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PoliticsMay 3, 2021

Live updates, May 3: Cook Islands travel bubble to open on May 17

blog may 3

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for May 3, bringing you the latest news updated throughout the day. Get in touch at

4.30pm: Ardern responds to Collins’ claim government has ‘separatist agenda’

At today’s post-cabinet press conference, the prime minister said the claim by National leader Judith Collins that the government had a “separatist agenda” was “pure politics”.

Collins has rallied against the proposed Māori Health Authority, saying it is evidence the government wants “racist separatism” and “segregation”.

“I consider it hugely disappointing that we have debates of this nature whenever it seems that the National Party are in opposition and at a particular point in the polls,” said Ardern. 

4.10pm: Cook Islands travel bubble to open on May 17

Two-way quarantine-free travel between New Zealand and the Cook Islands will begin on May 17, the prime minister has announced.

Speaking at a post-cabinet press conference today, Jacinda Ardern said there would be a “flyer beware” caveat, as is the case with the trans-Tasman bubble, but the plan is more explicit than that with Australia.

If there is an outbreak in the Cook Islands, flights are likely to be paused, but rather than a “shelter in place” advisory, New Zealanders would be likely to be brought home “to reduce pressure on the Cook Islands and reduce further spread”, said Ardern.

The bubble will mean “families can reconnect, commercial arrangements can resume and Kiwis can take a much-welcomed winter break and support the Cook Islands’ tourism sector and recovery,” said Ardern. “This is a world-leading arrangement and it’s important to remember many other countries still have bans in place on travel for holiday purposes.”

She said a lot of work had gone into ensuring the Cook Islands was ready for the bubble to open. “The health and safety of the people of the Cook Islands has at all times been paramount.”

Commencement of the bubble is subject to a final set of criteria being met, including airline and airport preparedness, all necessary protocols and frameworks being in place, and final sign-off from the New Zealand director general of health and the Cook Islands secretary of Te Marae Ora/Ministry of Health.

While vaccination of the population of the Cook Islands was not considered a precondition of the bubble opening, New Zealand had secured enough of the Pfizer vaccine to cover the Cooks’ people, said Ardern.

“Vaccination, while not an answer on its own, will provide an added layer of protection once rolled out, and we continue to advance these plans alongside the Cook Islands.”

In a press release, Cook Islands prime minister Mark Brown, who visited New Zealand and met with Ardern in late March, said, “In close partnership with New Zealand, we are continuing to work through final details for the deployment of vaccines to the Cook Islands and expect to provide further details on the vaccine roll-out within the next week few weeks.”

Brown said efforts towards “bolstering readiness and response capabilities against Covid-19” had been under way on both sides since March, which had been further informed by learnings from the trans-Tasman arrangement.

3.30pm: PM to reveal Cook Islands travel bubble date

After today’s cabinet meeting, Jacinda Ardern will front media at 4pm with an update on the launch of quarantine-free travel with the Cook Islands. According to earlier media reports, the travel bubble with the Cooks will launch on May 16 – about a month after quarantine-free travel commenced to Australia.

It’s possible Ardern will also face questions today on issues surrounding the 2021 budget – set to be unveiled later this month – with finance minister Grant Robertson addressing a business audience in Wellington tomorrow morning. The PM could also be asked about Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson’s decision to speak at a Mongrel Mob event and about the latest threats to the trans-Tasman travel bubble with Australia.

We’ll have all the details as they happen from 4pm.

2.30pm: ‘Native’, deadly sea snake found on Northland beach

If there’s one thing that unifies New Zealand media outlets it’s stories about snakes found where they shouldn’t be found. And that’s exactly what can be found on the homepages of the Herald and Newshub this afternoon.

In terrifying news: a highly venomous – and technically indigenous – yellow-bellied sea snake was discovered on Tokerau Beach in Doubtless Bay over the weekend.

As reported by Newshub, the species is spotted in New Zealand around six to 10 times a year and is officially a native species.

Found washed up by local Samantha Cooper, the snake was then given to the Department of Conservation. A spokesperson Clinton Duffy said the snakes “are entirely oceanic and complete their entire lifecycle far from land, even giving birth to live young at sea”.

1.15pm: Risk to health in NZ still ‘low’ after Perth Covid-19 outbreak


Heathline has not been contacted by anyone who was at a Covid-19 location of interest in Perth, before travelling to New Zealand.

