blog feb 28

Live UpdatesFeb 28 2022

Self isolation for travellers scrapped from Thursday

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for February 28. It’s the last day of summer! I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. You can reach me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


Latest

  • Fully vaccinated travellers who arrive into New Zealand will be able to skip self isolation from 11.59pm on Wednesday.
  • Full border reopening brought forward by over one week.
  • There are now 344 people in hospital with Covid-19, including five in intensive care.
  • Today saw another 14,633 community Covid-19 cases confirmed – a slight drop on yesterday’s count.
  • Hundreds remain camped outside parliament as the occupation enters its fourth week. You can read my report from the ground here.
blog feb 28

Self isolation for travellers scrapped from Thursday

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for February 28. It’s the last day of summer! I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. You can reach me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


Latest

  • Fully vaccinated travellers who arrive into New Zealand will be able to skip self isolation from 11.59pm on Wednesday.
  • Full border reopening brought forward by over one week.
  • There are now 344 people in hospital with Covid-19, including five in intensive care.
  • Today saw another 14,633 community Covid-19 cases confirmed – a slight drop on yesterday’s count.
  • Hundreds remain camped outside parliament as the occupation enters its fourth week. You can read my report from the ground here.
Feb 28 2022

Efeso Collins wins Labour endorsement for Auckland mayoralty

Not long ago he was widely regarded as an outsider in the contest to become Auckland mayor, with the Herald reporting the Labour councillor was “out of favour” with party HQ. As of now, Auckland councillor Efeso Collins is the frontrunner, having just been officially endorsed by Labour unopposed as the candidate it backs for the office.

“The decision was made at the weekend by the party’s governing body, following consultation with members. Efeso Collins’ bid for endorsement was unopposed,” said Labour general secretary Rob Salmond in a statement. “The party sees a Collins mayoralty as historic, and would represent the first Pacific mayor of the city. Labour looks forward to supporting his campaign.”

The support is critical in terms of both the party machine and fundraising. Collins, who announced he’d be standing with or without that backing in an interview with The Spinoff a month ago, currently represents the Manukau Ward. The only other high-profile candidate to put their name forward for the office that Phil Goff is vacating is Leo Molloy. Viv Beck of Heart of the City is said to be still considering her options.

Collins’ major policy announcement so far is fares-free public transport.

Will ‘fully vaccinated’ come to mean three doses?

Following today’s post-cabinet press conference, when the prime minister announced self-isolation requirements would end for fully vaccinated travellers to New Zealand, she was asked if cabinet had considered whether the meaning of “fully vaccinated” would need to change.

Currently, two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine are required to be considered fully vaccinated in New Zealand, but there is ample evidence that a booster shot is needed to provide immunity to the omicron variant.

Ardern said while cabinet had discussed the issue, no final decisions had been made. “Operationalising” such a decision would be difficult, she said. “We have to factor in availability of boosters at point of departure, and be fair and reasonable about whether people have had a chance to get it.”

Also speaking at post-cab, David Skegg, the chair of an independent committee of scientists who have helped inform New Zealand’s Covid response, said his committee is yet to make any recommendations on the question, but “noted it was something that needs to be considered in future”.

“We now know with omicron really it should be three doses,” said Skegg. “Even the word booster implies an optional extra, but it’s not – in order to be protected you need three doses.”

Workers covered by government vaccine mandates are currently required to have the booster dose, with the deadline for border and health workers having passed. Education, corrections, fire and emergency, police and defence – mandates for the latter two of which have now been paused after a successful High Court challenge – are required to have the booster by tomorrow, March 1.

Vaccinated travellers to skip isolation; full border opening brought forward

Fully vaccinated travellers who arrive into New Zealand will be able to skip self isolation from 11.59pm on Wednesday.

The border reopened to Australian returnees overnight, meaning anyone arriving into the country currently has to spend a few days isolating at home (they will be allowed to leave isolation on Wednesday night).

Every traveller will be required to take a rapid antigen test on the day they arrive and on day five or six after their arrival.

The decision was based on the advice of David Skegg, the chair of an independent committee of scientists who have helped inform our Covid response. This advice was provided to cabinet yesterday afternoon.

Speaking alongside the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, at a post-cabinet press conference, Skegg said that in a short period of weeks, the pattern of risk in New Zealand has shifted dramatically. There are now thousands of Covid-19 cases being announced each day, compared with just a handful at the border.

These new rules could safely be applied to both returning New Zealanders and tourists when borders are opened more generally, said Skegg. In addition, he recommended that whole genome sequencing was carried out to detect the arrival of new variants.

