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Minister Megan Woods and Air Commodore Digby Webb heading to a press conference (Photo: Radio NZ, Dom Thomas)
Minister Megan Woods and Air Commodore Digby Webb heading to a press conference (Photo: Radio NZ, Dom Thomas)

PoliticsJuly 9, 2020

Live updates, July 9: ‘Permanent police presence’ at facilities; Hong Kong relationship under review

Minister Megan Woods and Air Commodore Digby Webb heading to a press conference (Photo: Radio NZ, Dom Thomas)
Minister Megan Woods and Air Commodore Digby Webb heading to a press conference (Photo: Radio NZ, Dom Thomas)

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7.15pm: The day in sum

Three new cases of Covid-19 were detected in managed isolation, the Ministry of Health reported.

Rio Tinto announced it is closing its Tiwai Point aluminium smelter next year, with over 1,000 associated job losses forecast.

A “permanent police presence” is being introduced at managed isolation hotels, housing minister Megan Woods announced, after a Covid-positive man escaped and went to the supermarket on Tuesday night.

The Police Association, the union for police officers, criticised the new rules as a waste of police time and resources.

New Zealand’s relationship with Hong Kong, including travel advice, extradition agreements and export controls, is under review following the imposition of a harsh national security law by Beijing.

Hundreds of police attended the funeral for their colleague, Constable Matthew Hunt, who was killed in the line of duty last month.

Todd Muller outlined National’s five-point economic framework with a warning that the magnitude of the coming economic challenge has not yet sunk in for the country.

5.25pm: Hong Kong relationship under wide-ranging review

Political editor Justin Giovannetti writes: New Zealand is reviewing its relationship with Hong Kong following the imposition of a national security law by the government in Beijing that severely curtails protest and freedom of speech in the territory. According to foreign minister Winston Peters, the law has “fundamentally changed the environment for international engagement” with the city. The government is now reviewing its extradition agreements, export controls and travel advice with Hong Kong.

The law has fundamentally changed the city’s relationship with the rest of the world. Britain has offered up to three million citizens of the former colony a chance to settle permanently in the UK, while the US government has said the “one country, two systems” principle that has defined foreign engagement with Hong Kong for over two decades is dead.

“The government has directed officials to review all of New Zealand’s policy settings with respect to Hong Kong to determine the appropriate nature of our cooperation going forward,” said Peters in a statement.

The foreign minister, who was at the handover in 1997 when the Union Jack was lowered for the final time, told reporters up until a few weeks ago that he expected the Chinese to abide by the agreements they had made when they took possession of the city. That includes the “one country, two systems” principle. Today’s announcement signals that his hope is fading.

The new law, which took effect an hour before the 23rd anniversary of the city’s handover on July 1, provides for up to a life sentence in prison for advocating Hong Kong’s independence, fomenting unrest or encouraging foreign government interference. Damaging a subway or bus is now considered an act of terrorism, which carries the sentence of life in prison.

Officials can also now send people to the mainland to face trial under China’s legal system. Interpretation of laws now rests with mainland authorities and not officials in the city.

China has said the law will end protests that have rocked the city since last summer. Hundreds of arrests have been made since the law was imposed, many for crimes that didn’t exists only days ago. New Zealand’s review follows a more forceful announcement from Australia, which announced earlier today that it is suspending its extradition agreement with Hong Kong.

Australia is also granting visa holders from Hong Kong a five year extension, along with a pathway to permanent residency at the end of that period. About 10,000 citizens from Hong Kong could gain the permanent right to live in Australia under the change.

Australia also changed its travel advice for Hong Kong on Thursday, warning Australians that they should reconsider staying in the city. “You may be at increased risk of detention on vaguely defined national security grounds. You could break the law without intending to,” the travel advice now states.

3.30pm: Police Association president slams managed isolation plan as waste of resources

The president of the Police Association has criticised the government’s decision to post a police officer at every managed isolation facility, calling it a waste of police resources. Chris Cahill estimated that taking shifts and breaks into account around 240 police officers would be needed to staff all 28 facilitates around the clock, and this would inevitably take numbers away from frontline policing.

