Live updates, June 3: Melbourne Covid-19 cluster grows; NZ travel pause extended

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for June 3, bringing you the latest news updated throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

4.45pm: Pause in travel from Melbourne extended

The pause in quarantine free travel with Victoria has been extended, following the decision in the Australian state to extend the lockdown by a week. A further review will take place on Wednesday June 9, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins has said in a statement.

“I acknowledge this extension will cause further inconvenience to those who have already had their travel plans disrupted,” he said. “I also acknowledge that having been prevented from returning for almost two weeks, New Zealanders will be wanting some certainty around when they can start to plan to come home.”

It is intended that “green flights” will resume from Melbourne to New Zealand as of June 9. Travel will be limited to New Zealand citizens, Australian citizens normally resident in New Zealand, people with humanitarian exemptions and critical workers. A negative pre-departure test taken less than 72 hours before departure will be required to board one of these flights. “The commencement of flights recognises that by then, people currently in Victoria will have completed 14 days in lockdown. This reflects the equivalent time which might have been spent in managed isolation in New Zealand.”

3.10pm: Bezzant allegations show need for law change – lawyer

There are calls for an update to the law after the allegations made about Jake Bezzant led to no police action.

Lawyer Kathryn Dalziel told RNZ the Harmful Digital Communications Act contained hurdles that made it difficult for some victims – specifically the threshold of showing “serious and emotional distress”.

“I’d remove the ‘serious’. I just think that it should be enough to show you’re suffering emotional distress as a result of this,” she said.

“I would also take out of the test – which is that posting the communication could cause harm to an ordinary reasonable person in position of the victim. I’d take that out altogether. It should be subjective, it should be what this victim is experiencing as a result of the intent to post intimate communication.”

Dalziel said the offences needed to be taken as seriously as domestic violence.

Listen to the full interview here

2.30pm: Collins admits ‘more work’ to improve candidate selection after Bezzant allegations

Judith Collins has admitted the party needs to do better at candidate selection after claims emerged this week about an aspiring National MP.

It was alleged yesterday that Jake Bezzant, who stood for parliament in the Upper Harbour seat last year, had impersonated his ex-girlfriend online, including on Snapchat and dating sites.

Collins told Magic Talk she had “no choice” but to support Bezzant during the election campaign.

“He had tremendous support from the people who had selected him as their candidate, so you deal with what you have to deal with,” she said.

When pushed on the party’s recent track record of inappropriate behaviour – such as disgraced MP Andrew Falloon – Collins admitted National should do better.

“I think it’s simply that people came in on a certain wave, and that’s why the selection process is actually one of the things that was subject to the review that we’ve undergone and the selection process is one which the party has actually turned its mind to,” she said.

“And of course these are historic, they are historic enough that we know that we’ve got to do better on those selections and that’s what the party is working on.”

Collins said the party had “taken onboard” the lessons learnt but admitted “a lot more work” has to go into selecting candidates.

1.05pm: Just 17 active Covid-19 cases in NZ

The number of active Covid-19 cases in New Zealand has dropped to 17 – all in managed isolation with known links to the border.

There is one new case in managed isolation to report today with no new cases in the community. Our total number of confirmed cases is 2,325.

12.55pm: Victoria Covid-19 cluster grows

Victoria’s Covid-19 cluster has grown by three overnight, with 63 active cases now recorded in the state.

Melbourne is set to enter its second week of lockdown restrictions tonight while rules in regional Victoria will loosen.

According to local media, Melbourne residents should expect tough restrictions to stay in place even if the lockdown is lifted in a week.

Earlier today, Ashley Bloomfield confirmed there were no new community cases here in New Zealand but today’s full update is expected any minute now.

12.10pm: Cyber incidents on the rise, new d​ata shows

More than 1400 cyber security incidents were reported in the first three months of the year – a 25% increase on the same time period last year.

That’s according to the latest report from the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), which found phishing scams the most reported incident, followed by scams and fraud, and malware.

The report is especially timely in the wake of the Waikato DHB ransomware attack which is continuing to cause severe problems for the entire region’s IT systems.

“Our data shows that year-on-year cyber security incidents are on the rise and they can be costly to recover from,” said CERT director Rob Pope.

Almost a quarter of reports made to CERT between January and March resulted in some form of direct financial loss, totalling $3 million.

“As we increasingly spend more of our lives online, attackers are constantly developing new and more sophisticated campaigns,” Pope said.

The the latest data is a reminder for people to maintain good cyber habit, added Pope. “This can be as simple as implementing updates, having a long, strong password and using two-factor authentication.”

