Live updates, March 8: Watch – Enough Pfizer vaccines secured to cover everyone, Ardern announces

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 8. Auckland is now at alert level two, NZ at level one. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz 

Help us keep you informed on the stories that matter. Click here to learn how you can support The Spinoff from as little as $1.

4.40pm: Ardern defends quitting weekly ZB spot

The prime minister has defended ending her weekly spot on Mike Hosking’s Newstalk ZB radio show, after the combative host said she was “running for the hills“.

Speaking at her post-cabinet press conference this afternoon, Jacinda Ardern said the decision was made and communicated to the station four weeks ago, but she has been on the show twice since then as she will continue to appear when there are “matters of national significance” to discuss.

“No one can do everything,” said the prime minister. “What I have tried to do is to make sure that I get as much spread as I can. People get their news from multiple sources, and when I look around at whether or not I’m trying to reach people where they are, I think I could do a better job – and so that’s factored into some of my thinking.

“I don’t think anyone would argue that I’m not available, that I’m not able to be questioned on issues of the day, but I do want to do a better job of reaching into some other corners where people might not get information from sources like ZB or the Herald.”

4.00pm: Enough Pfizer vaccines secured to cover all NZers, Ardern announces

Political editor Justin Giovannetti reports from parliament:

The government has secured 8.5 million more doses of the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer/BioNTech so that all New Zealanders can get one of the company’s jabs, according to the prime minister Jacinda Ardern.

The new buy adds to the nearly 15 million courses of vaccines already purchased by the government from four different suppliers. There are now four full courses of vaccine on order for every New Zealander.

The expanded order from Pfizer is expected to arrive in the second half of the year, well after the United States and Israel have already committed to vaccinating their entire populations. “The decision to make Pfizer New Zealand’s primary vaccine provider was based on the fact the Pfizer vaccine has been shown to be about 95% effective at preventing symptomatic infection,” said Ardern in a statement.

Pfizer’s jab is the only one that has so far received approval from Medsafe for use in New Zealand. Two other competing vaccines are working their way through the Medsafe process. Along with the 5 million courses on order from Pfizer, the country also has 5 million courses ordered from Janssen, 3.8 million from AstraZeneca and 5.36 million from Novavax.

Speaking at her post-cabinet press conference this afternoon, Ardern said, “The decision to make Pfizer New Zealand’s primary vaccine provider was based on the fact that the Pfizer vaccine has been shown to be about 95% effective at preventing symptomatic infection and the fact this means all New Zealanders will now have access to the same vaccine.

“It will simplify, in some respects, our vaccine rollout.”

She said an announcement would be made regarding the wider rollout of the vaccine on Wednesday.

“New Zealand’s approach has been to pursue a portfolio of vaccinations to ensure we have flexibility and choice and sufficient quantities for our population, including the realm countries of Niue, Tokelau and the Cook Islands, as well as our close neighbours Sāmoa, Tonga and Tuvalu.”

Options for surplus vaccines could be delaying their delivery until 2022, which could free up supply for other countries in the short term, said Ardern. The government is in talks with our Pacific neighbours about their vaccination preferences – they may, she said, prefer a vaccine that does not have the logistical challenges of the Pfizer vaccine, which requires being kept at very low temperatures.

“Any doses not needed here will be put to good use, including donation to other countries,” she said.

3.55pm: Ardern to hold post-cabinet press conference

Jacinda Ardern is front her weekly post-cabinet press conference, where is expected to provide an update on vaccinations and the latest Covid-19 case – an Air NZ employee.

She’ll also likely face questions on the decision to pull out from her regular interview with Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking.

Watch below:

3.30pm: Okay, just ONE more Oprah v Meghan Markle update

I know I said I wouldn’t mention the royal interview again… But Meghan Markle has revealed that her and Prince Harry almost moved to New Zealand.

Speaking to Oprah during today’s long-ranging CBS interview, Markle said that both New Zealand and Canada were on the cards before the couple settled in the United States.

The biggest interview of the year/decade will be able to watch in NZ, inexplicably, tomorrow night.

3.00pm: Oprah v Meghan Markle interview dominates social media

Oprah’s two-hour long interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry is one of the top trending topics on social media, after kicking off an hour ago.

So far, tidbits revealed during the CBS interview have included:

  • Markle claims there were Palace discussions around Archie’s skin colour;
  • Markle said she became suicidal during her time in the UK but was not offered help;
  • Archie was not set to receive a security detail while in the UK. He was also not expected to receive an official title;
  • Kate made Markle cry – not the reverse as claimed by UK tabloid press.