“What are the customs and aviation security staff doing now? This is not a good use of resourcing. Police need to be dealing with family harm incidents, mental health incidents and road safety,” Cahill said. “This is about giving political surety, for the government to cover themselves, rather than actual security.”

2.00pm: Focus on system failures, not individuals behaving badly, says public health expert

New Zealand needs to look overseas for examples of what to do – and what not to do – to keep managed isolation facilities secure, the University of Otago’s Nick Wilson has said. 

The public health expert suggested the government “could explore the benefits and costs of the use of electronic bracelets for people in quarantine,” like those being used in Hong Kong. “Other surveillance technologies could be used to ensure appropriate mask use in quarantine, [and] digital tools could also be used to monitor early signs of illness amongst those in quarantine,” he said.

Wilson said all systems should be designed to account for the whole range of human behaviour – including people who don’t follow the rules. “It is far more important to think in terms of system failures than to focus attention on individuals who behave ‘badly’,” he said.

1.40pm: Today’s Covid-19 data, charted

1.15pm: Muller outlines National’s economic framework

Todd Muller says the magnitude of the coming economic challenge has not yet sunk in for the country, or for the media.

He made the comments while outlining the economic framework the party will take into the election, at a speech at the Christchurch Chamber of Commerce.

Muller says there have been warnings of repeated rounds of ‘job destruction’ coming up, along with a collapse in business confidence, driven by a third of businesses planning on laying off staff before the end of the year.

He signalled a focus on the deficit and net Crown debt, and said that a National government “would not panic” in the face of an economic crisis. He argued that the Labour government was not prioritising quality spending, and were saddling the country with an “eye-watering” level of debt.

“They don’t have anything to offer except borrow, spend, hope and tax. National will always be more disciplined in our spending than Labour.”

The economic framework he released contained five elements: Building Stronger Communities, Responsible Economic Management, A Greener Smarter Future, Delivering Infrastructure, and Reskilling and Retraining Our Workforce. More detail on this can be seen in the graphic below.

The work ‘framework’ was used in an accompanying press release, because it cannot necessarily yet be called an economic ‘plan’. That won’t be released in full and final form until August, when the Government releases the Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Update.

1.05pm: Three new cases in managed isolation

While the press conference about managed isolation facilities continues, a media release has arrived from the Ministry of Health. It reports three new cases, all in isolation or quarantine. The release reads as follows:

Today there are three new cases of Covid-19 to report in managed isolation facilities in New Zealand.It has been 69 days since the last case of Covid-19 was acquired locally from an unknown source.

The first case is a woman in her 20s who arrived in New Zealand on July 3 from India. She has been staying in isolation at the Stamford Plaza in Auckland.

The second case is a man in his 30s who arrived in New Zealand on July 4 from Italy and is staying in isolation at the Commodore Hotel in Christchurch.

The third case is a man in his 20s who arrived in New Zealand on July 3 from India. He has been staying in isolation at the Stamford Plaza in Auckland.

These cases bring our total number of confirmed cases to 1,190, which is the number we report to the World Health Organization.

There are two cases considered to have recovered from Covid-19, which brings the total number of active cases to 24.
There is no one in New Zealand receiving hospital-level care for Covid-19.

Yesterday our laboratories completed 3,089 tests. That brings the total number of tests completed to date to 422,144.

12.50pm: ‘Permanent police presence’ at managed isolation facilities

A “permanent police presence” will be introduced at isolation facilities, Megan Woods has announced.

It follows yesterday’s news of a 32-year-old man Covid-positive man who absconded from his hotel and visited a nearby supermarket.

Air Commodore Darryn Webb had more detail on the new police role. A uniformed officer will be on site at every facility, around the clock, he said.

Announcing the new measure, Woods said “the facilities are a snapshot of society and there will inevitably be the odd problem. We must ensure our security arrangements anticipate the type of behaviour we’re seeing from the worst of our returnees.”

There will also be a “senior security professional” at every facility, responsible for “overseeing the security presence on site, and ensuring policies and processes are tight and well understood.”