On The Spinoff: Electoral commission, spies, and Facebook appear before select committee

The Electoral Commission has called for law changes to better prepare for emergency situations that impact elections, like what happened in 2020. The comments came at the justice select committee, which is currently holding an inquiry into the 2020 general election. Representatives of the GCSB and Facebook also appeared before the committee, taking questions on the safety of the electoral process from foreign interference, and protections against the spread of misinformation.

Read Alex Braae’s report on the select committee hearing here.

The Electoral Commission has asked MPs to consider legislation for future emergencies. Image: Tina Tiller

11.00am: Cause of Covid-19 spread in MIQ hotels still unknown – report

Health officials still don’t know for sure how Covid-19 spread around two managed isolation facilities earlier this year, but have come up with the most likely option.

Both the Grand Millennium and Grand Mercure hotels in Auckland became embroiled in coronavirus outbreaks back in March, prompting a review.

That’s now been released and while the definitive source of the spread is not known, the reports conclude “aerosol transmission” is the most plausible pathway.

“We, along with the Ministry of Health, have taken a really close look at what went on with these cases in March and April, not least to see how we can strengthen the wider MIQ system. Each of the reports includes a number of recommendations for improvements, which are either complete or under way,” said brigadier Jim Bliss, the head of MIQ.

Both the Grand Mercure and Grand Millennium will be emptied out while on-site assessments of the ventilation are completed.

“A programme of extensive reviews and remediation of ventilation systems across all managed isolation facilities is under way,” Bliss said. “Remediation work at the Grand Mercure is almost complete. An extensive assessment of the Grand Millennium’s ventilation system has been done and a remediation plan is being developed.”

The review made six recommendations at the Grand Millennium and five at the Grand Mercure. All but one are now under way, with the final recommendation (relating the Grand Mercure) still being considered by the ministry. A further eight recommendations are under way after a review of how an MIQ security worker was not tested for Covid-19 over a period of months.

In that case, the audit has found that the security worker provided inaccurate information to their employer, First Security. “Case B had falsely stated they had undergone nine tests between December 11 2020 and March 24 2021,” the report reads.

Despite the number of recommendations made, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said the public could continue to have trust in our MIQ system. “It’s important to understand that we don’t rely on a single layer of protection to prevent the spread of Covid-19.  We have multiple layers of defence at our border and inside MIQ that work together to create barriers and safeguards that protect returnees, border workers and the wider community,” he said.

Watch: Jim Bliss and Ashley Bloomfield speak to the media

10.35am: Government gets billions more unexpected tax revenue from fast-growing economy

Political editor Justin Giovannetti reports, while sitting on a delayed plane in Wellington.

New Zealand’s economy is outperforming expectations set only two weeks ago when finance minister Grant Robertson tabled the government’s budget, with billions more collected in taxes over the 10 months that ended in April 2021.

Treasury’s economic forecasts have been wrong since the country emerged from the first Covid-19 lockdown over a year ago, consistently doing better than expected. The result has been billions less debt than expected, more jobs and much healthier revenue.

Much of the improvement was due to more customer spending, seen through higher GST receipts, and fatter company profits resulting in $500 million more in corporate taxes.

Net government debt is now $107 billion, or 33.9% of the size of the economy. While substantially higher than it was only a year ago, it’s lower than the 34.8% of GDP that was expected at this point. Despite the rosy forecast, Robertson warned that he’s still worried about deficits and the country cannot “afford to be complacent.”

As a result, he’s sticking to a spending plan that will see many departments facing tough budgets with almost no new money over the next year.

One estimate from the Treasury that might also beat expectations is the forecast of home prices increasing only 0.9% by the middle of next year, although for many first-time home buyers, this might be bad news. CoreLogic data published earlier this week showed house prices increased by 7.7% in the three months after March, blowing through Treasury’s number.

10.10am: Ministry locates additional 48 people from Melbourne who need testing

The Ministry of Health has identified an additional 48 people who returned from Melbourne at the start of the recent Covid-19 outbreak – all should have been in self-isolation more than a week ago.

Anyone who returned to New Zealand from Melbourne between May 20 and 25 was required to self-isolate until they had tested negative for the coronavirus.

In a statement, the ministry said a “data reconciliation” meant it had found an additional cohort of 177 people in addition to the 4,532 people reported earlier. Of the group of 177 people, 129 have already returned to Australia. Of the remaining 48, just seven have not yet been contacted.

“These additional 177 people were identified after a detailed look back to confirm all quarantine free travel flights that had arrived during the period 20-25 May had been included in the testing and isolation requirements,” said a ministry spokesperson.

Of the 4,749 travellers:

  • 2,733 have returned a negative test result;
  • 213 are exempt from testing because they are under the age of 12;
  • 1,292 require no further action as they have returned to Australia; and
  • 511 have no test result as yet.

There is also 139 crew members who are yet to receive a negative test result.

