blog march 21


Nine deaths, 1,000 hospitalisations and 14,463 new community Covid cases

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 21, bringing you the latest news from around the country. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund, hunkering down from the rain in gloomy Auckland. Want to get in touch? I’m on

The latest

  • Nine more people have died with Covid-19. There are now 1,000 Covid cases in hospital, and 14,463 new cases in the community.
  • Vaccine mandates and passes are on the chopping block. Cabinet will meet today to discuss the future of our traffic light system and pandemic restrictions, with details to be released on Wednesday.
  • Stormy weather has caused widespread flooding in Auckland, including the closure of several Covid-19 vaccination and testing sites.
  • Yesterday there were another 12,020 new Covid-19 cases with 957 people in hospital. Today’s update is due at 1pm.
blog march 21

Nine deaths, 1,000 hospitalisations and 14,463 new community Covid cases

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 21, bringing you the latest news from around the country. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund, hunkering down from the rain in gloomy Auckland. Want to get in touch? I’m on

The latest

  • Nine more people have died with Covid-19. There are now 1,000 Covid cases in hospital, and 14,463 new cases in the community.
  • Vaccine mandates and passes are on the chopping block. Cabinet will meet today to discuss the future of our traffic light system and pandemic restrictions, with details to be released on Wednesday.
  • Stormy weather has caused widespread flooding in Auckland, including the closure of several Covid-19 vaccination and testing sites.
  • Yesterday there were another 12,020 new Covid-19 cases with 957 people in hospital. Today’s update is due at 1pm.
Mar 21 2022

Winning Time is your new TV show obsession

(Image: Supplied)

From our partners at NEONBefore Jordan ascended, the ’80s LA Lakers put basketball on the map, elevating it from barely on TV to a global cultural phenomenon. Their astounding story is chronicled in Winning Time, a 10-part drama built around the enormous personalities and era-defining events which created this dynasty.

The incandescent charisma of Magic, the moody yet brilliant Kareem, the vision of Pat Riley and the outlandish lifestyle of owner Jerry Buss – all rendered in kinetic style familiar from Adam McKay projects like The Big Short. Winning Time is highly stylised, with characters breaking the fourth wall and the story patched together rather than told in conventional narrative.

If you loved any one of Succession, The Wolf of Wall St, or cult classic basketball book The Last Shot, this story of sex, drugs and incredible basketball is only on NEON and has to be next on your watchlist.

Key Covid control measures should be maintained, say experts

Photo: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

As cabinet prepares to announce major changes to New Zealand’s Covid-19 response, including a potential end to vaccine pass and mandate requirements, three public health academics have detailed the measures they believe it’s crucial to keep – or even strengthen further. 

Writing on the University of Otago’s Public Health Expert blog today, Professors Michael Baker and Nick Wilson and Dr Jennifer Summers said caution was needed to prevent a second wave of infections. “If NZ follows the pattern seen in Australia, we may see case numbers decline to a new baseline level (perhaps of several thousand cases a day), and then increase again as a second wave. The medium to long term trajectory of the pandemic is highly uncertain,” they wrote.

The vaccine pass system should not only be kept but upgraded to reflect the evidence that a booster dose is needed in addition to the two primary doses to provide immunity against omicron, wrote the three public health academics. Some mandates should be kept, such as in healthcare and aged residential care settings, and potentially for first responders. 

Earlier today, University of Auckland epidemiologist Rod Jackson made similar comments to RNZ.

Photo: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

They also said border measures should be strengthened, with the entry requirement raised to require full protection, ie three vaccine doses. “Additional unvaccinated people arriving in NZ is the last thing we need during a pandemic.” As reported in this morning’s Bulletin, MIQ requirements for unvaccinated New Zealanders were removed on Friday.

Mask use should also be retained in certain scenarios, such as public transport and healthcare and aged care settings, they said, adding that higher levels of booster coverage and vaccine coverage for children are crucial.

With 1,000 Covid-19 cases in hospital today, hospitalisation figures are now peaking in New Zealand, the academics wrote. The peak for Auckland was likely last Tuesday, March 15, but for the rest of New Zealand, the exact peak is still unclear – and peaks for ICU admissions and deaths may be still to come.

