Live updates, April 14: Case B ‘lied’ to employer about Covid-19 tests, says Ardern

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for April 14, bringing you the latest news throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

Top stories

4.00pm: Industry survey seeks to boost female representation in trades sector

A nationwide survey has been launched to find ways to boost the number of women working in the infrastructure and construction sector.

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, more than 22,000 New Zealand women lost their jobs.

The Women in Trade Collective’s survey will help discover what support New Zealand women need to enter the trades – a sector that only has 13.5% female representation.

“A skill shortage is evident within the trades and we want to ensure that women consider the trades as a career option,” said Kelly Bennett from WITC. “This survey will arm us with crucial information to help boost the number of women working in infrastructure and construction, ensuring they enter the industries feeling confident, well-supported, and well-connected.”

3.25pm: National urges return of Epidemic Response Committee

National has called for the return of the opposition-led Epidemic Response Committee that operated during the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown last year.

It follows concerns by National that the existing health select committee is inadequate for scrutinising Covid-19 policy. Today, opposition MPs were given limited time to question Ashley Bloomfield and other health officials.

In a statement, Judith Collins said the committee should make an immediate come back. “The government-controlled health select committee has proven itself ill-equipped and ill-suited to the task of properly examining the government’s Covid-19 response,” Collins said.

“Today’s farcical hearing, chaired by a Labour list MP, was appalling. Repeated attempts by the opposition to question officials on the numerous problems impacting the vaccine roll-out, MIQ, and border testing regime were thwarted by Labour’s committee members.”

Despite National’s plea, it appears unlikely the Epidemic Response Committee will be returning. At today’s 1pm press briefing, Chris Hipkins said that it was established under alert level four when parliament could not sit and the government’s actions were unable to be scrutinised.

2.30pm: PM directly alleges Case B was ‘lying’ over Covid-19 tests

Jacinda Ardern has directly claimed that Case B was “lying” to their MIQ employer over Covid-19 testing.

At today’s 1pm press conference, Chris Hipkins avoided the word lie – but said the latest advice he had received suggested Case B had been supplying information to their employer that they had been regularly tested. “At this point, it appears that this has not been the case.”

Heading into the House this afternoon, Ardern told media that the individual “was lying” to their employer First Security. “Ultimately though, that employer needed to have checks and balances in place to make sure they were still doing what was required,” Ardern said, according to Stuff.

“Their employer is responsible for making sure that they are fulfilling the regulations that they’re getting tested. If someone is not fulfilling the requirements and lying, you can see that presents issues,” she said.

1.25pm: Case B may have lied to employer over testing status – Hipkins

Following revelations today that Case B had not been tested in the six months prior to testing positive for Covid-19, Chris Hipkins has indicated the individual may have lied to his employer.

“The advice that I have at the moment is that the individual concerned was supplying information to their employer that they had been regularly tested,” he told media at today’s 1pm press conference. “At this point, it appears that this has not been the case.”

An investigation is now under way to establish what happened, said Hipkins. “The employer should have been able to verify whether the person had been tested or not.”

He verified that the most recent confirmed test that the person had received, before testing positive last week, was in November 2020. “Ultimately, individuals have a responsibility to ensure that they are being tested,” said Hipkins when asked who was to blame. “The employers also have a responsibility… under health and safety law and under the testing order to make sure their staff are regularly tested.”

1.05pm: All contacts of Covid-positive security guard test negative

Updated

All contacts of the Covid-positive MIQ security guard – Case B – have tested negative for the coronavirus, Ashley Bloomfield has announced. The only exception to this is Case C who was previously announced as testing positive over the weekend.

Scoping interviews with Case C – another security worker – have now been completed and there are no locations of interest for this case. Locations of interest for Case B, including several bus trips this case took in Auckland are on the Ministry of Health’s website.

There are no new community cases of Covid-19, Bloomfield said, with two new cases detected in managed isolation.

One of these arrived from India and tested positive on day three with the other – a close contact of a previous arrival – testing positive at day seven after arriving from Pakistan.

Discussing the vaccine roll-out, Bloomfield said there are 315,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine currently in the Auckland freezers. The total capacity in Auckland alone is more than 700,000, he said, with back-up capacity in Christchurch. There are more freezers on the way in June.

