Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for April 15, bringing you the latest news throughout the day. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
5.15pm: Vaccine programme to cost about $1.5bn and should finish by end of year – Bloomfield
Justin Giovannetti reports from parliament:
New Zealand’s entire Covid-19 vaccination programme is expected to cost about $1.5 billion, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield revealed today during a briefing with reporters.
In a wide-ranging briefing that lasted about 70 minutes, Bloomfield and two senior health officials spoke about the work being done to ensure about four million New Zealanders – the entire population over 16 – are vaccinated by the end of the year.
A new national booking system should be finished by the end of May to make the process easier. Super-vaccination sites that can deliver over 1,000 jabs daily will be stood up, especially after July 1 when the programme is expanded to the entire population. However, most people will get the shot at their GP office.
To ensure the country gets enough doses to finish the programme before the end of the year, prime minister Jacinda Ardern recently spoke with senior officials at Pfizer, Bloomfield said.
It’s still not clear how many doses the country will get in the second half of the year, but the Ministry of Health’s ambitions are high. From the 46,000 vaccines currently being delivered weekly, officials hope to jab 60,000 people daily by the end of the winter.
The vaccination programme will open up to the general public in July, but it could take months for jabs to get to most people, according to a new projection from officials. Over two million at-risk people, along with border and health staff, are at the front of the queue and will be prioritised.
The health ministry also released new survey data that shows about 70% of New Zealanders are currently willing to get the jab, while 10% are adamantly opposed. The other 20% need to be convinced. Those numbers haven’t budged in months.
It’s not clear yet how many people need to get a vaccine to ensure population immunity in New Zealand, but Bloomfield said his goal is everyone. “If it gets to 100% then my work on Earth will be done,” he said.
4.40pm: Parliament votes to extends government’s Covid-19 public health powers
Parliament voted this afternoon to extend the powers the government holds under the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act.
The speeches included a mention by Covid-19 minister Chris Hipkins that the powers overreached what would normally be acceptable in a democracy.
National voted against, with spokesperson Chris Bishop saying “generally we are happy with how the minister has exercised his powers under the act”, but that he hoped a “more narrow” piece of legislation could be passed.
The Māori Party voted against, with co-leader Rawiri Waititi saying the party couldn’t support a bill that allowed warrantless access to marae.
3.40pm: Former world leaders call on Biden to waive Covid-19 vaccine patents
More than 170 former world leaders – including two ex-New Zealand prime ministers – and Nobel laureates have signed an open letter calling on Joe Biden to make Covid-19 vaccines more readily available by waiving US intellectual property rules.
According to the open letter, this would expand global manufacturing capacity as it would be “unhindered by industry monopolies” that are leading to shortages of vaccines.
“Nine in 10 people in most poor countries may well go without a vaccine this year,” the letter reads. “At this pace, many nations will be left waiting until at least 2024 to achieve mass Covid-19 immunisation, despite what the limited, while welcome, COVAX initiative is able to offer.”
Among the signatories are Helen Clark and Jenny Shipley, along with former UK prime minister Gordon Brown and ex-French president François Hollande.
3.10pm: Getting a smoke free plan in front of cabinet ‘pivotal’, says Helen Clark
Former prime minister Helen Clark has thrown her support behind new steps by the government to see New Zealand become smoke free.
Associate health minister Ayesha Verrall today released a consultation document which included proposed changes to the availability and strength of tobacco products (see: 9.25am update). After consultation, a plan will be developed and given to Cabinet.
Clark, in a release, said getting something in front of cabinet is a pivotal step. “We needed a plan to get to Smokefree Aotearoa 2025,” she said. “A multi-pronged approach will be a win-win-win for individuals, whanau, the health service, and our nation.”
Having a plan puts New Zealand on a better footing to “realise the dream of over thirty years ago” and complete the journey to becoming smoke-free by 2025, said Clark.
2.20pm: National given extra questions after select committee complaint
A victory for the opposition after its concerns regarding a sitting of the Health Select Committee.
Speaker Trevor Mallard has ruled that the committee, which has the ability to grill Ashley Bloomfield, was not operated “in compliance with the spirit of the last standing orders report and commitments” to allow questions. National had complained that its MPs were given insufficient opportunity to question health officials over the Covid-19 response.
As a result, Mallard has today granted four extra supplementary questions to Chris Bishop in today’s Question Time.
2.00pm: Medsafe asks for more info on Janssen jab
New Zealand’s drug regulator Medsafe has asked for more information about the Janssen Covid-19 vaccine – made by Johnson & Johnson – ahead of making a decision about whether to approve its use.
The vaccine has been linked to cases of blood clots in the US, along with the AstraZeneca jab. Both are based on similar technology, but the Janssen vaccine only requires a single dose.
In a statement, the Ministry of Health said Medsafe has issued a number of additional requests for data from Janssen. An update is expected in the next two to three weeks. “This will allow us time to investigate the data we receive so that when we do make a decision, we can reassure the New Zealand public about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine,” said Medsafe’s Chris James.