Meanwhile, the Green Party has urged the government not to ditch protection measures “until it is very clear that the omicron outbreak has passed”.

“Listening to the prime minister today it was hard not to come away worried that the government could be about to get rid of Covid-19 measures before it’s safe to do so,” said Greens Covid response spokesperson Teanau Tuiono in a statement, whcih highlighted inequity in vaccine coverage for Māori and Pasifika.

Blue skies in Auckland as wild weather passes

Water on Ellerslie’s main highway (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund)

It looks like the wild weather of this morning has now left Auckland.

The city is largely covered by blue sky and light cloud now – in stark contrast to the torrential rain of this morning that caused flash flooding and power cuts.

I’ve written more about this morning’s weather event for The Spinoff here and, below, here’s an extract from my full piece.

The first thing I noticed was the traffic. And then I spotted the puddle – although that feels a bit like an understatement. A line of cars were stuck behind a bus that appeared to have broken down as it attempted to drive through flood waters. Ellerslie Domain, just off the main highway, was covered in a layer of water that spread out across the road into a thigh-high puddle. Some cars were managing to push through, slowly crashing through the floodwater.

Water on Ellerslie’s main highway (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund)

Changes to Covid restrictions will be announced on Wednesday

The prime minister will reveal the future of vaccine passes, mandates and the broader traffic light framework on Wednesday.

Speaking at today’s post-cabinet press conference, Jacinda Ardern said a few details still needed to be ironed out but she would provide a full update in about 48 hours time. Some of the decisions would be about casting forward, said Ardern, giving people time to adjust to the changes.

It’s likely mask wearing and some social distancing requirements will stay in place.

Earlier, health minister Andrew Little indicated that removing some restrictions would not see a rise in Covid-related hospitalisations.

Government offers $5m in ‘non-lethal’ assistance to Ukraine

Jacinda Ardern. (Photo by Mark Mitchell-Pool/Getty Images)

Another $5 million will be provided to Ukraine, this time to help the nation’s military. The non-lethal assistance will primarily go to the Nato Trust Fund, providing fuel, military rations, communications and military first aid kits to support Ukraine.

The additional funding follows a phone call between prime minister Jacinda Ardern and her Ukrainian counterpart over the weekend, in which New Zealand’s support in the war against Russia was reaffirmed. “We are playing our part in the coordinated global effort to support Ukraine. By contributing directly to the Nato Trust Fund, Ukrainian forces on the ground can benefit from the additional assistance immediately,” Ardern said.

“This support responds to specific requests from the Ukrainian government, and focuses on items identified as having the most strategic value to those in the conflict.”

This is the first time New Zealand has provided direct funding to a third party organisation for non-lethal military assistance of this kind. “[It] underscores the importance of rejecting any actions which have adverse consequences for state sovereignty, and that we must defend in every way we can, the democratic institutions and principles that New Zealand so deeply believes in,” Ardern said.

The government has also decided to support the Ukrainian forces through tactical defence equipment such as body armour, helmets and vests currently held by our defence force. That amounts to: 1066 body armour plates, 473 helmets and 571 camouflage vests/harness webbing.

Asked by a reporter, Ardern refused to label Vladimir Putin a war criminal, but said: “I imagine in the future there will continue to be calls to held him to account for what he has done.”

She added: “Is what he is doing morally wrong and reprehensible? Absolutely.”

The defence force is now working on the details of how the military equipment will be quickly delivered to Ukraine.

Watch: PM to reveal cabinet decision on Covid restrictions

Jacinda Ardern. (Photo by Mark Mitchell-Pool/Getty Images)

Jacinda Ardern is set to speak following a cabinet meeting today in which ministers discussed lifting some Covid restrictions, such as vaccine passes and mandates.

Little is expected to be released today, however, with a full update on our traffic light framework scheduled for Wednesday.

You can tune in below and we’ll have rolling coverage from 3pm.

