Election Live, September 15: Three new Covid-19 cases at border, none in community

Welcome to The Spinoff’s Election Live for September 15, bringing you the latest on election 2020 and other NZ news. The essential campaign dates are here. For all you need to know about the cannabis referendum click here. For the assisted dying referendum click here. Explore the parties’ pledges at Policy. I’m on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

7.00pm: The day in sum

There were three Covid-19 cases at the border, and none in the community for the first time since community transmission re-emerged.

National pledged $30 million towards improving dental care access for young people.

Education minister Chris Hipkins unveiled Labour’s education policy, which promises to scrap the decile system and close the pay gap.

Climate change minister James Shaw revealed New Zealand will be the first country to require the financial sector to report on climate risks.

Disgraced former National MP Jami-Lee Ross announced he wouldn’t be contesting his current seat of Botany.

Winston Peters claimed cabinet’s decision to extend alert level two wasn’t based on medical advice.

The PM confirmed changes to our mandatory isolation system have been made to allow the Australian rugby team to train while in quarantine here.

4.00pm: Regulator censures Mike Hosking over Italy Covid claims

A complaint that comments made by Mike Hosking about Covid death rates in Italy were misleading has been upheld by the Broadcasting Standards Authority, which said the example “highlights the importance of data literacy”.

During a “Mike’s Minute” in early April on Newstalk ZB, Hosking asserted that “99.2% [of people in Italy who have died of Covid-19] died with underlying health issues. In other words the very things that were killing them anyway, at over 1,600 per day.”

The regulator said he had conflated Covid 19 cases with the figure of 1,600 deaths a day in Italy and “ignored both cause of death and the notion of ‘excess mortality’ (the notion that death rates are above and beyond what would normally be expected, during a time of crisis)”.

It added: “One online source we considered suggests that, for the period 1-7 April 2020, around the time of the broadcast on 6 April, Italy was experiencing a 58% deviation from its expected death rate.”

There was no further order, but the BSA said: “We urge broadcasters to take care when interpreting statistics and drawing conclusions from scientific or other studies, given that audiences rely heavily on mainstream media to provide authoritative, reliable information on matters of public importance.”

3.20pm: First zero day for weeks

There were three reported Covid-19 cases today (see 1pm) but, importantly, for the first time since the virus was found to have returned to the New Zealand community, we’ve recorded zero new cases in the community. And that’s good enough reason to roll out the Toby Morris zero gif.

Here’s how the last five weeks and one day look …

2.40pm: South Australia, ACT, loosen border restrictions

In a milestone for our Australian neighbours, South Australia has eased its border restrictions with the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), but there’s no such luck for New South Wales.

From midnight tonight, there will be no mandatory requirement to quarantine for 14-days when travelling between the two states.

It’s a possible step toward any hope of a travel bubble opening up between New Zealand and parts of Australia before a Covid-19 treatment is available.

South Australia’s police commissioner Grant Stevens said a decision on loosening the New South Wales border will hopefully be made “in the next day or two”.

“As with all of the restrictions we’ve had in place, it’s been our position that as soon as we can lift them we will,” Stevens said.

The ACT’s last Covid-19 case was on July 10.

2.20pm: Winston Peters goes shopping

Winston Peters has been on the road in his massive, oversized election bus in recent weeks, touring the country and spreading the good word of New Zealand First.

Today, the NZ First leader has been in Gisborne, where – if media reports are to be believed – he purchased some bungy cords and looked at a hammock. This is the entirety of this update. Enjoy!

1.40pm: National promise extra $30m for child dental care

National has pledged $30 million to go toward improving dental care access for young people.

The party’s policy – MySmile (Tamariki Niho Ora) – was revealed by health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti, along with leader Judith Collins in Whanganui today.

The multimillion dollar funding boost equates to a 30% increase on current childhood dental spending, Collins said.

“There are currently 120,000 Kiwi kids on dental waiting lists,” Collins said. “We will provide the resources to ensure children most at need can get the access to quality dental care they deserve.”

All children aged three to 13 will get access to an annual dental health pack containing information material, a toothbrush and toothpaste.

1.00pm: Three new Covid-19 cases, all imported

Updated

There are three new cases of Covid-19 today, the Ministry of Health has announced, all linked to the border. There are no new cases in the community. It comes a day after Jacinda Ardern announced the country would leave alert level two next Monday night, with Auckland to remain under current restrictions until at least next Wednesday.

The three new cases are a man in his 30s and two children who arrived together from Dubai on September 9. They have been in managed isolation at the Ibis Hotel in Rotorua and tested positive for Covid-19 during routine testing around day three of their stay, the ministry said.