“We continue to receive information from our regulatory colleagues, which includes the FDA in the US and Therapeutic Goods Administration in Australia, who are also assessing the Janssen vaccine.”
The Janssen vaccine was yesterday rejected for use in Australia, and its distribution has been halted in the US and parts of Europe.
1.00pm: No new community cases of Covid-19
There are no new cases of Covid-19 in the community today. There are two new positive cases in managed isolation.
The number of previously reported cases that have now recovered is two. The total number of active cases in New Zealand today is 101. Our total number of confirmed cases is 2,235.
The total number of tests processed by laboratories to date is 1,959,282. On Wednesday, 5,455 tests were processed. The seven-day rolling average up to yesterday is 4,524 tests processed.
After the recent community cases linked to the Auckland suburb of Mount Roskill, a pop-up testing centre at the Mount Roskill War Memorial on May Road will be operating all this week.
Why the late 90s and early 00s was NZ’s golden age of reality TV
From Flatmates to Popstars to Celebrity Treasure Island, New Zealand reality television was at its best when nobody really knew what they were doing. José Barbosa looks back wistfully and wonders: can we ever get that magic back?
12.15pm: Border workers trialling early Covid detection app
Border workers are trialling an app that could detect Covid-19 before a person experiences symptoms.
The month-long trial of the ëlarm app will see up to 500 border workers take part through until early next month. The app works through connecting a cell phone to a wearable device such as an Apple Watch or Fitbit and monitoring for physiological changes.
“Contact tracing is at the heart of our Covid-19 response and it’s essential we find and treat people who might have been exposed to this difficult virus before it has a chance to take hold in our communities,” said Shayne Hunter from the Ministry of Health.
“There’s no single fix for Covid-19 so it’s important we use the tools and technologies at our disposal to give contact tracers and health workers a good head start.”
Yesterday, Act Party leader David Seymour said that while he welcomed news of the trial, he was disappointed it took so long.
“It shouldn’t have taken ten months for the government to take the idea seriously. It needs to be much more aggressive at trying new technologies,” he said. The party has been pushing for the app to be used for “314 days”, Seymour said.
11.50am: Premiere date announced for NZ comedian’s BBC series
A premiere date has been announced for New Zealand comic Rose Matafeo’s upcoming BBC comedy series Starstruck.
Written by Matafeo alongside fellow comic (and friend of The Spinoff) Alice Snedden, the six-part series will launch in the UK on April 25. It will begin screening in New Zealand on April 28, on both TVNZ 2 and OnDemand.
The show, which has already been renewed for a second season, follows Matafeo’s character Jessie, a millennial living in East London who discovers the complications of accidentally sleeping with a famous film star.
11.20am: Three more people suffer ‘serious’ reaction to Pfizer jab
Three more people have suffered “serious” adverse reactions to the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine in New Zealand.
A new Medsafe report – which only records data up until March 13 – showed that two people suffered “serious allergic reactions” while a third experienced a “reactogenicity” reaction, where the patient experienced flu-like symptoms.
The national roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine commenced on February 20.
According to Medsafe, the total number of serious reactions to the jab so far is now up to six, with three allergic reactions previously being reported.
Overall, there have been 209 “non-serious” reactions to the vaccine recorded.
New on The Spinoff: Report warns that we’re building over our food basket
The Our Land 2021 survey has just come out, raising concerns that too much of our most productive agricultural land is being converted to housing. The survey is produced by Stats NZ and the environment ministry, and tracks changes in land use over the span of decades.
Read Alex Braae’s full report on it here
10.20am: Record number of people get off benefit in start of 2021
A record number of people have moved off a benefit and into work so far this year, according to new statistics.
In the first three months of 2021, 32,880 moved into work: more than any time since the Ministry of Social Development began keeping electronic records in 1996.
Social development minister Carmel Sepuloni said it showed the impact of the government’s Covid-19 response.
“The investment the government has made during our response to Covid-19 is working and has led to lower than predicted unemployment,” she said. “The longer people remain on a benefit the more difficult it becomes for them to re-enter the labour market, so early interventions are vital.”
The number of people now receiving a “main benefit” is 365,937, said Sepuloni – a fall of 23,563 from the December quarter.
On The Spinoff: A system that can be hacked by lying is not a good system
Yesterday Jacinda Ardern angrily declared that an MIQ worker had lied. That should not be a sufficiently sophisticated technique to get around our border defences, argues Duncan Greive.
It emerged yesterday that “case B” in the small yet still concerning cluster of Covid-19 cases related to the Grand Millennium Hotel in Auckland had not been previously been tested since November. This came as something of a surprise, as Covid response minister Chris Hipkins had announced that such tests would be mandatory in September of last year.
The security guard was not only infected with Covid-19, but worked while infectious and symptomatic, despite not having been tested for six months, missing at least 10 tests during that period. A situation which exposed them and ultimately their community to what ended up occurring: a small, hopefully contained outbreak of Covid-19.
