Live updates, March 10: Government wrong not to vaccinate all of South Auckland early, says expert

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 10. Auckland is now at alert level two, NZ at level one. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz 

Top stories:

3.40pm: Ardern won’t set target to create trans-Tasman bubble, Australia says it’s ready right now

Political editor Justin Giovannetti reports from parliament:

Jacinda Ardern had given herself until the end of March to create a trans-Tasman bubble. After delays caused by outbreaks of Covid-19 and stalled negotiations, the prime minister now said she won’t set a new deadline.

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison said today that his country is open to receiving New Zealanders and any delay is from the Beehive. “If the New Zealand government doesn’t wish Australians to visit New Zealand and spend money in Queenstown or Wellington or other parts of the country, that’s a matter for them,” he said.

In recent months some Australian states have opened up to quarantine-free travel from New Zealand, with brief interruptions during recent community cases in Auckland. National leader Judith Collins is now calling on Ardern to immediately create a bubble and help this country’s tourism industry.

“I can’t understand why we can’t get this right. We’ve got the Australian government able to take New Zealanders to go and spend money and work in Australia and we can’t do the same,” said Collins at parliament today. The opposition’s call comes a day after its caucus was showed a damning internal report of the party’s last bungled election campaign.

Asked about the current state of talks with Australia, Ardern said that the government is still mulling the risk. “We need to be reducing the risk as much as possible,” she said. “The decisions I need to make are on behalf of New Zealand and New Zealanders.”

There will be risks for those who travel, even after a bubble is created, Ardern added. That could include becoming stranded during a holiday in Australia if community cases appear.

3.15pm: Meghan and Harry interview a massive success for TV3

Sam Brooks writes:

In what probably shouldn’t be surprising news, the Meghan and Harry interview that aired last night garnered record ratings for Three, with almost a million people – 935,100 people, to be specific – tuning in last night to watch Oprah interview the couple. (You can read our piece on the interview’s most revealing and shocking moments right here.)

259,700 viewers on average in the 25-54 demographic tuned in across the country for the two hour special, making it the most watched programme on Three since 1995. The interview also gave ThreeNow the highest number of live streams it’s ever had.

The interview has dominated the news cycle for the past 48 hours, with Buckingham Palace issuing an anodyne press releasePiers Morgan resigning from Good Morning Britain, and Oprah adding yet another meme diamond to her crown of jewels.

2.10pm: All of South Auckland should be vaccinated early, says expert

A public health expert has criticised the government’s decision not to vaccinate all of South Auckland as part of the second wave. Instead, as announced at 1pm, just those who are over 65 or with underlying health conditions will be able to access the vaccine ahead of the public roll-out.

“This population is particularly exposed to border failures via the proximity to Auckland International Airport and various MIQ facilities in South Auckland,” Nick Wilson said, via the Science Media Centre. “Nevertheless, it is to be hoped that such border failures will become less frequent with the vaccination of border workers – along with other refinements with MIQ to reduce mixing of people in shared exercise and smoking areas etc.”

Overall, Wilson said the vaccine roll-out “makes a lot of sense” and is “fairly consistent with the approach taken in New Zealand around fully-subsidised influenza vaccination”.

Here are Nick Wilson’s thoughts, unabridged: 

The government’s vaccine roll-out plan makes a lot of sense in how it combines enhanced border protection along with protecting the older age groups. The plan is fairly consistent with the approach taken in New Zealand around fully-subsidised influenza vaccination (ie. older age groups and those with various underlying health conditions.)

However, the border protection part of the plan could have been improved upon by putting all the adult population in the Counties Manukau DHB into Group 2 (rather than just the over 65s and those with underlying health conditions in this area.) This is because this population is particularly exposed to border failures via the proximity to Auckland International Airport and various MIQ facilities in South Auckland. Nevertheless, it is to be hoped that such border failures will become less frequent with the vaccination of border workers – along with other refinements with MIQ to reduce mixing of people in shared exercise and smoking areas etc.

