Live updates, March 2: Report into police culture finds bullying rife; some MIQ fees to increase

Read more: Pressure mounts on Ardern to apologise over KFC worker comments

Live coverage of the snap lockdown and the search for a source of the latest infection. Auckland is now at alert level three, NZ at level two. Get in touch at 

6.45pm: Report into police culture finds bullying rife

An independent report into police culture released today has found “significant elements of bullying in some workplaces”, including marginalisation and ostracism, abuse and intimidatory conduct and sexist and racist behaviour.

Police’s senior staff come in for particular criticism, reports Stuff, with the report by the Independent Police Conduct Authority describing a “boy’s club” based on “allegiances, cliques, nepotism and cronyism”.

The report illustrates “a pressing need for real change in management and organisational practice”, said the authority’s chair, Judge Colin Doherty, in a statement.

However, “There are positive signs that the organisation has turned a corner since the present commissioner [Andrew Coster] was appointed,” Doherty said. “He and his leadership team have committed to fundamental change.”

3.35pm: MIQ fees to increase for some visa holders

The cost of staying in managed isolation will rise to $5520 from the current $3100 for some visa holders.

The latest changes affect all temporary entry visa class holders, including:

  • Visitor visas (such as partners of a New Zealand citizen or resident);
  • Student visas;
  • Work visas; and
  • Limited visas

“The new fees better reflect the actual costs of managed isolation, although the government is still subsidising some of the cost,” reads a statement on the MIQ website.

The new cost applies from March 25.

2.50pm: Inadequate leave support leading to people not isolating – Greens

Criticism of the government’s leave support scheme is now coming from within the left bloc, with the Greens saying it needs improvement.

The scheme is intended to reimburse workers who are required to isolate for 14 days and cannot work from home. But, it’s faced criticism for not even covering minimum wage.

Julie Anne Genter, the Greens’ Covid-19 response spokesperson, said the government needs to take another look at the scheme.

“There is anecdotal evidence that people are not staying home from work when they should, either because they can’t afford to, or because their employer is asking them to come in,” Genter said.

“We need people to be able to afford staying home from work when they need to self-isolate. If this means the scheme needs to be more generous, we would absolutely support that.”

Genter said workers should also be able to apply for financial support directly, rather than waiting for an employer to do it. There is, Genter said, a “big power imbalance” with the scheme relying on an employer.

“This has resulted in some businesses either not properly giving the support out or not applying in the first place.

2.00pm: ‘It’s the prime minister who dances’ – no plans for Bloomfield to join TikTok

In light of calls to communicate Covid-19 advice on channels such as TikTok, Bloomfield said, “I’m not personally planning to open a TikTok account or make an appearance on TikTok.”

He added: “I should say we’ve got a dedicated team around social media channels… This time last year we didn’t even have a Facebook page at the Ministry of Health, and we now have huge numbers of followers.”

Would he dance on TikTok if he thought it would help the cause? “It’s the prime minister who dances”

Bloomfield said he supports official Covid-19 information being promoted in “formats that I understand” and that resonate with a younger audience. He cited the video featuring himself that played at some of the larger music festivals over summer. “Definitely not Tinder,” he added.

1.00pm: No new community Covid-19 cases but Auckland ‘not out of the woods’ – Bloomfield


There are no new community Covid-19 cases, Ashley Bloomfield has announced, but Aucklanders shouldn’t get complacent.

Bloomfield said while today’s news is “reassuring”, we are “not out of the woods yet”.

Considering the potential transmission times, we would expect to start seeing positive cases coming through from today onwards, he said. Whole genome sequencing for Case O has confirmed a link to the rest of the cluster, said Bloomfield.

There were 8,880 tests processed yesterday and 7000 swabs were taken in Auckland. Since February 14, there have been more than 70,000 tests in the Auckland region – or more than 4% of the region’s population.

1,637 people have been told they’re allowed to travel in and out of Auckland, said Bloomfield. In addition, 1,381 requests have been received for exemptions to travel for special personal circumstances, 857 of which have been processed.

Of the 1855 people from Papatoetoe High School, all but four have had at least one test result returned.

The other four have isolation plans in place, said Bloomfield, while about 50 people are being followed up with for second tests. The 21 close contacts from MIT are all self-isolating. Results received so far have been negative.

Of the 11 KFC Botany close plus contacts, 10 have received negative results, with the other being followed up.

Meanwhile, there are four new cases in managed isolation, said Bloomfield.

Communication to school community ‘very clear’

All members of the school community received at least three letters, Bloomfield said of Papatoetoe High School. Bloomfield didn’t believe there were any inconsistencies with what members of the school community were told. “I think it was very clear what the requirement was”.