Andrew Little: Dropping Covid restrictions won’t see hospitalisations rise

Health minister Andrew Little (Getty Images)

The health minister has given the strongest indication yet that some Covid restrictions, including vaccine passes and mandates, could soon be a thing of the past.

The prime minister will speak at 3pm where it’s expected she will provide further detail about the easing of some aspects of our Covid traffic light framework.

Speaking to Today FM’s Tova O’Brien, Andrew Little said we’re now at the point in the outbreak “where the pressure will come off the health system”.

The modelling showed that if restrictions were lifted, hospitalisations would not rise, said Little. Social distancing and mask wearing was likely to remain in the longer term, he added.

The minister did not believe the health system was in crisis, but instead said that omicron had been planned for. “We have about 280-odd ICU and HDU beds available, currently about 180 utilised,” he said. ICU capacity across the omicron outbreak had been at about 60 to 62%.


‘Strong levels of volcanic tremor’: Mount Ruapehu’s risk of eruption increases

Mount Ruapehu (Photo / Getty)

Mount Ruapehu’s risk of eruption has increased.

GeoNet said the crater lake temperature has now reached 31°C and been accompanied by strong levels of volcanic tremor. That’s prompted a move in the volcanic alert level at Mount Ruapehu up to level two.

“We consider there is an increased likelihood of eruptive activity as strong tremor is indicating increased gas flux through the system,” said GeoNet. “Despite an increase in gas flow, the lake temperature is only responding slowly, suggesting a partial blockage may exist in the vent beneath the lake. This could allow pressure to build up within the volcano.”

Mt Ruapehu is an active volcano, said GeoNet, and therefore has the potential to erupt with little or no warning when in a state of elevated volcanic unrest.

Mount Ruapehu (Photo / Getty)

Nine deaths, 1,000 hospitalisations and 14,463 new community Covid cases

Image: Toby Morris

Nine more people have died with Covid-19 today, taking the total number of publicly reported Covid-related deaths to 184 and the seven-day rolling average of reported deaths to 10, the Ministry of Health has reported.

Five of the people who died are from Auckland, two from Waikato, one from Wairarapa and one from Bay of Plenty. One was in their 20s, one in their 60s, one in their 70s, two in their 80s and four in their 90s. Five were men and four were women.

Hospitalisations have today reached 1,000 for the first time, with 33 in ICU. Unvaccinated people are more than five times over-represented in hospitalisation figures.

There are 14,463 new Covid cases in the community today.

Meanwhile, four million New Zealanders are now double-vaccinated, said the ministry, with more than 95% of eligible people aged 12 and over having completed their primary vaccination course. Seventy-three percent of those eligible have had their booster dose, with more than 950,000 people overdue.

Flooding and storm damage closes Auckland testing, vaccination sites

Motorists queue at the Ōtara testing station. (Photo: DAVID ROWLAND / AFP)

Several Auckland Covid-19 vaccination and testing sites are closed for all or part of the day on account of flooding and storm damage, says the Northern Region Health Coordination Centre.

The three drive-through vaccination centres at Ōrewa, Eventfinda Stadium in Wairau Valley and Westgate in West Auckland are closed, while the drive-through operation at Leonard Rd in Mt Wellington has moved indoors for the day. The Ōtara Vaccination Centre (both the indoor and outdoor sites) has also been closed while staff repair damage.

Several other community testing centres and RAT collections centres – the North Harbour Stadium pop-up, the St Johns site, the Te Wānanga o Aotearoa pop-up in Māngere, the Ōtara site and the Pakuranga site – have also had to close temporarily.

A lot has changed since March 15 – but not enough

From The Spinoff Weekend: your Saturday wrap-up of everything you may have missed across the week.

Three years on from the Christchurch mosque attack, Anjum Rahman says there’s still plenty of work to be done to prevent that kind of atrocity from happening again. “We need more urgency and in many areas,” she writes in a heartfelt anniversary piece imploring for more action. “That promise of change hasn’t yet come to fruition … we don’t need any more empty platitudes of sorrow on this anniversary. We need firm action and strong resolve. Across the board.” Meanwhile, Toby Manhire crosses the ditch to cover a new report into the Christchurch terror attack. That report, Islamophobia in Australia, says “the Christchurch massacre sparked a wave of online and offline hatred against Muslims”. You can follow Toby’s full coverage here.

