Photos: Getty Images

Live UpdatesDec 21 2021

Booster gap reduced, border reopening pushed out and vax rollout for kids announced

Omicron response – the key changes:

  • The gap between second dose and booster dose drops from six to four months, meaning 82% of those fully vaccinated will be eligible for a booster before March.
  • Pre-departure test for entering NZ reduces from 72 to 48 hours prior to departure.The phased opening of border is bumped back to end of February (had been from January 17)
  • A temporary change to MIQ means length of stay in facility increased from seven to 10 days.
  • Everyone on an international flight with a positive will be treated as a close contact
  • In the event of omicron outbreaks, areas will move into the red traffic light setting.
  • Rollout for 5- to 11-year-olds will begin on January 17.
  • There are 28 new cases of Covid-19 in the community today.
Photos: Getty Images

Booster gap reduced, border reopening pushed out and vax rollout for kids announced

Omicron response – the key changes:

  • The gap between second dose and booster dose drops from six to four months, meaning 82% of those fully vaccinated will be eligible for a booster before March.
  • Pre-departure test for entering NZ reduces from 72 to 48 hours prior to departure.The phased opening of border is bumped back to end of February (had been from January 17)
  • A temporary change to MIQ means length of stay in facility increased from seven to 10 days.
  • Everyone on an international flight with a positive will be treated as a close contact
  • In the event of omicron outbreaks, areas will move into the red traffic light setting.
  • Rollout for 5- to 11-year-olds will begin on January 17.
  • There are 28 new cases of Covid-19 in the community today.
Dec 21 2021

National welcomes booster changes; Greens call for Māori and Pasifika kids to be prioritised in vax rollout

The government’s newly announced measures to combat the highly contagious omicron variant have been met with a mixture of support and criticism from other political parties.

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins this afternoon announced the interval between the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine and the booster shot would be shortened to four months from six and the border reopening would be delayed to the end of February. Vaccinations will also start for 5- to 11-year-olds on January 17.

National Party Covid-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop described the booster changes as “good news”.

“I had my booster dose yesterday and I encourage everyone to go and get one as soon as they are eligible. The government needs to quickly change up the tone and tempo of its advertising campaign – ‘two shots for summer’ now needs to become ‘three shots over summer’,” he said in a statement.

But the approval of the vaccination programme for under-12s has been too slow, and pushing back the trans-Tasman border reopening was disappointing, said Bishop. He said a short delay was necessary to increase third doses, but the sooner fully vaccinated travellers could enter New Zealand without isolating in MIQ, the better.

Act lambasted the government, with party leader David Seymour alleging the delayed border reopening showed a lack of logic. “We know there’s no certainty but people want clarity. It’s unclear why a six-week delay in home isolation is worth it when even Hipkins admits the virus may well escape MIQ anyway.”

Seymour said there were no other initiatives to boost the country’s resilience from overseas travellers besides a pre-departure test and extending MIQ stays. “There is nothing about ICU or general hospital capacity. We have to assume they’ve given up on contact tracing such a rapid variant. How are new treatments coming along? Is the government doing anything other than waiting to boost?”

The Green Party urged the government to prioritise Māori and Pasifika providers in rolling out vaccinations for under-12s. Its Covid-19 response spokesperson, Dr Elizabeth Kerekere, said vaccinations help keep people safe from Covid-19, “but from the beginning of the rollout of vaccines to people aged over 11 years, the specific needs of Māori and Pacific providers were not prioritised”.

A report by the Waitangi Tribunal released earlier today found the government breached Te Tiriti o Waitangi in failing to protect Māori during the pandemic. Kerekere said Māori and Pasifika communities have been “heroic” in increasing their vaccination rates but “the government must do it differently for our tamariki, based on what Māori and Pasifika providers say will work best for their kids”.

Couple who fled Auckland lockdown to Wānaka appear in court; man fined, woman discharged

The couple who sparked outrage by breaching border restrictions to flee Auckland’s level four lockdown and fly to their holiday home in Wānaka have appeared in court, reports RNZ.