The policy on smoking will change, too, though it will not banned. “However, based on the behaviour of a couple of individuals, it is clear this is an area of risk for absconding, and we want to address that.” Smoking areas will be monitored 24/7, and should that monitoring not be available, those areas will be temporarily closed.

Woods also announced the creation of an exemption compliance team within MBIE to oversee the reintroduction of the exemptions provision for those in isolation and quarantine.

Currently, there are 5,648 people in managed isolation and quarantine, according to Webb. He said they were projecting 2,418 arrivals in the next week and 2,762 departures from managed isolation.

Air Commodore Webb said the movements of the man who escaped managed isolation had been traced using CCTV footage:

He was logged into the smoking area at 6.51pm, and escaped via the fence section being replaced. He walked to the Countdown, taking a relatively indirect route, arriving at 7.02pm. As reported, he spent 20 minutes there. He then took a phone call for 22 minutes, that call ending at 7.42pm. He then took an indirect route back to the hotel, arriving at 7.58pm. During this time he walked along Albert Street, Customs Street East, Queen Street and Victoria Street West.”

Woods said people who broke out of managed isolation facilities were “committing a reckless act of selfishness” and would be “come down on with the full weight of the law”.

“They are putting New Zealanders at risk and undermining our efforts to keep Covid out of the community. Frankly, they don’t deserve to join the team of five million,” she said.

12.30pm: ‘Sad day’ for Southland – Robertson

Grant Robertson appears to have ruled out any further attempt by the government to salvage Rio Tinto’s Southland operation. “This is a very sad day for Southland but there are strong opportunities attached to this,” said the finance minister at a Beehive press conference.

“There is a certain sense of inevitability about today’s announcement,” Robertson conceded, saying Rio Tinto had been trying to sell its Tiwai Point operation for “about 10 years now”. He said the government had backed what then finance minister Bill English and prime minister John Key had told the company in 2013, which was that there would be no further government subsidies. “There have been a number of conversations over the last few years with Rio Tinto as to what might be possible, but regrettably they have made this decision today,” he said.

“The message I have for the people of Southland is that the government stands alongside you and with you to start to provide new job opportunities in the region,” Robertson said, adding that one of the aims now will be to extract value from the region’s agricultural sector from areas like aquaculture and manufacturing.

He added that the closure was unrelated to Covid-19 and that the issues had been longrunning. “We now need to look to the future … and other uses that might be possible for about 13 percent of the electricity generated in New Zealand.”

“We want to support the people of Southland, but we also have to look at New Zealand as a whole in terms of what is the best use of that energy and what we can best do to support that kind of job growth,” he said.

On warnings from some power companies that prices would increase, energy and resources minister Megan Woods said that it was working alongside Transpower to address “the bottleneck in the grid” and move the generation from Manapouri around the country.

“Theoretically, 14% more electricity going into the grid should result in lower power prices, not high power prices,” said Woods.

12.25pm: Woods and Webb to speak about managed isolation security

Housing minister Megan Woods and air commodore Darryn Webb will hold a press conference at 12.30 today to speak about security measures at managed isolation facilities following two high-profile escapes in the past week. Finance minister Grant Robertson will also be at the press conference to speak about today’s announcement about the closure of Tiwai Point aluminium smelter. Watch here:

11.40am: Update from Countdown on store closure

A representative from Countdown has provided a timeline for when their store was opened and closed yesterday, which we’ll quote in full here:

“The Police visited our store on Tuesday night just before closing to inform us of the situation. We were not told to close the store but we decided to close at 8.15am the following morning to undertake a deep clean. Before this, the store team had already reviewed CCTV footage and wiped down surfaces in accordance with where the customer had been.

Once the deep clean was completed, the store opened, in error, from 10.29-10.32am. During the level 4 lockdown, we did several deep cleans in our stores and our process was to re-open the stores following the clean.

However yesterday we had actually decided to close the store for the entire day to support our team. Countdown Victoria St opened for three minutes in error but the store had already been comprehensively cleaned at this point. There was no risk to Patrick Gower or the 10 other customers who entered the store at that time.

