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Live UpdatesJun 22 2022

Bloomfield says ‘worst case’ Covid scenario would see new delta-esque variant

It’s a crisp Wednesday, June 22. This is The Spinoff’s live updates and I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. Get in touch with me at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


The agenda

  • Chris Hipkins apologises for ‘distress’ caused by Charlotte Bellis MIQ comments.
  • Documents show petrol tax policy drawn up 24 hours before it was announced.
  • BusinessNZ takes fair pay agreement criticism to select committee.
  • Ashley Bloomfield has revealed five possible scenarios for future Covid “variants of concern”.
blog-june-22.jpg

Bloomfield says ‘worst case’ Covid scenario would see new delta-esque variant

It’s a crisp Wednesday, June 22. This is The Spinoff’s live updates and I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. Get in touch with me at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


The agenda

  • Chris Hipkins apologises for ‘distress’ caused by Charlotte Bellis MIQ comments.
  • Documents show petrol tax policy drawn up 24 hours before it was announced.
  • BusinessNZ takes fair pay agreement criticism to select committee.
  • Ashley Bloomfield has revealed five possible scenarios for future Covid “variants of concern”.
Jun 22 2022

Gone By Lunchtime: Strike raptor Gib board taskforce

Is a plasterboard shortage turning into a political crisis? On the new Gone By Lunchtime, Annabelle Lee-Mather, Ben Thomas and Toby Manhire unholster the tape measure. Plus: the winners and losers in Tauranga’s byelection, Jacinda Ardern heads to Europe to speak at Nato, all the ups, downs and sleights of hand in a “minor” cabinet reshuffle, and the legacy of Trevor Mallard.

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

Victoria University names new vice-chancellor

Victoria University’s newly announced vice-chancellor said the tertiary institute was well placed to embody the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Professor Nic Smith, a former engineering dean at Auckland University, will replace the recently-retired Grant Guilford at the university.

According to a media release, Smith has had “extensive experience” in leadership roles in the tertiary sector in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia. He holds a Bachelor of Engineering and PhD in Biomedical Engineering.

The new vice-chancellor said the university’s values and vision aligned with his own, emphasising the treaty principles of partnership, participation and protection. “I believe that high quality research and teaching must be relevant for, and trusted by, the communities we serve,” he said.

Embracing the diversity of Wellington and Aotearoa New Zealand, I am excited about the university’s ability to create equity of access to unique opportunities, host meaningful debate, and facilitate transformative experiences.

Smith will take up his appointment from January 16 next year.

Verrall: Lockdowns a ‘last resort’, but not off the table

The new Covid-19 response minister won’t rule out New Zealand needing to lock down again due to Covid-19. But, she’s made it very clear it’s not on her mind at the moment.

Ayesha Verrall fronted a press conference today alongside Ashley Bloomfield to discuss the future of New Zealand’s pandemic response. It included the outlining of five possible scenarios for future Covid variants.

The so-called “worst case scenario” included a delta-type variant that was resistant to vaccination.

Verrall said the government was working to combat new and dangerous future variants. “I want to be clear, lockdowns and other strict measures will be a last resort,” she said. “Our starting position will be more target measures aimed to protect the most vulnerable while also avoiding wider societal disruption.”

The use of vaccinations, anti-viral drugs, PCR testing and the contact tracing system all reduce the need for “more stringent” measures.

Cannes film favourites announced for NZ Film Festival

A dozen films from this year’s Cannes Film Festival have secured their local release at the upcoming NZ International Film Festival.

That includes the Palm d’Or winning Triangle of Sadness, that will close out the film festival in all cities.

NZIFF head of programming Michael McDonnell said the “very best” of Cannes would be on offer in New Zealand. “We’re thrilled to present an outstanding line-up of major award winners and nominees from celebrated filmmakers from around the globe,” he said. “Audiences can look forward to a diverse range of cinematic experiences this festival.”

Other films on the line-up include joint Grand Prix winners Close, directed by Lukas Dhont, and Stars at Noon, from Claire Denis. Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook’s long-awaited Decision to Leave will also be released at the festival.

Full details available here

Foodstuffs moving to open up wholesale supplier to rivals

Foodstuffs has announced it will be voluntarily opening up its wholesale grocery service to rivals.

It’s in response to the government’s plan to break up the existing grocery duopoly in a move that will, hopefully, bring supermarket prices down. It follows a similar move by Woolworths NZ, the owners of Countdown, earlier this month.

In a statement, Foodstuffs’ managing director Chris Quin said the company was committed to implementing recommendations from the Commerce Commission’s recent grocery inquiry.

But it isn’t simple, the company claims. “Wholesaling groceries to retailers who aren’t members of our co-op isn’t as simple as opening the doors of our distribution centres and letting trucks roll up,” said Quin. “Our co-op’s operations have been built over 100 years to serve our members’ 521 locally owned and operated stores. Providing retail-ready wholesale groceries to non-members means setting up a new service for retailers who are not integrated into our co-operatives.”