The rollout of this vaccination is a major advance in pandemic control – but there is still much work to do to both improve New Zealand’s border controls (for travellers from high risk countries such as the US), while facilitating quarantine-free travel for people from low-risk “green zone” countries like Australia (potentially with some testing requirements.) Specific other improvements needed include phasing in mandated daily saliva-based PCR tests for all border workers, mandated use of QR codes for high risk settings, and building higher adherence to mask wearing on public transport.

1.00pm: When can you get the vaccine? Roll-out plan announced

The government has revealed details of the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out plan, including details of groups that will be able to access the Pfizer vaccine ahead of the general population.

We’ve put together a handy explainer on when you can expect to get the vaccine, check that out here. 

“A top priority this year is to make sure New Zealanders get free, fair and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines,” Chris Hipkins said. “We are setting out the plan today after securing enough Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for everyone in New Zealand to get the two doses they need to be fully vaccinated against the virus.”

There are two further categories that cabinet has yet to sign-off, Hipkins said. They are: one for people who may need to get a vaccine on compassionate grounds; and a national significance category, which could include groups who need a vaccine in order to represent New Zealand overseas. Hipkins would not answer media questions on whether this group included sportspeople such as the Black Caps.

Vaccinated people will still have to go through our managed isolation system, Hipkins said, and this will not change “for some time yet”.

Vaccine plan – the four main groups:

  • Group one

Our 50,000 border and MIQ workers, their household contacts and the people they live with. This started last month and the vast bulk will be completed this month, with at least one dose administered.

  • Group two

Approximately 480,000 frontline workers and people living in high-risk settings. Starting with the 57,000 healthcare workers on community frontlines, and then moving through to healthcare workers protecting our most vulnerable and some priority populations. This started in February and will continue through to May.

  • Group three

Priority populations. Approximately 1.7 million people who are at higher risk if they catch Covid-19. This is planned to start in May.

  • Group four

The remainder of the general population – approximately 2 million people. Starting from July.

No new community Covid-19 cases

Chris Hipkins confirmed there are no new cases of Covid-19 in the community today, and just one in managed isolation.

In addition: the one person remaining from the Papatoetoe gym – a location of interest in connection with the February outbreak – was tested yesterday and has returned a negative test.

All contacts of the air crew member who tested positive over the weekend have returned negative results so far, with the remaining due tomorrow.

There is one new Covid-19 case in MIQ, a returnee who arrived from the US on March 8 and tested positive at day zero.

“The biggest factor in lifting Covid-19 restrictions will be timely and high uptake of vaccines,” said Hipkins.

12.45pm: Watch live – Hipkins and Bloomfield make major vaccine announcement

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins and director general of health Ashley Bloomfield are set to reveal details of the nationwide vaccine roll-out at 1pm, and announce details of any new Covid-19 cases. Watch below.

12.10pm: Bloomfield asked to consider vaccinating Black Caps early

Ashley Bloomfield will be fronting today’s 1pm vaccine announcement, where he may face questions on a recent trip to the cricket.

Over the weekend, the director general of health was wined and dined by NZ Cricket in Wellington, where the organisation lobbied him to get our top cricketers vaccinated early.

“Dr Bloomfield attended the Black Caps game on Sunday 7 March in a private capacity and talked to NZ Cricket CEO David White while there. No formal discussions were held,” a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said.

“Dr Bloomfield undertook to take the matter of players potentially being vaccinated prior to travel for consideration as part of planning for the Covid-19 vaccine rollout.”

We may know find out soon whether this request to Bloomfield has been taken up by the ministry. Tune in at 1pm.

11.45am: So, what’s this ‘Russian variant’ of Covid-19 then?

Yesterday it was revealed that the Air New Zealand crew member who recently tested positive for Covid-19 had the “Russian variant” of the virus. While that may sound like cause for concern, the so-called Russian strain is not in the same league of transmissibility as the UK and South African varieties.

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins told The Spinoff the variant B.1.1.317 is not currently classified as a variant of concern in New Zealand. “I understand the Ministry of Health is aware of the additional measures recently taken in Queensland. That approach has not been taken here. In New Zealand, the additional measures taken to help address the UK and South African variants cover any other variants,” he said.