At 10.32am we shut the doors so no further customers could enter, but we allowed the customers in the store to complete their shopping, hence why Patrick Gower’s transaction was completed at 10.42.

At no point were we asked to close or clean the store, and we would appreciate your stories being updated to accurately reflect this. This was a decision we took ourselves for the peace of mind of our customers and team.”

11.10am: Man claims his reasons for escaping managed isolation were ‘different from the reasons’ given by health officials

The 32-year-old man who escaped managed isolation to go to an Auckland supermarket on Tuesday night before testing positive for Covid-19 disputes the Ministry of Health’s version of events surrounding his escape and diagnosis. The man spoke to the NZ Herald this morning, and said his reasons for escaping were “different from the reasons” given by health officials and police, but refused to elaborate what those reasons were.

“I don’t know what’s going on, I am pretty confused … the police know the facts, I have told them everything, I am complying with them,” the man told the Herald. Asked why he thought he could leave the facility, he claimed “no one told me anything”. He said he is feeling “totally healthy and fine”.

10.55am: Hundreds attend funeral for police officer

The funeral for Matthew Hunt, the police constable killed during a traffic stop last month, is about to get underway at Eden Park in Auckland. Hundreds of Hunt’s police colleagues are at the service, along with the officer’s family and friends. Prime minister Jacinda Ardern, police minister Stuart Nash, Rodney MP Mark Mitchell and Auckland mayor Phil Goff are also reported to be in attendance.

The service is being live streamed on the NZ Police website.

10.10am: Peters taking leave after ‘unexpected medical event’

Deputy prime minister Winston Peters is taking “a short stint of medical leave”, according to a statement released by his office this morning. The statement says Peters visited his doctor earlier in the week after experiencing food poisoning symptoms and dehydration, and was advised to undergo a surgical procedure. “This is an unexpected medical event and of course unexpected timing, however the doctor’s advice on having surgery needs to be followed,” Peters said. “I remain confident of a quick return to work – as well as being fighting fit for the election campaign, which is typically physically gruelling.”

The surgery throws a serious spanner in the works of NZ First’s election campaign: the party’s AGM had been scheduled for this Sunday. With Winston Peters centre stage, the party would have hoped for high billing in news coverage. The AGM has now been bumped back a week, and will be held concurrently with the campaign launch on Sunday July 19.

8.25am: Tiwai Point aluminium smelter to close

Rio Tinto has announced it is planning to close Tiwai Point aluminium smelter in 2021 after a review found the business is “not economically viable”. The smelter is one of Southland’s largest employers, with around 1,000 jobs expected to be directly affected by the closure and a further 1,600 jobs indirectly connected to the smelter also under threat, the company said. At the time the strategic review was announced last October the government indicated they would not be providing any more relief for the smelter, NZ Herald reports.

Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt told 1 News he was “absolutely devastated” by the announcement. “It’s not just the jobs, it’s the impact it’s going to have on the community, on the families, on schools, on retailers – it’s just absolutely shattering,” he said.

8.00am: Covid escapee made 22-minute phone call

Officials are still working to piece together the movements of the 32-year-old man with Covid-19 who escaped a managed isolation hotel for 70 minutes on Tuesday evening, trawling through CCTV footage of the 36 minute window between him leaving Countdown and returning to the hotel.

“It seems that he accessed some free wifi and made a phone call for around 22 minutes outside a store where he was accessing the wifi,” Megan Woods, the minister in charge of isolation facilities, told RNZ Morning Report. “That accounts for quite a chunk of the time that he was unaccounted for, but the team is still continuing to look through the CCTV footage,” she said.

Woods said the government has been in discussions with police about what more can be done to stop people escaping from managed isolation hotels, and that assistant chief of defence Darryn Webb would have more to announce on the matter later today.

Woods told RNZ Checkpoint last night that “things have changed … in terms of non-compliance” in the last week or two. “In the beginning, we had a very compliant population who came in … we didn’t have people who were attempting to climb fences or slip through gaps when they saw an opportunity,” she said.

Housing people in facilities outside of cities would be ideal, Woods said, but they had to be close to medical personnel and testing facilities.

