Live updates, July 9: Green zone flights from Sydney canned after rise in Covid cases

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for July 9, bringing you the latest news updated throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

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3.10pm: Green zone flights from Sydney canned after rise in Covid cases

The planned start of green zone flights from Sydney tomorrow will be delayed due to the rise in new Covid-19 cases.

Speaking at a press conference at parliament, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said the “escalating risk” of the virus making it New Zealand was behind the decision. New South Wales today recorded 44 new community cases.

“We will be saying to those who don’t have an urgent need to return to hold back,” he said.

About 1000 spaces will be freed up in managed isolation for people who still need to travel home from Sydney once flights resume. Green zone flights will only restart when the government is confident that the risk has been averted, Hipkins added.

Scrapping the green flights will impact more than 2000 returning New Zealanders, he said. A number of these people may decide to remain in New South Wales once they learn they will need to spend a fortnight in managed isolation. People impacted can expect to hear from their airline within the next 24 hours.

Hipkins warned against returnees trying to evade the new rules by travelling back via a different Australian state. He said they will be caught by either local or Australian authorities, and there will be consequences.

2.30pm: Chris Hipkins to speak as Sydney cases skyrocket

Our Covid-19 response minister will speak at 3pm as the number of cases in Sydney rose once again overnight.

At this stage, green zone flights from New South Wales are set to resume tomorrow. That means that people need to test negative before travelling to New Zealand, but will be able to return home from Sydney. However, the timing of Hipkins’ media stand-up this afternoon suggests that the return of green zone flights may be pushed out again.

1.35pm: Ship carrying Covid-positive mariners to return to NZ next week

A ship carrying two cases of Covid-19, including one person with the delta variant, will return to New Zealand shores from next week.

At this stage, the port where it will dock at are still being finalised and will be announced when confirmed. However, it is expected to be a location that has easy access to a managed isolation facility.

“The current plan is that crew onboard who are unwell will be taken off the ship using standard infection prevention and control protocols, which involves the use of appropriate PPE,” said a Ministry of Health spokesperson.

“They will then be transferred to a quarantine facility. A health management plan will be put in place for those who remain on board the Viking Bay. This approach both manages the risk to public health as well as allowing the provision of appropriate medical assistance to the crew.”

Customs and public health officials are also continuing to monitor a second ship, reported yesterday, which will at this stage remain at sea. Crew onboard that ship have not yet tested positive for the coronavirus but reported “flu-like” symptoms.

Meanwhile, there are no new community or MIQ cases to report in New Zealand today. Nine previously reported cases have now recovered. The number of active cases in New Zealand is 32.

1.30pm: Sydney Covid cluster surges… again

While we wait for today’s local Covid-19 numbers, a little look across the ditch.

New South Wales has recorded a staggering 44 new community cases overnight. Of those, 35 are linked to a known case or cluster – 25 are household contacts and 10 are close contacts – and the source of infection for 9 cases remains under investigation.

Ten cases were in isolation throughout their infectious periods and eight cases were in isolation for part of their infectious period. However, of most concern to Sydney locals will be the revelation 19 cases were infectious in the community and seven cases remain under investigation.

From tomorrow, green zone flights will allow New Zealanders from Sydney to return home if they have tested negative before boarding a flight.

12.45pm: ‘Scanning protects what we love’ – new Covid Tracer ad drops

A new public health campaign has launched today, encouraging people to scan in with the Covid Tracer app.

Daily scans with the app have plummeted since the February Covid-19 outbreak, even with the recent Wellington scare. In the 24 hours to midday Wednesday, there were just 700,681 scans on the app. That’s despite almost 2.9 million registered users.

Back in mid-June, the number of daily scans usually sat around the 500,000 mark, if that.

The new tracer app campaign is based on the premise that “scanning protects what we love – tiaki ōku taonga”. A video ad has launched, which you can watch here.

The Spinoff’s political editor Justin Giovannetti will have a full report later today looking at new research on peoples’ attitudes to the pandemic.

(Ps, give the QR code below a wee scan)

(Image / Supplied)

Oh, and while you’re here?

