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updates 24 jan upd


Omicron outbreak grows by eight

Hello and welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for January 24. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund, get in touch with me here.

Today’s headlines

updates 24 jan upd

Omicron outbreak grows by eight

Hello and welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for January 24. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund, get in touch with me here.

Today’s headlines

Jan 24 2022

More live events cancelled as omicron spreads

After yesterday’s announcement that the country would be moving into the red light step of the traffic light system, several events set to go ahead in February have been cancelled. These include the Auckland Pride Festival, the Auckland Buskers’ Festival, The Others Way festival, Christchurch’s Great Kiwi Beer Festival, Festival One and the North Shore Music Theatre season of Wicked.

In a statement, Auckland Pride Festival executive director Max Tweedie said, “We support the imposition of restrictions to protect our communities, healthcare systems, and critical services. The experience of Australia in particular has demonstrated that even without these restrictions, the Auckland Pride Festival proceeding during an Omicron outbreak would’ve been irresponsible.”

New Zealand Fashion Week has also been cancelled, with organisers citing the 100 person gathering limit as the reason. In a statement, NZFW said, “It is not viable for our designers to put on a show, nor ideal for our partners to reach the audience they expected.”

More cancellations are expected to follow in the days and weeks to come, and we’ll keep you posted of those here at The Spinoff.


Tova O’Brien can’t start new radio job for two months

Former Newshub political editor Tova O’Brien has lost a legal battle against her ex-employer and been ordered to pay $2000.

O’Brien was soon due to start as a breakfast radio host on Today FM, a new talk radio network owned by MediaWorks. She quit her job as Newshub’s political editor in November and has been off-air since late last year.

However, Newshub chose to enforce a restraint of trade clause in the broadcaster’s contract that would stop her launching the show for three months. O’Brien contested this decision, arguing her new job would not be in competition with Discovery, the owners of TV3.

In its ruling today, the Employment Relations Authority amended the restraint of trade from three months down to seven weeks. As such, O’Brien will not be able to start work for Today FM until March 14. MediaWorks had wanted O’Brien to start before the end of January.

“The evidence establishes if Ms O’Brien starts work with MWR [Mediaworks] she will be working in competition with Discovery,” said Authority member Marija Urlich.

O’Brien will also have to pay $2000 for breaching the conflict of interest clause in her Newshub contract. This was triggered by her providing Mediaworks a comment for their press release and taking part in a photoshoot while still employed by Discovery.

Tova O'Brien in parliament
Tova reporting for Newshub

Rainbow’s End latest location linked to omicron case

Rainbow’s End has officially been confirmed as a location of interest linked to a case of omicron. It had previously been reported that a person with the infectious variant had visited an amusement park in Auckland, but it took until this afternoon for Rainbow’s End to be published on the Ministry of Health website.

Anyone who visited the Auckland theme park on the afternoon of January 16 has been asked to self-monitor for symptoms for 10 days.

For more, click here

Booster doses top one million

More than one million booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine have now been administered – 57% of those who are eligible.

“Boosters lower your chances of Covid-19, including the Omicron variant, making you very sick and being hospitalised, and help to slow the spread of the virus,” reminded the Ministry of Health in today’s 1pm update. “If you’re 18 or older and it’s been 4 months since your second vaccine dose, get your booster as soon as you can.”

In addition, about 23% – or 100,000 – children in the five to 11 year age group have either had or are booked in for their first dose of the paediatric vaccine. They became eligible one week ago.

Omicron-linked rest home closed as residents, staff, tested

A rest home in the Auckland suburb of Flat Bush has closed to visitors as all residents and staff are tested for Covid-19. It follows a worker who tested positive for the omicron variant last week.

“Anyone who visited the rest home since Tuesday January 18 is asked to monitor for Covid-19 symptoms for 10 days after exposure. If symptoms develop, get a test, and stay at home until you return a negative test result,” said the ministry.

Test results for residents and staff are currently being processed. The test results returned so far have been negative.

Eight new community omicron cases across three regions

There are eight new cases of the omicron variant in the community.

Two are in the Nelson/Tasman region and are contacts of existing cases, five cases are in Auckland linked to previously reported family events, and a household contact linked to the Palmerston North omicron case has also tested positive.