Bloomfield said he remained “confident” about the ongoing vaccine roll-out. As of today, 135,585 doses of the vaccine have now been given out across New Zealand. More than 7600 were delivered in the past 24 hours alone, said Chris Hipkins. Overall, 43% have been delivered in Auckland with 19% of those vaccinated in Auckland Māori or Pasifika.

“A large scale vaccine centre is opening today in Mount Wellington,” said Hipkins. This will be capable of vaccinating over 1000 people each day, when operating at full capacity. Initially, this will be used for vaccinating ambulance and police staff, by appointment only.

Hipkins said that, today, a breakdown has been released showing how many people will be vaccinated in each district health board over the next 12 weeks. “We will be providing weekly updates against the numbers provided in that forecast,” he said.

12.50pm: Hipkins and Bloomfield to give vaccine update, reveal new Covid-19 cases

On a day that has seen increased scrutiny of our vaccine roll-out (see: here), Ashley Bloomfield and the Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins will provide an update.

It’s expected they’ll provide the latest vaccine numbers along with any new cases of Covid-19.

Watch below:

12.40pm: Vaccinations start for NZ Olympics squad

The first in New Zealand’s 2021 Olympics team have been given their Covid-19 jab, according to Stuff.

New Zealand Olympic Committee chief executive Kereyn Smith told the outlet that the first group of athletes have already had their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

The olympians qualify for an early jab under the national significance exception, as they will soon need to travel overseas to prepare for the games.

“We’re really satisfied the government was able to put us in that category of national significance so that’s now underway and athletes have been worked through according to when they might be departing, some are still qualifying and some still have events and activities to prepare, so over the next few months we see that gradually rolling out,” Smith told Stuff.

We’re expecting the next Covid-19 update, with Ashley Bloomfield and Chris Hipkins, at 1pm.

11.35am: Migrant departures exceeds arrivals for first time since ’70s

Annual migrant departures exceeded migrant arrivals – among non-New Zealand citizens – for the first time since the late 1970s, according to new statistics.

The annual net migration loss of non-New Zealand citizens is made up of 22,400 arrivals and 23,800 departures, Stats NZ said. About half of these arrived in the month of March 2020, just ahead of the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown.

Meanwhile, the number of New Zealand citizens returning home continues to rise. In February of this year, a provisional net loss of 1,400 non-New Zealand citizens and a net gain of 18,900 New Zealand citizens made up an overall net migration gain of 17,400.

10.30am: Live export ban confirmed after widespread speculation

The government has officially confirmed it will phase out livestock exports over the next two years, saying New Zealand must continue to uphold animal welfare standards.

Last night, TVNZ reported that a ban was in the pipeline and an export company today said it had been tipped off about the move from China.

Agriculture minister Damien O’Connor said the transition period will allow for those impacted by the ban to adjust.

“At the heart of our decision is upholding New Zealand’s reputation for high standards of animal welfare,” he said. “We must stay ahead of the curve in a world where animal welfare is under increasing scrutiny.”

According to O’Connor, live exports by sea represent just 0.2% of New Zealand’s primary sector exports revenue since 2015.

“I acknowledge the economic benefit some farmers get from the trade, but I also note that support of it is not universal within the sector,” he said.

Despite some sector efforts to improve live export conditions over the past few years, O’Connor said voyage times to the northern hemisphere continue to post animal welfare challenges. “I recognise the importance of our trade relationships with our international partners and we’re committed to working with them as we transition away from the shipment of livestock,” he said.

9.30am: Border worker not tested for six months before contracting Covid-19

Updated

One of the three Covid-19 cases linked to the Grand Millennium managed isolation facility had not been tested in the six months leading up to their positive test result last week, it has been revealed.

Ashley Bloomfield told reporters earlier this week that he believed Case B – a security guard at the Grand Millennium – had not been tested since at least mid March, but could not provide an exact date.

Health officials, including Bloomfield and Jim Bliss, have been grilled in the health select committee this morning. After a question from National’s Chris Bishop, it was revealed that official records show Case B had not been tested since November 2020.

According to officials, Case B is a “regular relief worker” at the facility. It’s possible that the fact they are not at the facility every single day is how they slipped through the routine testing gaps, however the expectation is that he should have been tested every 14 days.

9.10am: Collins proposes new law to fast track housing construction

National’s Judith Collins has proposed a new law to get more houses built, by allowing councils to immediately zone more land for housing.

