Live updates, February 2: No further community Covid-19 spread; two tests from Pullman Hotel yet to come back

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for February 2. Reach me at Keep The Spinoff ticking by donating here.

5.30pm: The day in sum

MPs from Labour were welcomed onto Te Tii Marae ahead of Waitangi Day commemorations on Saturday.

There was no further spread of Covid-19 in the community following last week’s scare linked to the Pullman Hotel.

There were four new Covid-19 cases in managed isolation.

A new political poll by Roy Morgan had support for the Labour Party at 47%, and the Greens at 11.5%.

4.00pm: Gone By Lunchtime makes its triumphant return

The Spinoff’s much-loved politics podcast, Gone By Lunchtime, is back to read the tea leaves for 2021. Join Toby Manhire, Annabelle Lee-Mather and Ben Thomas to talk taking the bait, Māori wards, Waitangi Day commemorations, the Climate Change Commission report and much more. You can tune in below.

3.40pm: Mining industry unhappy with Climate Change Commission report

There’s a lot in the Climate Change Commission’s recent draft budget that the mining industry doesn’t agree with.

The budget – which is open for consultation until May – was released over the weekend. The government is then legally required to adopt the advice or come up with its own plan before the end of the year.

But Staterra, the industry body representing the country’s mineral companies, said there is a lot in the report it takes exception to.

“The report optimistically talks about replacing coal with biomass and electricity, but the challenges associated with this are substantial. For example, the area of land required for biomass cultivation would run into the millions of hectares,” Staterra chief executive Chris Baker told RNZ.

“The key point to be made is that the government’s emission reduction policies must not reduce the international competitiveness of the tradable sector as this will simply shift production and emissions offshore with no benefit to New Zealand nor to the global climate.”

However, there are some parts of the report that Baker said he agreed with; namely, he was pleased the commission was not advocating for total renewable electricity generation. “There seems to be a growing recognition that this target would be counterproductive to reducing emissions overall,” he said.

He was also happy the budget acknowledged there was a role for minerals in the development of green technology, like electric batteries.

Read more: New Zealand roadmap to net zero revealed on historic day. Here’s what it means for you

2.25pm: Labour MPs arrive at Te Tii Marae; PM not making an appearance

Politicians have returned to Te Tii Marae in Waitangi for the first time in four years.

MPs from Labour were welcomed onto the lower marae today ahead of Waitangi Day commemorations on Saturday.

As RNZ reported, the pōhiri was moved from Te Tii marae to the upper grounds in 2018. It’s hoped this year’s events will allow for fractured relationships to be rebuilt. But despite the arrival of Labour’s Māori caucus – and select other MPs – to Te Tii, Jacinda Ardern will be continuing the recent tradition of speaking on the upper grounds.

Labour Party deputy leader Kelvin Davis told Stuff his office approached the marae to return because the Māori caucus wanted to “reestablish the relationships”. However, he would not be drawn on whether Ardern would make an appearance in the future.

“Hopefully next year the Māori caucus will have an opportunity to come on this marae as well. And if more people are able to come, then that would be great.”

See below – some great hats on show from the Labour MPs.

1.20pm: No further community Covid-19 spread; Two tests from Pullman Hotel yet to come back

There has been no further spread of Covid-19 in the community following last week’s scare linked to the Pullman Hotel.

The Ministry of Health has sent out a press release this afternoon revealing four new cases within managed isolation, one of which is historical.

One previously reported case has now recovered taking the total number of active cases in New Zealand to 72. The total number of confirmed cases is 1,951.

The total number of tests processed by laboratories to date is 1,537,594.

On Monday, 2,302 tests were processed bringing the seven-day rolling average up to 6,300 tests processed.

Two tests from Pullman Hotel yet to come back

Of the 349 people who departed the managed isolation facility at the Pullman Hotel between January 9 and January 24, 347 have returned negative test results. The remaining two have yet to receive a test result, said the ministry.

All test results of close contacts of the border-related cases are negative.

Transmission within managed isolation and quarantine facilities

As of yesterday, the ministry has identified five returnees infected by a source within a New Zealand managed isolation or quarantine facility. This does not include the 13 international mariners where the source infection may have been overseas. There have also been five staff members infected within MIQ.

As the ministry pointed out in their press release, the total number of returnees through MIQ facilities in New Zealand is now more than 105,000 and there are over 4,000 staff working in facilities nationwide.

The infections involve seven events across five facilities: Rydges Auckland, Pullman Auckland, the Sudima Christchurch Airport, Crowne Plaza Christchurch and the Jet Park Auckland quarantine facility.

1.00pm: Family of top sports star granted MIQ exemption – report

The family of Breakers star Tom Abercrombie has managed to sidestep the country’s MIQ requirements and self-isolate at their luxury home.

Stuff has reported the wife of the star – Monique-Raquel Abercrombie – complained about the state of her hotel room while in MIQ, later being given the chance to isolate at the family’s $3 million home along with her children.

The complaint was posted to social media where she also tagged in prime minister Jacinda Ardern and explained that she has two autistic children and had applied for a medical exemption.

However, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health later told the outlet the exemption was “not a health-related decision” and directed questions to MBIE.

