blog feb 25

Live UpdatesFeb 25 2022

Five Covid-related deaths as case numbers double overnight

It’s February 25, welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund, coming to you live from Wellington. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


The latest

  • It’s day 18 of the Wellington occupation and we’re live on the ground, bringing you all the latest from parliament grounds. 
  • Five people with Covid-19 died yesterday in hospital: two in North Shore, two in Waikato, and one in Tauranga.
  • The number of new community Covid-19 cases doubled since yesterday. There were more than 12,000 reported today.
  • Omicron “phase three” kicked in at midnight, bringing with it easier access to rapid antigen tests and changes to how we contact trace confirmed Covid-19 cases. Read our snazzy explainer here.
  • Police further contained the protest outside parliament last night.
blog feb 25

Five Covid-related deaths as case numbers double overnight

It’s February 25, welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund, coming to you live from Wellington. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


The latest

  • It’s day 18 of the Wellington occupation and we’re live on the ground, bringing you all the latest from parliament grounds. 
  • Five people with Covid-19 died yesterday in hospital: two in North Shore, two in Waikato, and one in Tauranga.
  • The number of new community Covid-19 cases doubled since yesterday. There were more than 12,000 reported today.
  • Omicron “phase three” kicked in at midnight, bringing with it easier access to rapid antigen tests and changes to how we contact trace confirmed Covid-19 cases. Read our snazzy explainer here.
  • Police further contained the protest outside parliament last night.
Feb 25 2022

Rugby great Joeli Vidiri dies aged 48

The rugby player Joel Vidiri, who played for Counties Manukau and the Auckland Blues and represented both New Zealand and Fiji, has died. A sufferer of kidney disease, like his teammate and friend Jonah Lomu, Vidiri ended his playing career in 2001 due to ill health and underwent a kidney transplant in 2016.

In recent years he had become a familiar face at the Mitre 10 Mega store in Pukekohe, where The Spinoff’s documentary series Scratched: Aotearoa’s Lost Sporting Legends caught up with him in 2020.

In an article to accompany the documentary Scotty Stevenson wrote that “to be in the presence of Joeli Vidiri today is to feel shrouded in an otherworldly grace – a grace comprised entirely of contentment and humility. With just a smile, he can make the world feel better. He flashes that smile often, and at everyone.”

His death comes just hours after another that of former Samoa and All Black international Va’aiga Tuigamala. Tuigamala was 52.

Plea to Auckland Covid cases: stop turning up at hospital EDs

A growing number of Covid-19 patients are seeking help at emergency departments across Auckland for “routine, non-urgent care”, the Northern Regional Health Coordination Centre (NRHCC), which coordinates the Covid response in Tāmaki Makaurau, says.

Case numbers have risen sharply in the city, with almost 8,000 new infections recorded today, out of just over 12,000 nationwide.

Yesterday, Middlemore’s emergency department clinical director told Newshub that one in five people presenting at ED tested positive for the vrius.

In a statement, Dr Sarah Hartnall, NRHCC clinical operations lead, said hospital emergency departments are very busy, “so please only go if it’s an emergency”.

“It’s important to remember that most people, including children, will be able to safely isolate and recover at home with help from friends and whānau,” said Hartnall.

“If you start to feel worse, please stay at home and call your GP or Healthline on 0800 358 5453,” she added. “All GP and urgent care clinic appointments for Covid-19 are free.

“If you or a family member becomes very unwell, like having difficulty breathing or chest pains, call 111 immediately. The ambulance will be free.”

There are currently 210 people with Covid-19 hospitalised in Auckland.

High Court upholds challenge to police, defence force vaccine mandates

The High Court has upheld a challenge to the legality of the vaccine mandate for police and defence staff, ruling that the government mandate was not a “reasonably justified” breach of the Bill of Rights.

Fewer than 300 staff across both organisations had chosen not to be vaccinated. Three of them sought a judicial review of the mandate in January, supported by 37 colleagues.

The group relied on two aspects of the Bill of Rights Act – the right to decline a medical procedure and the right to religious freedom.