When the Facts Change: An epic intergenerational wealth transfer

This week on When the Facts Change, Bernard Hickey reveals an intergenerational wealth transfer worth $1 trillion, and how it could be atoned for and reversed – if only to ensure the culprits can enjoy watching their grandchildren grow up healthy, warm and in person.

Listen on Apple PodcastsSpotify or your favourite podcast provider.

12.00pm: Pfizer working on ‘booster shot’ to target delta variant

Pfizer has started work on a booster shot targeted at the delta variant of Covid-19.

According to CNBC, clinical studies for the third jab could begin as soon as next month. At this stage, the Pfizer vaccine is a two-dose vaccine, meaning you require two shots to be fully protected from the virus. However, the highly transmissible delta strain of the virus has raised questions about vaccine efficacy.

“As seen in real world evidence released from the Israel Ministry of Health, vaccine efficacy has declined six months post-vaccination, at the same time that the Delta variant is becoming the dominate variant in the country,” Pfizer said in a statement.

“That is why we have said, and we continue to believe that it is likely, based on the totality of the data we have to date, that a third dose may be needed within 6 to 12 months after full vaccination.”

Pfizer is New Zealand’s preferred vaccine supplier, however the one-dose Janssen shot this week received initial approval from Medsafe.

11.10am: Global pandemic leads to six-fold increase in people going without food

Covid-19 has amplified the number of people going hungry around the world.

A new study by Oxfam has revealed a six-fold increase in people suffering famine-like conditions since the pandemic first took hold. Every minute, 11 people are dying from hunger – more than the number suffering due to the coronavirus.

“Today, unrelenting conflict on top of the Covid-19 economic fallout, and a worsening climate crisis, has pushed more than 520,000 people to the brink of starvation,” said Oxfam’s executive director Gabriela Bucher. “Instead of battling the pandemic, warring parties fought each other, too often landing the last blow to millions already battered by weather disasters and economic shocks.”

Nations that have suffered some of the worst hits by Covid-19 are now becoming hunger hotspots. In Brazil, measures to curb the spread of Covid forced millions to lose their jobs. Extreme poverty has now tripled in the country from 4.5% up to 12.8%. In India, more than 70% of those surveyed by Oxfam in 12 states downgraded their diet because they could not afford to pay for food.ox

10.45am: NZers shouldn’t have to exploit MIQ system for a spot – Bishop

National’s Covid-19 spokesperson is concerned about reports New Zealanders overseas are being forced to exploit the MIQ booking system in order to get a spot.

A report this morning by RNZ revealed that some returnees have secured places in managed isolation through using a computer code to quickly snap up available slots as soon as they come up.

The Spinoff has also been provided evidence of a “bot” that constantly searches MIQ for free spaces.

Chris Bishop told The Spinoff it’s not good enough. “We’ve heard for months now that Kiwis are struggling to book MIQ spots and it’s obviously very distressing for some rushing to get home,” he said.

“Kiwis shouldn’t have to rely on exploiting the system to get a spot in MIQ, nor should they have to pay someone else to exploit the system.”

The MIQ system has been in place for months, Bishop added. “[The government] should’ve made the system secure so everyone is on an equal playing field.”

The office of Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins refused to comment to The Spinoff.

9.55am: Bridges rules out leadership plans after another dismal poll for Judith Collins

Simon Bridges has once again ruled out taking another punt at the National leadership despite a dismal new poll for Judith Collins.

According to an “unprecedented” new UMR poll, Act leader David Seymour is the now more popular than Collins, making him the de facto opposition leader. Of course, it’s not a result reflected in other polls.

Appearing on Newshub’s The AM Show today, Bridges said he supported Collins as leader. Asked if he was planning a coup with Christopher Luxon, Bridges gave a firm “no”.

“It has been a tough few weeks. I think Judith is right in that regard,” he added. “The context is a tough election, about Covid. You don’t expect people to wake up – and there were millions – and say, we were so wrong at the election,” Bridges said.

