Live updates, August 9: Only nine of 98 port workers who boarded Covid ship were fully vaccinated

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

4.25pm: Only nine port workers who boarded Covid ship fully vaccinated

Of the 98 Tauranga port workers who are isolating and being tested after coming into contact with the Rio De La Plata container ship, whose crew members have now tested positive for Covid-19, only nine were fully vaccinated.

Speaking at her post-cabinet press conference, the prime minister said frontline workers had always been prioritised for being vaccinated but when it comes to port workers, “we’ve encountered a range of barriers, which includes misinformation and hesitancy”.

The government has mandated vaccinations for port workers by August 26 or the end of September, depending on the type of role. “It’s crunch time by the end of this month if those workers are not vaccinated,” said Ardern.

“Port workers must have received first dose or they won’t be able to work in those roles any longer.”

Asked about the potential for ports facing critical staff shortages when the vaccination mandate kicks in, creating serious knock-on economic impacts, Ardern said: “It is a concern that has been raised with us.”

Hipkins added: “That has been one of the factors we’ve been weighing up very carefully … If we had done this too early it just would have fuelled the conspiracy theories. For the smaller ports it’s going to be a bigger challenge than for the larger ports,” he said, citing the risk, for example, of sufficient numbers of ship pilots.

“We are up against a battle where people are being told absolute rubbish,” said Ardern

Twenty-three of the 98 port workers have so far returned negative test results.

Tauranga wharfies scared and angry, says union boss

The head of the union that represents the majority of the 98 port workers who came into contact with the Rio De La Plata told Stuff the wharfies are “really, really angry” and “shitting themselves”.

Wayne Butson, general secretary of the Rail and Maritime Transport Union, said after working on the ship last week, the workers went on with their lives over the weekend, with some leaving Tauranga to go to other towns and cities.

“And then on Sunday night they start getting contacted and told they have to report to work at 9am to be tested. And so they’re just shitting themselves,” Butson said.

“This is as close as you could ever get to a case study in bureaucratic incompetence.”

4pm: Vaccine schedule brought forward after ‘strong uptake’ from over-55s

Anyone over the age of 50 will be able to book in for a Covid-19 vaccine from this Friday, well ahead of schedule.

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said strong vaccine uptake from those over 55 had allowed for the schedule to be brought forward.

“Being able to open another age band so quickly is a real confidence booster and shows how well New Zealand is embracing the vaccine,” Hipkins said.

About 300,000 people are in the 50-plus age group. More than one million vaccinations are currently booked in the system, said Hipkins, with over 296,000 made last week. So far, more than 2.2 million doses have been administered.

Speaking at her post-cabinet press conference this afternoon, the prime minister said that since bookings opened for those aged 55+ last week, more than 75% of that group have now been vaccinated or are booked in to be.

3.55pm: PM gives update on vaccine rollout

Jacinda Ardern is about to speak to the media at her post-cabinet press conference, where she’ll provide an update on the Covid-19 vaccine rollout. She’s likely to also face questions about increasing the gap between the two Pfizer vaccine doses (see 8am update) and a number of the crew on a container ship off the coast of Tauranga testing positive for Covid-19 (see 8.15am).

We’ll bring you rolling updates here.

3.25pm: Shaw got 83% of overall co-leadership votes in revised tally

Political editor Justin Giovannetti explains:

James Shaw’s resounding victory on the weekend was smaller than first reported after the Green Party has confirmed that it chose not to report 20 votes from delegates who voted for neither Shaw or challenger James Cockle.

In the end, Shaw got 116 of 140 votes overall to keep his position as co-leader. Cockle received four votes and 20 delegates instead voted to re-open nominations, in effect, turning down both candidates.

While Shaw received 97% of votes cast for a candidate, he received 83% of the overall vote.

There’s an important difference between the two numbers. Going into the party’s weekend conference, there was speculation about whether Shaw would get more than the 85%, reflecting the number of Greens who voted last year to support Labour in government.

The party event where the results of the election were unveiled was closed to the public and a press release did not disclose the 20 other votes.

In a statement to The Spinoff, co-convenor Penny Leach said the “party executive had decided prior to Saturday’s election not to read out the reopen nominations votes on the floor of the AGM.”

Read more: James Shaw wipes floor with rival as Marama Davidson lets rip at National Party

2.00pm: Ardern tops list of best communicators

Jacinda Ardern has come out on top of a new list ranking the best and worst communicators among world leaders.

According to public relations website Provoke, Ardern is followed by US president Joe Biden and Germany’s Angela Merkel. Success with managing the pandemic appeared to be the common thread, with Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump coming in at the bottom of the list.

The UK’s Boris Johnson was also near the bottom due to a “disastrous pandemic in terms of communications and practically every other metric,” the poll said.

In May last year, New Zealand was also ranked first by Provoke for its Covid-19 comms during the first wave of the virus.

1.20pm: Testing under way in Tauranga after container ship crew test positive for Covid-19

Testing at the port of Tauranga is under way for workers who had contact with the container ship Rio De La Planta. So far, 11 of the 21 onboard the ship have returned positive tests for Covid-19, with one test result indeterminate.