It’s possible, Bloomfield said, parents were not made aware of the same information as the students. “I dare say it’s not uncommon for school students not to pass information on to their parents, so whilst the information may have been going out via text message to students, it may not have been shared with parents.”

Asked about his comments around not wishing to refer rule breaking to police, Bloomfield said what has happened with this outbreak has been a “reminder to us all” about what can happen if people don’t follow health advice. “It’s important we hold each other to account but also support each other,” he said. “We cannot police everyone.”

On whether harsher measures are needed for rule breakers, Bloomfield said, “I would be concerned about a punitive enforcement approach.”

Bloomfield echoed the PM’s advice from yesterday that people should assist friends and others in the public. If you see someone not wearing a mask on public transport and you have a spare one, offer it to them, Bloomfield said.

In response to a question from The Spinoff’s Justin Giovannetti about self-isolation advice on the Ministry of Health website that appears to be inconsistent with what the contacts of the latest cluster have been told, Bloomfield said that was general information, but the advice becomes more specific when we’re in an outbreak. “One piece of advice that I’ve asked to be consistent around the country: anybody who is having a test because they are symptomatic should isolate until they get that result back.”

Source of the February cluster ‘puzzling’

The original source of the infection is still a mystery to health officials, Bloomfield said. Two scenarios are still being investigated: that it was connected to a December case in MIQ without any evidence of community spread or that it’s connected to the first family from the cluster through the mother’s work at the border.

Bloomfield called the source of the cluster “puzzling”.

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12.45pm: Watch – Ashley Bloomfield to give solo Covid-19 update

Ashley Bloomfield is fronting today’s Covid-19 press conference solo from the Ministry of Health.

There have been no new community cases of the coronavirus since Auckland moved back into alert level three restrictions early Sunday. However, Bloomfield this morning said it was still too early to tell whether restrictions would be able to ease after seven days.

Watch below:

12.25pm: Group warned after holding church service during level three

A warning has been given to a group of people who held a church service in violation of alert level three restrictions.

On Sunday, police received reports that a group of people had gathered at a property in Māngere East for a church service, involving multiple persons who did not reside at the address.

Superintendent Jill Rogers said a man was spoken to at the address around the risks to the public created by those who are not following the restrictions in place and he was issued with a written warning in relation to this breach.

Aside from the one warning, Rogers said police were pleased with compliance at alert level three.

Less than 600 cars have been turned away from Auckland checkpoints from a total of 38,997 vehicles stopped as of 3.30pm yesterday, she said. After hours of delays being reported on Sunday, queues have been “minimal” since.

“Overall, motorists are complying with the current alert level three restrictions in place for Auckland which only permits essential travel in, out and through the region,” Rogers said.

“Police appreciate the co-operation of the public and we reiterate that those travelling through checkpoints need to make sure they have the correct documentation or, if required, have applied for an exemption.”

11.20am: Up to 15 texts, calls, to KFC worker who says they were not contacted

The prime minister has hit back after a confirmed Covid-19 case – Case L – claimed they were not told to self-isolate.

Case L told Newshub they wanted an apology from the PM, but Jacinda Ardern is remaining defiant.

“In my mind everyone at Papatoetoe High School getting a test felt really clear to me,” Ardern said. 

“There were emails sent from the school, and I think it was in the order of 15 text messages and phone calls. I cannot answer whether or not those were received, but certainly you can see attempts were made.”

On the agenda

We’re into day three of Covid-19 restrictions and, as Ashley Bloomfield said this morning, it’s too soon to say whether things will change come Sunday.

As such, there’s just one item on the Covid-19 agenda today: the traditional 1pm presser.

Bloomfield will be speaking from the Ministry of Health today, without his usual sidekick Chris Hipkins. Without reading too much into things, the absence of a government rep at today’s briefing hopefully indicates there won’t be any unexpected surprises.

We’ll have a livestream for you on this page along with all the info you need to know as soon as we have it.

10.45am: ‘Release contact tracing evidence,’ says Act Party

The Act Party is asking the government to release the “full and objective” details of the contact made with the family of cases L, M, N and O from the February Auckland cluster.

“The prime minister is fighting an asymmetrical information war, drip feeding details from the highest pulpit in the land against people who have no platform to respond,” leader David Seymour said in a statement.

“Conveniently this tactic avoids scrutiny of the government’s performance as the prime minister whips up anger towards unnamed individuals.

“But what if in actual fact it’s the prime minister that has let down the whole country, inviting the full judgment of the entire nation?

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10.15am: Promised review of Pharmac officially launched; people need ‘confidence in the system’

The government’s review of drug buying agency Pharmac has officially been launched today, after being promised during the 2020 election campaign.