While Justice Francis Cooke didn’t accept some of the applicants’ arguments, he agreed the mandate infringed on section 11 and section 15 of the act.

“The order limits the right to be free to refuse medical treatment recognised by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act (including because of its limitation on people’s right to remain employed), and it limits the right to manifest religious beliefs for those who decline to be vaccinated because the vaccine has been tested on cells derived from a human foetus which is contrary to their religious beliefs,” Justice Cooke said in a judgment released today.

In a statement to the Herald, police said any move to terminate staff contracts as a result of the vaccination order would be suspended while the decision was considered by the government. The lawyer for the police and defence staff at the centre of the claim told the Herald the suspended workers should be reinstated to their jobs immediately.

The attorney general, David Parker, declined to comment on the decision or whether the government would appeal, reports RNZ.

Boatload of protesters arrive in Wellington after six-hour Cook Strait sailing

Live from Wellington:

A boat, carrying at least 18 anti-mandate protesters, has arrived in Wellington after a six hour trip across the Cook Strait.

Another rally has been taking place in Picton after protesters who hoped to camp out at parliament were unable to travel on the Interislander ferry without a vaccine passport or a negative Covid test.

Greg, the skipper of the boat now docked in Wellington harbour, said he had first sailed from Greymouth to Picton – a trip he said took about 50 hours. Then, at about 6.45am today, he and a “bunch of mates” left Picton to head to Wellington.

Greg onboard his craft (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund)

Included in his makeshift crew: a couple, that Greg had never met before, who plan to get married at the protest. There were also children onboard, with Greg saying they had loved the sailing – and even enjoyed a spot of fishing.

Greg said he didn’t know if other vessels would make the same trip across the strait, but said he had been “asked for advice” by prospective sailors. He warned them not to make the trip unless they felt they could do so safely. “That could be a real disaster,” he said.

Police this afternoon reiterated their warning to anyone thinking of travelling to Wellington to participate in the protest this weekend – don’t do it.

The Spinoff served ‘trespass notice’ by protester outside parliament

Live from Wellington:

The Spinoff has been served a “trespass notice” for walking through public areas now under protester occupation in Wellington.

While walking down Lambton Quay toward Mulgrave Street, a man told me I was trespassing and had to leave or face a possible $10,000 fine. After being informed the protest was on public land, the man said “not any more”.

A police officer nearby confirmed to The Spinoff that the trespass notice was invalid. He added: “We’ve been trespassed too but we’re still here,” signalling to a nearby pole that had a similar notice taped to it. “There’s a bunch of notices over there,” the officer said.

The ‘trespass notice’ (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund)

It’s not the first time a media organisation has faced hostility for attempting to walk through the protest area. Stuff’s Henry Cooke has documented several of his walk-throughs of the occupation – and the difficulties he has faced.

The supposed “trespass” notice claims that the area around parliament is now under iwi control, an assertion strongly rejected by iwi leaders in Wellington. It also attempts to use the Declaration of Independence/He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni, a document signed before the Treaty of Waitangi, and the United Tribes flag. Both have been adopted as symbols of the sovereign citizen conspiracy theory.

Covid-19 update: Five deaths, 237 now in hospital, 12,011 new community cases

Five more people with Covid-19 have died overnight as the omicron outbreak continues to take hold.

The Ministry of Health said the deaths were all patients in hospital, with two cared for in North Shore, two in Waikato, and one in Tauranga.

The number of hospitalisations has risen to 237, with three now in intensive care.

There are another 12,011 new cases of Covid-19 in the community. Once again, the highest figure from across the pandemic – and around twice as many cases as recorded yesterday.

A week ago, there were less than 2,000 new daily cases.

“The further increase in cases today is not unexpected given the ongoing spread of omicron and wider testing achieved from the combined use of Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) and PCR,” said the Ministry of Health.

“These case numbers and hospitalisations are another reminder that vaccination is our best defence against the virus.”

According to the ministry, the most common early symptom of the omicron variant is a cough, followed by a sore throat and/or a runny nose.