There are 56 people linked to the community cluster who remain in the Auckland quarantine facility, which includes 26 people who have tested positive for Covid-19 and their household contacts.

Since August 11, contact tracing has identified 3,779 close contacts of cases, of which 3,772 have been contacted and are self-isolating.

Today there are four people in hospital with Covid-19 – one is in isolation on a ward in Auckland City Hospital, and one is in isolation on a ward in Middlemore. Two are in ICU, at North Shore and Waikato hospitals.

The total number of active cases is now 83, with 16 people recovering overnight. Of those, 28 are imported cases in MIQ facilities, and 55 are community cases.

Our total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 is now 1,450.

Yesterday our laboratories processed 4,402 tests – an increase on Sunday’s testing – bringing the total number of tests completed to date to 872,444.

94 possible close contacts of Les Mills case

An investigation is ongoing into how a healthcare worker who worked at an Auckland isolation facility contracted Covid-19. The worker visited a Takapuna Les Mills gym last week, attending three classes, as well as visiting The Warehouse and a Countdown.

As reported yesterday, the case has been genomically linked to the Auckland cluster, most closely related to three cases from the cluster who were staying in isolation at the Auckland quarantine facility.

The ministry said this indicated that the worker was most likely exposed to the virus at the facility, however a clear epidemiological link to an existing case is still being determined.

Contacts from the gym classes the case attended are being assessed by Auckland Regional Public Health staff. There are 72 confirmed close contacts, however as many as 94 people are being considered possible close contacts.

Of these, 71 have been contacted and are self-isolating, however the final confirmed close contact has not yet been reached. Most have been tested already, the ministry said.

The current advice is that anyone who is regarded as a casual contact in this instance is being advised to be tested, but they do not need to self-isolate unless advised to do so.

12.45pm: Update on Les Mills Covid case expected

The Ministry of Health will be providing today’s Covid-19 update via press release, tentatively around the 1pm mark. We’ll have all the details here so keep fixated on this page, as you should be doing anyway.

We’re expecting an update on the Auckland Covid case who visited a Les Mills gym last week before they tested positive. There are 89 people considered close contacts of the person, who visited the Takapuna gym over two days last week.

12.00pm: Politicians talk economy, debt and taxes

The Spinoff’s business editor Michael Andrew reports on the latest Business NZ political webinar.

The financial spokespeople from the five major parties today discussed how they would pay for the astronomical Covid-19 bill – namely by raising taxes or cutting spending.

Both Green Party co-leader James Shaw and minister of finance Grant Robertson reiterated their policy of increasing the tax threshold for New Zealand’s wealthiest cohort, while National’s Finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith and the ACT Party’s deputy leader Brooke van Velden stressed that the government could not tax it’s way out of recession.

Goldsmith repeated National’s promise to scrap the RMA, keep taxes low, remove regulatory barriers and invest heavily in infrastructure to reduce New Zealand’s net debt to 30% within a decade.

Similarly, van Velden said ACT would scrap the RMA and non-essential expenses like Kiwisaver subsidies, film subsidies, and the Provincial Growth Fund in order to save $7.6 billion and achieve a surplus by 2024.

When asked about the importance of opening the borders to allow businesses to access essential and skilled workers, both Robertson and Shaw stressed the need for balance and prioritising safety. While Robertson acknowledged the importance of the movement of people, he said New Zealand’s advantage lay with exports which the government was helping to stimulate.

New Zealand First’s Fletcher Tabuteau called for a move to level one and said there needed to be more military presence at the border in order to allow workers to enter, while van Velden said private companies and tertiary institutions could manage the quarantine of their own employees and students.

Today’s session follows last week’s Deloitte and Chapman Tripp BusinessNZ Election Conference where party leaders told New Zealand’s business community their plan to bring the country out of recession.

On the campaign trail

Here’s where our political leaders are today

Apologies for the slightly delayed campaign update, it’s been a busy morning!

  • Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern is in Timaru where she has just announced a major rebuild of the town’s theatre.
  • National Party leader Judith Collins is in Whanganui where she will be announcing her party’s dental policy alongside Dr Shane (Reti) this afternoon.
  • New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has hopped off his big bus in Gisborne, where he appears to be doing a spot of shopping.
  • Act Party leader David Seymour is on the road today, heading from New Plymouth to Palmerston North on his campaign tour.
  • Greens co-leader James Shaw has been participating in a Business NZ panel this morning. Marama Davidson is on the campaign trail in Auckland will tonight be participating in The Hui’s Tāmaki Makaurau debate.