Both Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins committed to the review during the campaign.

Speaking at a press conference, Ardern and health minister Andrew Little announced that the review will focus on two key areas:

  • How well Pharmac performs against its current objectives and whether and how its performance against these could be improved; and
  • Whether Pharmac’s current objectives maximise its potential to improve health outcomes for all New Zealanders as part of the wider health system, and whether and how these objectives should be changed.

The review will be led by ex-Consumer NZ head Sue Chetwin, and its members will be corporate governance and public law consultant Frank McLaughlin, health economist and governance expert Heather Simpson, pharmacist prescriber Leanne Te Karu, Otago University’s Department of Preventative and Social Medicine associate professor Sue Crengle and disability advocate Dr Tristram Ingham.

Ardern said that “broadly speaking” the Pharmac model works well – but concerns have been raised about its efficacy.

“Pharmac is a model that’s critically important to the health sector, and viewed as world-leading, but let’s make it better if we can,” Ardern said. People need “confidence in the system,” she added.

Little said that Pharmac is 28-years old so it’s time to determine if it’s “making decisions in the best way possible”.

The will consider a range of factors, including:

  • The timeliness of Pharmac’s decision making (in particular for new medicines).
  • The transparency and accessibility of decision-making processes.
  • Equity, including access to medicines and devices for Māori and Pacific peoples.

“In scope will be how Pharmac uses its budget to achieve the best possible outcomes,” Little said. “Out of scope will be the fixed nature of the budget and the total amount allocated to pharmaceuticals as these quite rightly are for the government of the day to determine.”

The review is intended to run until the end of the year with an interim report in August and a final report in December.

9.45am: ‘Strong demand’ for Covid-19 testing in Auckland

Over 70,000 community Covid-19 tests have been given out in Auckland since the newest cluster was first discovered on February 14.

Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) said more than 3700 swabs were taken on Sunday alone, with “strong demand” yesterday.

“We have ensured the geographic spread of testing locations has met the needs of the community, so it’s easy to find a testing centre,” said Margie Apa from ARPHS.

“If you have symptoms that could indicate Covid, please don’t delay in having a test. The same applies if you have attended any of the locations of interest, on the specified dates and times connected to the recent positive cases in South Auckland.”

Gym contacts yet to be tested

One of the groups key to determining whether or not Auckland remains in lockdown will not be getting a test until tomorrow.

People who were at City Fitness Papatoetoe at the same time as an individual who later tested positive for Covid-19 are considered to be “casual plus” contacts.

According to Ministry of Health instructions, as the Herald reported, casual plus contacts need to have a test on or after day five from the date that they were last exposed to the case.

“Please stay home, get a test on the 3rd of March. If you were at the gym during this time and have not been contacted then please phone Healthline for advice on 0800 358 5453,” the ministry’s website reads.

8.45am: Call to target Covid-19 information at youth, Māori

As noted in the 7.50am update, the Ministry of Health’s Covid-19 messaging is in the spotlight following recent rule breaches. Now, there are calls to refocus the communications strategy on young people and Māori.

Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer told Stuff the ministry’s messaging needed to come from other young people.

“People who they can affiliate and relate to,” she said. “But then we hear [the] message today, ‘if you don’t behave the police will turn up’, ‘tell on your friends and let them know they should do this, but it’s not narking’.”

Ngarewa-Packer expressed concern that the recent Covid-19 case – a 21-year-old – had been  “put out there” for everyone to find out about.

“Our rangatahi need to be encouraging each other to stay home and to not be whakamā about getting tested,” she said.

In the same Stuff report, 19-year-old Whitikau Rio said the government needed to refocus its messaging. “In my eyes, it’s all about the rangatahi … if the message gets across to us rangatahi, and making sure our kids are really involved and everyone’s seeing them staying home, then it might encourage everyone else to stay home.”

ICYMI: Mapping the recent cluster

If, like me, you’re confused as hell about the timeline of the Auckland February cluster – look no further. The Spinoff’s Toby Morris and Alice Neville have helped clear things up with this handy map. I will be looking over this all day.

7.50am: ‘We’ve been pretty consistent’ – Bloomfield defends ministry comms

The director general of health Ashley Bloomfield has admitted that Covid-19 terminology like “casual plus” and “close plus” could be confusing – but says the Ministry of Health’s messaging has been consistent.

There’s been concerns over the past 24 hours some people might not be getting told the same information, with Case L claiming they weren’t told to self-isolate.

Speaking on RNZ, Bloomfield defended the ministry’s communication. “One thing that isn’t confusing is the instructions given to people… we’ve been pretty consistent,” the director general said.

