For all The Spinoff’s latest coverage of Covid-19 see here. Read Siouxsie Wiles’s work here. New Zealand is currently in alert level one – read about what that means here. For official government advice, see here.
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9.00pm: The day in sum
David Clark resigned as health minister following sustained criticism of his behaviour during, and handling of, the Covid-19 crisis. He has been replaced as health minister by Chris Hipkins.
Two new cases of Covid-19 were detected in managed isolation.
National announced a shadow cabinet reshuffle, including former leader Simon Bridges in the role of foreign affairs spokesperson.
The government signalled it would reinstate compassionate exemptions from managed isolation facilities as soon as next week.
4.50pm: Government halts public funding for America’s Cup
The government will not make further payments to the America’s Cup organisers as it investigates claims levelled against them and Team New Zealand, reports the Herald.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said, “While Crown and Council work through this process regarding the claims made relating to the organisation of the 36th America’s Cup, we are not intending to make further payments to America’s Cup Events Limited (ACE). This will be revisited pending the outcome of the process.”
Iain Cossar, general manager of MBIE’s tourism branch, said $40 million had been set aside for the event fee. To date, $29 million had been paid to ACE in line with contractual funding milestones, reports the Herald.
ACE and Team New Zealand are at the centre of an inquiry over the spending of public money, including allegations of a “reclassified” $3 million loan and claims of fraud involving a Hungarian bank account.
4.30pm: Two more robots recovered from Pike River
Two robots were recovered this week from the Pike River Mine drift access tunnel, according to a press release from the government’s Pike River Recovery Agency.
One robot, recovered 944m up the drift, went into the mine after the first explosion on November 19, 2010, as part of the recovery operation at the time. Another robot went in after the second explosion five days later, after which police said they believed none of the 29 miners in the mine had survived. This robot carried in a smaller robot, which made its way further up the tunnel and is expected to be recovered in late July.
This takes the number of robots recovered from the mine to four, after the first two were recovered three weeks ago.
3.00pm: Victoria records 77 new cases
The Australian state of Victoria has recorded another 77 new cases of Covid-19 in the last 24 hours. There are now 332 cases in the state from an unknown source, an increase of 31 since yesterday. That represents the largest daily increase of cases from an unknown source since the pandemic began, said chief health officer Brett Sutton. “Perhaps not unexpectedly, there are now 20 patients hospitalised, an increase of five since yesterday, including four in intensive care,” Sutton said.
2.00pm: Today’s data, charted
1.45pm: Government looking to reinstate compassionate exemptions next week
Safely reinstating compassionate exemptions from managed isolation facilities in the next week is a “priority” for the government, minister Megan Woods has said this afternoon. “We know this is a matter of enormous concern for those people who are seeking these exemptions,” she said. “It is also of public concern and it is our absolute priority to ensure that these can safely go ahead.”
Woods is giving a press conference air commodore Darryn Webb, who announced the number of managed isolation and quarantine facilities will increase in number from 24 to 27 next week. This includes a new facility in Hamilton, while Queenstown and Dunedin are also being looked at as other potential managed isolation locations.
Webb said there are currently 5,305 people in quarantine and managed isolation facilities, and the capacity is 6,058. Next week the number expected in quarantine and managed isolation facilities is 6,481, by which time the capacity will be 6,774.
1.05pm: Two new cases in managed isolation
There are two new cases of Covid-19 in managed isolation today, the Ministry of Health has just announced. Six cases have recovered, so the total number of active cases is now 18. All are in managed isolation or quarantine facilities.
The first new case is a man in his 30s who arrived in New Zealand on June 27 from California. The man had been staying at the Crowne Plaza Hotel and was transferred to Jet Park Hotel on June 30 after developing symptoms, and he tested positive.
The second case is a woman in her 30s who arrived in New Zealand on June 21 from Kenya, via Doha and Brisbane. She is the wife of a previously reported case. She had been staying at the Novotel Ellerslie and is now at Jet Park Hotel. She tested positive after developing symptoms around day 10 of her stay in a facility.
One person remains in Auckland City Hospital in a stable condition on a ward. One significant cluster remains open.
New Zealand’s total number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 is now 1,180, which is the number we report to the World Health Organisation.
Yesterday laboratories completed 3,329 tests, bringing the total number completed to date to 405,329. The rolling seven day average is 5,271.
Of the 2,159 people who left managed isolation between June 9 and 16, the number authorities haven’t been able to get hold of is now 294, which is 73 fewer than yesterday. There are now 97 people who have refused testing. Tomorrow will be the last day the ministry provides a formal update on this group.
12.45pm: Written Covid-19 update only today
There will be no 1pm media standup with the director general of health today – instead the government’s daily Covid-19 update will be provided in the form of a written statement. We’ll have all the info here as soon as it’s emailed out.
