Live updates, March 15: National closes gap but Labour still well ahead in new poll

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 15, brought to you by Stewart, Toby and Alice. Get in touch at info@thespinoff.co.nz 

6.00pm: National closes gap but Labour still well ahead; Ardern drops in preferred PM stakes

The first TVNZ/Colmar Brunton poll of the year shows a small rise in support for National and a drop for Labour, but the governing party is still well ahead.

Labour polled at 49%, down 4% on the last poll in December, with National up 2% but still lagging at 27%.

In the preferred prime minister stakes, Jacinda Ardern has dropped by 15 percentage points, but remains in a commanding position, with 43% support. Judith Collins drops, too, down four points to 8%. David Seymour is unchanged on 4%, as is the Air NZ CEO turned National MP  Christopher Luxon on 2%. Where did all that support for Ardern go? To “don’t know”, on an impressive 27%.

The Greens were up one to 9%, with Act on 8%, NZ First and The Māori Party on 2%, New Conservative and TOP both on 1%.

1 News has changed the way it polls, and no longer includes landlines as part of its survey. It now polls 50% mobile phones and 50% online panel. Political editor Jessica Mutch-McKay explains the methodology change here.

4.00pm: Ardern addresses trans-Tasman bubble risk; questioned on minor deported from Australia as ‘501’

Speaking at her post-cabinet press conference this afternoon, Ardern said the fact the risk of Covid-19 coming into the country would almost double if arrivals from Australia no longer had to quarantine was not a reason not to proceed with a trans-Tasman bubble.

Currently, 40-50% of managed isolation places are filled by arrivals from Australia, bringing with them very little risk of Covid-19. If they no longer had to go into quarantine, arrivals from more risky countries would take their places.

In response to a question from The Spinoff’s Justin Giovannetti, Ardern said she was “mindful that that may be one of the effects of opening up that space”, but it was “not a reason not to enter into an arrangement”.

“There has been some consideration into how we can minimise that risk,” she said. 

Pre-departure testing concerns

On whether the pre-departure test system was up to scratch, considering how many arrivals test positive for Covid-19 at the beginning of their stays in MIQ (see 2.15pm update), Ardern said the system was “for the most part” working.

“But I don’t think we can make an assumption that all pre-flight testing is the same. I don’t think all countries are necessarily as rigorous as us, which is why what’s really critical is day zero tests.”

Cook Islands PM to visit; PM queried on minor deported from Australia as ‘501’

Cook Islands prime minister Mark Brown is to visit New Zealand next week from March 25 to April 3, Ardern announced at this afternoon’s press conference. Brown’s trip will mark the first visit from an international leader since New Zealand closed its border due to Covid-19 last year.

Residents of the Cook Islands, which has never had a case of Covid-19, can travel to New Zealand without going into managed isolation.

Asked about reports that a minor was deported from Australia as a “501”, Ardern said: “I have asked for a briefing on that. I don’t have full details. But I would have an expectation that we treat minors in a particular way.” She said she would be looking further into the matter.

According to a report on Stuff, a deportation flight last week included a 15-year-old boy.

She said it had been “an issue raised before, and we have raised our objections before”.

2.15pm: Why are there so many cases at the border when pre-departure tests are required?

It’s now been two weeks since New Zealand had a positive Covid-19 case in the community, but cases at the border remain steady – we currently have 93 active cases. This is despite a rule having been in place since late January that requires anyone travelling to New Zealand – apart from those coming from Australia, most Pacific Islands and Antarctica – to present evidence of a negative Covid-19 test taken within 72 hours before departure.

In recent weeks, a significant number of the new cases appear to have travelled to New Zealand on the India via UAE route, many of whom test positive at day zero.

Last week, The Spinoff asked Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins if he still had confidence in the reliability of pre-departure tests.

“Pre-departure tests are one of a number of additional precautions in place and they continue to be reviewed along with other measures in our response. Pre-departure testing will not identify those that are incubating the virus but not infectious at the time of testing. We know that people can also be exposed to Covid-19 during their journey to get to New Zealand, both internally within their country of departure, and during international travel.

“There is also no way to verify the quality of pre-departure tests and test reports so an important additional step is day 0/1 testing once in New Zealand. Additionally a proportion of cases detected at the border and in managed isolation are subsequently found to be historical.”

1.00pm: NZ goes two weeks since last community Covid-19 case

The Ministry of Health sent out the following:

There are no new cases in the community.

There are seven new positive cases of COVID-19 in managed isolation to report today.

One previously reported case has now recovered. The total number of active cases in New Zealand is 93. Our total number of confirmed cases is 2,074.

Since January 1, there have been 39 historical cases, out of a total of 263 cases.

The total number of tests processed by laboratories to date is 1,821,426.

On Sunday, 2,440 tests were processed. The seven-day rolling average up to yesterday is 5,464 tests processed per day.

For up-to-date information on testing locations in Auckland, visit https://www.arphs.health.nz/

Information on all testing locations nationwide is available on the Healthpoint website https://www.healthpoint.co.nz/covid-19/

NZ COVID Tracer

NZ COVID Tracer now has 2,751,806 registered users, an increase of more than 47,000 users in the past fortnight.

Poster scans have reached 221,019,392 and users have created 8,504,040 manual diary entries. There have been 1,107,949 scans in the last 24 hours.

It’s great to see ongoing good use of the NZ COVID Tracer app and it’s vitally important that Kiwis continue to do so. Please scan QR codes wherever you go and turn on Bluetooth tracing in the app dashboard if you haven’t already done so.

11.50am: It’s poll day! Will there be good news for Ardern?

It’s almost time for the first televised political poll of 2021 – one of only a handful since Labour swept to victory in last October’s election.

TVNZ will reveal the results of its Colmar Brunton poll at 6pm tonight, according to the network’s political editor.