Retailers who are not members of the Foodstuffs co-ops can now express interest to become wholesale customers, said Quin. 

Police seeking 15 people linked to parliament protest

Police have asked for help identifying 15 people linked to the occupation of parliament grounds earlier this year.

There have so far been nine people charged following the protest, with 250 people arrested between February 9 and March 4.

“This is an enormous task and while we’ve made significant progress through our investigations, we now need the public’s help,” said detective inspector Paul Barry.

Images of the people being sought can be found here.

(Image / Archi Banal)

Covid-19 update: 18 new deaths, ministry issues long weekend reminder

There have been 18 more deaths of people with Covid-19, bringing the total number of publicly reported deaths to 1,450 and the seven-day rolling average to 13.

Of the latest deaths, 15 occurred in the past three days and the remaining three were since June 13. All of the deaths were people over the age of 50.

There are now 334 people in hospital with Covid-19, with four now in intensive care. Most hospitalisations are in the Auckland region, with 57 in Auckland Hospital, 41 in Waitematā and 37 in Counties Manukau.

Another 5,499 community cases have been announced. The seven-day rolling average of community case numbers today is 4,873 – last Wednesday it was 5,777.

Auckland continues to have the highest number of new community cases, with 1,637 announced today.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health has once again reminded travellers heading out over the upcoming Matariki long weekend to be cautious of Covid-19.

“You would need to self-isolate and likely remain wherever you test positive or become a household contact, so there may be extra costs involved in paying for additional accommodation and changing your travel plans,” said a spokesperson.

If you have used your own vehicle to travel, you can travel back to your home to isolate. But: “If you have used public transport or travelled between islands, you won’t be able to travel to isolate at your home. So it is important you have a plan and the ability to isolate where you are holidaying if you need to do so.”

Important news: Ernest Adams brand discontinued by manufacturer

Iconic New Zealand baked goods brand Ernest Adams has been “deleted” by its manufacturer.

The company was owned by Goodman Fielder, also owners of other familiar New Zealand brands like Edmonds, Meadow Fresh, Molenberg and Vogel’s. After concerns were raised about the absence of Ernest Adams products from shelves by a devoted customer, The Spinoff’s Alex Casey investigated.

Goodman Fielder did not respond to multiple requests for comment by The Spinoff about the whereabouts of the slices. However, Ernest Adams is no longer listed as one of the company’s brands on its website, and the listed phone number for the Ernest Adams factory in Palmerston North repeatedly rang through to voicemail.

A representative from Foodstuffs told The Spinoff that the supplier had made the decision to discontinue the Ernest Adams baked treats. Yesterday, a Goodman Fielder customer service representative confirmed to Stuff the line had been “deleted”.

Read the full story here

Ernest Adams slices: gorgeously gooey and gone for good (Image: Archi Banal)

Bloomfield outlines five possible scenarios for future Covid ‘variants of concern’

Ashley Bloomfield has revealed five possible scenarios for future Covid-19 variants, including what would be the “worst case”.

Covid-19 case numbers are on the decline in the community, though hospitalisations have stayed fairly stable around the 360 mark. The winter months had been predicted to bring a second outbreak of omicron infections.

Speaking alongside the new Covid-19 response minister Ayesha Verrall, Bloomfield said that the five scenarios focused on being able to pre-empt any disruption to health, business, and social and education outcomes. All potential variants were assumed to be even more transmissible than omicron.

The first scenario, or the worst case, would involve a Covid variant with “high clinical severity”, a bit like delta. That would mean people getting very sick if they caught it. This variant would also be highly evasive, even for people who have been vaccinated or had a prior infection.

The second scenario would be a less severe variant, but one still able to evade vaccines and prior infections. “You would see a lot of people getting infected in the community,” said Bloomfield.

The third would again be a bit like delta in terms of sickness, but prior infection or vaccination would bring a “high level of protection”.

The fourth would be a bit like the subvariants of omicron currently in the community. That would mean they were less severe and the ability for them to evade vaccination was low.

And the fifth scenario would involve “multiple co-variants” in the community at the same time, like when alpha and delta were circulating at the same time.

“We’re not doing any hoping here. We’re planning for the best and planning for the worst, and everything in between,” said Bloomfield.

It could not be ruled out, added Verrall, that the government may have to resort to further lockdowns or travel restrictions in order to combat a future strain of Covid-19. “All measures have to be proportionate and justified, in accordance with our laws,” she said.

On the rollout of a second Covid-19 booster, Bloomfield said he had sought advice from officials on who should be receiving another jab. “No groups should be mandated to have that second booster,” he confirmed. It’s expected that the second booster will be made available only for our most vulnerable groups.