One, William Willis, was convicted of failing to comply with the Covid-19 health order and ordered to pay a fine of $750 and court costs. His partner, Hannah Rawnsley, was discharged without conviction and ordered to donate $500 to a recognised charity within 14 days.

The pair used essential worker exemptions and drove to Hamilton Airport in September. They took a commercial flight to Queenstown via Wellington, rented a vehicle and drove to Wānaka.

Police said they were notified of the breach via the online Covid-19 compliance reporting tool.

The pair were both charged with failing to comply with the Covid-19 health order and pleaded guilty at their first appearance at Papakura District Court today, remotely, after months of delays due to Covid-19 lockdowns.

Their lawyer said they will regret making the trip for the rest of their lives, reports RNZ. Rachael Reed QC told the court her clients understood that New Zealanders were making sacrifices to comply with the rules. She said they were deeply sorry for their actions.

Reed said the couple felt the wrath of the public, but online attacks threatening them and their families were “unacceptable and inhumane”.

She said they have accepted responsibility for their offending, and pleaded guilty on their first appearance.

The shape of the outbreak

Like graphs? There are heaps more over at The Spinoff Covid tracker

Booster interval reduced to four months, border reopening pushed out and kids to be vaccinated from January 17

A range of measures to combat the highly contagious omicron variant have been announced by the government this afternoon, including reducing the interval between the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine and the booster shot from six months to four and pushing the border reopening out to the end of February.

Covid-19 vaccination will begin for 5-11-year-olds on January 17, the Covid-19 response minister, Chris Hipkins, also announced.

Accelerating the booster rollout follows advice from the director general of health and the Covid-19 technical advisory group, said Hipkins, that “shortening the period between the second and booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine is an appropriate and pragmatic step and is in line with what other countries are doing”.

“While two doses is likely to hold a good degree of protection against severe disease from omicron, a third dose is likely to offer great protection against transmission of Covid-19 and reducing the chance of more serious infections.”

The shorter timeframe will come into place in January. “We’ll continue to follow health advice if it recommends the gap in doses can and should reduce further,” said Hipkins in a statement.

Over 82% of vaccinated New Zealanders will be eligible for a booster by the end of February 2022.

The government is also mandating the booster dose for eligible border and health workers from the end of January, said Hipkins.

“More than half of border workers eligible for a booster at six months have already had it – which is a great response – but we need to get the numbers up quickly,” said Hipkins.

“Cabinet has therefore agreed in principle that where workers are required to be vaccinated, that this mandate will also extend to boosters.”

All others who are under a vaccination mandate must have had their booster by March 1.

Other border measures

The phased border reopening, which was set to begin on January 17, is being pushed out to the end of February, Hipkins announced.

The length of MIQ stay for all travellers will be increased to 10 days, with no self-isolation component. Currently most travellers spend seven days in an MIQ facility, following by three days self-isolating at home.

The pre-departure test requirement for people travelling to New Zealand is being shorted from 72 hours to 48 hours before travel, “in order to assist in picking up more people with the virus before they get on a plane”, said Hipkins.

The government has also sought advice on implementing a requirement for all non-New Zealand citizens entering to New Zealand to have had a booster dose before flying.

Changes to reopening plan

“To slow the rapid spread we have seen overseas, we are pushing out the start of non-MIQ travel until the end of February 2022,” said Hipkins. This is a change from an earlier announcement that fully vaccinated New Zealanders in Australia would be able to travel home quarantine-free from January 17.

“There’s no doubt this is disappointing and will upset many holiday plans, but it’s important to set these changes out clearly today so they can have time to consider those plans,” said Hipkins.

No lockdowns ‘unless absolutely necessary’

Hipkins indicated that lockdowns would be an absolute last resort should omicron enter the community – though a move to red for some regions could be on the cards.

“In moving to the traffic light system, we signalled that we would be adjusting to more of a reactive stance when it came to protective measures and would apply them when case numbers grew and the health system came under pressure,” said Hipkins.

“Omicron has changed that. When it does arrive, we expect that it will spread fast, and that’s what we’re seeing in other places. To slow that spread, we may use the red traffic light settings earlier on. That will give us the best chance to avoid returning to more restrictive alert level settings.

