Live updates, April 9: No new community cases after border worker tests positive, six in MIQ

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for April 9, bringing you the latest news throughout the day. For one day only, Stewart is off, so to get in touch email Bulletin editor Alex Braae at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz.

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2.30pm: Golriz Ghahraman writes on India arrival ban

The nervousness in south Asian communities over the decision to suspend travel from India to New Zealand, including for citizens, is entirely understandable, Green MP Golriz Ghahraman has written in a comment piece for The Spinoff. “We know that hate crimes and abuse of East Asian New Zealanders rose as the Covid-19 crisis hit,” she writes. “This latest decision, and the willingness to make it an Indian problem has the potential to impact our South Asian communities in a similar way. They are rightly nervous about this now … We must remember that division and social discord is what has undermined a similar success in other western nations. It will be a firm and united belief in our Covid-19 response that will lead us to a broad and successful vaccine drive this year. That is why it is so important to keep insisting that our systems serve us all, and maintain the trust of all our communities equally.”

Read the full piece here.

1.30pm: Auckland International Airport ready for Australian visitors

Josie Adams writes:

Media were given a walk-through this morning of Auckland Airport’s international terminal, which has become the front line in our fight against Covid-19 over the last year. Some changes since your last visit: there are now two separate terminals for arrivals – one for flights with people headed to MIQ, and another for those from safe zones (the Cook Islands, Niue, and soon Australia); there are “donning and doffing” stations for PPE across the airport; the departure area shops are all closed, except for one restaurant. With Air NZ declaring a record sales day following the trans-Tasman bubble announcement, this could be set to change from April 19. Airport staff said they were looking forward to seeing the departures areas pick up traffic and bring some life back into the corridors.

Auckland International Airport waits for the influx. Photo: Josie Adams

Bubble gates. Photo: Josie Adams

1.20pm: No new community cases, six in managed isolation

The Friday media release from the health ministry is out, and there are no new community cases of Covid-19 to report.

Six new cases in managed isolation have been spotted, which means the seven-day rolling average of new cases detected at the border is eight.

Five of those managed isolation cases came from India, with one from the Philippines.

Following yesterday’s positive test of a border worker, 10 close contacts have been identified. All have been contacted and are self isolating, and five have returned negative test results. They’re awaiting test results for the others.

The man who tested positive, a security guard at the Grand Millennium MIQ facility, has been transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility. It is not yet clear how he got the virus, and there are no location of interests to report.

12.40pm: Government at odds with Mental Health Foundation

A senior government minister has accused the Mental Health Foundation of not telling the truth about the state of services in the country.

Speaking to Newshub, David Parker defended the progress the government claims to have made, saying they had “put mental health really [at the centre] of health funding – $400 million being spent over four years, extra”.

It comes after a stocktake into mental health services was finally released, more than a year late and missing chunks of data that had been in previous reports.

But speaking about those services, Mental Health Foundation CEO Shaun Robinson said “overall it has got worse, there’s no doubt that it’s got worse.”

“I think that the Government and the ministry underestimated the size of the problem. Right now today over a million people are struggling with their mental health.”

National MP and mental health spokesperson Matt Doocey put out a press release saying that Parker owed the foundation an apology.

“Now is the time for the Government to stop trying to redirect blame and to step up with transparent and measurable plans to fix this mental health mess,” said Doocey.

“This latest misleading statement from a Labour minister comes in a week where the Government was caught out by attempts to bury negative mental health statistics.”

12.20: Climate strikes taking place around the country

Young people are gathering in cities around the country and at parliament to rally against inaction on climate change.

While the rallies aren’t as big as those seen in 2019, some demonstrations have reportedly brought thousands of people out.

12.10pm: Anti-vax views not believed to be issue for Covid-positive border worker – PM

At a press conference a few minutes ago, PM Jacinda Ardern answered questions about why the border worker who tested positive hadn’t yet been vaccinated.

The worker was unable to make two appointments to get vaccinated, with health officials citing “personal reasons” in a release last night.

After questions from media, Ardern said health officials had advised her that any anti-vax views were not a factor in the worker’s inability to get vaccinated.

While a large majority of border workers have now received at least one dose of the vaccine, it is unclear exactly what percentage are still to be vaccinated.