Despite being years out from another election, the poll could be a biggie for Labour. The government has faced increased criticism in recent weeks over its vaccine rollout, the lack of a trans-Tasman travel bubble, and the recent Auckland yo-yo lockdowns. Meanwhile, National received praise for its Covid-19 leave support proposal – but leader Judith Collins has also had to face scrutiny over the party’s election review.

Collins – before she was leader – said she’d quit the top job if National fell below 35%. Since becoming leader, the party hasn’t come close to crossing that threshold. If the party hasn’t made any gains in this poll, we could see another leadership challenge on our hands.

In a tweet, stats lover Michael Appleton shared how governments have fared in TVNZ polls released in March of their second term in power.

11.25am: On this day – marking Covid-19 anniversaries

Today we’re starting up a regular feature in the live updates: thinking back to where we were in the Covid-19 pandemic 12 months ago. As we approach the one year anniversary of New Zealand going into lockdown, we’ll be taking a daily look at Covid-19 milestones from 2020.

On March 15, 2020:

One year ago, New Zealand recorded its seventh and eighth cases of Covid-19. For reference, we’ve now exceeded 2000.

A day earlier, on March 14, we started announcing new cases daily. Anyone who arrived in the country was also required to self-isolate for 14 days (except arrivals from the Pacific)

At the time, finance minister Grant Robertson said the government was expecting a serious blow to the economy from the effects of the virus and the new travel ban. Internationally, France and Spain shifted into lockdown.

10.35am: Waititi wins Grammy for work on Jojo Rabbit

Taika Waititi has snared yet another award for his 2019 film Jojo Rabbit, taking out a Grammy (yes, Grammy) Award.

The director won the gong for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media. He reacted to the win as anybody would expect him to:

“I guess they’re just giving Grammys to anyone now,” he told a reporter.

9.20am: Travel bubble still in the pipeline, says Ardern

The prime minister said she’s still trying to get a two-way travel bubble with Australia up and running – but, she admits circumstances have now changed.

The Australian states of New South Wales and Queensland are both grappling with possible new outbreaks of Covid-19 stemming from managed isolation facilities.

Speaking on TVNZ’s Breakfast, Jacinda Ardern admitted that incidents like this made establishing a travel bubble harder.

“You can see just this morning, cases — a case in New South Wales, Queensland, we’ve recently had our issues. It’s a balance to be struck, but we haven’t given up on making it a reality,” Ardern said.

“It’s a bit more complicated now we’re dealing with state-by-state rather than the starting point, which was country-by-country.”

There have reportedly also been discussions between the New Zealand and Singapore governments around establishing a travel bubble, or possibly a three-way bubble with Australia as well.

8.10am: Police figures show rise in gun crime since major law changes

The government’s major gun law upheaval in the wake of the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings has had no impact on gun crime.

Police figures reported by RNZ show that gun crime peaked in 2020, with 2399 people were charged with 4542 firearm-related offences. That’s nearly double the number from a decade earlier.

Act’s Nicole McKee – a strong critic of the government’s law reforms – said she’s not surprised. “What we’re looking at is a piece of rushed legislation, or two pieces of rushed legislation, that went through so fast that the unintended consequences of doing that are starting to be realised, and of course the effects that we’re seeing are a less safer community.”

Hera Cook from Gun Control New Zealand said the laws had been a great success – and placed some blame for rising gun violence on Australian deportees. “I think what’s probable is that both things are happening. What we’re seeing is that the 501s are bringing more organised crime into New Zealand,” Cook said.

“Police are combatting that and police seem to be being pretty effective. I think we as New Zealanders should feel really good about the fact that police are picking up a lot more gun offences.”

Speaking on Morning Report, prime minister Jacinda Ardern said the increase in gun crime made her even more determined to continue reforming our gun laws.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

Today marks the two year anniversary of “one of New Zealand’s darkest days”On March 15 in 2019, 51 people were killed while they worshipped in two Christchurch mosques. The terrorist, a white supremacist, injured 40 others. The perpetrator was last year sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Today, Christchurch’s Muslim community will hold private prayers. As RNZ reports, The imam of Masjid An-Nur Gamal Fouda said today’s prayers will be held at both the Linwood and Al-Noor mosques to remember those who lost their lives. “Families will remember their loved ones in different ways, many will pay their respects today by visiting the graves of those who died,” he said.

A public commemoration was held on Saturday, attended by about 1000 people. Jacinda Ardern was among the long list of speakers. She told the crowd: “Much has been said, but words, despite their healing power, will never change what happened that day. Words will not bring back those men, women and children who gathered at their place of worship, quietly and peacefully when they were taken in an act of terror.”

To mark today’s anniversary, Newshub has spoken to a number of survivors from the attack. Temel Atacocugu – who was shot nine times by the terrorist – is back playing football; one of the things he loves the most. “Because this is the most thing I loved to do in my life and I don’t think, myself, I can be without football,” he told reporter Juliet Speedy. Siham Alsalfiti, whose husband Abdul Qasem was killed on March 15 while protecting his injured friends, found this weekend’s anniversary service healing. “I found it very helpful, it made me feel that we are not alone and I’m really proud [that] the government keeps acknowledging the loss of 51 innocent Shahids [martyrs],” she says. Read more extraordinary stories here.

Finally, Newsroom has followed a story from last week on the continuing calls for the government to amend ACC to allow it to provide support to uninjured witnesses of the March 15 attack. It comes after a fiery interview between Andrew Little and RNZ’s Susie Ferguson, that you can listen to here. Wellington lawyer Warren Forster told Newsroom that minister Little was right to say witnesses not physically injured but suffering mental injury aren’t covered by ACC. But: “there’s a separate question of, should they?” Read more on that, here.




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