Sign up to The Spinoff Weekend here.

Jesus f-ing Christ, we’re becoming more tolerant of swearing on TV

Image: Tina Tiller

New research by the Broadcasting Standards Authority has found that New Zealand audiences’ attitudes are softening when it comes to some offensive language – particularly blasphemy and terms including the word “fuck”.

At the same time, we’re becoming less accepting of racial and cultural slurs.

The study, carried out online at the end of last year, surveyed 1,505 randomly selected individuals aged 18 plus, who were asked their views on the use of 31 different words in a range of broadcasting scenarios.

The overall order of words from most unacceptable to least unacceptable remained reasonably consistent with the BSA’s last study in 2018, “although significant declines in unacceptability are noted for Jesus fucking Christ and other variations of fuck”, said the report.

The term considered the most offensive was the n-word, which also topped the two previous studies in 2018 and 2013. In the latest research, 65% considered it totally unacceptable across all scenarios.

“Cunt” dropped six percentage points on 2018, but remained in second-equal place, scoring the same as a new racial slur added to the study for the first time this year. Two other racial slurs and a homophobic term followed. “Cocksucker” and “motherfucker” came in at seventh and eighth place, both dropping slightly since 2018. Two other words in the study decreased in unacceptability, with “Jesus fucking Christ” dropping 10 percentage points from third to 11th place, and “get fucked” dropping six to 19th place.

The survey found younger people were the most accepting of potentially offensive language used in broadcasting, and Pacific people were the least accepting. Females were less accepting than males.

The full report is on the BSA’s website.

Widespread flooding, cars submerged as Auckland records one of wettest hours on record

Flooding in Ellerslie (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund)

As we reported at 9.06am, it’s wet this morning in Auckland. Very wet.

Niwa’s Albany station on the North Shore recorded what it believed to be Auckland’s wettest hour ever, with 76.8mm of rain falling between 8am and 9am, but MetService came in with the fact check, pointing out that more than 100mm fell on one sodden February morning in 1966. Still, pretty wet.

Police have reporting surface area flooding in Hillcrest, Greenhithe and Albany, and said there have been a number of calls for assistance to emergency services across the city where vehicles have become submerged.

They are advising motorists across Auckland to delay their travel, if at all possible, and if they have to travel to drive with extreme caution.

Cars have been seen under water in Ellerslie and Glendowie:

Stewart Sowman-Lund is also on the ground in Ellerslie, sending in this photo:

Flooding in Ellerslie (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund)

Residential flooding looks to be a major issue too, with multiple Spinoff staff dealing with floods at home.

More than 4,000 lightning strikes were recorded in the Auckland and lower Northland regions, with more than 700 in the space of five minutes earlier this morning.

Flooding in Glendowie (Photo: Supplied)

Severe thunderstorm warnings are in place for Auckland, Great Barrier Island and the Coromandel Peninsula, as well as areas of Kaipara, the Far North, Whangārei and Rodney.

RNZ has reported that some Auckland schools, including Ōrewa College and Red Beach School, have been forced to close due to flooding.

How’s the weather where you are? Send in pictures and comments to

There’s no law stopping New Zealanders from fighting for Ukraine

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

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is gaining steam after a bungled start, with the country’s military making substantial gains in the south and east. Over 20,000 foreigners have joined Ukraine’s volunteer forces, including some New Zealanders, The Spinoff reports. There’s nothing in our law stopping people, even former soldiers, from enlisting in a foreign military. On the economic front, the foreign affairs minister is promising more sanctions after the first tranche fell short of expectations. According to RNZ, no Russian with any assets in New Zealand has been targeted. The sanctions only cover Russia’s president, 12 senior politicians and Russian-backed militias in eastern Ukraine. In a statement, Greenpeace said that if the point of sanctions is to put pressure on the Russian government, a token move with zero impact won’t cut it.

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. 