“Those changes were introducing the requirement for pre-departure testing, testing on arrival, testing on day three and day 12 during the mandatory 14-day managed isolation period mean that any positive cases are more likely to be found early and then promptly moved to quarantine.”

11.00am: Māori Party co-leader calls for ban to seabed mining

Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, co-leader of the Māori Party, has entered a member’s bill calling for the prohibition of seabed mining in New Zealand.

“Having helped to lead the campaign against seabed mining with my iwi, both in the courts and on the streets, I’ve always said that this would be one of my top priorities as a Member of Parliament,” Ngarewa-Packer said in a statement.

“Deep sea mining is a risky, new mining practice that threatens endangered whale and dolphin species, kaimoana, local industries and the kaitiaki relationships of mana whenua.”

Ngarewa-Packer has called on “all MPs and parties” to support the bill, which she said has “broad support” among hapū and iwi, environmental groups and the community.


Help keep The Spinoff ticking. Click here to learn you how can support us by becoming a Member for only $1.


10.15am: New Covid advisory group will see what ‘lessons can be learned’ from recent Auckland outbreak

A new advisory group appointed to oversee the ongoing response to Covid-19 will be up and running by next week.

The group, led by Sir Brian Roche, will report back to the Covid-19 response minister on issues around managed isolation and border management.

Roche told RNZ: “The fact that the government has asked for a committee suggests that there is room for improvement across the system.”

The committee will, Roche said, start with the most recent outbreak to see what “lessons can be learned” and then make changes where necessary. “If we can identify issues that will genuinely improve the outcome, the logic would be that they should be implemented as soon as is practicable,” he said.

“I think that we have to remember we didn’t have a system [a year ago]. The system that we’ve had has served us well, but there’s always scope for improvement”.

9.25am: ‘Challenging and difficult’ – Collins reacts to National review

National MPs will not be receiving a copy of the review into the party’s severe election loss, Judith Collins has confirmed.

The report is for the board – not the caucus – but MPs will have a chance to read it.

Speaking to RNZ, Collins admitted the review was a “challenging and difficult document” but one that was “good for… MPs to read”.

“It’s a really thorough review, it’s hard hitting and actually, it’s something I think we in the party will all be learning from,” she said.

National voters will see the recommendations “coming through”, said Collins, but putting it out into public would be a distraction. “MPs are no doubt talking about it but.. our MPs do not want to be distracted by talking about details in the report which they have been able to read with the media,” she said.

“What was really clear is … there was disunity, particularly during the campaign … we need to talk about that within the party and the caucus. What we don’t need to do is spend our time with public in the media navel gazing and worrying about ourselves.”

‘NZ can’t wait any longer for a trans-Tasman bubble’

The opposition’s call for a trans-Tasman travel bubble is heating up yet again, with Judith Collins saying we can’t wait any longer to get one.

Jacinda Ardern had previously indicated a bubble would be announced before the end of this month, but the recent resurgence of Covid-19 has likely prevented this from happening.

In a press release, Collins said Australia has proven a bubble can work. “They opened their border to Kiwis in October and have adopted a flexible approach when there have been community cases in New Zealand. We should take the same approach,” she said.

People arriving from Australia should be required to show evidence of a negative pre-departure test within 72 hours of travel, Collins said, but not have to go into isolation on arrival in New Zealand. “The government has indicated that a travel bubble is possible in the current settings by allowing quarantine-free travel from the Cook Islands since January.”

8.10am: Piers Morgan quits top TV show over Meghan Markle comments

The fallout from the Meghan Markle and Prince Harry interview has seen the royal pair take down more than just the monarchy. Controversial UK TV personality Piers Morgan has today quit his top rating breakfast show, after a dramatic set walk-off.

Morgan had labelled Markle a liar for the claims made in the two-hour interview, with co-host Alex Beresford defending the embattled royal. Morgan then chose to leave the set. A statement since released by broadcaster ITV confirmed he would not be returning to the show.

Meanwhile, the Queen has this morning (NZ Time) released a statement regarding the Markle/Harry interview. The monarch said she was “saddened” to hear of Markle’s experiences, especially those concerning race.

