Live updates, April 16: Fifth day with no new community Covid-19 cases

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for April 16, bringing you the latest news throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

3.55pm: NZ navy staff in Canada test positive for Covid-19

Six New Zealand navy staff and six of their family members have tested positive for Covid-19 in Canada, Stuff reports.

As a precaution, 46 people are now in isolation: that consists of 21 navy personnel and 25 family members.

The Defence Force is describing the situation as “under control”. None of those who tested positive for the virus had been vaccinated.

2.40pm: Border workers able to be saliva tested from next week

Border workers will be able to save their nostrils and opt for a less invasive saliva Covid-19 test starting from next week.

According to RNZ, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins has quietly signed a new health that would allow for saliva testing from April 21.

It comes amid heightened scrutiny of our mandatory testing regime with revelations a Covid-positive MIQ security guard – Case B – may have lied to their employer over the frequency of their Covid-19 tests.

2.10pm: Community health ‘prioritised’ after lead found in drinking water – review

The health sector’s response to recent lead contamination in Waikouaiti’s drinking water prioritised the community’s health, according to a new review.

The independent review was ordered following concerns around the elevated lead levels in the town’s drinking supply, which exposed almost 40 people to potentially dangerous levels of the chemical.

“I am satisfied the timing of the advice to the community to stop drinking the water was appropriate. The public meetings to keep the community informed were well received and their rapid standing up of testing centres particularly helped determine the overall residents’ exposure to lead,” director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said in a statement.

On The Spinoff today

Here’s some of what you can entertain and engage yourself with on The Spinoff this Friday:

  • Books editor Catherine Woulfe shares a personal story about structured literacy, the step-by-step reading system that’s gaining traction across the country.
  • Myth-busting the west’s coverage of Tanna’s Prince Philip movement: By proudly appropriating and indigenising a piece of British culture the Tannese are asserting their own mana, writes Scott Hamilton.
  • Prime’s new doco Apartment Disasters exposes the dire state of housing in Aotearoa, says Jacqueline Paul.
  • Plus: We’re hiring! The Spinoff’s on the lookout for a new full-time employee who can record, edit and mix content for our podcast network. Interested? Read more here.

Bookworm Ben (Photo: supplied/Artwork: Tina Tiller)

1.00pm: No change in number of community Covid-19 cases

There are no new Covid-19 cases in the community – meaning we’ve now gone a full five days without any growth in the most recent group of cases. The last new community case was announced on Sunday: a security guard at the Grand Millennium hotel linked to two previous cases.

There is one new positive case of Covid-19 in managed isolation today. The new case is a contact of a previously reported case who is in quarantine. The seven-day rolling average of new cases detected at the border is four.

The total number of active cases in New Zealand today is 100 with the total number of confirmed cases sitting at 2,234.

Two previously reported cases have now been reclassified: both are now deemed historical and were reported in their respective countries of origin, so are not included in New Zealand’s figures.

The total number of tests processed by laboratories to date is 1,963,982. On Thursday, 4,694 tests were processed. The seven-day rolling average up to yesterday is 4,478 tests processed.

The pop-up testing centre at the Mount Roskill War Memorial on May Road remains open.

12.10pm: Bridges denies leadership aspirations after week of rumours

Former National Party leader Simon Bridges has once again denied suggestions he is vying for his old job back.

Rumours have been circulating that Bridges and new MP Christopher Luxon have their sights set on ousting Judith Collins and Shane Reti.

Speaking to Newshub today, Bridges called opposition leader “the worst job in New Zealand” and shut down rumours he’d teamed up with Luxon.

“I don’t want to be the leader of the National Party – I don’t know how many times I can say it,” Bridges said.

“There’s been a little bit of rumour and speculation, that’s all it is. It’s wrong. Right now, National’s got a hard job to do. Leader of the Opposition is the worst job in New Zealand, but it’s an important job.”

10.40am: Amazon to get even more money under new deal with government

The government is defending its decision to give even more taxpayer money to Amazon – one of the world’s biggest and richest companies – thanks to a newly agreed deal with the multinational.

Under the deal, which is technically a memorandum of understanding, Amazon will receive an extra 5% from the Screen Production Grant for its Lord of the Rings series, in addition to the 20% it already qualifies for. As part of the deal, the company has agreed to send a team of senior staff to New Zealand to look for “opportunities”. It’s not yet clear whether founder Jeff Bezos will be part of that team.

Economic development minister Stuart Nash has defended paying the company even more from the government’s purse, telling Stuff the Lord of the Rings production will make it all worthwhile. “This will be the largest television series ever made,” Nash said. “These grants are part and parcel of the international film industry, and without this you don’t get a look in the door.”

While it is unknown whether Amazon will open a local distribution centre for its online shop, the deal could see the company establishing offshoots of its other businesses here. As a minimum, Stuff reports, it is required to partner with local research houses.

“[Amazon] would work closely with MBIE and with our industries to look at where innovation can occur depending on where it is needed in a particular series,” Nash said.

10.10am: Vaccine promo campaign to ramp up from next week

The publicity campaign for the Covid-19 vaccine is ramping up next week and will include letterbox drops, television ads, and social media promotion.

However, according to RNZ, seven months of surveys by Horizon Research and University of Auckland’s school of public health show that 9.4% percent of New Zealanders have no plans to get the jab.

Ashley Bloomfield said the Ministry of Health’s campaign will be about encouraging as many people as possible to get vaccinated.