7.35am: Updates from today’s edition of The Bulletin

Changes are being made to the way managed isolation facilities are run, after it emerged that a resident went for a wander around Auckland – and then tested positive for Covid-19. Justin Giovannetti has an outline of where the 32 year old man went, and how he got out. Basically, he just wandered away while new fences were being installed around the facility, and went to a busy supermarket – the Countdown on Victoria St West. Some of the time he was out and about is still unaccounted for.

Naturally, he will now face charges, and will appear in court when recovered from the virus. It follows an earlier escape over the weekend in which a woman scaled a pair of fences – she too has also been charged. New health minister Chris Hipkins was furious about the second breach, saying “it is completely unacceptable that we have now had two people leave everyone else down by breaking the rules, leaving facilities and putting New Zealanders at risk. These are acts of selfishness that we intend to use the full weight of the law to stop.” It highlights the tricky legal position of managed isolation facilities, which to be clear are not prisons, nor are the people in them treated as such, because the vast majority have done nothing wrong. Regardless, security systems are being reviewed, reports the NZ Herald. As Radio NZ reports, minister Megan Woods is deeply concerned that the attitude of some in the facilities has become too relaxed, and some aren’t considering the fact that their actions could have wider consequences.

It all brings home how quickly the hard work of the whole country could be undone. The supermarket is closed for a deep clean, and all staff will be offered Covid tests. A Countdown spokesperson told Radio NZ that the affair had taken an emotional toll on staff, 18 of whom will now have to self-isolate for a fortnight. The risk is considered low – for example, that is what Newshub’s Patrick Gower was told when he was informed that as he used the same checkout terminal, he should also self-isolate. But low risk is not no risk.

And most of us have probably become deeply complacent on the basics to prevent the spread of viruses. That’s pretty understandable – unlike the rest of the world, we’ve basically been living normal life for weeks now. But use of the official Covid-19 contact tracing app has dropped off a cliff,reports the NZ Herald’s Amelia Wade. Just 0.2% of the population are regularly using it, which has sparked fears of difficulties in tracing if there’s another outbreak. Almost 600,000 people have downloaded the app at least, so that’s something. Keep washing those hands, just in case.

Hamish Walker’s political career appears to be over, after he announced that he would relinquish the National nomination for Southland. On the way out, he apologised to his party and electorate for attempting to leak confidential Covid-19 patient data, and probably saved the National board the hassle of formally firing him. As this timeline of events shows, it appears he basically wanted to get the information out there to back up a press release he sent out last week, which many people described as racist for the way it discussed returning New Zealanders. As for his electorate, this is an excellent piece by Stuff’s Michael Fallow which goes into how varied the communities are, and how tricky it can be to find a truly representative candidate.

And as for former president Michelle Boag, she has been stripped of all roles within the National Party. Boag also revealed how she came to be in possession of the data – the NZ Herald reports that it was sent to her by the health ministry, as many other bits of information had previously been, because of her role as acting CEO of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust. In her statement, she said she had been given access to data and updates that she no longer needed after community transmission had finished. Perhaps the ministry didn’t take her off the distribution list on the assumption that she was a trustworthy person – more fool them if that was the case. It’s another event in the long history of Boag making headlines, which Sam Brooks has collected in a remarkable retrospective.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

Chris Hipkins, the interim minister of health, announced that a man who had recently arrived from India had tested positive for Covid-19 – then revealed the man had absconded from managed isolation and visited a supermarket in Auckland CBD.

Fallout from National MP Hamish Walker’s outing as the leaker of Covid-19 patient details gathered pace: party leader Todd Muller said the board would decide his fate, but Walker fell on his own sword, announcing he would stand down at the election.

Former National Party president Michelle Boag, who gave the details to Walker, stepped down from Auckland Central MP and National deputy leader Nikki Kaye’s campaign.

The pair charged in connection with the killing of police officer Matthew Hunt during a routine traffic stop in west Auckland last month pleaded not guilty.

MediaWorks CEO Michael Anderson announced he was stepping down from the role.

Read yesterday’s updates here

Keep going!