As of this morning, crew members onboard are reported to be “well”, said the Ministry of Health.

“Officials have worked with employers to identify 94 port workers who had contact with the ship, unloading cargo in shifts over the four-day period it was berthed at Port of Tauranga from 6pm on Wednesday August 4 to 2pm on Saturday.”

Today’s numbers

There are no new cases of Covid-19 to report in the community today, with two in managed isolation.

Ten previously reported cases have now recovered, with the number of active cases in New Zealand at 36.

Meanwhile, just over 20,000 doses of the vaccine were administered yesterday, pushing the total rollout to over 2.2 million. So far, 820,000 people have been fully vaccinated.

12.40pm: Bloomfield a ‘one trick pony’, says Collins

Ashley Bloomfield has “drunk the kool-aid” and is a “one trick pony”, according to National Party leader Judith Collins.

The director general of health has been forced to apologise, and correct the record, after he initially denied having direct contact with MFAT officials over the transfer of a UN worker with Covid-19 from Fiji. He since revealed that he had exchanged texts with MFAT’s secretary Chris Seed.

Speaking on Magic Talk this morning, Judith Collins said she did not like to criticise public servants before immediately criticising Ashley Bloomfield. “He’s quite clearly drunk the kool-aid and we can see it with some of the things that have gone on,” Collins said.

“In my opinion, having been a minister dealing with chief executives, this guy is good at standing up and talking about Covid… I just think that Ashley Bloomfield is probably a one-trick pony.”

Collins clarified that she was not calling for Bloomfield’s resignation just yet, but said he needed to “do an awful lot” to justify his role “and the deification” that has occurred.

“Look, he was very good at standing up and talking to people, but when we were told by this government – and he was standing there with it – that there is one source of truth, that was clearly entirely false.”

National has called for Bloomfield to face questions in front of the health select committee this week. Collins is doubtful of whether that will happen.

According to a Guardian report on Bloomfield’s popularity, the director general qualified in medicine at the University of Auckland in 1990 and specialised in public health, choosing to focus on non-communicable disease prevention and control. In 2011 he spent a year at the World Health Organization in Geneva, learning many of the skills he is now deploying to manage the outbreak.

12.00pm: Extremely Online – We need to talk about Neuralink

Pager is a monkey who can play Pong better than you or I ever could, and he does it using only his thoughts. He has a chip in his brain called The Link – a creation of Elon Musk’s company Neuralink, which has the ultimate goal of connecting humans and computers.

Keen? Find out more in this week’s episode of Extremely Online from Shit You Should Care About , made with the support of NZ On Air.

11.45am: Fiji’s Covid-19 outbreak worsens

Fiji’s Covid-19 cases have skyrocketed again, with more than 650 infections confirmed on Saturday. Of even more concern is the number of people hospitalised with severe Covid-19 cases: 240. Close to a dozen are in a critical condition.

Despite the surging numbers, Fiji’s vaccine roll-out has been largely successful. About 86% of the target population have had at least one dose with nearly 30% fully vaccinated.

Fiji now has 24,138 active cases in isolation, reports RNZ, with 299 deaths.

10.00am: The final Olympics wrap

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic games came to an end last night, with New Zealand wrapping an historic campaign – 20 medals overall, including seven gold.

Last night’s closing ceremony saw Valerie Adams carry the New Zealand flag after picking up a bronze in the women’s shot put.

Over the weekend, Lydia Ko scored her second Olympic medal following a third placing in the women’s golf tournament.

9.00am: Online fashion mag Ensemble acquired by Stuff

Online fashion magazine Ensemble – launched in the wake of the Bauer Media closure – has been acquired by Stuff.

The website will become part of Stuff’s lifestyle portfolio, with co-founders Zoe Walker Ahwa and Rebecca Wadey remaining at the helm. It comes almost a year after the launch of Ensemble, on August 13 2020.

“Rebecca [Wadey] will continue to be focused on ensuring the brand’s growth along with that of its unique membership program,” said a press release. “Zoe [Walker Ahwa] will remain editorial director and also assume the role of style editor of Stuff, with our combined fashion and beauty authority to be asserted across the organisation’s life and style platforms.”

Stuff’s editor Sinead Boucher said she was “delighted” to bring Ensemble into the media organisation. “The closure of Bauer last year was a real blow to the media industry, but we’ve seen great innovation spring out of what was a very sad situation,” Boucher said. “Ensemble is fresh and modern.”

This partnership with Stuff has secured a financially viable future for Ensemble, the co-editors said.

The Spinoff’s managing editor Duncan Greive said the move is a big deal for both Stuff and Ensemble. “Viva has been something of a juggernaut for the NZ Herald, a newspaper-inserted magazine… which managed to develop a distinct identity and dominate the fashion and beauty market over decades. Stuff has never had an appropriate vehicle to counter it, but it does now.”

Read more: Duncan Greive on why the Ensemble deal matters

Ensemble co-founders Zoe Walker Ahwa and Rebecca Wadey (Photo: Guy Coombes/supplied)

8.15am: Crew onboard Napier-bound container test positive for Covid-19

Eleven people onboard a container ship off the coast of Tauranga have tested positive for Covid-19.