11.50am: Ardern speaks on Clark resignation
At a press conference at the Beehive, Ardern has addressed the resignation of her health minister. She paid tribute to David Clark for his contribution, but said the controversy had become a distraction amid an ongoing crisis. “We cannot afford any diversions from our objectives,” she said.
“He has put the team first, he has put New Zealand first.”
At the time of his breaches of the rules in April, the requirement for “continuity” meant she needed him to remain in the health role, she said. “We couldn’t avoid to lose one of our key players at that time.”
She said she had discussed with him the extent to which he had become a distraction last week, after which he had arrived at the “firm view” that he needed to resign.
So whose decision was it? “In this case we had a discussion around what we need to do to make sure Covid was a priority, what we needed to do to make sure there weren’t distractions. David was the one that ultimately came away after thinking through some of what he’d experienced in the past weeks … that ultimately it was his view, and it was his view, that he needed to go.”
Ardern refused to say what would have happened if he hadn’t arrived at that view. “There’s no need for that hypothetical,” she said.
Ardern said Clark there was no possibility of Clark returning to health role after the election, but he could again be appointed to a cabinet position were Labour re-elected.
Chris Hipkins, appearing alongside the prime minister, said he was satisfied that he could cope with a workload which sees him oversee two massive ministries, health and education. He said he had a good working relationship with Ashley Bloomfield, and that he expected the director general should go ahead with a planned holiday next week.
11.10am: David Clark resigns, citing ‘distraction’
After a tumultuous three months, David Clark has resigned as minister of health. Chris Hipkins, who is both minster for education, minister for state services and leader of the house, will take over as health minister until the end of the term.
At a Beehive press conference, flanked by senior ministers Grant Robertson and Kris Faafoi, Clark said he had “given it my all” but “it has become increasingly clear to me that it has become a distraction to the government’s overall response” to the Covid-19 pandemic.”
He said the decision was his. “I have made the call that it is best for me to stand aside.”
Clark had tendered his resignation in April during the level four lockdown after it was revealed he had twice breached rules, by going mountain biking and travelling across Dunedin for a family beach visit. Jacinda Ardern at the time rejected the resignation, but demoted him to the lowest rank in cabinet, and said were the county not amid a health crisis she would have sacked him from the portfolio.
He came under further pressure last week when initially refusing to accept responsibility for failures in the isolation and quarantine system, saying that Ashley Bloomfield, New Zealand’s most senior health official, had already taken responsibility for those mistakes.
“I wish to put on record again that I take full responsibility for the decisions made and taken during my time as minister of health,” said Clark today. “Although ministers are generally advised against being publicly effusive about public servants I want to put on record again that it has been an honour to work alongside the director general of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield. He is an exceptional public servant.”
Clark said he was proud of his record as health minister and his efforts to “rebuild the public health system”. He said he was not quitting politics and would stand again for his Dunedin seat.
In a statement, the prime minister said: “David Clark contacted me yesterday to confirm his wish to resign as a minister and I accepted that resignation. David has come to the conclusion his presence in the role is creating an unhelpful distraction from the government’s ongoing response to Covid-19 and wider health reforms.”
She added: “It’s essential our health leadership has the confidence of the New Zealand public. As David has said to me the needs of the team must come before him as an individual.
“I am appointing Chris Hipkins as health minister until the election. Our response to Covid is on a stable footing and I have full confidence that Minister Hipkins will oversee the portfolio with the thoroughness and diligence he brings to his other areas of responsibility. Post-election I intend to reassess who is best placed to take the health portfolio forward.”
Read our full report on Clark’s resignation here.
10.30am: Jet Park quarantine facility evacuated
Jet Park Hotel, the quarantine facility housing most of New Zealand’s confirmed cases of Covid-19, was evacuated this morning after a steam cleaner set off the fire alarms, Stuff reports. Two fire crews were called to the hotel near Auckland airport. One has since been stood down. Firefighters wore PPE and social distancing was observed on site, a Fire and Emergency NZ spokesperson told Stuff.
10.15am: Todd Muller announces reshuffle
Spinoff politics editor Justin Giovannetti reports from the Beehive:
Former National leader Simon Bridges has been brought back into the party’s shadow cabinet with the foreign affairs portfolio, as part of a minor reshuffle on Thursday morning.
Paula Bennett’s decision to not run for re-election opened up spaces nearer to the party’s front bench. Shane Reti, who holds a number of portfolios, was bumped up to number 13 and is National’s highest ranked Māori member.
National leader Todd Muller has faced criticism for a front bench that is predominately male, white and old. Thursday’s shuffle did nothing to change that.
“The front bench, in terms of the physical seats is 12, there’s no change to that,” Muller told reporters on Thursday. “The opportunity in front of me was a small change.”