There were 25,461 booster doses administered yesterday and, overall, around 68.8% of the eligible population has received a booster dose.

More than 30,000 people received a PCR test yesterday, with 27.4% of those subsequently returning a positive result. That means more than one in four of people receiving a PCR test are receiving positive results.

The positivity rate for rapid tests has not been provided.

Positive case breakdown

  • Location of new positive PCR test cases: Northland (46), Auckland (1,565), Waikato (388), Bay of Plenty (279), Lakes (23), Hawke’s Bay (54), MidCentral (112), Whanganui (13), Taranaki (37), Tairāwhiti (34), Wairarapa (10), Capital and Coast (182), Hutt Valley (85), Nelson Marlborough (79), Canterbury (355), South Canterbury (13), Southern (524), West Coast (6); Unknown (1)
  • Location of new positive RAT test cases: Northland (87), Auckland (6,403), Waikato (544), Bay of Plenty (338), Lakes (140), Hawke’s Bay (40), MidCentral (41), Whanganui (5), Taranaki (11), Tairāwhiti (18), Wairarapa (4), Capital and Coast (77), Hutt Valley (20), Nelson Marlborough (23), Canterbury (114), South Canterbury (5), Southern (343), West Coast (3); Unknown (7)

For more: Visit The Spinoff’s Covid Tracker page here.

Image: Toby Morris

‘No problems’: Owner of only store open inside protest zone happy with behaviour

Live from Wellington:

The owner of the only shop still open within the Wellington protest zone said he’s had no problems from his new neighbours.

Pravin runs Freeman’s Lotto and News Agency, a small dairy outside Wellington’s bus terminal. Normally, it would be frequented by commuters using the bus network or nearby train station – but it’s currently situated within the police barricade. As a result, commuter traffic has been cut to near zero and his only customers are now illegal occupiers of the surrounding area.

Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund

Despite this, Pravin told The Spinoff’s live updates that he has remained open throughout the entire 18-day occupation. “I’ve had no problems,” he said. “People have been coming in and buying things. If I had problems I would have shut.”

The dairy had a Covid Tracer app QR code still fixed to the outside and Pravin was fully masked up. He said he’s been fine with having unmasked protesters as his only customers.

Asked whether he was losing out on a lot of foot traffic without public transport operating, Pravin admitted yes. He did want public transport to resume and the city to get back to normal. “But all I can say is, I’ve had no issues.”

A little further down the street, in front of a row of parked cars blocking Bunny Street, a sign reads: “Support the dairy”. Pravin said this was “very kind”.

Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund

A note about The Spinoff Members

With omicron cases increasing and an ongoing protest fuelled by the spread of misinformation, fact-based and level-headed journalism is more important than ever.

The generous support of our members powers all of The Spinoff’s journalism, including live updates on the ground at the Wellington protest, the award-winning collaborations between Toby Morris and Siouxsie Wiles, and richly reported feature writing. It’s what you need to know, without the sensationalism – and member donations keep it free to all, without a paywall.

Tautoko mai, join The Spinoff Members today.

Jacinda Ardern calls on Russia to ‘do what is right’ after Ukraine attack

The prime minister has issued a stern warning to Russia following yesterday’s invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking at parliament, Jacinda Ardern said the invasion posed a “serious threat” to peace in the region and would “trigger a humanitarian crisis”.

“New Zealand calls on Russia to do what is right,” she said.

Ardern and foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta were quick to condemn Russia’s actions in a strongly worded statement sent out last night. A number of sanctions were introduced, including targeted travel bans against Russian government officials and a ban on the export of goods to Russian military and security forces.

But sanctions were just “one lever that New Zealand can pull,” added Ardern today. Russia had demonstrated a disregard for diplomacy and international law, said Ardern. “They now must face the consequence of those decisions.”

Asked about China and whether it would back Russia, Ardern said she was making “no assumption” about the position of individual countries.

New Zealand could offer humanitarian assistance if it was required.

On whether Russia’s actions amounted to war in Eastern Europe, Ardern said: “This will be the closest thing to war that many people of my generation will ever have seen”.

