Live updates, March 11: ‘I was incorrect’ – Bloomfield admits fault for accepting free cricket tickets

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 11. Auckland is now at alert level two, NZ at level one. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz 

Top stories:

2.50pm: ‘Tell us today’ – business group wants alert announcement now

As discussed in an earlier update, cabinet is deciding this afternoon whether Auckland shifts down to alert level two – but the actual announcement won’t come until tomorrow.

That’s irked the Auckland Business Chamber, with chief executive Michael Barnett saying the announcement should come now.

“If government is to decide this afternoon that it is safe to shift Auckland down to level one, tell us today so business can use the time to get ready to welcome customers and visitors back and make the most of having a full weekend of trade to make up for some of the crippling losses from the level three and level two restrictions,” he said.

“Every day counts and the sooner we know the plan, the sooner we can get back to business.”

2.15pm: Senior Australian MP calls NZ deportees ‘trash’

Australia’s home affairs minister is under fire for describing deportees being sent back to New Zealand as “trash”.

Nine News was invited onto the tarmac as “501” deportees prepared to leave Australia. Reporter Jordan Fabris told one woman Australia “didn’t want” her, asking: “Our country doesn’t want you, are you excited to go home?”

Dutton told the channel the flights were Australia’s way of “taking the trash out”.

1.00pm: No new community Covid-19 cases, six in MIQ

There are no new cases of Covid-19 in the community, on the day cabinet will meet to decide whether Auckland shifts down to alert level one.

There are six new cases of the coronavirus in managed isolation.

The Ministry of Health said three contacts of the Covid-positive Air New Zealand crew member are yet to receive their test result back, while all other contacts have tested negative.

Meanwhile, one previously reported case has now recovered taking the total number of active cases in New Zealand to 85. Our total number of confirmed cases is 2,060.

The ministry said today’s managed isolation case numbers “again underscore the value of having early testing in place”. All people arriving into New Zealand must remain in their rooms until those day 0/1 tests results come back.

“It’s also not uncommon to see some of these cases reclassified as historical cases, which are not infectious. This is why we are continuing to publish the cumulative number of historical cases, as below.”

12.50pm: First member’s bills of 2021 drawn

Three member’s bills have been drawn from the biscuit tin – the first for 2021.

One of those – the Sunscreen (Product Safety Standard) Bill sponsored by National’s Todd Muller – would ensure that sunscreen products meet the required safety standards.

“New Zealanders need to have confidence in the SPF claims made by sunscreen manufacturers. Voluntary compliance with the standard is simply not good enough,” Muller said in a statement.

The other two are the:

  • Policing (Killing a Police Dog) Amendment Bill; and the
  • Holidays (Parent-Teacher Interview Leave) Amendment Bill

12.10pm: Bloomfield admits he was wrong to accept free cricket tickets

Ashley Bloomfield has rescinded his previous comments that he attended a cricket match in a “private capacity”, saying he is in the role of director general of health every day.

Bloomfield attended the Black Caps v Australia T20 in Wellington over the weekend as the guest of NZ Cricket, where he was lobbied over vaccination plans for our top cricketers.

In a statement, the director general said he was “incorrect” to say he attended the game in a private capacity.

“I thought I was acting within the Public Service Commission Guidelines on Chief Executive Gifts, Benefits and Expenses guidelines,” he said. “On re-reading the guidelines, I now accept that declaring the complimentary tickets to the game on a gift register was insufficient and that they should have been refused, as they will be from now on.”

Bloomfield has now donated the cost of the tickets – along with the cost of tickets to two Hurricanes games from last year – to Wellington City Mission.


Help keep The Spinoff ticking. Click here to learn how you can become a Member for as little as $1.


12.00pm: Air NZ passengers travelled on plane that had not been deep cleaned

Air New Zealand is being criticised for failing to deep clean one of its planes after dropping off international returnees set to enter managed isolation.

As reported by the Herald’s Katie Harris, the airline confirmed that the aircraft – operated as an MIQ charter service – was inadvertently scheduled to continue operating instead of returning to Auckland to be cleaned.

The company would not confirm when the flight occurred or where it landed. An Air New Zealand staff member told the Herald the flight may have been either late last year or early this year.

11.00am: Fourth anniversary of greatest viral video

Okay, so this isn’t strictly “news” but it’s a video from a news show? It’s the fourth anniversary of the greatest viral video of all time. You know the one: it’s where the kids barge into the background of their dad’s live interview on the BBC.

Watch it for the 100th time, below:

10.40am: Cabinet deciding alert levels today – but won’t announce it until tomorrow

Jacinda Ardern and her cabinet are meeting this afternoon to decide whether Auckland can, once again, join the rest of the country in alert level one.

However, any decision won’t be revealed until tomorrow at midday – despite that meaning businesses may need to spend even longer under level two restrictions.