That pushes the number of omicron community cases up to 19, with the Ministry of Health now referring to it as the January omicron cluster.

“The number of cases and contacts are expected to grow given the highly transmissible nature of omicron and as we learn more from case interviews,” said a ministry spokesperson.

“As part of our collective preparations for omicron, please check your details are up to date with your regular healthcare provider and in the Covid-19 Tracer app.”

As a result of omicron’s arrival into the community, any unlinked positive cases of Covid-19 in the community will be prioritised for genome sequencing. “This new approach will help to detect any cases of omicron as quickly as possible, establish any links to existing cases, and slow the spread of the virus. These samples will be treated as urgent and tested within 12-24 hours of being received by the laboratory,” said the ministry.

All recent arrivals who test positive at the border will be assumed to have the omicron variant.

25 new community cases overall

There are 25 new community cases of Covid-19 overall, including the eight announced omicron cases. The remainder are likely linked to the ongoing delta outbreak.

There are also 43 new cases at the border. These are assumed to be omicron-related cases.

In Northland, four new cases have been confirmed in the Kaitaia area. All are contacts of previously reported cases in Kaitaia.

There are 13 cases to report in Auckland today. Health and welfare providers are now supporting 676 people in the region to isolate at home, including 157 cases. 

There are four new cases in the Waikato today, which are all linked to previously reported cases. Two are from Hamilton, one if from Atiamuri and one with location under investigation. 

There is one new case to report in the Rotorua District, linked to a previously reported case.

A note from Duncan Greive, publisher of The Spinoff

Omicron means that, yet again, we at The Spinoff will be devoting significant resources to covering this enormous and complex story. It comes just as we caught our breath after delta, which arrived and hit our commercial revenues hard just as we’d made a major investment in people – hiring more journalists, along with data and technology specialists to help make our work more robust, tactile and accessible.

I need to be frank: we have never experienced anything remotely so challenging as the past six months, and I approach the coming weeks with trepidation, as so many others in business will be doing. So if you value what we do, please donate today. Every dollar is ring-fenced to support our journalism, and right now we need reader support more than ever. One more thing: if your organisation wants to support The Spinoff, we would really love to hear from you – contact us today to find out more about becoming an organisation member.

PM’s cancelled wedding makes global headlines

Jacinda Ardern’s wedding cancellation has made the front page of The Guardian newspaper.

The prime minister confirmed yesterday that, as a result of the move back into the red setting, her wedding scheduled for later this summer would not go ahead.

Ardern’s prime ministerial counterpart Boris Johnson also cracked the front page – but not over nuptials.

No Covid-19 press conference due to public holiday

There will be no press conference today from the prime minister or the Covid-19 response minister due to Wellington Anniversary Day. That’s despite the entire country returning to the red setting overnight as the threat from omicron increases.

Monday is usually the day that cabinet meets to discuss next steps in the Covid response, but this has also been bumped due to the holiday.

Today’s Covid-19 update is expected via a written statement from the Ministry of Health.

Act’s David Seymour criticised the decision and said people will have to hope omicron takes a break for the day as well. “Kiwis are waiting for important information to plan their lives, but there’ll be no usual cabinet meeting or press conference today…because the government is on holiday for Wellington Anniversary Day,” wrote the MP on his Instagram,


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A post shared by David Seymour (@dbseymour)

Motueka Countdown linked to ‘suspected’ omicron case

A South Island supermarket has been connected to a possible case of the omicron variant, while diners at an Auckland restaurant have been told to self-isolate and get tested immediately.

The Tarka Indian Eatery in Mission Bay has been listed as a Covid-19 location of interest on the evening of Friday, January 14. Anyone who visited the location between 4pm and 5pm is considered a close contact and needs to self-isolate. It’s not known whether this is linked to an omicron case or the ongoing delta outbreak.

Meanwhile, the Countdown supermarket in Motueka has also been identified as a possible exposure event. It’s linked to a suspected case of the omicron variant. Anyone who visited the store on Tuesday night has been asked to self-monitor for Covid-related symptoms for 10 days.

You can find out more here

Labour MP backs Tova O’Brien over restraint of trade debate

Labour MP Helen White, a former employment lawyer, has thrown her support behind broadcaster Tova O’Brien as she faces a legal battle to start her new radio job.