One in every five schools now has a Covid case

Covid-19 has reached one in every five schools – twice as many as one week ago.

The government has moved to roll out masks and rapid antigen tests widely available to schools and early childhood centres as omicron phase three begins.

There are now almost 700,000 tests available for schools to access across the network and seven million masks are already available and being distributed. Another 36 million are on order to bolster supplies as needed.

Covid-19 and education minister Chris Hipkins said rapid tests should only be used as a last resort, if all teachers and staff are either positive or required to isolate and there isn’t a suitable person who can supervise children on site. “There is risk involved in a person who has been exposed to Covid-19 returning to work with children, so school and early learning leaders should think through carefully the use of rapid antigen tests for this purpose,” he said.

“The evidence tells us that wearing masks will help slow the spread of omicron, and we want to see our children and young people get as much on-site learning as possible this year.”

Bernard Hickey on the Reserve Bank’s latest changes

The Reserve Bank made its first big set piece decision of the year this week, releasing its monetary policy statement and raising the Official Cash Rate to 1.0%. So what does that mean for interest rates and house prices? In this week’s episode of When the Facts Change, Bernard Hickey asks Reserve Bank governor Adrian Orr about the property price boom and wage inflation, and talks through the implications of the Reserve Bank’s decisions and outlook with Kiwibank chief economist Jarrod Kerr.

Follow When the Facts Change on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.


Also new this week on The Spinoff Podcast Network…

Nē? marks the 40th anniversary of te reo news bulletin Te Karere by getting into the weeds of where Māori media is headed over the next 40 years. Hosts Leonie Hayden and Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes are joined by media legends Mihingarangi Forbes and Peter-Lucas Jones.

Follow Nē? on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.


In the first episode of new trades-focussed podcast On Site, Brooke ‘Sparky Girl‘ Thompson tells co-host Jay Reeve about her journey to becoming an electrician, where it’s taken her so far and why she’s so excited about the future.

Listen to On Site on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.


Intimacy Week on Married at First Sight Australia is recapped in all its romantic glory on The Real Pod‘s Real Recap.

Follow The Real Pod on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.


And in this week’s episode of The Fold, Duncan Greive speaks to Takeout Kids director Julie Zhu about making the documentary series and telling immigrant stories.

Follow The Fold on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.

‘Putin chose this war’: President Biden speaks on Ukraine invasion

US president Joe Biden has addressed the world in condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking from the White House, Biden said Vladimir Putin needed to take full responsibility for what he had done. “Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war. And now he and his country will bear the consequences,” Biden said.

Biden announced additional sanctions that would target four more Russian banks. “This will impose severe costs on the Russian economy both immediately and over time,” Biden said.

Any countries that stood alongside Russia would have their reputation damaged. “Putin will be a pariah on the international stage,” added Biden. “When the history of this era is written, Putin’s choice to make a totally unjustifiable war on Ukraine will have left Russia weaker and the rest of the world stronger.

Biden said he would not be speaking to Putin. The president thanked allies, including New Zealand, that have already stood up against Russia.

Omicron phase three: 10 million RATs arriving this weekend

There will be 22 million rapid antigen tests in the country by Monday.

The government’s confirmed that 10 million will be landing on our shores this weekend, after a 5.2 million-strong delivery over the past two days.

Rapid tests will become more widely used now we’re in phase three of the omicron response, with associate health minister Ayesha Verrall saying New Zealand is expected to hit 10,000 daily Covid cases very soon. “These tests will soon be shipped to community testing centres, GPs and pharmacies right across New Zealand,” she said. “Businesses who need them as part of the close contact exemption scheme can also access them.”

The government’s ordered 180 million rapid tests over the next six months.

National’s Chris Bishop, who has criticised the government for being slow with ordering rapid tests, told RNZ we are too late. “We could have had rapid antigen tests available in pharmacies and supermarkets for all of this year,” he said. “You’ve got businesses calling out for them that still can’t get them and teachers and principals that are desperate for them as well.”