“I think what is also true is National needs to not be looking like it’s focused on itself but focused on New Zealand and its issues. We know there are a lot of issues.”

9.05am: How the Australian ‘taking out the trash’ broadcast was allowed to happen

Australian border staff ignored the privacy of 501 deportees being sent back to New Zealand, leading to the now infamous “taking out the trash” broadcast.

The Herald’s David Fisher has obtained emails sent to an Australian journalist from the border force media unit. It listed the names and convictions of five New Zealanders being deported and provided video footage that showed their faces. The day before, they had claimed to officials that the deportees’ names would not be released.

That information led to a news report back in March focused on 501 deportees – many of whom get sent back to New Zealand despite barely having spent any time on our shores.

The report also included Australia’s then home affairs minister Peter Dutton, who said: “It’s taking the trash out, then we can make Australia a safer place.”

8.10am: Computer code snapping up MIQ rooms as soon as they’re available

Updated

New Zealanders desperate for a place in managed isolation are being outbid for a spot by people using a computer programme that allows them to snap up available spots instantly.

RNZ’s Jordan Bond has reported that those using the programme claim the online booking system is so technologically basic that it makes exploiting it incredibly simple.

The code constantly refreshes and scans the MIQ website for any available spots and then alerts the user when there is one. Effectively, it does what regular New Zealanders are trying to do manually – but much quicker. When it finds a spot, the code will then autofill the application form fields including your name and details.

The report matches an email I’ve received from one New Zealander abroad who has been refreshing the booking website repeatedly, but with no luck. The entire month of November booked out within a day, he told me, and he’s “probably seen only 8-10 days over the next five months ever have vouchers available” but these last “for just a few minutes”.

Interesting, the reader told me they had heard rumours of bots snapping up available slots – possibly in relation to the news of a computer code being shared online. “Don’t get me wrong, I never thought getting a spot would be easy, but having November open up and book out in less than 12 hours was still not the expectation,” they told me.

MBIE, the ministry behind the booking system, told RNZ it stops actual “bots” from operating. However, using the code is still a breach of their rules.

When approached by The Spinoff, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins would not comment.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

Two less-often reported polls have come out in the last week, showing very different pictures. The Roy Morgan survey had support for Labour down to the high 30s, with a corresponding fall in government confidence among respondents. This is a measure that asks respondents whether the country is heading “in the right direction”, and while it has been falling since the election, sentiment is still overall positive. A note on RM – the conventional wisdom is that their polls bounce around way more than any other companies, as well as tending to overestimate the support of smaller parties.

Meanwhile UMR’s corporate polling, reported on by the NZ Herald, showed Labour way up into the high 40s. There was more consensus around Act, both putting the party around 11% – and incredibly, the UMR survey had Act leader David Seymour on a higher preferred PM score than National leader Judith Collins. If you’ve observed the last few years of politics closely, that isn’t as much of a surprise as you might think – Seymour has campaigned extremely hard, and the backroom Act operation appears to be among the more disciplined and focused in the country. National-backing pollster David Farrar has pointed out on Kiwiblog that this sort of situation – when a smaller party leader overtakes a major party leader – is not unprecedented, but it is unlikely.

For Collins, this sort of poll is yet another blow in a year or lows. The UMR survey showed she is still the most popular politician among National’s voters, but with very little appeal outside of that. She said the poll was partly down to the party having “been through a very tough few weeks”, perhaps including in that assessment the resignations of two MPs that she is understood to have played a role in. The unusual weakness of National at the moment may also be part of the reason why Act is polling so well – similar scenarios happened with the Greens during Labour’s years of misery in the Key era.


Folic acid will be added to bread flour in a public health intervention aimed at preventing severe birth defects. The issue has been covered in excellent and humane depth by the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Nicholas Jones, who spoke to a family with a child that probably wouldn’t have spina bifida today had they got folic acid in the womb. The government’s decision overturns a call made early in the Key government, which came under pressure from industry lobbyists at the Food & Grocery Council. That opposition was ostensibly because of safety concerns, which have turned out to be incorrect.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here




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