There won’t be any more from me on the interview, which is set to air here tomorrow night, as I think there is more than enough about it on the internet. See also, the vast number of push notifications I’ve received since the interview started:

2.05pm: Collins slams Ardern’s ‘arrogance’ after quitting ZB slot

The backlash from the opposition has come thick and fast after Jacinda Ardern decided not to continue her weekly interview slot with Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking.

As reported by Justin Giovannetti this morning, Hosking unloaded on the PM in a fiery monologue, claiming Ardern was “running for the hills” by ditching the weekly slot. He said that Ardern couldn’t face tough questions and implied the government was arrogant.

Over on Magic Talk, National’s Judith Collins echoed Hosking’s message, slamming the PM for her “arrogance”. She told Peter Williams, who recently lost out on a weekly Grant Robertson interview after promoting a conspiracy theory, it was a cancellation.

“So first off we’ve had Grant Robertson, deputy prime minister, blanking you, cancelling you out. Then we’ve had Jacinda Ardern doing the same to your rival station,” Collins said. “What that does smack of is it could be being a bit of a chicken, it could be simply wanting to cancel people out who don’t have the perceived wisdom of ‘everything’s just fine and how dare you question me’, or it could just be that basically, she doesn’t like hard questions.”

Collins said the jobs of PM and opposition leader are tough, well paid roles – so the expectation is you will face hard questions.”It’s simply not something where it’s acceptable for the prime minister to decide which media are more friendly, and that’s frankly what we’re seeing,” she said.

Meanwhile, in a statement, Act’s David Seymour said Ardern’s decision to avoid ZB joined a “long list of increasingly hubristic moves” from the PM and the government.

1.25pm: Covid-positive Air NZ crew member ‘most likely’ infected overseas

The risk to the public from a Covid-infected Air New Zealand crew member remains low, the Ministry of Health has claimed.

The crew member tested positive yesterday and has since been transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility. Their household contacts have all tested negative for the coronavirus.

Genome sequencing is due “late tomorrow afternoon,” the Ministry of Health said in today’s 1pm press release.

As the case has remained symptom free, public health staff are “conservatively considering” that they may have been infectious since their last negative test on February 28.

The case has a limited number of contacts and therefore the wider public health risk is considered low, said the ministry. Specific advice is being provided to individuals identified as contacts by public health staff about the steps they need to take.

The most likely scenario being investigated by health staff is that the air crew member was exposed overseas and therefore, most likely was either incubating, or infectious with, Covid-19 before being vaccinated later in the week.

The vaccine requires two doses and takes around two weeks until it begins to provide protection. The air crew member has had the first dose. The second dose is given at least 21 days after the first.

“It is not possible the crew member caught Covid-19 from this vaccine as it does not contain any live, dead or deactivated virus.”

Meanwhile, there are five new cases of Covid-19 in managed isolation today. There are no new cases in the community.

Locations of interest – self-isolation requirements

The public health initial assessment is there is “low risk to the public” due to Auckland being at Alert Level 3 for the period in which this case was back in New Zealand and they were at home for most of that time.

Further interviews are being held with the case. Current locations of interest information is available here. 

Anyone who has visited a location of interest at the times specified is advised to contact Healthline if they develop symptoms.

A golf course that a member of the case’s household went to on Sunday morning is not considered a location of interest. The household member returned a negative Covid-19 test yesterday afternoon and was therefore not infectious while playing golf.

One person from the Papatoetoe gym and linked to the recent community outbreak remains outstanding and health staff are working with other agencies including the police to try and contact this person.

12.50pm: Ministry to give Covid-19 update

We’re waiting on an expected 1pm press release from the Ministry of Health, revealing the latest on the Air New Zealand crew member who tested positive for Covid-19.

So far, just one location of interest has been revealed and none of the crew member’s close contacts have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Keep this page open and we’ll bring you the latest as soon as it lands in my inbox.

1.20pm: Still no sign of the release. Yes, you did have time to go make a cuppa at 1pm.

12.30pm: No plan for review of Valentine’s cluster despite opposition push

The government has no plans for an official review into the Valentine’s Day Covid-19 cluster that caused two Auckland-centric lockdowns.

Over the weekend, National pushed for an inquiry, with leader Judith Collins saying the public health messaging needed to be improved.

“[Last week] a young woman was vilified by the prime minister and her government for following the advice she received. This has highlighted the lack of urgency shown by the Ministry of Health to follow up on unanswered texts or calls,” said Collins.