A vital message from The Spinoff’s publisher, Duncan Greive

If you’re reading this, you’re hopefully getting value out of The Spinoff. Yet like many publishers, The Spinoff has suffered a significant drop in members, despite our costs continuing to increase. On one level I understand why our membership has dropped away. There’s a cost of living crisis, and inflation has made life hard for many of us. It’s totally normal to feel like you don’t need to support your local media organisation at a time like this.

The promise we’re making to you is that we’re actually better-suited to times like this than the pandemic itself. Our plan is to return to something more of what made us – coverage of culture, politics, te ao Māori and more with heart and humour. We will do that with features, essays and opinion pieces, but also podcasts, comics, video and newsletters. We are here to help walk you through this fascinating new era, and feel well-suited to being your guide.

But we can’t do it without you. The Spinoff has been cut out of the government’s enormous $100m plus Covid-19 campaign, which has been a boon to the big media companies and social media platforms. We returned the wage subsidy, unlike almost every other media organisation. The public interest journalism fund was narrowly targeted and is winding down. The big tech companies are refusing to do what they did in Australia and make meaningful deals with local media. And the recessionary drums continue to beat loudly, impacting the commercial spend we rely on, along with you, our members.

All of which is to say that we need your support more than we ever have. So please, if you can, click here to support The Spinoff by becoming a member today.

Announcement on who can get second Covid booster due this week

A law change yesterday has made it easier for the rolling out of future Covid-19 booster vaccines.

An amendment to the Medicines Act will, said the health minister Andrew Little, allow boosters to be given without the need for a prescription. That paves the way for a targeted Covid booster rollout to begin, largely focused on vulnerable New Zealanders who need another jab.

The Vaccine Technical Advisory Group recommended earlier this year that people “at high risk” of getting very sick from Covid-19 should have a second booster six months after the first, said Little.

“The changes we have made mean that the director general of health now has the ability to make boosters available to those who need them, meaning people don’t need an individual prescription to get one,” the minister said.

The new Covid response minister Ayesha Verrall will front a press conference in about 30 minutes, though it’s unlikely she’ll be announcing new booster guidelines. Meanwhile, a traffic light update is anticipated before the end of the month.

Megaupload duo who avoided extradition plead guilty in High Court

Mathias Ortmann and Bram van der Kolk, the Megaupload duo who last month struck a deal to avoid extradition to the US, have pleaded guilty to a number of charges.

The pair, who were involved in Megaupload alongside their ex-boss Kim Dotcom, faced charges including allegedly participating in an organised criminal group and causing loss by deception. As Stuff reported, they have pleaded guilty to all charges in the High Court.

Bram van der Kolk, Finn Batato, Mathias Ortmann and Kim Dotcom in the District Court following an FBI-led raid on January 20, 2012. (Photo: Michael Bradley/Fairfax Media via Getty Images)

In May, both Ortmann and Van der Kolk released a statement via their lawyer in which they said they had reached an agreement not to be extradited to the US. “New Zealand is our home now and we want to stay here,” they said.

“The continuing uncertainty associated with the extradition case has taken a heavy toll on our lives and the time has come to move on. Accordingly, we have reached an agreement with the New Zealand government and the United States of America under which we have agreed to be charged in New Zealand for offences similar to those we face in the United States.

“Once those charges are heard by the New Zealand courts, the United States will withdraw its extradition proceedings against us.”

According to Stuff, Dotcom was named on court documents as allegedly co-offending with the defendants from January 2005 to January 2012. As for whether Dotcom himself will be extradited, that’s up to the justice minister (a portfolio that last week shifted from Kris Faafoi to Kiri Allen).

Te Papa’s new project highlighting diversity within Chinese New Zealand communities

(Illustration: Mengzhu Fu 傅梦竹; Design: Tina Tiller)

Chinese Languages in Aotearoa is a project created by Te Papa to highlight the complexity of cultural identity within Chinese New Zealand communities. To learn more about the project read our interview with curator Grace Gassin. In partnership with Te Papa, featured above is a panel from a new short comic created for the project by Mengzhu Fu (傅梦竹).

“Growing up, I had this complex about not being a “true” Chinese person because I didn’t speak a Chinese language. The only ones [in my family] who spoke Cantonese were my grandparents, who lived in another city. When they passed away, in a sense so did my connection to the language … Now, even though I can only speak Mandarin like a pre-schooler, I can teach my son some basics and give him a foundation. I hope my little sixth-generation Chinese-New Zealander will be more confident in who he is and appreciate his connection to the previous five.” Koreen Liew-Young (杨凯贤) 

To read the full story, click here. (Sponsored)

Hey look, Lorde has a new music video

It’s been a year since Lorde announced her third album, Solar Power. To celebrate, the singer has dropped yet another video, this time for opening track The Path.