7.50am: Details of nationwide vaccine rollout set to be released today

We’re finally set to get some clarity on when the public rollout of the Covid-19 Pfizer vaccine will commence.

Earlier this week, the government confirmed it had secured enough of the highly effective vaccination for all New Zealanders to get the requisite two doses.

As RNZ reported, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins and director general of health Ashley Bloomfield will front a 1pm press conference this afternoon where they will outline details around distribution of the vaccine.

Border workers have been getting vaccinated over the past couple of weeks, with health workers away from the frontline next. However, it’s not yet known when other groups – including people with underlying health conditions – will be able to get the jab. There have also been calls for the vaccine rollout to start in South Auckland after the two recent Auckland lockdowns stemmed from outbreaks in the community.

Yesterday, I reported on the concerning levels of vaccine hesitancy still present in New Zealand – which could be a real problem for health officials ahead of the vaccine being made publicly available.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

After the failure of the legalisation referendum, we’re beginning to get a picture of what cannabis law reform could look like. The first story of note came from a Helen Clark Foundation survey, which Stuff reports shows that there is a combined majority for legalisation and decriminalisation. Crucially, 20% of those polled said they voted against legalisation, but would vote for decriminalisation. It’s not clear what proportion of respondents would go the other way (pro-legalisation/anti-decriminalisation wasn’t asked) but it’s fair to assume that would be a smaller cohort.

So will something like this be taken through parliament? It’s not yet clear if any parties or MPs are willing to put up a member’s bill on the issue, and it has not been given any priority by the Labour government. That’s relevant, because new research has suggested PM Ardern’s neutrality on the issue may have lost it for the yes campaign, reports Newshub. It’s a bit of a counterfactual to imagine what an earlier endorsement may have achieved, though the PM came out afterwards saying she had voted yes. Either way, that would probably leave it up to the luck of the member’s bill ballot, if an MP were to put such a law forward.

A question on the subject was asked in the house yesterday, with Chlöe Swarbrick asking health minister Andrew Little about whether the current Misuse of Drugs Act supports government policy on drug harm reduction – he said it did. Follow ups saw Little noting reforms made in 2019 around police discretion. He also declined to rule out further liberalisation of drug laws after a question from National’s Dr Nick Smith, but said the government would respect the result of the referendum. Dr Shane Reti, by contrast for National, told Waatea News earlier in the day that he’d like to see decriminalisation discussed.

The referendum campaign itself continues to be litigated as well, in a way that will be interesting to anyone who follows the movements and tactics of issue-based politics. Legalisation advocate Russell Brown has written a lengthy piece on Public Address, pointing out some flaws in the research mentioned above. He also had a bit of a crack at the No campaign, suggesting that various groups were set up in coordination with each other in order to get around spending rules . “It seems that the cleaving of Family First’s efforts in two was a successful effort to spend beyond the expenses cap for a single group – nearly half a million dollars versus the cap of $380,000.”

In response to this, Family First’s Bob McCoskrie said that his group, and the fellow travellers in Smart Approaches to Marijuana NZ (SAM-NZ) were distinct organisations running distinct campaigns. “I can confirm that at all times, both campaigns acted under the legal advice of the Electoral Commission throughout the whole process. In fact, they probably got sick of us asking questions. We were absolutely committed to acting within the law,” said McCoskrie, who added concerns of his own about the cumulative spending of the yes campaign. He also noted that SAM-NZ disbanded immediately after the election, and that Family First’s campaign was about calling for a no vote on both referendums.

So if decriminalisation was on the table, would the no campaign fire up again for another go? McCoskrie said that would depend on what exact proposal was put forward, and while Family First supported removal of heavy criminal sanctions on low-level users, it believed drug law should primarily discourage drug use, and criminal sanctions are part of that. He also said Family First agrees with the current police approach, describing it as ‘decriminalisation-lite’. It is possible a workable consensus on such a bitterly contested reform might finally be forming – whether many people see it as the best policy approach in and of itself is another matter altogether.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here




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