Ardern confirmed that travellers’ positive RATs would be followed up with PCR testing so genome sequencing can take place. Pre-departure tests will remain in use.

The peak of the omicron outbreak is expected in mid-March or earlier, said Ardern. “Things are tracking more rapidly than modellers first anticipated.” Getting the most up-to-date advice was necessary to make today’s decision.

Border reopening for rest of the world brought forward

Returning New Zealanders and eligible critical workers from the rest of the world will now be able to arrive from 11.59pm on Friday, March 4. That’s just over a week ahead of the previously announced timeline that would have seen the border opening on March 13.

“We are able to take these decisions because we have a highly vaccinated population and good public health restrictions through the Covid-19 protection framework in place,” said Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins.

“To the nearly one million people who are due their booster, I urge you to get it today. The fact remains that if you are unvaccinated you are much more likely to end up in hospital with Covid-19 than if you are vaccinated and boosted.”

Managed isolation will remain for unvaccinated New Zealanders, refugees and some community cases as needed. “We will begin to scale back some of our managed isolation capacity. I will have more to say on this in the coming weeks.”

Cabinet will shortly consider bringing the other steps in our border reopening plan forward as well.

Watch live:

‘Time for diplomacy was last week’: National wants Russian ambassador kicked out

National wants the Russian Ambassador to New Zealand kicked out of the country amid ongoing violence in Ukraine.

The party would also recall our top diplomat on the ground in Russia and then pass an autonomous sanctions bill.

Gerry Brownlee, who is National’s foreign affairs spokesperson, said New Zealand’s response to the Russian invasion has been “seriously lacking” when compared to the rest of the world. “It’s vital the world demonstrates a united front against Russian aggression, and New Zealand must play its part in that,” said Brownlee.

 Expelling the ambassador would be a “serious diplomatic move,” said Brownlee. “But it’s clear that President Putin has no intention of engaging constructively through diplomatic channels. The time for diplomacy was last week.”

Brownlee said he has already submitted a bill that would see a sanctions regime imposed urgently.

First MP tests positive for Covid-19

David Parker, the attorney-general, has become the first MP to test positive for Covid-19.

In a tweet, Parker said his positive result came through on Sunday and he’s now isolating at home with “minor symptoms”.

He said he’s been away from the Beehive since Monday, meaning it’s unlikely he’s spread the virus to other MPs or staff.

Covid-19 update: 344 now in hospital, 14,633 new community cases

There are now 344 people in hospital with Covid-19, including five in intensive care.

The number of new daily community cases of Covid-19 has dropped slightly, with 14,633 recorded today. Most were in Auckland – 9,305 – but cases are now routinely being found nationwide.

The Ministry of Health said there were now 17 people linked to the protest outside parliament who have tested positive for Covid-19. “Due to reluctance by protestors to get a Covid-19 test, the true number of cases linked to the protest is likely to be much higher,” said the ministry.

Meanwhile, as the number of Covid-19 cases increases, the ministry said it was continuing to see a disproportionate number of unvaccinated cases requiring hospital care. “Just 3% of eligible people aged 12 and over in New Zealand have had no doses of the vaccine, however, of the eligible people in Northland and Auckland hospitals with Covid-19, 12% have had no doses of the vaccine.”

The figures show that unvaccinated people are four times over-represented in the current hospitalisation data, the ministry added.

Since Friday, another 10.8 million rapid antigen tests have arrived in the country. This follows 5.2 million that arrived last Thursday. These new RATs will flow through the supply chain, said the ministry, ending up at community testing centres, GPs, pharmacies and businesses where they can be accessed by anyone who needs one.

Today’s Covid case locations

Northland (208), Auckland (9,305), Waikato (1,530), Bay of Plenty (762), Lakes (265), Hawke’s Bay (138), MidCentral (175), Whanganui (30), Taranaki (67), Tairāwhiti (60), Wairarapa (52), Capital and Coast (604), Hutt Valley (281), Nelson Marlborough (178), Canterbury (573), South Canterbury (24), Southern (372), West Coast (3). Six have not yet been linked to a DHB.

Vaccines administered yesterday

176 first doses; 423 second doses; seven third primary doses; 13,707 booster doses; 1,175 paediatric first doses and 197 paediatric second doses.

For more, visit The Spinoff’s Covid Tracker page here

NZ gives initial $2m in humanitarian aid to Ukraine

New Zealand is providing $2 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

The support, which could be increased, will help with health facilities and the provision of food and hygiene items.

Foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta said the government will be monitoring events in the region closely. “We know the consequences of Russia’s actions will be significant, and tragically many of these will fall on innocent civilians,” she said.