The Housing Emergency Response (Urgent Measures) Bill will go into the Member’s Ballot this week, however Collins is hoping she can muster enough support from fellow MPs to get her bill straight onto the order paper.

In a statement, Collins said the law would put in place emergency powers similar to what happened after the Canterbury earthquakes in order to ramp up housing production. The law change would also incentivise councils by providing a grant of
$50,000-per-house for every new dwelling consented over and above a historical average.

“The time has come for an extraordinary solution to this unfolding emergency. We need to short circuit the faltering RMA to get more houses built,” Collins said.

Speaking to RNZ, Collins said the council incentives would come from the government’s $3.8 billion housing fund. “That, over a four-year term, would help consent 75,000 houses.”

8.00am: Live exporter defends welfare of animals ahead of rumoured ban

Following the top story out of this morning’s Bulletin: the head of a live export company is unhappy with the rumoured ban, expected to be announced this morning, and has defended the practice of exporting animals abroad.

David Hayman, head of Genetic Development New Zealand Limited, told RNZ he was aware of the ban after a “tip-off from China” but said there is no welfare justification for it.

“The facts support that we are doing a world class job in the way that we export animals and that 99.9% of them get to China safely – and that loss rate is no different to what you’d get on a New Zealand farm,” he said. The loss rate, Hayman claimed, was around two to five animals out of every 5000.

“In the last calendar year there were 110,000 cattle exported,” he said, representing more than $300 million in trade.

The rumoured ban will be phased in over two years, Hayman said, which would allow for companies to see out existing contracts but would be insufficient to satisfy demand with China. Exports in the next calendar year were tipped to be well above the last, he said.

Asked about the cattle ship that sunk last year, Hayman described it as a genuine tragedy. But, he did not consider it a problem with the live export trade. That was a “shipping industry problem that happens very rarely,” he said. “That had nothing to do with the animal welfare of those animals until the point that the ship sunk.”

Hayman said that animals adapt “extremely well” to the journey overseas, despite concerns some people may have about the long and often arduous journey. “They are fully fed and have good watering and bedding,” he said. “The animals actually handle the journey remarkably well.”

The ban is tipped to be officially announced this morning and, of course, we’ll be all over it if that happens.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

Live animal exports are set to be banned by the government, bringing an end to a controversial agricultural practice. The story was reported by One News last night, with an understanding that an announcement will take place this week – this indication has also been given to other media. There was a detail included that “it’s also believed the Government delivered a letter to the Chinese Embassy on March 31 signalling the move will be taking place.” If true, this is a significant detail, because tens of thousands of live cattle go there every year, with the number spiking recently. At the time of writing, there was a fascinating interview on Morning Report with an exporter and vet, who said he’d had a tipoff that the ban was coming, which he thought was a terrible idea.

The trade is lucrative, but many argue it is clearly and flagrantly cruel towards the animals. A temporary ban was put in place after a ship capsized last year, resulting in the tragic loss of life of dozens of workers and thousands of cattle. When the ban was lifted, tighter conditions were put in place, but animal rights activists continued to call for a permanent ban. Those protests have continued ever since – Charlie O’Mannin of the Timaru Herald reported on a particularly fractious rally at the docks, with some Timaru locals making their feelings on the protesters felt rather vocally. The conditions the animals endure on the voyages – and particularly their fates at the other end – are often arduous and painful.

The decision is likely to go down poorly with farmers. In March, the industry defended itself in a Radio NZ story, with one exporter arguing that treating the animals well made economic sense too. The approach the industry wanted to see was one of “continued improvement” on animal welfare, rather than a ban, which raised warnings about cutting off an important income stream for some farmers.


New figures show New Zealand’s emissions increased by 2% in the year to the end of 2019. The Guardian reports the increase “was predominantly driven by the energy sector and an increase in methanol production in the manufacturing industries,” sitting on top of high existing emissions in transport and agriculture. Climate minister James Shaw agreed that the increase was a bad sign, but also argued that it didn’t take into account emissions reductions policies in the last year. Which may be the case, but to put it in context, Politik (paywalled) takes a longer view and reports “the increase makes a mockery of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas reduction targets and means the country has missed every emissions reduction target set by the previous Government by massive amounts.”

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