It’s wet

A woman walks away from a bus stop during heavy rain (Getty Images)

Time for The Spinoff’s sporadic weather check. In breaking news, it’s raining quite a lot.

Weather warnings are in place around the country, with most areas expected to get a bout of wet weather throughout the day. In Auckland, a “severe thunderstorm warning” has just been issued with Metservice also reporting a “high risk” of thunder in the Coromandel. “These thunderstorms are expected to bring heavy rain with intensities of 15 to 25 mm/h, and strong winds gusting 80 to 110 km/h,” said Metservice.

The wild weather has brought with it reports of surface flooding in parts of Northland and a collapsed tree blocking traffic in Puhoi north of Auckland.

RNZ has reported that some Auckland schools, including Orewa College and Red Beach School, have been forced to close due to flooding.

The Spinoff’s Manawatū correspondent (my mum) said it’s “not wet” where she is currently. Our Hutt Valley correspondent (my dad) has been approached for comment.

How’s the weather where you are? Send in pictures and comments to

Winston Peters hangs up on Tova O’Brien after question on Tauranga byelection

Winston Peters speaks to media at Parliament on June 17, 2020. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Tova O’Brien was hung up on during her debut show on Today FM, after she asked Winston Peters whether he’s planning to run in the Tauranga byelection.

The New Zealand First leader is one of several names in the mix to run in the electorate following the decision by National MP Simon Bridges to resign from politics.

So far, Peters has remained coy on the matter. In fact, he’d told O’Brien’s producer that he did not want to discuss the matter – a request clearly rejected by the Today FM host.

“You have a lovely day,” said Peters when asked, before hanging up.

Earlier in the interview, Peters did not give a clear answer when asked if he’d join forces with Matt King, the former National MP who also made an appearance at the parliament occupation last month. “I’ve got no idea what Matt King was doing,” said Peters. “Over the years when there have been protests at parliament, people have been talked to. This one, unique case, they wouldn’t talk to them – they just boycotted them.”

Future of vaccine passes and mandates to be revealed this week

(Photo: Mark Mitchell-Pool/Getty Images

Vaccine passes and mandates could be scrapped this week.

Cabinet will meet today to discuss the future of our Covid restrictions, with an announcement expected on Wednesday. That could mean getting rid of restrictions quickly or possibly laying out a longer timeline for moving the country out of the “red” traffic light.

Speaking to RNZ, prime minister Jacinda Ardern said cabinet would consider two things. “One is we know that in the future we’re likely to have additional waves of omicron… so let’s make sure we get the traffic light system right for the future,” she said. “We want it to be no more restrictive than it needs to be so if there are areas we can pare it back or change it, we will.”

The second element, vaccine passes and mandates, won’t be so necessary as we come out of the omicron peak. “We are highly vaccinated and a number of unvaccinated people will have had Covid during this period,” Ardern said.

One element that’s likely to remain, at least for the foreseeable future, is mask wearing. Ardern acknowledged that while face masks can feel like an imposition, “when you’ve got a large number of cases it is something that makes a difference.” She hoped that eventually the mask wearing requirement would also be removed.

Speaking to Today FM, National leader Christopher Luxon reiterated that it was time to dump many of our Covid restrictions. “The country is ready to get back to some normalcy, and today you could get rid of vaccine passes, mandates for under 18s and you could look at a five day isolation period.”

Stand-down period over, Tova O’Brien makes her media comeback


From our partners at Today FM: This morning Today FM launches with an incredible lineup of shows from some of New Zealand’s favourite journalists.

Tune in from 6.30 this morning for Tova, the long-awaited morning show hosted by ex-political reporter Tova O’Brien, with Mark Dye and newsreader Carly Flynn. O’Brien’s signature cut-throat interview style and journalistic eye brings you the news that matters most to New Zealanders.

Later, join other big names like Duncan Garner, Leah Panapa, Mark Richardson, Lloyd Burr and Wilhelmina Shrimpton throughout the day as they delve into the big, and not-so-big, stories of the day.

Listen to Tova, 6.30am-9am every weekday on Today FM.