Air New Zealand and Qantas planes together on runway

(Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images)

9.40am: Facebook to appear before select committee; Greens call for accountability

The Greens want Facebook held accountable for spreading disinformation and are calling on the government for help.

The social media company is set face questions for the first time today before a parliamentary select committee.

Green Party electoral reform spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman said Facebook needs to be held to account for its role in enabling behaviour which threatens democracy.

“Facebook has admitted it enables a range of harmful practices including foreign interference in elections, hate speech, and mass data privacy breaches – yet it remains largely self-governing,” said Ghahraman.

“If Facebook is going to continue to be such a powerful, non-neutral and self-governing force in electoral politics, it must urgently release a transparent, detailed standard to protect us against the very serious threat of disinformation.”

9.05am: ‘No action required’ after Air NZ workers possibly exposed to Covid-19

Updated

Two Air New Zealand staff members were in self-isolation after possible exposure to Covid-19 – but no action had to be taken.

While little detail is known at this stage, Newshub is reporting the pair were self-isolating at home after a potential exposure to a Covid-19 case.

However, a spokesperson for the airline confirmed they were later advised the health risk was low.

“ARPHS (Auckland Regional Public Health Service) reviewed the case yesterday and advised no action was required.”

The Ministry of Health has not yet responded to the reports but Ashley Bloomfield will be giving an unrelated health briefing at 11am today where he will likely give the latest information.

A previous version of this update incorrectly stated the pair were currently in self-isolation.

8.00am: Criticism after government MPs block Covid-19 scrutiny once again

Government MPs have come under fire once again for blocking a National Party motion to have health officials questioned about the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out in select committee.

During last year’s level four lockdown, the opposition-led Epidemic Response Committee was praised for allowing the government to be held to account regarding its efforts during the pandemic. That was disbanded when alert level restrictions were lifted.

National’s Covid-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop said its been three weeks in a row that Labour MPs on the health select committee have voted against asking senior officials to appear for questioning.

“The vaccine rollout is one of the most important things the government will do during its term,” he said in a statement. “We must get this right and that means being able to ask questions of those in charge of rolling out the vaccine.

Yesterday, the associate health minister Ayesha Verrall confirmed the roll-out was about 9% ahead of schedule. Despite this, there remain concerns that not everyone will be able to get the jab before the end of year deadline.

“So far there are a number of issues with the roll-out, including its slow progress, the lack of a national booking system for vaccines and delays in obtaining Pfizer vaccines, as well as issues with MIQ, such as the lack of saliva testing, overdue MIQ payments and what the future of MIQ will be heading into 2022,” Bishop said. 

“It is in the public interest for questions on the above to be asked and answered by officials. This was clearly demonstrated back in April when a question to officials elicited the information that Case B, the security guard at the Grand Millennium, had not been tested for five months.”

Bishop said a revamped Epidemic Response Committee should be created to allow for hard questions to be asked – but that calls for this have also been rejected by Labour.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

Hundreds of pages of advice to local government minister Nanaia Mahuta on the upcoming water reforms has been released, and it shows a spending bomb about to drop. Stuff’s Thomas Coughlan has a report on the key points of the advice, and the timeline with which the government intends to act. The costs attached to saving the country’s water infrastructure are immense – anywhere from $120-185bn over 30 years. The programme also proposes to slash the number of organisations that oversee water infrastructure, from the current mass of councils down to 1-4. Coughlan tweeted some of the geographical splits that have been suggested in the advice, and to my eyes they look like the sort of maps you’d draw if you wanted just one water organisation – similar to how the government has reformed the health and polytech sector. If you’re interested, the reports in full can be read here.

The ownership of however many entities get created will be a sticking point. Newsroom’s Jonathan Milne looked into that ahead of the advice coming out, and reported that Auckland mayor Phil Goff was unhappy with several aspects. He (and a fair few other councils) are concerned about any entity that could theoretically be privatised, and that he’s not sure if it’s fair Auckland ratepayers should subsidise areas that haven’t been able to keep up with infrastructure demands. Milne reports that under the advice, the entities “will be publicly-owned, but it’s not yet clear what that will look like.”

What could the reforms mean for the cost of water in daily life? For context, that’s a cost that is probably going to go up regardless. Justin Giovannetti wrote in our live updates that without the reforms, the average annual household bill is projected to reach $13k within 30 years. All sorts of places are going to see these sorts of cost increases – for example, LDR reporter Lois Williams recently covered the four-fold service costs the residents of Inangahua Junction are about to be hit with. So big picture, the government’s view is that those sorts of costs can be made a lot more manageable with centralisation, along with providing more expert oversight of the assets. Whether they can make that case to nervous councils is another matter altogether.




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