC’s associate chief clinical officer Dr Anthony Jordan said he was still seeing a high number of people in hospital with severe symptoms who have not been vaccinated or had their booster. Over the last month in Auckland, only 11% of hospitalisations had had their booster. “The current rate of boosters in Auckland is lower than what I would like,” Jordan said.

“We understand the pressure on our healthcare system at the moment so your contribution by getting boosted is appreciated.” Being boosted also reduces the chance of passing Covid onto other people, including elderly people and children.

Watch: Auckland health officials give omicron update

Image: Toby Morris

Once again, today’s Covid-19 update is coming to you from Auckland. Health officials will outline the national and regional daily case numbers, hospitalisations and the latest information on boosters.

Watch below:

Help The Spinoff to keep you informed and updated

The generous support of our members powers all of The Spinoff’s journalism, including live updates, the award-winning collaborations between Toby Morris and Siouxsie Wiles, and richly reported feature writing.

As we continue to struggle against commercial headwinds, contributions from our members are more critical than ever. If you value what we do and have the means to do so, please make a donation today and support our mahi.

The Friday Quiz: Test your knowledge of the week in news

The Friday News Quiz

It’s Friday, which means not only is it basically the weekend but it’s also time for The Spinoff’s Friday News Quiz! It’s your chance to prove just how much you’ve been keeping an eye across our live updates this week. If you can’t at least get a six out of 10 I won’t be angry, but I will be disappointed.

Test your knowledge below (and let me know how you get on).

Watch: Jacinda Ardern ‘so excited’ to welcome Australians back to NZ

Image / Sunrise Aus

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern has appeared on Australian TV in an attempt to lure trans-Tasman tourists back across the ditch.

From mid-April, Australians will be able to visit our shores without the need to isolate. Not long after, all overseas tourists will be welcomed back.

Speaking to Sunrise, Ardern said she couldn’t remember a time when she was “so excited” about seeing as many Australians as possible come and visit us. “You can expect to get the warmest reaction you can imagine,” she said.

“40% of our tourists come from Australia because it’s quick and it’s convenient.”

NZ Comedy Festival cancelled for second time since Covid began

A photo from the last year’s NZ International Comedy Festival Gala.

The New Zealand Comedy Trust has made the decision to cancel the 2022 NZ International Comedy Festival, which was to be held in May. 

The Festival was set to feature over 150 comedians from around Aotearoa, across 600 live comedy performances. The decision has come down to the mass disruption caused by the spread of omicron, the level of preparation required from artists to create their shows, and from organisers to deliver such a large-scale event. It is the second time the Covid-19 pandemic has derailed the festival, after cancelling in 2020.

“This was an incredibly hard decision,” said general manager Lauren Whitney, “Our kaupapa is to provide a stage for comedians to perform their craft and for audiences to enjoy live comedy, especially at a time where we all want to escape or challenge what’s going on in the world.”

One shining light remains: the Festival are working through plans to bring aspects of the festival to the country throughout 2022. The highly anticipated showcase, the Best Foods Comedy Gala, will be rescheduled in both Auckland and Wellington for later this year, with new dates announced next week. The Auckland show will be filmed to broadcast on Three.

National wants vaccine passes gone, mandates scrapped for under 18s

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

National wants to immediately see vaccine mandates scrapped for under 18s, almost all Covid Tracer app scanning and vaccine pass requirements dropped and Covid positive cases able to isolate for just five days.

The party’s leader Christopher Luxon and Covid spokesperson Chris Bishop have released a statement calling for New Zealand to “get back to normality”.

It comes before the nationwide omicron outbreak has peaked, with hospitalisations growing daily and our death toll steadily climbing up. Health officials believe that Auckland’s outbreak, however, is on the decline.

“As we come through the peak of omicron, it’s time to phase out restrictions and allow people to get back to normal,” said Luxon. “This is particularly important for businesses, which have often borne the brunt of restrictions like gathering limits, vaccine passes and scanning in.”

Christopher Luxon (Photographer: Birgit Krippner/Bloomberg)

The party wants to see all scanning requirements for businesses dropped immediately, while vaccine passes would only be required for large indoor venues. Then, once the border reopens to Australians on April 13, National would scrap the traffic light system entirely, abolish pre-departure testing and phase out all vaccine mandates (health workers would be the last to be phased out).

“Vaccine passes and mandates made sense under delta. They don’t under omicron,” Luxon said. “The public health rationale for vaccine passes just isn’t there anymore, and they are now putting unjustified limits on people’s rights. It will be logistically impossible to apply the vaccine pass system to Australians anyway, and we’ll be a month on from the omicron peak by then.”