An MBIE spokesperson wouldn’t comment on the specific case but said exemptions are “rare”.

“Without a privacy waiver from the family we cannot comment on the specifics of this case,” an MBIE spokesman told Stuff.

Just 11 MIQ exemptions have been given out since July 14 last year.

11.35am: First Covid-19 vaccine could be approved today

Medsafe’s Medicine Assessment Advisory Committee is meeting today to decide whether to give provisional approval to the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine – meaning it could be rolled out as soon as it arrives on our shore.

The prime minister said last week that any decision by the committee could be made public as soon as tomorrow.

As RNZ reported, data from Pfizer’s clinical trials – along with information from countries that have already been using the vaccine under emergency situations – will play into Medsafe’s decision to approve or reject the vaccine.

Medsafe group manager Chris James told RNZ they had been working with Australian and British regulators, along with the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency.

“That data is really helpful and New Zealand is in a fortunate position that we’re able to learn a lot from countries that have been using the vaccine in their populations,” he said.

10.45am: Christchurch MSD office in lockdown following threat

The Ministry of Social Development’s Linwood office has gone into lockdown following an unspecified threat, according to the NZ Herald.

MSD regional commissioner Dianne McDermott told the outlet: “The safety of our clients and staff remains our top priority.”

However, he wouldn’t reveal any further details, saying it is now a “police matter”.

“Early indications are it may be mental health related,” a spokesperson said. “However police are on scene now and we are waiting to hear back from local staff.”

10.00am: New poll has support for Labour/Greens at highest since election

A new political poll by Roy Morgan has support for the Labour Party at 47% – three points lower than on election night but up from the same poll at the end of 2020.

Meanwhile, the Greens have soared to 11.5%, taking the government alliance up to 58.5%. That’s the highest result for the two parties since October’s election.

Elsewhere, the opposition duo of National and Act come nowhere close to scooping the government. National’s support has dropped to 25%, with Act on 9%. Even throwing in the Māori Party only takes the three parties to a combined 36%.

See the full results here

9.15am: Stuff removes article paid for by WellingtonNZ

Media outlet Stuff has removed an article published more than a month ago after learning its author had been paid to write it by WellingtonNZ.

The column, headlined “Absolutely Positively Consequential”, was written by Brian Sweeney – from communications company SweeneyVesty and a former Wellingtonian.

Following Stuff’s decision to run the 600-word column, it was revealed Sweeney had been paid $12,000 to do so.

“Stuff apologises to readers for publishing the article without disclosing this information,” reads the apology now found in place of the article.

8.00am: National deputy suggests MIQ ‘bedroom encounter’ was political ‘bait’

This story from last night’s Newshub bulletin couldn’t be glossed over today.

At the National Party caucus retreat, relocated to Wellington after the recent Covid scare, the party’s deputy leader made a bizarre claim regarding the recent “bedroom encounter” in an Auckland MIQ facility.

Addressing her caucus ahead of the new political year, leader Judith Collins said the government had been throwing out “distractions” to “bait” them. However, she wouldn’t elaborate on what that meant.

Instead, her faithful deputy Shane Reti was left to field questions from reporters on the topic. “Well, you have to wonder about some of the testing, some of the things that have come up, I mean you wonder if the dalliance at the hotel with the security worker, was that trying to drive us down a path? Maybe,” Reti told Newsub’s Tova O’Brien. 

During her speech to the caucus, Collins focused on issues such as trust. “This is our opportunity to really rebuild, to work together, to enjoy each other’s company, and to learn to trust and respect each other,” she said.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, the National Party confirmed plans to stand MPs in the Māori seats for the 2023 election.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

Schools are beginning to go back after a summer break, and into a year that will present some deep challenges. That’ll be true whether or not there are more lockdowns – Radio NZ’s John Gerritsen reports preparations for the possibility are taking place regardless. Because of the sudden nature of such decisions, and principals say they’re getting their staff ready to change plans within a day or two.

Even if there isn’t one, the impact Covid-19 had last year will continue to impact plenty of kids. This Stuff feature looks into what the longer term effects might be. Qualifications themselves aren’t really the problem – that could be solved with the introduction of necessary workarounds. But the question is whether the disruption will have slowed learning generally. As school leaver Jack put it, “it probably slowed the learning process, because time allocated to work at home doesn’t really equate to what you do in class. When you’re alone you don’t have the ability to ask those follow-up questions and avoid those little stuck areas.”

There is also a bit of mismatch between the locations and skills of available teaching jobs, and the workforce to fill them. One News reports there are still vacancies at schools, particularly in the areas of “physics, maths, te reo Māori, chemistry and technology”. Graduate numbers are really strong though, which is a positive sign for the profession generally, given how the workforce was starting to trend older. Were that not the case, schools would probably be looking at a year with catastrophic skill shortages.

For many parents, this can also be a time of compounding stresses, particularly financial. The start of the school year is one when a whole lot of costs often come up at the same time – not least uniforms. Stuff reports charitable services are increasingly necessary to ensure access. The NZ Herald covered all the other things that come up, increasingly including technology costs. That becomes particularly crucial if schools do have to close again.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

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