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blog may 18


Covid death toll reaches grim milestone

It’s Wednesday and welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates. There’s just one more sleep ’til budget day! I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund, you can reach me on

The agenda

  • Covid-19 latest: Official death toll crosses 1,000 as daily case numbers on the rise.
  • Chris Hipkins has conceded that pre-departure testing does little to stop the spread of the coronavirus in New Zealand.
  • The editor of the Greymouth Star has apologised for a “bad taste” cartoon – but stopped short of calling it racist.
  • Tomorrow is budget day 2022. We’ll have details of any last minute announcements for you.
blog may 18

Covid death toll reaches grim milestone

It’s Wednesday and welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates. There’s just one more sleep ’til budget day! I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund, you can reach me on

The agenda

  • Covid-19 latest: Official death toll crosses 1,000 as daily case numbers on the rise.
  • Chris Hipkins has conceded that pre-departure testing does little to stop the spread of the coronavirus in New Zealand.
  • The editor of the Greymouth Star has apologised for a “bad taste” cartoon – but stopped short of calling it racist.
  • Tomorrow is budget day 2022. We’ll have details of any last minute announcements for you.
May 18 2022

Covid-19 forces shock Dancing with the Stars shake-up

Loryn Reynolds and Eric Murray dance a tango. (Photo: Eddision Te Reo)

Dancing with the Stars is having a casting shuffle due to Covid-19.

As reported by The Project tonight, Eric Murray has tested positive for Covid-19, which means that he and professional dance partner Loryn Reynolds are out of the competition. The rules of the competition, as set out by the show’s originator the BBC, allow a dancer to take a week off during the competition until the semi-finals, but once the show gets to the semi-finals, if a competitor is unable to dance, they are eliminated from the competition.

Alex Vaz and Brittany Coleman, who were eliminated this week, will return to the competition to replace Murray and Reynolds.

Before The Project broke the news, the Herald reported that “at least” one cast member on the show had tested positive for Covid-19.

Loryn Reynolds and Eric Murray are out of the competition (Photo: Eddison Te Reo)

Covid minister suggests ‘independent’ pandemic inquiry needed

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

An independent inquiry into the government’s Covid-19 response could be in the future, the minister in charge has signalled.

Chris Hipkins addressed the health select committee today, where he indicated that once any winter outbreak of omicron has eased, it could be time for a review of the overall Covid response.

“Cabinet hasn’t yet considered anything… but I think what you would have heard from the prime minister and I that we do acknowledge there needs to be some kind of formal, proper status structured review of our Covid-19 response,” Hipkins told the committee.

The form of the inquiry had not been considered, said Hipkins, but any review would need a “good degree of independence”. A Royal Commission was possible although they “can go on and on for a long time”.

During his appearance before the committee, Hipkins was questioned on a range of topics including pre-departure testing and the future of self-isolation.

Māoriland Film Festival announces 106 film programme

Māoriland Film Festival, the largest international indigenous film festival, has today announced their 2022 lineup. It includes the te reo dubbed version of The Lion King, Dame Whina Cooper biopic Whina, and the premiere of te reo animated film Tama Kaiātea.

It’s the ninth time the annual film festival has been staged, and this year will showcase 106 films from 132 indigenous nations over five days during the Matariki period (June 29 – July 3). The theme for this year’s festival is “He pitomata he pito ora” – the potential of life. 

“We have all felt the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and for filmmakers it has been a hugely disruptive time,” said festival director Libby Hakaraia. “Working through lockdowns the creative output from indigenous filmmakers has resulted in the strongest MFF programme we’ve ever had. At the MFF2022 we celebrate films created during extraordinary circumstances including here in Aotearoa.” 

You can find a full schedule for the festival here.

Jacinda Ardern is back (virtually) in parliament

Zoomy Arderny

In a sign of the times we live in, Jacinda Ardern has returned to parliament today – via the power of Zoom.

Appearing for a pre-budget question time face-off with National’s Christopher Luxon, the prime minister hovered somewhat ominously over the heads of opposition MPs on a large screen.

She has been in self-isolation for over a week, initially because her partner Clarke Gayford tested positive for Covid-19. Over the weekend, the PM confirmed she, too, had caught the virus.

Zoomy Arderny

Today’s question time largely gave Luxon the opportunity to question previous government spending, asking Ardern how the public could trust her to spend tomorrow’s budget. Examples raised by Luxon included fond opposition favourites: KiwiBuild and Auckland light rail.

Earlier today, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield also made a Zoom appearance (from the back of his car during the health select committee).

The budget will be made public at 2pm tomorrow.