“How the domestic border is managed needs improvement too. There were long queues of people trying to get back to Auckland last weekend, and late on Friday afternoon students trying to head home from boarding school were blocked from being reunited with their families at the border with no reasonable explanation.”

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins told RNZ there are no plans for a formal review, but admitted government communications will be looked out.

On the agenda

Aucklanders are, for the most part, back in the office today after the shift down to alert level two yesterday morning.

Today, we can expect two updates on Covid-19:

1pm: The traditional Ministry of Health press release will reveal any overnight developments, including an update on the Air New Zealand worker who tested positive.

4pm: Jacinda Ardern will front her regular post-cabinet press conference that will, likely, touch on whatever news is released at 1pm.

As always, we’ll have everything you need to know throughout the day.

11.15am: Elderly fear deportation amid visa freeze

The freeze of the Parent Resident Visa has caused many elderly to be fearful they may be deported back to their home countries.

As RNZ reported, the policy allowed immigrants whose adult children already had residence or citizenship, to join them in New Zealand. After being paused in 2016 and restarting last year, it was stopped once again when Covid-19 hit.

One woman spoken to by RNZ – 76-year-old Molly Hartmann – suffered a violent home invasion in South Africa and is scared about her future if she has to go return.

“If I go back to South Africa on my own because I’m not allowed to live in New Zealand anymore, I’m going to be a sitting duck,” she said. “I’ve got no family there, my oldest daughter and her husband are living in Palmerston North, they’ve got permanent residence, my younger daughter Samantha is a New Zealand citizen, the only family I’ve got is my brother who’s South African but he works in Sudan. So, there’s actually no prospect for me to live in South Africa. It’s going to be a life of fear.”

Read the full report here

9.35am: PM to get vaccinated early and publicly

Jacinda Ardern has confirmed she will be getting the Covid-19 vaccination ahead of the general public rollout – and, it will be done publicly.

Speaking to Newshub, the prime minister said she will get the jab in the first half of the year.

“I’ll do it publicly and for those interested they can watch it. I’ve been really mindful of not taking a vaccine from someone else who it’s really critical for,” she said. “I do want to demonstrate that it’s not only safe to take at the time but long term it’s safe, and so I will do it early on … before we start the mass rollout.”

Last week, Ardern and Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins announced that health workers who are not on the frontline of our response to the virus are next in line for the vaccine, along with household contacts of those who have already received it.

As for when the rest of us will be able to access the vaccine, that’s yet to be announced.

The vaccine rollout was going “a little bit in advance” of her expectations, Ardern said. “One of the things that we’re branching into now is the family members, the household members of border cases. “And you can see, you can just constantly see, why it’s so important for us to focus on the border. But that won’t be sufficient.”

9.00am: Mike Hosking lashes out at Jacinda Ardern as she quits weekly Newstalk ZB slot

It’s been a big morning for Mike Hosking, with the Newstalk ZB host lashing out at the PM for quitting her weekly slot on his top rating radios how.

The Spinoff’s political editor Justin Giovannetti has recapped it all. Here’s an extract:

Hosking told his audience today that the the prime minister’s decision was related to his tough questions.

“She is running for the hills. She no longer wants to be on this programme each week,” he said.

“The somewhat tragic conclusion that is drawn is that the questions she get, the demand for a level of accountability, is a little bit tough. So officially, her office will tell you that the they are rearranging the media schedule this year and maintaining the same number of interviews. This appears not to be true.”

Read the full story here

8.10am: Restrictions for air crew may be increased after new Covid case

Updated

Officials are investigating whether air crews need to be placed under more restrictions when they arrive in the country.

An Air New Zealand crew member tested positive for Covid-19 yesterday after being swabbed on Saturday. One location of interest has so far been identified – a Countdown store near Auckland Airport.

Speaking on TVNZ, Jacinda Ardern said the case had prompted a review of our alert levels and whether or not the rules needed to be stricter for international air crew. “We are going through a process… of whether we need to up the ante on different countries,” she said.

Genome sequencing for the new case is expected back within 24 hours, said Ardern. They had received their vaccination, the PM confirmed, but only recently. “This person had only just been vaccinated, so they were a priority for this exact reason,” she said.

“The issue being, of course, that the vaccine takes a couple of weeks to work so at this point it wasn’t quite doing its job and nor would we have expected it to, but it does demonstrate this person was indeed a priority for us.”