Bridges had indicated in May, after losing the leadership, that he was interested in the foreign portfolio. The former leader has been ranked number 17. “He’s a fantastic MP and a fantastic contributor to our caucus and I’ve recognised that today,” said Muller.
Deputy leader Nikki Kaye has picked up the women’s portfolio. Amy Adams, who Muller has tapped as his Covid-19 response czar, was given the drug reform portfolio.
9.30am: US Covid-19 death toll could be 28% higher than reported, researchers say
The true number of Covid-19 related deaths in the US could be 28% higher than the official tally, researchers say. A new study published by JAMA Internal Medicine reported that “official tallies likely undercount deaths due to the virus” for a number of reasons, not least because the US didn’t have enough testing kits, especially in the early days of the pandemic. Researchers said a better way to estimate the number of coronavirus related deaths was to calculate the number of “excess deaths” this year compared to monthly figures from the last five years. In 41 of the 48 states analysed, the number of actual deaths exceeded the expected number.
8.00am: Principals fear teacher shortage without border exemptions
Fears of a teacher shortage next year have school principals calling for an exemption for overseas teachers to enter the country, and education minister Chris Hipkins says he won’t rule it out. Last year almost 1,000 overseas teachers were granted Visas to work in New Zealand, and Secondary Principals Association president Deidre Shea says this is the time of year schools would normally be looking overseas to fill teaching vacancies for next year.
The pandemic is also causing more New Zealand teachers to return home from overseas jobs, said Auckland Secondary Principals Association president Steve Hargreaves, but nobody is sure how many or for how long they plan to stay in the country. “We all have been recruiting quite heavily from overseas in recent years and if that avenue is cut off we are a little bit worried about being able to fully staff our schools at the beginning of 2021,” he said.
At the same time, school budgets are already taking a hit from the lack of international student arrivals.
7.45am: Updates from today’s edition of The Bulletin
An agreement has been reached in principle for Auckland to take water from the Waikato River. As Radio NZ’s Jordan Bond reports, it is an interim measure, so there will still be a Board of Inquiry case heard on the matter to discuss a permanent solution. What this week’s decision effectively involved was environment minister David Parker pulling it out of a long queue of issues to be heard by the Waikato Regional Council, and sending it through a streamlined process. He did this by declaring Auckland’s water supply an issue of national significance.
But the health of the Waikato River is also a significant issue, and taking water from a river generally harms that. The RNZ story notes that comparisons are being made to the Darling river in Australia, where overallocation has severely damaged the wider area around it, and has led to both environmental and economic crises – here’s a recent report from Bloomberg on that. Iwi Waikato-Tainui initially opposed Auckand taking more water from the river they act as kaitiaki over, but as Te Ao News reports, they have since softened their position and pledged their support for a process to help resolve Auckland’s problems. “We hope to bring intergenerational thinking and unique cultural perspectives that provide long-term, sustainable solutions for both Tamaki Makaurau and Waikato,” said iwi chair Rukumoana Schaafhausen.
One thing that won’t be happening is Auckland paying the previously asked-for price for the water, reports Stuff. In the initial negotiations a price of 10c per litre had been asked for – a cost that would cumulatively have been way too high for Auckland to bear, but one that at least recognised how precious water is. Mayor Phil Goff gave the idea of paying that cost very little consideration, but did pledge to put several million dollars towards a trust to remediate and restore the Waikato River.
There has been a lot of opinion published on the matter, much of it from Aucklanders demanding that the Waikato region simply hand the water over. To my mind, a very interesting take came from veteran Waikato Times columnist Tom O’Connor, who has seen this situation develop over about seven decades. He makes the point that with climate change bearing down on us, the frequency of droughts will only increase, at a time when water use around the household has dramatically ramped up, and that there are lessons from the past that should be applied now.
Meanwhile, heavy rain has given the storage dams in Auckland some relief. Watercare’s website says the dams are now sitting at 55% full, which is better than it was, even if it remains way below what is normal for this time of year. The long range forecast still says that the rest of the year will be drier than average, so households will need to continue saving as much as possible.
7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories
There were no new cases of Covid-19, but the prime minister urged vigilance in light of Victoria’s second wave of cases. The allocation of the $3bn infrastructure fund was announced.
Further details of fraud claims against Team New Zealand and the America’s Cup organisers were revealed, but Team NZ countered that it had been the victim of a scam.
The Spinoff revealed that Brexit bankroller Arron Banks had spent much of the year in New Zealand and developed a close relationship with NZ First leader Winston Peters.
NZ First MP Shane Jones said neither he nor his party had slowed the rollout of cameras on fishing boats, after Newshub revealed a secret recording of fisheries minister Stuart Nash claiming such.
Auckland Airport announced it was planning further job cuts as it faces a hit of up to $90 million.