Covid-19 latest: Death toll crosses 1,000 as daily case numbers on the rise

Image: Toby Morris

New Zealand’s overall Covid-19 death toll has crossed 1,000, with 32 additional people with Covid-19 dying over the past six weeks.

It means the total number of publicly reported deaths has risen to 1,017 (although the Ministry of Health has today confirmed how many people have died from the virus as opposed to with it).

The seven-day rolling average of reported deaths is now 17. Of the deaths being reported today, the ministry confirmed one person was in their 20s while the rest were over the age of 40. Ten were women and 22 were men.

Daily case numbers remain above 9,000 today, with 9,570 reported nationwide. As you can see from the below graph, there appears to be a slight uptick in cases after several weeks of relatively consistent numbers.

Cases in Auckland remain the highest in the country: 3,297 have been recorded overnight.

The seven-day rolling average of community cases across the country is 8,024 – a rise from last Wednesday when it was 7,533.

There are now 425 people in hospital with Covid-19 and nine in intensive care.

Number of deaths directly related to Covid revealed

An at-home rapid antigen test, or RAT, for Covid-19 (Photo: Getty Images)

The Ministry of Health has confirmed how many people included in New Zealand’s total Covid death toll actually died from the virus.

As of yesterday, 986 people with Covid-19 have died since the pandemic started.

According to the ministry, 447 people have died with Covid-19 as the underlying cause of death. Another 231 people died with Covid-19 as a contributing factor.

Of the total, 161 people died due to an unrelated condition, but after testing positive for Covid-19. And 138 people who died within 28 days of being reported as a case have yet to be classified.

“While there has been a significant increase in the number of deaths from Covid-19 since the start of the omicron outbreak, New Zealand has still experienced significantly lower cumulative Covid-19 mortality than most countries,” said a ministry spokesperson.

Today’s Covid update is expected momentarily.

Hipkins admits ‘utility’ of pre-departure testing ‘less than what it was’

Covid-19 minister Chris Hipkins announced new measures to deal with omicron at a Beehive press conference. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Covid response minister has conceded that pre-departure testing does little to stop the spread of the coronavirus in New Zealand. But a date for when the policy will end has not been revealed.

It was confirmed last week that the border will fully reopen on July 31, with prime minister Jacinda Ardern signalling that the pre-departure testing requirement will likely be dropped ahead of this.

Speaking in front of the health select committee, Chris Hipkins said more detail on testing would be coming soon – and confirmed pre-departure testing’s “days were numbered”. Regardless, no further detail on an endpoint for the requirement was provided.

Asked about whether it was currently keeping people out of hospital, the minister admitted “the utility of pre-departure testing is a lot less than what it was”.

He added: “It won’t be making a significant contribution to the rate of hospitalisation.”

National’s Covid spokesperson Chris Bishop tweeted to say that, based on the minister’s comments, pre-departure testing should be ditched immediately. “Just get rid of it now,” he said. “Costs vastly outweigh the benefits.”

Covid-19 minister Chris Hipkins announced new measures to deal with omicron at a Beehive press conference. (Photo: Getty Images)

A decrease in the time Covid-positive people have to spend in self-isolation could also be on the way, suggested Hipkins, depending on what the latest modelling said. “We’re expecting more details,” he told the committee. “The most recent evidence suggested that changing it could [see cases rise], but it might not always be the case. Ultimately though we have to weigh that up, it is a challenge.”

Previous modelling suggested dropping the isolation time from seven to five days could result in Covid cases growing by a third, said Hipkins.

Meanwhile, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield has zoomed into today’s health select committee… from his car. It appears he’s in the passenger seat.

Zoomy Bloomy.

Disney+ debuts first ‘Australia and New Zealand’ slate – with no NZ content

(Image: Tina Tiller)

Disney+, the streaming giant that’s brought us big budget productions like The Mandalorian, has revealed its first slate of Australian and New Zealand originals.

Except, there’s absolutely no New Zealand content. The list of new productions includes several that sound incredibly Australian – like The Clearing, about the Australian cult The Family. Or The Artful Dodger, a “premium character drama set in 1850s Australia“.

As The Spinoff’s Duncan Greive writes, this could suggest a move towards a streaming future that largely ignores New Zealand.

Here’s an extract:

Because as barren of New Zealand content as this Disney+ slate is, it’s far from alone in Aotearoa having fallen off the map. The biggest subscription streaming platform, by far, is still Netflix – and it has just a tiny handful of shows from New Zealand, most buried deep in its catalogue. Of the other major streaming services available here, Apple TV+ is much the same in terms of where its originals are produced. Amazon Prime is an exception, in some respects, in that All Blacks documentary All or Nothing and its lavish Lord of the Rings adaptation both come from here (though LOTR decamped as soon as it could, citing costs and border issues). Each production is targeting international audiences, though.