O’Brien left her role as Newshub’s political editor at the end of 2021, ahead of a high-profile hosting gig on new radio network Today FM. However, her former employer is attempting to enforce a restraint of trade clause in her contract that would delay her starting that new role.

White told Stuff that she wants to see restraint of trade clauses outlawed as they can impact anyone – not just television personalities. “The worst I saw were people who were seamstresses, at $20 an hour. Six months’ restraint,” said White.

“For somebody at that level, you can say prima facie [at face value] that’s illegal, and it would not very likely to hold, but the problem is the seamstress can’t afford to challenge that,” White says.

The MP has started work on a private members’ bill that would see the clauses banned for low income workers and “reasonable” for higher-paid roles.

Helen White visits inMusic in Auckland with Jacinda Ardern (Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Event organisers see red as festivals, sports events, scrapped

The move to red is unlikely to have a major impact on the day-to-day life of most people, but the events sector is already feeling the burn.

Under the red setting, events with vaccine passes are limited to just 100 people. That means while most businesses and hospitality outlets can operate almost as normal, it is impossible to host large events like festivals.

Splore announced yesterday that it has cancelled its 2022 event and has told patrons they can seek a refund or keep their tickets for next year’s festival. “We’re sad that we can’t gather our vibrant Splore community and immerse in the best of Aotearoa’s music, performance, and art in the extraordinary surroundings of Tāpapakanga Regional Park,” said a Splore spokesperson. “However, we understand and support the government’s decision to move to the red traffic light and minimising the risk for vulnerable New Zealanders.”

The Others Way festival, due to be held around Auckland’s Karangahape Road this coming weekend, has also been scrapped. The New Zealand Masters Games, set for early February in Dunedin, has been cancelled.

Auckland Pride Festival said it, too, had made the “challenging” decision to not go ahead with the 2022 event, but said the decision was “consistent with Auckland Pride’s values and unwavering commitment to keeping Tāmaki Makaurau’s rainbow communities safe”.

In contrast, smaller events such as the In The Shade film festival currently taking place in Auckland will be able to continue under red light settings. It’s announced that sessions will be capped at 100 attendees with social distancing enforced.

More Air NZ workers showing omicron symptoms

Our national carrier is expecting more omicron cases among its staff members, with the airline’s chief executive saying some are already showing symptoms.

One employee has already tested positive for the virus after coming into contact with a family from Nelson who are our first unlinked omicron cases in the community. Another 15 staff were yesterday stood down as close contacts.

Greg Foran told RNZ he expected more positive results would come. “I understand that a couple of the other crew are showing symptoms at this stage,” he said. “This will move quite quickly and we do anticipate we’ll be dealing with quite a few more cases.”

The airline has precautions in place for staff such as regular surveillance testing.

(Photo: PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images)

Surgical masks likely to be best protection for the general public – Hipkins

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

The Covid-19 response minister said protecting people from the omicron variant is not as simple as giving everyone an N95 mask.

There have been calls for everyone in New Zealand to be given a free mask ahead of case numbers of the new variant surging in the community.

Speaking to RNZ, Chris Hipkins said the issue around masks was complex. “We know that N95 masks are more effective at stopping the spread of Covid-19. Having said that, an N95 mask needs to the be the right fit or it can potentially be less effective,” said Hipkins.

If everyone was to buy an N95 mask, but not have it fitted properly, it was possible people could end up missing out on the protection the face covering offered. “The science on the effectiveness of masks against new variants, like omicron, is still relatively new. Science hasn’t had time to keep up,” said Hipkins. “As new evidence emerges around things like mask use, we’ll be looking to operationalise any changes we need to make as quickly as we can.”

While there were “plenty” of N95 masks for healthcare workers, Hipkins said it was currently believed surgical masks would be the most accessible for the public. “We’ve got plenty of those available.”

Targeted support could see those distrubuted free to parts of the community, signalled Hipkins, but it was unlikely everyone would be offered a free supply of masks.

The latest from overnight

Hipkins said no link between the new community omicron cases and the border has been determined so far. The minister was also unaware of any new cases overnight.

The gap between peoples’ second dose and booster dose was under “constant review”. So far, the most recent advice from health officials remained that a four month gap was sufficient. “If you look at shifting from four months to three months, the difference in terms of the number of people between now and mid-March is only a couple of extra hundred thousand people who would become eligible.”