The partner of the new case played golf with friends in Remuera yesterday but, as reported by the Herald, has subsequently tested negative for Covid-19.

Currently, all Air New Zealand air crew returning to New Zealand are required to get tested every seven days.

“For the routes they were travelling, they were regularly tested,” said Ardern. “We have tests for this individual on the 22nd, on the 28th and then on the 6th — they obviously wear PPE as part of their job, if they are requiring accommodation in the site they were staying they’re not allowed to leave, they’re not allowed to have contact with any other people”

If air crew are flying on a “higher risk” route they also need to self-isolate for 48 hours upon return. Japan, where the latest case travelled from, is not deemed high risk – despite recent outbreaks in the country.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

As with any major government decision made in a potential emergency situation, questions will inevitably be asked about the call. The fourth Covid-19 lockdown ended on schedule, with Auckland coming out of level three, and the rest of the country coming out of level two over the weekend. But it hasn’t gone smoothly, so will the approach to lockdowns change as a result of these last few weeks?

You can cut the government some slack because of that aforementioned emergency, but aspects of their handling of these cases was decidedly messy. As Newsroom’s Marc Daalder writes, they got a bit unlucky in the first place with this outbreak, reversing some previous runs of good luck. But the decision to leave the first lockdown in hindsight didn’t work out. Elsewhere, the communications about the rules did not get through to people. The Detail got into that, questioning whether the messaging system that served the country so well last year is still up to the job. Stuff’s Luke Malpass argued that “the whole Covid playbook probably needs to be rewritten a bit. The longer the pandemic goes on, the more fatigue sets in and the more difficult it gets.”  And on the NZ Herald (paywalled) columnist Matthew Hooton suggested the PM would be privately furious with her officials for having little choice but to put the country back into lockdown. In the news this morning, ministers have rejected calls from the opposition to hold an inquiry into the latest outbreak.

None of this is to suggest that the lockdown was the wrong decision – the counterfactual scenario of an outbreak getting a community foothold is clearly worth avoiding. For an example of that, consider New Caledonia, which has just been plunged into a snap two-week lockdown, after a school headmaster may have been infectious since a month ago. A year of a relatively relaxed approach there has also seen a high case and death rate per capita.

This particular period of the pandemic in New Zealand may not be over either, because we got news of another new case in the community last night. Our live updates covered the news of an Air NZ crew member who has tested positive, after previously going to the Auckland Airport Countdown on 3 March. Auckland was at level three at the time of the visit, so the risk is lowered, but the supermarket is still considered a location of interest, with instructions for people who were in the store on that day to monitor their symptoms. The person returned to New Zealand at the end of February, and was using the app assiduously.

Aside from this incident, the week at level three finished with every indicator suggesting there aren’t any unseen chains of transmission. So attention this week will therefore turn to what comes next. The most important aspect of that will be the outline of how and when the vaccine programme will be delivered. We’re expecting a plan on that this week. You might recall Justin Giovannetti’s piece from last week about how the plan is still basically a secret. Over the weekend, Stuff’s Andrea Vance also got stuck in, arguing that despite the positive press releases, the rollout is actually going very slowly relative to other comparable countries. One thing was teased over the weekend which seems likely – Covid-19 minister Chris Hipkins told Q+A that some form of “vaccine passport” is being considered for those who’ve had the jab.

One thread that came up over the week –  the government has rejected calls to pay workers their full wage directly to self-isolate, reports Radio NZ. The idea was put forward by National, with leader Judith Collins saying it would “make it easier for people to do the right thing and recognising that a lot of New Zealanders are living week-to-week off their wages and they don’t really have any spare cash to get them through.” The thinking was that any money paid out through such a scheme would be much less than the cost of an avoided lockdown. The Greens also backed it, but Covid-19 minister Chris Hipkins was clear it is currently off the table.

Finally, on a somewhat tangential note, the surprise lockdowns have had a serious impact on sport. Of course, that’s a field that has to be a lower priority in an emergency, but many codes would desperately like a bit more leeway on holding the events that keep them in business. Newstalk ZB’s Elliot Smith has discussed whether it is time to start staggering crowd sizes a bit more, to allow for events to go ahead in a socially distanced manner at level two, and it’s a thought-provoking argument. Like I say, it’s not the highest priority, but it does seem symbolic of finding safe ways to manage outbreaks without the bluntness of a lockdown – something that will be an increasing consideration especially as the vaccine gets rolled out.




The Spinoff is made possible by the generous support of the following organisations.
Please help us by supporting them.