“It is not our intention to move to lockdowns unless absolutely necessary in the event of a widespread outbreak where our health system comes under considerable strain – and even then the strong preference is for the lockdown to be highly targeted.”

Simon Power will be next CEO of TVNZ

As TVNZ gears up for a likely merger with RNZ, the state-owned broadcaster has announced former cabinet minister Simon Power will be its next CEO. Power had been tipped as a potential future leader of the National Party, but stood down from parliament after four terms in 2011. His ministerial portfolios included justice, commerce and state-owned enterprises. Power, a trained lawyer, has since worked at Westpac bank.

Power will replace Kevin Kenrick, who announced his resignation in October after nine years in the role, in March 2021. “I’m excited to have the opportunity to lead such an iconic organisation,” said Power. “The past year has truly demonstrated the importance a strong national broadcaster has in the daily lives of New Zealanders. I’m looking forward to joining the leadership team as TVNZ continues its digital expansion and moves into an innovative new era.”

TVNZ chairperson Andy Coupe said: “This is an exciting time for a new leader to join the organisation, and Simon is focused on continuing this positive momentum as we accelerate our digital transformation, building an IP driven future for TVNZ and contributing to the Strong Public Media programme.”

Strong Public Media is the official name for the merger of the two public broadcasters. Cabinet is expected to consider early next year a blueprint for the new entity.

28 new community cases of Covid-19, no more omicron in MIQ

There are 28 new cases of Covid-19 in the community today, the Ministry of Health has announced.

Twenty-one of the cases are in Auckland, with five in the Bay of Plenty and two in Taranaki.

Three previously reported cases are also being added to Canterbury’s total community case numbers. “We reported these cases as confirmed initially before they were reclassified as ‘under investigation.’ They have subsequently been reclassified again as confirmed cases,” said the ministry in a press release.

There have been no further omicron cases detected at the border, meaning the number of cases in the country remains at 22.

There were 14,745 tests in the past 24 hours, including 9,160 in Auckland. The rolling average for the last seven days is 21,019 tests per day.

Child accompanied the traveller who self-discharged from hospital early Monday

The recent returnee who was transferred from managed isolation to Middlemore Hospital and left without being discharged, reported yesterday, was accompanied by their child, the ministry has revealed. “The child was transferred in the ambulance with the parent as the age of the child meant they could not be left unattended in managed isolation,” said the ministry.

“Police are currently investigating the early Monday morning incident.”

The parent tested negative twice; first on day zero in managed isolation. A further rapid antigen test, upon arrival at the hospital on Sunday night, returned a negative result.

“We want to reiterate the importance of the pair returning to managed isolation to complete their isolation period and to have further testing on day three and day six,” said the ministry.

“Information regarding the pair is being released in this update to aid the investigation.”

Bay of Plenty cases

There are five cases to report in Bay of Plenty today – four are in the Tauranga area and one in Murapara. The Murupara case is a household contact of a previously reported case.

Taranaki cases

Today, two new cases are being reported in Taranaki – one is linked to the Eltham cluster, and the other is linked to a case in New Plymouth. This takes the total active cases in the region to 32.

Hospitalisations

  • Cases in hospital: 57; North Shore: 10; Auckland: 25; Middlemore: 19; Northland 1; Waikato: 2
  • Vaccination status of current hospitalisations (Northern Region wards only, excluding those in ED): Unvaccinated or not eligible (28 cases / 55%); partially immunised <7 days from second dose or have only received one dose (6 cases / 12%); fully vaccinated at least 7 days before being reported as a case (11 cases / 21%); unknown (6 cases / 12%)
  • Average age of current hospitalisations: 49
  • Cases in ICU or HDU: 7 (1 in North Shore; 2 in Auckland; 3 in Middlemore, 1 in Northland)

Vaccination update

Nelson-Marlborough DHB is expected to become the tenth DHB to hit the 90% fully vaccinated milestone later today based on uptake among its eligible population, with just 246 doses to go as of 11.59pm yesterday.

Next in line based on uptake by their eligible populations are South Canterbury DHB (195 doses to go); Hawkes Bay DHB (1,714 doses); and Waikato (3,557 doses), which are expected to reach this soon.