The PM also defended the temporary travel ban on arrivals from India, affirming that it is not intended to be permanent, and that the two weeks the government has given itself will allow time to figure out how to manage arrivals from the hard-hit country.

10.50am: Interim drug testing laws to be made permanent

Health minister Andrew Little has announced that interim laws allowing for drug testing at summer festivals will be made permanent.

The interim laws were designed to allow organisations such as Know Your Stuff to handle small quantities of illegal drugs, in order to test their safety and purity, without facing the risk of prosecution for possession.

Little said the government would follow the advice of experts who said the law should be made permanent.

“The Drug and Substance Checking Legislation Act 2020 – known as the Drug Checking Act – is already having an impact,” he said.

“Testing the drugs has also made it easier for medical staff to treat people who have overdosed, because they know what they’re dealing with.”

So far, the testing has reportedly revealed something that punters will have known for years – much of what gets sold as a premium product like MDMA actually contains completely different, and potentially dangerous ingredients.

According to the release from Little, the testing is having an effect on behaviour, with 68 per cent of surveyed festival-goers who used drug-testing services changing theirs.

Some disposed of the drugs that had been tested, some reduced the amount of drugs they took, while others said that as a result of talking to the testing team, they understood more about the harmful behaviour involved in taking the drugs.

10.45am: Today in history – the MIQ system gets put into effect

We’ve had a few of these in the last few weeks, but today is an especially significant anniversary in New Zealand’s fight against Covid-19.

On April 9 2020, PM Ardern announced that from midnight, every returning New Zealander must undergo quarantine or “managed self-isolation in an approved facility” for 14 days.

Read about that, and look back on other major headlines from a momentous time through our archived live updates.

10.30am: New from The Spinoff: Bernard Hickey on the economic ‘doom loop’

In the latest episode of When the Facts Change, Bernard Hickey talks to economists Ganesh Nana and Craig Renney about global capitalism’s ‘doom loop’ and how addressing inequality and improving productivity can help stop it.

Subscribe and listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.

10.15am: Nash wants feedback on freedom camping proposals

Tourism minister Stuart Nash has outlined proposed changes to the laws around freedom camping, which he now wants feedback on.

Among the changes, he wants increased penalties for unlawful freedom camping, up to and including vehicle confiscation

Nash said a “sub-group” of poorly behaved freedom campers are ruining experiences for other tourists and locals. “The most consistent complaints I hear about the tourism sector relate to abuse of the freedom camping rules,” said Nash.

He also sought to draw a distinction between those problem freedom campers and other lower-cost tourists. “Backpackers and budget travellers are welcome. Responsible campers in motorhomes, caravans or budget vehicles in campgrounds are welcome. But it must be ‘right vehicle, right place.’ This document asks for public feedback on the future of vehicles that are not self-contained.”

Local mayors in tourist destinations are backing an increase in regulation.

“The majority of responsible campers do the right thing by having self-contained vehicles, disposing of their waste in the right way, and aren’t going out of their way to burden anyone,” said Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick.

“But as the minister has pointed out, our system means that someone has to carry the cost, and that’s often ratepayers, and additionally there are those who aren’t abiding by our Tiaki values. This consultation is important in setting out the boundaries to address these issues.”

A full outline of the proposals can be read here, along with an opportunity to give feedback.

Nash is in Paihia in the winterless north today to make the announcement. Van-driving Spinoff staff are reportedly disgruntled at not being sent up to cover it.

9.40am: Government extends debt facility available to Air NZ 

Finance minister Grant Robertson has put out a release saying that an additional $600 million in loans will be made available to Air NZ for an additional 16 months, to help the airline get through the period until “aviation markets stabilise”.

While the trans-Tasman bubble opening up means Air New Zealand will have more business, their operations remain tiny compared to this time two years ago.

“The Crown’s role as majority shareholder has been a major source of stability for the national airline during a very difficult time,” said Robertson.

“As a result, our national carrier is in a much stronger position than many airlines around the world. We need that strength to be retained because we need a national airline to support economic development and provide access to international markets, and to enable the international tourism we’re beginning to see emerge with the opening of the Trans-Tasman bubble.”

Meanwhile, Stuff reports that a planned capital raising exercise has been put on hold. Originally it was meant to be completed by June 30, but now is expected to be done by September 30.