Yesterday, Jacinda Ardern signalled that our current Covid framework, including the need for vaccine passes, was up for review within the week.

Wellington water supply without fluoride since last year

A study of drinking water sourced from groundwater in areas of intensive farming and horticulture found nitrate levels are already high and rising. from, CC BY-ND

It’s been revealed that Wellingtonians have been going without fluoride in their drinking water for longer than previously thought.

On Wednesday, Wellington Water said it had switched off fluoride for Wellington city, Upper Hutt and Porirua on February 8. But, yesterday, the organisation’s chair Lynda Carroll said that the Board had been made aware this was actually incorrect.

In fact, one plant stopped fluoridating in May last year and another in November.

Carroll said an inquiry was now under way to look at the company’s handling of the problems.

Rose Matafeo fangirls over Lord of the Rings with Stephen Colbert

Rose Matafeo is creator, co-writer and star of BBC-made television series Starstruck. (Image: Supplied/  with addition design by Tina Tiller)

Rose Matafeo’s charm offensive in support of her sitcom Starstruck has continued stateside.

The New Zealand comedian has appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to promote the second season of her show launching on HBO. Most of the chat was taken up by discussions about New Zealand, celebrities, and Lord of the Rings – and it was super wholesome.

Last month I gushed about how cool it was seeing Matafeo appear on the Graham Norton Show. This is pretty cool too.

Bernard Hickey: Petrol prices and our lizard brains

The government’s decision to cut fuel taxes this week highlights just how hard it is for politicians and voters to deal with short sharp shocks to the system. The ‘lizard brain’ part of our body politic has evolved to recoil from a petrol price shock, but this type of ‘thinking fast’ will need to be replaced with ‘thinking slow’ if we are to engineer a just transition to carbon zero. To find out more, Bernard talks to political scientist Bronwyn Hayward, environmental sociologist and public health researcher Kirsty Wild and economist Rosie Collins on this week’s When the Facts Change.

Follow When the Facts Change on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.

Also new this week on The Spinoff Podcast Network…

The morning after the shock announcement that he was quitting politics, former National leader Simon Bridges joined Gone By Lunchtime for a candid conversation about the decision and his future plans.

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

In the space of a decade the Alternative Commentary Collective has gone from a bunch of cricket-mad blokes in a caravan to one of the most interesting and powerful innovations in New Zealand’s media. Co-founder Mike Lane told Duncan Greive how it happened, and what’s next, on this week’s episode of The Fold.

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

And The Real Pod recapped retreat week on Married at First Sight Australia, featuring broken stemware and a remarkable heel turn.

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

NZ-linked Russian billionaire left off sanctions list

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)

A high profile Russian oligarch worth $6 billion USD has not been included in the government’s first tranche of sanctions, despite his links to New Zealand.

Alexander Abramov is a shareholder in Russian steel giant Evraz. But he also owns a $50 million lodge in Northland and has even been involved in Kiwibuild projects.

While 13 individuals and 19 entities were added to a targeted sanctions list overnight, Abramov is still notably excluded.

“This first tranche of sanctions designates an additional 364 political and military individuals to our travel ban list, and places sanctions on Russian Leader Vladimir Putin and the 12 members of his Security Council, one bank and 18 other entities,” said foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta.

“The sanctions prevent New Zealand individuals, assets and financial institutions from having dealings with those designated, and prohibits their vessels and aircraft entering New Zealand.”

More sanctions will be announced over the coming weeks, added Mahuta. “We expect to progressively announce more substantive sanctions as officials work through the appropriate process required under legislation.”

Is it time for free public transport?

Photo: Getty Images

There are growing calls to introduce free public transport, after the government halved fares to help combat the growing cost of living.

The Green Party has launched a petition asking the government to scrap fees entirely saying it would cost less per year than what it takes to cut petrol taxes for three months.

“The prime minister’s cost of living announcement this week showed us just how easy it is to make public transport more affordable,” said the party’s transport spokesperson Ricardo Menéndez March.

“In a climate crisis, and an inequality crisis, our response today must take into account where we want to be tomorrow, and enabling people to access public transport and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels is key to achieving this.”

Free public transport is also the key policy of Labour-backed Auckland mayoral candidate Efeso Collins. “Auckland Council’s commitment to the America’s Cup would’ve paid for free public transport for the next seven years and Aucklanders will stay and live here. The America’s Cup is now heading offshore,” he said last year.

The government has remained coy on whether it plans to make public transport free in the future. Finance minister Grant Robertson said this week: “Public transport is quite clearly an investment that will play a significant role in reducing emissions.”