Based on the lack of new Covid-19 cases since the lockdown commenced over a week ago, Aucklanders should feel confident about spending the weekend with no coronavirus restrictions. “Cabinet will review this decision [alert level] at the end of [this] week… with a view to moving Auckland to level one at the start of the weekend, if we are in a position to do so,” Ardern previously said.

10.10am: First members’ bills of 2021 to be drawn

54 members’ bills are in the parliamentary biscuit tin, ready for the first pick of 2021.

Today will see three bills drawn for introduction to the House, where they will be up for debate. The bills cover a range of topics (as seen here) and today’s three will be picked out by a visiting student, at parliament for an education visit.

9.20am: Rawiri Waititi comments on vaccine roll-out ‘unhelpful’, says associate health minister

The associate health minister Peeni Henare has labelled comments by Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi around the vaccination roll-out “unhelpful”. Waititi has said he would be “reluctant” to encourage Māori to get vaccinated.

Speaking on RNZ, Henare disagreed: “it’s our responsibility [to encourage people]”, he said. Ultimately, however, it does come down to individual choice. “If we want to return to a sense of normality, the vaccine is a key part of that,” Henare said.

Responding to an earlier story on the $20 million of outstanding MIQ bills (see: 8.00am), Henare said that’s “not good enough”. The 90-day payment period was fair, he added. It acknowledged that everyone going through MIQ will have different circumstances, “but we do have a job to make sure those bills are paid,” he said.

Told that some people have found it difficult to find a way to pay on the spot, Henare said “that’s disappointing” to hear and is something that will be looked into. “This is a concern and we will have to work through some of the issues,” he said.

8.00am: Just a third of MIQ bills have been paid; $20m outstanding

Only of third of managed isolation bills have been paid, reports the NZ Herald this morning. Just $10.7 million out of the $30.2 million total bill has been covered off by travellers so far.

The requirement to cover the cost of managed isolation has been in place since August last year, for New Zealanders going overseas for less than 90 days and all-non NZ residents.

NZ Credit and Finance Institute director Owen Goodwin told the Herald he would have expected people to “pay on the spot”. He said he was “startled that there is that level of time lag between invoicing and payment”. Act’s David Seymour agreed: “I can’t believe that the government is giving them 90-day terms. What are they, Noel Leeming?” he said.

Under the terms of payment for MIQ, invoices ask for payment within 90 days with debt collection only an option “after 180 days from when the invoice was issued,” the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

The government has announced the plan for what could become its most significant single programme over this whole year – the vaccine roll-out. If you got everything you need to know about it yesterday, that’s fine – there’s plenty more news down-page. But if you haven’t caught up on it yet, there’s a huge amount of useful coverage.

First of all, who gets it, and when? The Spinoff has an explanation of that, going through who constitutes a priority group, when each cohort will be phased in, and more. Priority will be given first to border workers, their families and household contacts – who are already vaccinated or soon to be vaccinated. Frontline health workers are next. Then come people aged over 75, then people aged over 65 and those with underlying health conditions or disabilities. That constitutes more than two million people.

If you don’t fit into any of those categories, the earliest likely vaccine date is July. The way that gets sorted out will start to be released around May, but it still depends on batch delivery. That’s one of the tricky things about this programme – the government has signed a lot of purchase agreements, but with the general state of the world right now it can’t be certain until Chris Hipkins has the syringe in his hand (metaphorically.)

Some criticism and expert commentary has been made around the choices made by the government. Our live updates reports the decision not to prioritise South Auckland generally has been questioned by public health expert Nick Wilson, who said that “this population is particularly exposed to border failures via the proximity to Auckland International Airport and various MIQ facilities.” The recent outbreaks have all resulted in South Aucklanders bearing the brunt. Further commentary has been collected by the Science Media Centre. I’d also encourage you to read this piece from statistician Thomas Lumley, who has crunched the numbers on what is needed to approach herd immunity.

The rollout will not put New Zealand anywhere near the front of the queue – for wealthy nations at least, among all nations we’ll still be relatively early.  A New York Times interactive has numbers on how the rollout is going around the world, with some countries already well ahead.

Will this mean a trans-Tasman bubble – or even full international travel – will be back soon? Our live updates had an interesting short report from Justin Giovannetti, the Aussies argue that the delay is all at our end. And they’re not wrong – an earlier NZ government target of opening by the end of March has been ditched, with no set timeline replacing it. However one new element of the way PM Ardern discussed the bubble was by noting that travellers would do so at their own risk of potentially being on the wrong side if it had to close at short notice. National wants the bubble opened now.

Meanwhile, the Act party released a plan of their own outlining what they think the future of the Covid response should look like. If you’re interested, you can read the whole thing here. It focuses on responding to what are described as ‘mega-trends in the global Covid situation’, such as vaccination rollouts and public fatigue with lockdown measures. They also want to see compulsory Covid-app use as part of an increase in technological measures.




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