“It will include booklets out in people’s letterboxes, it will include TV ads, radio ads, all the social media channels. It will include videos of champions … people New Zealanders will know to point them towards where they can find good information,” Bloomfield said.

Despite data suggesting a lot of people may need convincing around the jab, Bloomfield said he was confident that number would decline over time. “We are fortunate here in New Zealand because at the moment we’re safe and protected because of our border arrangements. But of course, as we want to open up the border that will change and I think people’s perception of the importance of vaccination may also change, too,” he said.

9.40am: Animal welfare concerns prompt greyhound racing review

A review into greyhound racing has been announced by the government over concerns around the industry’s attempts to improve animal welfare.

Racing minister Grant Robertson said while Greyhound Racing NZ has reported “some progress” in implementing recommendations from the Hansen Report, there is still some way to go.

“I have informed Greyhound Racing NZ that I am not satisfied the recommendations are being implemented in a way that is improving animal welfare, and with their failure to provide sufficient information on changes they are making,” Robertson said.

“It is the responsibility of the industry to hold itself accountable and ensure the best possible standards of welfare for greyhounds. Should the review show that progress has not been sufficient, a further fundamental look at the greyhound racing industry may be required.”

When the Facts Change on the big fight for housing and climate action at council level

You may think the big decisions around housing affordability and climate change are being made in the Beehive – but in this week’s episode of When the Facts Change, Bernard Hickey suggests these issues are actually manifesting in a series of house-to-house and street-by-street fights at council level.

To find out more, he talks to Tamatha Paul from the Wellington City Council and Auckland city councillor Efeso Collins about how young renters and activists wanting higher density housing and more pedestrian and cycling friendly transport routes will have to fight the battle of their lives in next year’s local elections.

Subscribe and listen on Apple PodcastsSpotify or your favourite podcast provider.

8.00am: Fine for using a cell phone while driving almost doubles

You’ll seen be fined $150 if you’re caught using a cell phone while behind the wheel, transport minister Michael Wood has announced.

That’s a $70 increase from the current $80 penalty and brings the infringement in line with other driving offences. You are already pinged $150 for incidents such as unsafe passing, failing to give way and failing to stop at a stop sign.

“Police issued over 40,000 infringement notices for this offence last year. Driver distraction is a serious road safety issue, and inattention – including from mobile phones – can have tragic consequences,” said Wood. “Between 2015 and 2019, there were 22 road deaths in New Zealand and 73 serious injuries where drivers were distracted by a mobile phone.”

Wood said the actual number is likely to be higher as it can be difficult for police to detect phone use when they attend crashes.

“Increasing the infringement fee to $150 means it will now match similar offences. This is our way of saying Kiwis need to take this seriously and put away the phone while driving,” Wood added.

Donna Govorko from Students Against Dangerous Driving (SADD) told TVNZ the increased penalty is a step in the right direction. “We use [phones] for everything now… and it’s like an addiction almost,” she said. “It’s become a really big problem in our culture and it doesn’t stop when you get behind the wheel and drive.”

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

A range of proposals have been outlined by the government to effectively end smoking. Newshub reports it includes phasing the age of purchase up to a certain level over time, so that a generation of non-smokers is created. The type of cigarettes that could be sold too would include a reduction in nicotine, and the number of shops who could sell them dramatically reduced. While the Smokefree 2025 goal now seems basically out of reach, the government clearly wants to push ahead on it in more general terms.

There is a clear public health case to be made for the proposals, and reaction from those groups has been positive. Māori public health organisation Hāpai Te Hauora put a release on NZ Doctor, with advocate Shane Bradbrook saying “this plan provides some control over how this deadly product is finally pushed out of our people’s lives.” Tobacco is of course highly addictive, kills people in droves, and tobacco companies have profited enormously off that misery. In particular, their sales have become more heavily targeted at lower-income people, who end up additionally squeezed by high taxes – further hikes aren’t part of this proposal. The damage of tobacco features prominently in high death rates from lung cancer, for example. In short, tobacco companies are evil, and we should take everything they and their pet lobbyists say with a huge dose of scepticism and contempt.

And yet, there could be some unintended consequences of this that might cause harm as well. Dairy owners and their representatives are particularly concerned about loss of income, reports Stuff’s Debrin Foxcroft. If those shops were to close as a result, that would hardly be a good outcome, especially considering that much more concentrated businesses like supermarkets would be insulated. As One News’ Anna Whyte reports, there are also clear fears that these measures would fuel the black market. And as Radio NZ’s Meriana Johnsen reports, reducing nicotine levels could again just hit lower-income people harder.

What about vaping? There was a really interesting North and South cover story recently about this, which you’ll have to get a paper copy to read. But basically contributor Don Rowe found that while vaping is widely considered to be a less harmful alternative to smoking, a generation of teenagers have taken it up without ever smoking tobacco first. In the process, their brains and bodies are being hit with much more nicotine than even the heartiest smokers would have got. Given how little we know about the long-term effects of vaping (the products have only been in regular use for about a decade) that may be another public health crisis waiting to happen.

And not to put too many of my own biases on the table, but there’s a philosophical principle about adults being able to make decisions for themselves, within reason. That was the first question asked in a Newstalk ZB interview with associate health minister Dr Ayesha Verrall, didn’t address the point head on, but who said the policy was about “starting a discussion about how to stop young people starting smoking”. That probably won’t allay any fears about government overreach into people’s personal lives. Verrall also suggested that simply raising the age of purchase is something being looked at. Incidentally, this interview pivots into a remarkable exchange about the testing register of border workers in the back half.




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