“There’s always a small number right at the end that are harder to get in touch with,” he said, but claimed to “use a range of social media channels” to provide information. “[Papatoetoe High School] was emailing as well,” he said.

Asked about whether online influencers could be used to combat the spread of misinformation online – including through apps like TikTok – Bloomfield said that was unlikely to happen while responding to a specific outbreak. “We do use a whole range of individuals when we do have a specific campaign,” he said, citing the upcoming vaccine rollout.

There’s also unlikely to be any prosecutions stemming from the recent breaking of Covid-19 restrictions, Bloomfield said.

“In the first instance we are focused on the outbreak… everybody understands that taking a prosecutorial approach and potentially taking people to court could deter people from actually getting tested and coming forward,” he said. “I can’t imagine the stress these people are feeling. I think they have a good sense that what they did actually didn’t comply with what they should be doing.”

Bloomfield said he would be reluctant to do anything that could deter people from seeking a test. “[The] focus at the moment is on controlling the outbreak,’ he said.

However, Bloomfield confirmed to Newstalk ZB that he had spoken to the Police Commissioner who told him they are “willing and ready and standing by as they need to”.

As for whether there have been any new cases overnight, it’s “so far so good,” Bloomfield said. Full overnight results won’t be in until 9am.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

The government’s leave support scheme for those supposed to self-isolate has paid out only a small portion of the available budget to date, reports Stuff’s Henry Cooke. The money paid out goes to employers on the assumption that it is paid out to employees, and at a rate less than minimum wage. That is sparking calls from the trade unions for changes in the amount paid out, and for consideration around whether it should go directly to employees in the first instance. As Business Desk (paywalled) reports, economist Shamubeel Eaqub is adding his voice to the calls, suggesting the self-isolation payments should be linked to income.

In response to questions, PM Jacinda Ardern defended the sick leave provisions in place, reports the NZ Herald. She said they were never meant to be a full entitlement, and that employers should be accessing what they’re eligible for in order to continue supporting their workers. There are currently no plans to increase the payments, or make them direct.

Questions are also being raised about the messaging being given to those self-isolating, and whether it is accurate. Newshub’s Michael Morrah has revealed Case L – a KFC worker – received advice in the form of a text saying she did not need to self isolate, and that the information received by her sister was in fact the “complete opposite” of what officials have claimed. Seeing the text in the story, it isn’t clear who exactly sent it, but it’s easy to see how it would have been taken as official by the recipient. The person said letters and phone calls did not reach them, and wants Ardern to apologise for saying she broke the rules – something that Ardern declined to do yesterday.

Meanwhile, the PM is calling on people to speak to their friends and neighbours if they’re not following alert level rules, reports Justin Giovannetti. It’s a step up in rhetoric around the compliance the government is seeking, but Ardern clarified at her post-cabinet press conference that she wasn’t asking for people to dob others in to police. She also said that questions around punishment for rulebreakers wasn’t for politicians to answer, leaving that as an operational matter for police. We’ve also published a piece by professor Andrew Geddis, exploring the legal and moral concerns around an enforcement crackdown.

The relative cost of coming up with a housing deposit for a first home is rising much faster than wages, according to data analysed by Greg Ninness at Interest. While it dropped slightly in January for the low end of the market, that didn’t come close to offsetting the large rise over the twelve months to date. “That makes it likely that even those saving hard out for a deposit would have gone backwards over the last 12 months, with the extraordinary rise in prices pushing their dream of home ownership even further out of reach,” wrote Ninness.

Should Auckland, and South Auckland in particular, be prioritised for the vaccine rollout? Josie Adams has explored that question, with increasing calls being made in support of it. Mayor Phil Goff previously made a call for Auckland to get vaccinated first, on account of being the epicentre of the last three lockdowns. National leader Judith Collins agrees, saying South Aucklanders are more likely to be on the frontlines, where vaccines are most needed. But it may be a trickier question to answer than it first appears, and there are a couple of counterpoints. The first is that elderly people are more vulnerable wherever they are. And the second is that some conspiracy-minded people might see such a move, and spread a (false) message that an experiment is being conducted on a less wealthy area.

Meanwhile, this is a good piece on the brunt borne by South Auckland, especially this latest lockdown. Justin Latif has spoken to Counties Manukau District Health Board chair Vui Mark Gosche, who says the sterling work of the region’s border workforce and healthcare staff in keeping the pandemic contained shouldn’t be overlooked. “You watch who’s doing the vaccinating and who’s doing the testing, and it’s almost always our Māori and Pacific workforce, right at the front lines. We owe a lot to them, as they do the jobs that others might baulk at, but there’s been no reluctance to get in and do that real frontline stuff that’s keeping us all safe.”

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