A Perth managed isolation worker and two of their housemates tested positive for Covid-19 over the weekend, prompting temporary cancellations to trans-Tasman flights.

In a statement, the Ministry of Health said nobody has contacted Healthline to say they visited any of the 17 locations of interest and the public health risk in New Zealand remained low. “Western Australian health officials are continuing their scoping interviews of the two housemates and it is possible further locations of interest could be added,” a spokesperson said.

“The ministry advises people who were in Perth between April 27 and May 1 to continue checking the Western Australian government website for updates.”

Anyone who visited a location of interest in Australia is unable to travel to New Zealand within 14 days of exposure, the ministry said.

“More than 800 passengers who travelled either directly or indirectly between Western Australia and New Zealand between 27 April and 1 May have now been contacted by the Ministry of Health’s contact tracing team and given… advice.”

Number of ‘casual plus’ contacts linked to Brisbane green zone breach grows

Health officials are continuing to deal with the possibility of Covid-19 spread after a green zone breach at Brisbane airport last Thursday. All 397 passengers aboard three flights which left Brisbane International Airport after the green zone breach have now been contacted.

A further two people have contacted Healthline over the weekend to say they were in the locations of interest at Brisbane Airport at the relevant time, the ministry said. “This means there are now 29 people considered casual plus contacts who have been asked to self-isolate and get tested five days after their exposure.”

The remaining passengers who weren’t at the locations of interest at the specified times are advised to monitor their health and if symptoms develop, call Healthline and get a test.

Auckland Airport ‘border case’ closed

Meanwhile, there are no new community cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand today with four new cases reported in managed isolation. Three previously reported cases have now recovered taking the total number of active cases in New Zealand today to 25.

All contacts of the recent Auckland Airport border-related case have now returned negative tests at day 12, said the ministry, and this case is “now considered closed”.

12.50pm: Ministry drops vaccine advert as roll-out continues

While you wait for today’s 1pm update: the Ministry of Health has unveiled its first vaccination ad.

As of last week, more than 230,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine had been administered to people, about 2% ahead of schedule. The public roll-out isn’t planned until June this year, with everyone planned to be vaccinated by the end of the year.

Watch the ad below:

12.10pm: Saliva testing every ‘two or three days’ could be introduced for MIQ workers

Regular saliva testing could soon be interested for managed isolation and border workers, alongside regular nasal swabs.

The director general of health Ashley Bloomfield told RNZ that more frequent testing could help identify people who have contracted Covid-19 after being vaccinated, as symptoms tend to be less severe.

“We don’t think there’s a need to necessarily do it daily, but to do saliva testing perhaps every two or three days, in addition to the [nasal] swabbing still being done,” said Bloomfield.

Asked about a new report that claimed New Zealand’s MIQ system was four times more likely to be breached than Australia’s, Bloomfield said it was being continuously improved.

Nine Customs workers fired for not being vaccinated

Meanwhile, over the weekend, it was confirmed that nine Customs workers were dropped after they avoided getting the Covid-19 jab.

“We regret that these individuals have had to leave employment, and understand what a difficult situation this is for them,” deputy chief executive for people and capability Jacinda Funnell said in a statement.

The staff were all in fixed-term employment at the maritime border, and other work could not be found for them.

10.50am: PM acknowledges differing values at China Business Submit

Business editor Michael Andrew reports from the China Business Summit:

At today’s China Business Summit, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern celebrated the historical relationship between New Zealand and China, along with the strategy for future economic growth and trade.

However, her keynote address stressed the differing values between the two countries, and the need for New Zealand to comment on any issues that “confront our values as a nation,” such as the Hong Kong protests and the Uyghur genocide in Xinjiang.

However she said the issues of concern need not “define our relationship,” and its a question of navigating those issues rather than disengaging with China.

The sentiment was both shared by former Prime Ministers John Key and Helen Clark, with Key saying it’s much more successful for countries to discuss issues as friends and trading partners rather than enemies. “You don’t go to war with the countries you trade with,” Key said. “Tens of thousands of New Zealand business rely on trade with China. I would not throw that away simply because people around the world are taking a different perspective.”

Meanwhile, Chinese ambassador to New Zealand Wu Xi dismissed “rumours” of human rights abuses in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, calling them internal matters and lies “fabricated by an anti-Chinese” faction. Like Ardern, she said the relationship needs to be built on mutual respect for each other’s autonomy, and economic cooperation.