10.20am: Labour confirms decile system would be scrapped, backtracks on fees free extension

The decile funding system for schools would be gone under a Labour government and replaced with an “equity index“, the party’s education spokesperson Chris Hipkins has confirmed.

The party’s education policy has been unveiled this morning, with Hipkins saying Labour is “committed to reducing inequalities in education”.

Labour has also pledged to close the pay gap for teachers working in education and care centres, and roll out the healthy lunches programme to a quarter of all school-aged children.

“If re-elected, Labour will ensure all 17,000 teachers working in education and care centres are paid what they deserve,” Hipkins said.

“We will also scrap the blunt and outdated decile system and replace it with the equity index for schools (from 2022) and early learning services.

“The equity index increases the resources going to some of our most disadvantaged students and communities. It will assess the level of disadvantage in a school or early learning service by considering the whole student population,” Hipkins said.

The announcement follows National’s education policy being revealed earlier this week. Judith Collins pledged $1.9 billion over four years, with a focus on learning support, teacher aides, and new special character schools.

Fees free tertiary policy won’t be extended

Labour has backtracked on its earlier promise to extend the tertiary fees free policy beyond the first year of study. Today, Hipkins confirmed the policy will remain in place just for those embarking on their first year of university study.

“The Covid-19 pandemic and its economic fallout means the priority for this term is making apprenticeships and targeted areas of vocational training free,” the party’s policy document reads.

9.30am: NZ to become first country with climate risk reporting

New Zealand will be the first country to require the financial sector to report on climate risks, Green Party co-leader James Shaw has revealed.

Shaw has made the announcement in his capacity as climate change minister, blurring the lines between government announcements and electioneering.

“The changes I am announcing today will bring climate risks and resilience into the heart of financial and business decision making,” Shaw announced.

“It will ensure the disclosure of climate risk is clear, comprehensive and mainstream,” James Shaw said.

The new regime will be on a comply-or-explain basis, he said, based on the “Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) framework”, which is widely acknowledged as international best practice.

Businesses covered by the requirements will have to make annual disclosures, covering governance arrangements, risk management and strategies for mitigating any climate change impacts.

If a business is unable to disclose, they will have to explain why, Shaw said.

In total, around 200 organisations will be required to disclose their exposure to climate risk. This includes large Crown Financial Institutions, such as ACC and the NZ Super Fund.

Chief executive of the Investor Group on Climate Change Emma Herd said this was a crucial step by the government.

“Mandatory disclosure of climate risks is vital  to managing the systemic economic risks posed by climate change to the New Zealand economy and the long-term savings of all New Zealanders,” she said.

9.15am: Peters claims alert level decision wasn’t based on medical advice

Political editor Justin Giovannetti reports:

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said cabinet’s decision yesterday to extend the country’s Covid-19 alert levels for at least another week wasn’t based on medical advice but used “cherry picked” data.

Speaking on TVNZ 1’s Breakfast, Peters said director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield and Labour leader Jacinda Ardern should explain why they’ve told the public that medical modelling showed a 25% chance of the virus being carried outside Auckland. Both Bloomfield and Ardern have repeated the figure during media appearances this morning.

Peters said cabinet was shown a number of scenarios yesterday, one of which showed as little as a 10% chance of the virus escaping the city.

The NZ First leader said there’s little medical reason to keep the country at higher alert levels when compared to the economic damage from ongoing restrictions. “It was cherry picked. This wasn’t an analytical, granular, scientific decision,” he said of cabinet’s choice. NZ First abstained at the cabinet table on the decision, invoking the rarely used “agree to disagree” provision in the government’s coalition agreement.

As a result of the junior partner’s use of the provision, the country’s current alert levels were only approved by Labour party ministers.

Peters also said the government was being inconsistent with the decision to maintain alert level 2.5 in Auckland, and level 2 in the rest of the country, while removing social distancing rules from air travel.

The segment with John Campbell, while not the most heated interview Peters has given in recent weeks, was unusually confrontational for Breakfast.

At the end of the exchange, Jenny-May Clarkson turned to her co-host to calm him: “Have your tea now”.

9.00am: Ardern confirms bespoke quarantine for Australian rugby team

The prime minister has confirmed changes to our mandatory isolation system have been made to allow the Australian rugby team to train while in quarantine here.

The Wallabies are expected to face off against the All Blacks for two Bledisloe Cup matches next month.