How did the worker evade detection? According to prime minister Jacinda Ardern, their methodology was as daring as it was simple: “the individual was lying.”
9.25am: Tobacco products need to be ‘less available, less addictive and less appealing’ – Verrall
The government is pushing forward with plans to make New Zealand smoke free by 2025, unveiling a “consultation document” that will help develop an official action plan.
The proposals up for consultation include slashing the strength of tobacco products by 95%, only allowing tobacco products to be sold in specialised stores, and even restricting the legal sale of tobacco products to people born before a certain fixed year.
Associate health minister Ayesha Verrall said if New Zealand wants to have a chance of achieving the smoke free goal, we need to change our approach. “We want to make sure that New Zealanders, particularly our underserved communities, don’t continue to suffer the disastrous effects of smoking tobacco,” she said.
“Our proposals for a Smoke free 2025 Action Plan scale up current initiatives such as mass media campaigns. They sit alongside new policy options, including the introduction of a smoke free generation and making smoked tobacco products less available, less addictive and less appealing.”
The consultation on the “Proposals for Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan” is open until May 31 and feedback can be submitted here. The Ministry of Health will then analyse the feedback and prepare a draft plan to be considered by Cabinet.
8.00am: Hipkins won’t put all MIQ workers ‘under suspicion’ despite Case B ‘lying’ to employer
There are no plans to increase monitoring of border workers after a security guard working in MIQ – Case B – allegedly lied to their employer about the frequency of their Covid-19 tests.
The individual tested positive for the coronavirus last week and, according to official records, had not received another test since November last year. Border workers are meant to be tested fortnightly, prompting Jacinda Ardern to say Case B had been “lying”.
Despite this, Chris Hipkins told RNZ that he didn’t want to “put all [border workers] under suspicion” and would continue to rely on people being honest.
“Ultimately, we rely on employers to tell us when people worked and to verify when they have been tested to make sure they are being tested in the appropriate cycle. People go on holiday. People miss shifts. People move into different roles. That sort of thing happens, and only the employers are going to have that detailed information,” Hipkins said.
“Border workers don’t wear ankle bracelets,” Hipkins said.
There are 4500 people working in MIQ, said Hipkins, and he won’t put all of them under suspicion because one person appears to not have been doing what they should.
7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin
Serious flaws in the government’s Covid response have been exposed on a day of sustained pressure at parliament. Hundreds of MIQ workers have failed to get their tests on time, and some may have never been tested at all, reports Michael Morrah for Newshub. The risk from that is considered low by Covid minister Chris Hipkins, but it also came out that one worker who tested positive hadn’t actually been tested since November – that’s despite previous assurances from the government that MIQ workers were being tested regularly. The data collection system to measure this is also considered to be lacklustre, with Otago epidemiologist professor Nick Wilson describing it as “way too loose”.
So what went wrong? According to PM Jacinda Ardern, the worker lied. Stuff reports the blame was also directed at their employer First Security, with Ardern saying “ultimately though, that employer needed to have checks and balances in place to make sure they were still doing what was required.” The company in turn responded that it had “current proof of up to date Covid-19 testing of all guards working at MIQ facilities”. You might recall the government announcing last year that private security firms would no longer be used at MIQ facilities – as Radio NZ’s Katie Todd reports, that’s only now starting to happen.
The story only started to unravel during a particularly poor display of parliamentary power. A Labour-controlled select committee wasted a large amount of valuable time with those in charge of the pandemic response, and this story from Stuff’s Thomas Manch goes into detail about how the chair, Labour MP Dr Liz Craig, found ways to make two thirds of the hour with Dr Ashley Bloomfield and MBIE boss Carolyn Tremain a pointless exercise. It was only in the brief window allowed for National MP Chris Bishop to ask questions that the detail about the positive worker not getting tested since November emerged.
Analysing it, our political editor Justin Giovannetti noted that the day had led to National to call for a return of the Epidemic Response Committee – that short lived creature of Covid. The crucial difference with that committee is that it was run by the opposition, and as such provided a platform for real scrutiny. As Giovannetti writes, the government isn’t keen – perhaps in large part because they currently have a firm grip of where and when they’ll be questioned.
Hipkins told reporters that the country doesn’t need to revive the epidemic response committee. That group had been a one-time response to the lack of parliament during lockdown and with the return of question time, the health select committee and a weekly press conference, there are enough venues for scrutiny, he added.
Yesterday’s day of stumbles makes a mockery of that claim. Question time, as the speaker often reminds the house, is not answer time. Press conferences are also an imperfect creation, where follow-up questions are hurried and lines of inquiry on technical details are rarely able to be fleshed out.
Meanwhile, we finally got a sense of what the plan is for the vaccine rollout. Radio NZ reports the next big target is to have about 1.16 million doses administered by the end of June. If that happens, awesome – though as Giovannetti’s piece notes, “that’s a quarter of the doses that the government had previously suggested would be delivered by then.”