9.45am: Cook Islands travel bubble tipped for May 16

The government is set to announce that quarantine-free travel with the Cook Islands can begin in under two weeks time.

According to reports, the travel bubble will launch on May 16 – about a month after quarantine-free flights resumed to Australia.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will make the announcement this afternoon after a cabinet meeting, saying today it will bring “ultimately good news” for both New Zealand and the Cook Islands.

“The Cook Islands have really been looking for that certainty for such a big part of their economy – [which] is tourism – and New Zealanders make up a large part of that,” Ardern told Newshub this morning.

The bubble was originally tipped to launch on May 1, but Ardern said the government was taking a cautious approach.

“We wanted to make sure when we do it, we got it right… “We didn’t want to run the risk of exporting [Covid-19] to the Cook Islands, which has been Covid-free.”

9.15am: Greens want ‘national conversation’ on rent controls renting

The Green Party has launched a discussion document as it aims to start a “national conversation” about the high cost of renting – and whether rent controls should be implemented.

The document, available here, allows New Zealanders to discuss how rents could be made more affordable.

The government has not yet ruled out bringing in rent controls, however they were not a part of the government’s housing package.

“We all deserve a warm, affordable and accessible place to call home. Whether renting or trying to buy, a home is a human right,” said co-leader Marama Davidson. “In Aotearoa, more than 1.4 million people rent, and the cost of renting is becoming more and more unaffordable as rents continue to rise much faster than incomes.

According to the discussion document, New Zealand does not have “effective rules for rental affordability” and last year’s changes to the Residential Tenancies Act will not stop rents becoming affordable.

8.05am: NZ High Commission in India should not have used social media, says PM

Jacinda Ardern has criticised New Zealand’s High Commission in India for using social media to try and get an oxygen tank delivered for a person critically ill with Covid-19.

In a since-deleted tweet, the High Commission had asked the Indian Youth Congress – the youth wing of India’s opposition party – for help in providing an oxygen cylinder. It came as India continued to record almost 400,000 new cases of the coronavirus each day.

Speaking on TVNZ’s Breakfast, the prime minister admonished the High Commission for not following official communication protocols.

“They should have been using those normal channels and protocols,” Ardern said. “The High Commission themselves have removed that tweet and acknowledged that wasn’t the process that should have been used. They’ve done that, they’ve corrected that.”

Ardern confirmed that an Indian national working within the High Commission’s compound was very unwell, but said “there are other means and channels” because the commission was “very well supported by the Indian government” throughout the pandemic.

National’s foreign affairs spokesperson Gerry Brownlee told RNZ there needed to be answers around the request for oxygen – and consequences for the tweet.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

There was a brief pause over the weekend to flights between Western Australia and New Zealand, after the discovery of Covid cases in Perth. Stuff reports flights are now able to resume, though two were cancelled on Sunday. Perth itself never went into lockdown this time around, though some restrictions on gatherings were put in place.

The incident highlights a truth about the first two weeks of the bubble – things can and will go wrong. And in the short timeframe so far, there have been some potentially dangerous incidents. Perhaps the most worrying happened on Friday, when a person who had breached the red zone/green zone barrier at Brisbane airport for two hours tested positive for Covid-19. They had arrived from Papua New Guinea, one of the countries the NZ government currently considers high risk. Another breach (which probably carried an exceedingly low risk) involved a traveller to New Zealand from the Cook Islands going straight on to Australia, rather than spending 14 days here first. And some nerves might have been put on edge after Melbourne ordered hundreds of people to get re-tested, following the discovery of virus fragments in wastewater.

And yet, to date none of these incidents have really been more than minor, in the grand scheme of the project. None appear to have caused chains of transmission to cross borders, nor has it ever looked like the bubble as a whole is in any real danger of collapse. It’s highly likely we’ll continue to see them in the coming weeks, but many probably won’t be worth panicking about. Even so, each incident will also be a reminder to health authorities that a tricky virus like Covid can take advantage of minor mistakes.

In fact, one of the most interesting stories around the bubble right now is that it isn’t being particularly widely used, at least in one direction. Radio NZ reported at the end of last week that far more people were coming into New Zealand, rather than Australia. Stuff reports that some flights that ended up being surplus to requirements have been cut as a result. Businesses are reporting some improvement in booking numbers, but aren’t yet at “wall to wall” levels. However, finance minister Grant Robertson said that overall the bubble was generating a “wave of positivity” for the economy, which if true means we should start seeing it show up in confidence and sentiment surveys soon.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

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