In a statement, the Ministry of Health said “at least some” of the confirmed cases onboard the Rio De La Plata are likely to be active, with further test results expected today.

“Public Health staff took the test swabs in Tauranga from the crew as part of the requirements for entry for the vessel to Napier –  its next stop,” said the ministry.

“All of the crew on board are reported to be well, with none reporting any symptoms. No crew members came Port-side while the ship was being unloaded in Tauranga.”

The ship is linked to a Covid-19 case in an Australian pilot who was onboard the vessel last month in Queensland and who later developed symptoms and then tested positive for the virus nine days after being aboard the vessel. “The Australian pilot is confirmed to have the Delta variant and has not been linked to any other Queensland cases.”

Initial concerns about the link with the Australian pilot resulted in loading of the vessel being temporarily halted on Wednesday in Tauranga, said the ministry. “An assessment carried out that day, cleared the ship, and unloading was allowed to resume the following day.”

As a precautionary measure, 94 port workers who have spent time on the vessel are now being contacted, provided with advice, tested and stood down until a negative result returned. Testing for those staff is being arranged at the port this morning.

8.00am: Should there be an eight week gap between Covid-19 vaccine doses?

There are growing calls for the gap between peoples’ first and second dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 jab to be increased.

Currently, when you book in for your first jab it is recommended you book in for your second three weeks later. But last week, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield revealed he had been looking at extending that up to eight weeks, citing recent studies.

Vaccinologist Helen Petousis-Harris told RNZ that a wider gap could be beneficial. “Having a bigger gap can result in extra antibodies and a slightly broader response and it’s also possible it might last longer,” she said. “A bigger space gives some time for some maturity to happen before you come in with the next shot.”

However, Petousis-Harris said the existing three week gap would still provide an effective response to the virus. “We need to get as many people with two shots as we possibly can as fast as we can and that two-three weeks apart is really good… but people shouldn’t worry if it’s longer and in fact it may be beneficial in the longterm.”

The most important thing was that as many people as possible get the jab, Petousis-Harris added, saying the three week gap was not a hard and fast rule. “With a lot of vaccines, there are guidelines to make things workable but there is flexibility. I think the main thing is people get in both doses and we want to be getting that done as soon as possible as a population.”

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

National has emerged from their conference to a brutal set of headlines, from which any reasonable observer would conclude the party’s divisions have not healed. By my count, three entirely distinct incidents occurred from which you could make that case, and I’ll outline them all here before covering what party leader Judith Collins had to say.

The first concerns former leader Todd Muller. One News reports he will not be part of caucus meetings when he returns from leave, which he is currently on to care for his sick wife. It’s unclear whether that was a decision made by Muller, or made by Collins on Muller’s behalf – Stuff’s Henry Cooke reports a comment from party whip Matt Doocey that made it sound like it had been Muller’s own decision. Either way, it is a reminder of the circumstances that led to Muller announcing his resignation at the next election, which is that he had been briefing against a colleague.

The second concerns the Young Nats, who have reacted with anger to the caucus to decision to vote against the conversion therapy ban in parliament. The NZ Herald’s Thomas Coughlan reports they distributed rainbow ribbons to the MPs, and it is understood that the speech was used “to highlight the youth wing’s disappointment.” Some MPs are believed to have been against that caucus decision, and party policy generally is in favour of a conversion therapy ban.

Finally, the party president was reelected, but in the process a former speaker and stalwart MP made a dramatic resignation. Sir David Carter was challenging Peter Goodfellow for the presidency, with some in the party seeing Goodfellow as being heavily involved in a series of disastrous candidate selections. However, when Goodfellow won, Sir David resigned from the board, and Radio NZ’s Jane Patterson reports he went out saying he had “no confidence” in Goodfellow. Politik’s (paywalled) Richard Harman notes the party now has no farmers on the board, and it is understood farmers are now feeling unrepresented in the party hierarchy – a real danger for National when Act are surging in the rural world.

As for where the party sits relative to the rest of the political landscape, little movement was made. Toby Manhire was sitting in on Collins’ speech, and noted the party campaign of “Demand the Debate” has yielded precious little in terms of new policy, none of which was launched at the conference.

So what did Collins have to say? As Stuff reports, she told members the next election is winnable for National so long as the party stays focused. Collins heavily criticised the performance of the government, saying in particular they had failed on housing, child poverty and mental health services. Speaking again as a hopefully reasonable observer, she’s got a fair point – the government has objectively made little progress in any of these areas over four years. But that message may not get through with Collins in charge – a Newshub poll released last night showed almost half of National voters believe she should be replaced as leader.

Meanwhile the Green Party conference has also taken place in the shadow of National’s event. Political editor Justin Giovannetti reports Co-leader James Shaw easily saw off a rare challenge from member James Cockle, with Shaw then using his speech to talk up his view that the party had made more gains by being in a cooperation agreement with Labour, rather than in opposition. There’s no doubt some members will disagree with that sentiment, and dissent from it – even if the conference being largely closed to the media makes that difficult to verify. But that’s a world of difference away from what the other party having a conference last weekend went through.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here



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