In a statement to the NZX stock exchange, airline chair Dame Therese Walsh said it would give both Air NZ and the Crown more time to assess the “evolving circumstances” that they’re operating in.

8.30am: Unknown number of border workers remain unvaccinated

It’s only a small proportion, but the government doesn’t yet know exactly how many border workers remain unvaccinated.

From next week, those who aren’t vaccinated will be moved out of high risk roles.

However as Radio NZ’s Katie Scotcher reports, different arms of the government have handed out completely different figures for vaccination rates in MIQ hotels. To quote:

Neither Bloomfield, the Ministry of Health nor the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) have been able to say exactly how many people working in MIQ hotels have not had a jab.

Data on vaccines is recorded by individual MIQ hotels and MBIE noted some workers had decided “not to share their vaccination status with their employers.”

8.05am: Australia switches preferred vaccine brand to Pfizer

The Australian government is rejigging its vaccine strategy, to push Pfizer as the preferred vaccine for those under 50.

It comes amid concerns over the increased risk of rare blood clots from the AstraZeneca vaccine, which Australia had previously bet big on.

The ABC reports the announcement was made at a surprise press conference last night, fronted by PM Scott Morrison and Australia’s Ashley Bloomfield-equivalent Paul Kelly.

There are currently much lower stocks of the Pfizer vaccine in Australia, which will put pressure on the overall rollout. Part of the appeal of the AstraZeneca jab is that it could be directly manufactured in Australia.

It is at this stage unclear how, or by how long, it will delay the wider rollout of vaccines to Australia. Currently close to a million doses have been given across the country, with prioritisation for frontline healthcare and quarantine workers, aged care residents and staff, older and vulnerable Australians.

7.40am: Indian community reacts to temporary travel ban

Many in the Indian community are troubled by a decision to temporarily ban arrivals from the country, amid a horror spike in cases across India.

Some in the community have expressed their anger to the Indian Weekender, suggesting that it was a “decision-based on unconscious bias than actually on science and logistics.”

And Radio NZ’s Katie Scotcher spoke to one Indian New Zealander who said he had been “left to fend for himself” amid cancelled flights and massive family disruption.

In an interview with Morning Report today, Covid-19 minister Chris Hipkins said there were concerns about the pre-departure tests being used in India, given the high rates of positive cases turning up in MIQ. He also defended the decision as being entirely based on managing risk, rather than bias against India or Indian people.

Is the ban legal?

Writing on The Spinoff, public law expert Andrew Geddis outlines some of the complex issues at play to answer that question.

It comes down to whether such an unprecedented decision is a ‘demonstrably justified’ limit on people’s rights under the Bill of Rights Act.

Read the full piece here.

7.30am: Key stories from The Bulletin:

We’re going to start today’s Bulletin with something different – a short interview. Because today teenagers across the country will once again leave school and go on strike, to demand more action is taken on climate change. There has been comparatively little media coverage compared to earlier strikes, but the issue is no less pressing. Yesterday I phoned up Izzy Cook, one of the organisers of the Wellington strike, to put a few questions to her about the movement and the wider issue.

In 2019 well over 100,000 people turned out for this event around the country. Are you worried that momentum has been lost in the interim? 

“Yeah, definitely. We do know that momentum has been lost in the movement because of Covid-19.” 

Since that strike, various government announcements have been made, and the climate change commission has been established. How would you assess the state of progress on climate change at a policy and government action level? 

“Currently at School Strike we definitely feel like there hasn’t been enough action taken recently. It has been difficult for the government with Covid-19, but now that we’re coming out of it, we believe now is the time to take action.”

When you personally think about your later life in a world increasingly affected by climate change, do you feel optimistic or pessimistic? 

“I would definitely say pessimistic. I think I speak for a lot of the youth of Aotearoa when I say that right now the current state of the world in terms of climate change isn’t looking very optimistic.” 

Finally, a lot of The Bulletin is about finding things people should read and telling them about it. If there was a particular article that you think people should read, what would it be? 

If I could tell people to read anything, it would be to read about what the world will look like in fifty odd years because of climate change if no action is taken. Will we have wild animals? Will we be able to breathe the air? How much of the world will be submerged in water? I think this article will help people see what’s going to happen. 




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