It’s worth noting that Kylie Watson-Wheeler, senior vice president of The Walt Disney Company in Australia and New Zealand, has teased that more local content could be on the way – and soon.

“Our second wave of local and loved content is taking great shape, with many more shows in various stages of development, including fabulous original concepts coming out of New Zealand,” he told Deadline. “The opportunities are endless, particularly in young adult, comedy, and rom coms, which our audiences can’t get enough of.”

We’ll be keeping an eye on that second wave when it’s made public.

Read Duncan’s full analysis here

The Lion King reo Māori hitting cinemas next month

There’s a Lion King mention coming up

A version of Disney’s The Lion King dubbed entirely in te reo Māori will launch at the Māoriland Film Festival next month.

It’s the second Māori version of a Disney hit to be screened in cinemas following Moana in 2017. A dubbed production of Frozen will release in a few months to line up with Te Wiki o te reo Māori.

The Lion King production comes from Oscar-nominated filmmaker Chelsea Winstanley and Tweedie Waititi of Matewa Media. Winstanley said it was “always our dream” to dub more Disney films into te reo Māori. “We are extremely thrilled to continue this journey with The Walt Disney Company, it clearly demonstrates their commitment as a company to diversity and inclusion,” she said in a statement last year.

Following the film festival premiere, The Lion King reo Māori will get a wider release.

Hutt Hospital block earthquake unsafe: politicians promise action

(Photo / RNZ Dom Thomas)

Politicians in the Hutt Valley are vowing they will work to get hospital care in the region back to full capacity.

The main block of Hutt Hospital, which contains the maternity, childrens’, general and othopaedics wards, has been deemed earthquake unsafe and will be forced to shut.

Hutt South MP Ginny Andersen told RNZ that while there may be disruptions in the short term, “the government is committed to ensuring that the Hutt Valley retains good quality hospital facilities that are as good as now or better than the ones we have got”.

She did not explain what that action may be, or how much it would cost. The government’s health system overhauls kick in within the next six weeks.

(Photo / RNZ Dom Thomas)

National list MP, Chris Bishop, who is based in the Hutt, said the news of the hospital’s safety was hugely concerning. “It’s 25% of the available [hospital] beds in the region,” he said. “I think we need to take a deep breath, we need much more information from the DHB.”

There has to be a hospital in the Hutt Valley, said Bishop, and the existing Wellington Hospital would not be sufficient.

Bishop said that as a local, he will be pressing to get the situation remedies. However, he would not commit to anything should his party enter government next year “because I’m not the health or finance spokesperson”.

He added: “But from a local perspective I will fight very hard.”

The day misinformation channels defeated the mainstream media

On March 2, the last day of the protests at parliament, misinformation accounts on Facebook saw 357,089 interactions, while mainstream media pages generated 247,620. That’s according to new research from The Disinformation Project who analysed tens of millions of social media posts to uncover what they describe as a “tectonic shift in the country’s information and media landscapes”.

Just 12 people, labeled the “New Zealand’s misinformation dozen” were responsible for almost three quarters of misinformation on Facebook. Telegram, a social media platform favoured by extremist organisations who’ve been banned from more mainstream platforms, grew its user base in New Zealand from 270,000 to more than 353,000 between late January and March 4.

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Greymouth Star apologises for ‘bad taste’ cartoon

(Tina Tiller)

The West Coast newspaper facing backlash over a “racist” cartoon published earlier this month has apologised.

An illustration by David Healy, and published in the Greymouth Star, purported to comment on the three waters proposal. As The Spinoff reported yesterday, the drawing was quickly condemned online for both its misinterpretation of the three waters reforms as well as for its depiction of government minster Nanaia Mahuta.

The Spinoff first approached The Greymouth Star and its owner Allied Press for comment on the cartoon on Monday morning. We have not received any response to our questions.

However, after The Spinoff’s request for comment, the Greymouth Star published a brief apology on its front page yesterday. “This cartoon is in bad taste,” said editor Paul Madgwick. “It was an error of judgment to publish and I apologise for any offence taken.”

Madgwick did not call the cartoon racist in his comments.

Healy is standing by his work, telling The Spinoff it is in “no way racist or even intended to be racist”.

Read the full story: West Coast newspaper faces backlash over ‘racist’ cartoon

(Tina Tiller)