Jacinda Ardern told RNZ Ashley Bloomfield was happy for the Australian team to train together while in quarantine, after testing negative on day three. The full squad will be allowed to train together from day six, Ardern said.

Training will be allowed from day three and the full squad from day six.

“The quarantine changes are more around whether or not the director-general is happy for teams to be training together while they are in quarantine. The answer is yes,” Ardern said.

It’s understood Ardern called Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison directly last night to discuss how the quarantine arrangements would work.

“What Ashley Bloomfield has said is training can happen in three days and he said because of the risk profile for Australia being lower relative to the other teams being talked about previously that full squads can also train together from the six-day mark so that means you can have full regular training whilst they’re in quarantine.”

Ardern also wasn’t worried about the possibility the match could be played on 17 October – election day.

“I think New Zealanders are perfectly able to multitask with an election and a sporting match.”

8.10am: Bloomfield hints at possible level ‘1.5’

Ashley Bloomfield has teased the possibility of an alert level 1.5 now that there’s light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel. New Zealand – except Auckland – will be shifting down alert levels at 11.59pm on Monday night, pending any new Covid-19 cases outside of the supercity.

Questioned on RNZ this morning about what level one might look like, Bloomfield pointed to continued use of masks on public transport. Currently, that is only a requirement at level two and above. Bloomfield, however, said “there’s merit in maintaining that as we drop down to alert level one.”

He said he’s referring to it as a “1+ level”

Bloomfield also defended our contact tracing system amid concerns about a confirmed Covid-19 case visiting an Auckland gym and shops.

There have now been 89 people confirmed as close contacts of the case, who visited Les Mills in Takapuna last week along with a Warehouse store and a supermarket. The close contacts of those 89 people are now being asked to get tested, Bloomfield said, and more detail will be released today.

Bloomfield told RNZ the contact tracing system has worked efficiently throughout the Covid-19 outbreak.

7.40am: Jami-Lee Ross cancels plan to contest Botany seat

Updated

Disgraced former National MP Jami-Lee Ross has announced he won’t be contesting his current seat of Botany. It gives a clearer path to victory for Christopher Luxon, the former Air New Zealand chief who has replaced Ross as the National candidate in the electorate.

Ross formed his own party – Advance NZ – after quitting the National Party, which recently merged with the conspiracy theory pushing Public Party, led by Billy Te Kahika. Together, the duo organised a large rally in Auckland over the weekend protesting the government’s use of lockdowns and other Covid-19 restrictions.

“As much as I love being a local MP, my efforts in this election are best served taking a new party in to Parliament,” Ross said in a statement provided to RNZ.

Luxon, who will now likely have an easier ride in the electorate, told The Spinoff he’s focused on the people of Botany.

“[I’m focused] on being a strong local advocate for our community, and on making sure we have a National government that will grow our economy and create jobs so Botany can keep working,” Luxon said.

“That’s the type of support Botany needs right now.”

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

In a week, the country outside of Auckland will move out of level two and into level one. As our live updates reported, that will be contingent on whether cases appear outside the biggest city. Cabinet will have to meet again in a week to confirm the call. There is no such timeframe for Auckland’s move out of the current state of 2.5, in part because a trickle of cases from the Mt Roskill cluster are still being seen.

One change that has now taken place: Physical distancing requirements on public transport have been relaxed, though mask wearing will continue to be compulsory. That has led to Air NZ releasing thousands of fares in an attempt to get bigger numbers flying again. Domestic tourism has been hit reasonably hard by this latest outbreak, in part because of a shortage of Aucklanders getting out and spending in the regions.

But there are some risks to this, in terms of the ongoing elimination strategy, as Stuff’s political editor Luke Malpass explains in an opinion piece. However, he noted that there were still some big questions around the move, especially in light of Ardern’s admission that there was still a reasonable chance cases could spread outside of Auckland. That effectively means that the reconfirmation of the decision on Monday next week isn’t a formality at all.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.00am: Yesterday’s headlines

New Zealand will move down to level one at 11.59pm on Monday, September 21.

Auckland, however, will remain at its current level, with the Mount Roskill Evangelical Church sub-cluster being cited as a “trouble spot” by Jacinda Ardern.

One new community case of Covid-19 was announced, linked to the Botany sub-cluster. They had been in isolation since August 30 due to being a household contact of a confirmed case.

National unveiled a $1.9b education package which would include a $480 million investment in learning support, and $150 million to increase the number of teacher aides.

“Māori Language Moment” kicked off language week with a nationwide virtual event which saw more than a million New Zealanders pause and celebrate the Māori language.

Read yesterday’s updates in full here.



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