“We repeat our call, alongside international partners, for Russia to cease military operations in Ukraine, and immediately and permanently withdraw to avoid a catastrophic and pointless loss of innocent life.”

The Ukrainian flag (Photo: Getty Images)

Ex-MP Rodney Hide says ‘normal life’ is now inside the parliament protest

Former Act Party leader Rodney Hide has revealed he’s made more than one visit to the illegal occupation outside parliament – and now considers it to be “normal life”.

In a blog post, titled “Freedom!”, the MP of 15 years said he now finds life outside the camp “weird, miserable, irrational and tyrannical”.

“It is the same feeling I had crossing Checkpoint Charlie,” wrote Hide. “It wasn’t the prosperity that you missed but the freedom and the joy.”

Hide has previously written in support of the ongoing protest. Earlier this month, he said the answer to the government’s vaccine mandates was to “fight” and criticised David Seymour, the current Act leader, for backing Covid-19 health measures.

Visiting the camp is akin to a “brotherhood and comradeship”, said Hide, who also claimed the protest was “successfully defying a tyrannical parliament”.

He added: “I want to go back to Camp Freedom to revel once more in the freedom and to feel the comradeship. And to defeat tyranny.”

Rodney Hide as Act Party leader (Photo / Getty Images)

Council asking questions after ‘Illegal’ toilets pop up near Wellington protest

At least two flushable toilets have appeared near the parliament occupation, with Wellington Council wanting to know how protesters got away with it.

The pair of toilets are in the middle of the intersection of Molesworth and Hill Streets. The Council has since confirmed the toilets were draining into the wastewater network and not the stormwater.

“This is clearly an illegal connection,” council spokesman Richard MacLean told Stuff.

MacLean said the council was in contact with the police but had chosen not to send in any of their own people to inspect because of the protest’s volatile nature. Police last week said they were only allowing essential supplies, such as food, through the protest barricade.

Photos from this morning appear to show further more permanent installations arriving in the protest area (this appears to be a shower block, not housing as the tweet suggests).

The latest from Ukraine

From The Bulletin:

Ukraine’s capital is under siege as Russian forces pummel the city of three million with air strikes. The Ukrainian military has mounted a fierce resistance as it has faced the most powerful military in Europe. Russian tanks have been aimed straight at the country’s largest cities, with reports of heavy fighting in the outskirts of Kyiv. Reuters provides an overall view of the situation, but the Battle of Kyiv is underway. “Make Molotov cocktails, neutralise the occupier!” the country’s defence minister said in a statement to civilians.

Economic sanctions are worsening. As The Guardian reports, the US, UK, Europe and Canada are now moving to cut Russian banks off from the global financial system known as Swift. Russia has put its nuclear forces on high alert, according to the AP. In New Zealand, Fonterra told Farmer’s Weekly that Russia is one of the country’s largest market for butter. The company said it would respect UN sanctions, but won’t stop shipping to Russia until then. Russia has a veto on the security council, so no sanctions are likely.

How to deal with disinformation. Over the weekend, Russian media reported that Ukraine’s president had fled the capital. So president Volodymyr Zelenskyy did what modern leaders do, he went outside the presidential palace, turned on Instagram, and spoke to the country alongside the prime minister and senior officials. Stuff has published a profile on Zelenskyy’s unlikely rise from comedian to Ukrainian hero.

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.

Parliament protest: Police warn families to stay clear as conditions deteriorate

Today is day 21 of the parliament occupation.

A few hundred protesters remain camped out in front of the Beehive, with police urging people to stay away. In a statement, police said it was concerned by deteriorating conditions at the camp. “Aggressive behaviour from protesters, extremely poor sanitary conditions, the confirmed presence of Covid-19, and the number of unwell people amongst the group all make for an unsafe, and unpleasant environment for anyone thinking of joining the activity,” it said.

There are still concerns for children present at the protest, said police, and people who join the camp could be putting their health and safety at risk.

Meanwhile, a 35-year-old man was arrested on Saturday night and charged with “inciting violence”.

Read more: A week on the ground at the ‘freedom village’

Self-isolation could be scrapped as border reopens to Australia

As New Zealand starts to reopen to the world, the government will consider ditching the requirement for new arrivals to isolate at home.

Returnees from Australia can, from today, skip managed isolation and instead isolate at home for a week. It’s the first step in the government’s five step border reopening plan.

Speaking to Newshub’s AM, prime minister Jacinda Ardern said that with so many cases already in the community, it now makes sense to look at the self-isolation requirement. “We’ve always said that we wanted when we made these decisions they were based on the best possible advice,” she said.

“We’ve received that advice late yesterday, so we’re looking to consider that today.” An announcement will come at today’s post-cabinet press conference.