Discrimination against unvaccinated not a thing, BSA rules

Broadcasters’ comments about people’s Covid-19 vaccination status are unlikely to be considered discrimination or denigration, the Broadcasting Standards Authority has found.

In decisions released today, the BSA declined to decide three complaints alleging commentary made on Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking Breakfast show and Seven Sharp in late September breached broadcasting standards.

The first decision related to a complaint against Newstalk ZB’s broadcaster, NZME, involving discussion about unvaccinated health workers. Broadcaster Mike Hosking said some three-quarters of the country’s DHB workforce were fully vaccinated, adding: “If that’s the best they can do, mandates can’t come fast enough. You either get jabbed or your don’t work, simple as that.”

The second decision related to two complaints about a news item on TVNZ’s Seven Sharp about employment issues related to the vaccine. Following an interview with an employment lawyer, presenters Hilary Barry and Jeremy Wells then discussed a hypothetical situation where guests invited to a dinner party turned out to be unvaccinated, and commented they could be set up in a “pup tent out the back”.

The BSA said the discrimination and denigration standard, which helps protect sections of the community from verbal and other attacks and fosters equality, didn’t apply to people who are unvaccinated or who oppose vaccines, because neither group is a recognised section of the community.

In another decision, the authority confirmed a previous ruling that there is scientific consensus on the Pfizer vaccine’s safety. It found a panel discussion on APNA Television’s Talanoa Sa’o programme breached broadcasting standards with misleading comments about Covid-19 and the application of new abortion laws.

The broadcaster didn’t provide evidence of reasonable efforts to ensure accuracy, and was ordered to air a statement summarising the authority’s decision and to pay the Crown $500 in costs.

Complaints about Covid have made up more than half of all complaints the BSA has received in recent months, it said.

Waitangi Tribunal releases damning report on government’s Covid-19 response for Māori

The findings from the Waitangi Tribunal’s urgent inquiry into the government’s response to Covid-19 for Māori make for bleak reading.

Haumaru: The Covid-19 Priority Report, released this morning, highlights failures by the government in their responsibility to Māori in data gathering, engagement, the vaccine rollout and the adoption of the new protection framework, also known as the traffic light system. The tribunal found multiple breaches of the principles of active protection and equity, partnership and the guarantee of tino rangatiratanga.

The tribunal said it could not understand why the government would go against all expert advice in not prioritising Māori in the vaccine rollout. While accepting a shift to the traffic light system was necessary, it found the rapid transition put Māori at risk.

The application for a special hearing into the government’s handling of the response was filed only in early November by the New Zealand Māori Council. Given the pace of Covid-19 policy development, the tribunal agreed to sit in early December. NZMC was joined by claimants from Māori health groups Te Puna Ora o Mataatua, Te Kohao Health, Tāngata Turi, Te Ohu Rata o Aotearoa (Māori doctors) and Te Roopu Waiora to argue that the Crown’s approach to Covid-19 has been “inadequate and inequitable”.

The swiftness of the release of the report is unprecedented, but the tribunal says it has benefited from its previous report on the health system, Hauora, which set out the Te Tiriti principles that are engaged by the health system more generally. The report offers a number of recommendations, but for many Māori public health professionals they will be too little, too late.

Possible changes to border reopening, booster rollout coming today

The government will be announcing possible changes to the border reopening schedule and the vaccine booster rollout this afternoon in response to the rapid rise of the omicron variant. Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins is fronting a press conference at parliament at 2pm, where any changes are expected to be laid out.

Omicron cases are surging overseas and there are now 22 cases of the variant in New Zealand. The first phase of the border reopening is currently set for January 17, when fully vaccinated New Zealanders in Australia will be allowed to return home without the need for quarantine. With thousands of new omicron cases being reported every day, that may now be postponed, reports Stuff.

Cabinet also discussed yesterday the recommended period between the second vaccine and the booster shot, having received advice from director general of health Ashley Bloomfield. Currently six months, a shortened period may be announced this afternoon.

An announcement is also expected on the rollout of the paediatric vaccine for 5-11-year-olds, which received preliminary approval from Medsafe last week.