In an email to fans, Lorde wrote: “This video is the first chapter in the mystical Solar Power story, a prequel to the title video. You see my character joining her friends and family on the island where they’ve chosen to start life anew, arriving in her trademark suit and quickly being transformed by nature’s strange magic. I’m so proud of my buds for learning the dance in this one. Hope you like it.”

Watch: BusinessNZ takes fair pay criticism to select committee

Lobby group BusinessNZ is continuing to push its opposition to the government’s fair pay legislation, as its bosses appear before a select committee this morning.

Business NZ faced criticism after saying that the International Labour Organisation had “included New Zealand on the list of the 40 worst cases of breaches of international labour treaties”.

In a statement, Kirk Hope, BusinessNZ chief executive, said: “The fact we’re on a naughty forty list […] is seriously damaging for our international positioning as a leading human rights protagonist.”

It was later revealed these comments were misleading. Instead, the ILO had published a list titled: “Preliminary list of cases as submitted by the social partners Committee on the Application of Standards”. Slightly different to the so-called “naughty forty” as no breach had actually taken place.

Regardless, a statement this morning from Hope said that the ILO had “recently urged the government to examine the impact of the Fair Pay Agreement Bill” and presented a series of “claims” about the proposed legislation.

Watch: Select committee submissions on FPAs

Documents show petrol tax policy drawn up 24 hours before it was announced

The government’s cuts to petrol tax and public transport fares were announced less than a day after officials were informed they were on the way.

Official Information Act documents released to Newsroom show that transport agency staff were sent an urgent email at about 3pm on Sunday March 13. The scheme was announced at the prime minister’s 4pm press conference the next day, meaning officials had until then to calculate how much it would cost to reduce fuel excise and road user charges.

At the time, Jacinda Ardern denied the policy had been drawn up in response to a “bad poll” released just a few days earlier by 1News. Until this point, the PM had also rejected the opposition term “cost of living crisis”.

The Newsroom report shows a flurry of back and forth emails between officials in the period between the policy being devised and it being formally announced. You can read those here.

The Bulletin: Minister provides explanation for current health system pressure

Health minister Andrew Little has said the pressure on the health system is the result of the flu season starting earlier than expected and less of a dropoff in Covid cases than expected. Hospitals had predicted a flu spike in late June and throughout July with the minister saying “Things have happened outside their predictions”. One hospital is seeing a fourfold increase in flu patients, while hundreds of health workers are out sick due to winter illness. Reporting on rising cases of the flu began in late May with Dunedin one of the first places to be hit by it.

I would expect some pushback from the health sector on how well we’ve planned for the flu season, with seemingly incremental expansions of vaccine eligibility despite warnings last year that the influenza vaccine should be added to the schedule of vaccines for all children. The government announced yesterday that it is looking at making the vaccine available to more people.

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.  

Chris Hipkins apologises for ‘distress’ caused by Charlotte Bellis MIQ comments

Chris Hipkins has apologised to New Zealand journalist Charlotte Bellis over the public comments he made about her efforts to secure a spot in managed isolation.

Bellis, then an Al Jazeera journalist working in the Middle East, had penned an opinion piece about her difficulty returning back to New Zealand, despite having fallen pregnant.

The now ex-Covid-19 response minister Hipkins was then embroiled in a stoush with Bellis, after he disclosed personal details of her managed isolation application and claimed she had been offered consular assistance.

“On January 31, I released a statement regarding Charlotte Bellis and her MIQ application. I stated that emergency allocation criteria includes a requirement to travel to New Zealand within the next 14 days,” said Hipkins in a statement, released this morning.

“Whilst it was generally a requirement for applications to be made within 14 days of travel the MIQ guidelines did have an exception to this requirement.”

Covid-19 minister Chris Hipkins making the announcement of Wellington moving to level two (Lynn Grieveson/Getty Images)

Hipkins said he had since been made aware that Bellis was relying on “special circumstances” as she was in Afghanistan. Her MIQ application had been deactivated in error.

“In addition I stated that I also understand she was offered New Zealand consular assistance twice since she returned to Afghanistan in early December but has not responded.” These comments, said Hipkins, were inaccurate.

“On March 15, I wrote to Ms Bellis apologising for the errors in my comments and the inclusion of personal information in the statement and for the subsequent distress it caused her.”

Despite the letter being dated March 15, this is the first time the apology has been made public.

Bellis welcomed Hipkins’ apology. “The inaccurate information the minister released to the media caused widespread confusion amongst the public and resulted in unwarranted verbal abuse towards myself and my partner Jim,” she said in a statement.

“We stand by our decision to speak out about our experience with MIQ to shine a light on a system that was no longer fit for purpose and negatively affecting so many New Zealand families, as well as hold minister Hipkins to account for his response to our personal case.”

(Instagram)