Live updates, November 16: Masks mandatory on Auckland public transport, flights nationwide, from Thursday

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for November 16. Reach me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

4.10pm: Masks mandatory on Auckland public transport and domestic flights nationwide

From Thursday morning, masks will need to be worn on all public transport in Auckland, in and out of Auckland, and on domestic flights throughout New Zealand, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins has announced.

Children under 12, people travelling on school buses and charter services, tours and private transport will be exempt. Taxi and Uber drivers in Auckland will have to wear masks, but passengers will not. Exemptions will be made on some health grounds.

“Our intention is to take an educate and encourage approach in the early days,” said Hipkins. “Police can enforce the rules but it will be last resort. Bus drivers and other transport workers won’t be responsible for enforcing the new requirements.”

“We will be looking at whether mask use should be more widely applied in other settings, including on public transport around the rest of the country, and we will be getting further advice on how we can further enhance our contact tracing measures.”

The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, confirmed that mandating mask use on buses nationwide would be considered.

Ardern said at the time of a port worker testing positive for Covid-19 last month, the Ministry of Health suggested bringing in masks on public transport and flights. “Our view was that short-term use in that way wouldn’t necessarily carry that preventative approach, it would perhaps be unnecessarily confusing, and so we wanted to make a decision around longer-term use.”

Hipkins said penalties were the same as for all breaches of the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act – a $300 fine – but emphasised “we are not taking a punitive approach”.

Contact tracing and NZ meat in China Covid claims

Asked if the government was looking to “gamify” the scanning of the Covid tracer app QR codes or use penalties to encourage use, the prime minister said they were considering all the options. “We are thinking creatively… we haven’t ruled anything out at the stage. A number of options have been discussed before we consider all of the consequences of some of them.”

Added Hipkins: “The Covid Tracer app at the moment means everybody stays in control of their own data. We are looking at further development of the Covid Tracer app, which would include things like GPS and Bluetooth and potentially adding that functionality. He called the privacy issues they would need to work through first “challenging”.

Echoing her comments to media this morning in response to a report by Reuters claiming positive Covid-19 tests had been returned in China for beef products from Argentina that shared a cool store with New Zealand products, the prime minister said she had been given no indication any New Zealand products themselves had tested positive. “I want to get the bottom of this. We have not been advised anything officially by Chinese authorities,” she said.

Auckland-only mask mandate ‘disappointing’

Professor Nick Wilson from the University of Otago’s Department of Public Health has welcomed this afternoon’s announcement, but says, “It is disappointing, however, that the NZ government is just requiring mask use on public transport in Auckland. It should be nationwide given that many MIQ facilities are outside of Auckland (and there have been recent border control failures associated with a MIQ facility in Christchurch).”

4.00pm: PM to announce new face mask rules – watch live

The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, is set to announce new rules around mask wearing at a post-cabinet press conference. Watch here:

3.30pm: Obama offers advice to Donald Trump; regrets staying quiet over past four years

Former American president Barack Obama has expressed regret at staying quiet about Donald Trump over the past four years.

Obama is on the American media circuit in the build up to the release of his new memoir – A Promised Land.

Asked why he has chosen to stay largely silent about Trump since leaving the White House, Obama told 60 Minutes: “I think that’s a legitimate and understandable criticism.

“At the end of the day, I consistently tried to treat my political opposition in the ways I’d want to be treated, to not overreact when, for example, somebody yells, ‘you lie,’ in the middle of me giving a joint congressional address,” he said.

It is Trump’s job, as an outgoing president, to think beyond his ego, Obama said. “A president is a public servant. They are temporary occupants of the office, by design. And when your time is up then it is your job to put the country first and think beyond your own ego, and your own interests, and your own disappointments,” Obama said.

“My advice to president Trump is, if you want at this late stage in the game to be remembered as somebody who put country first it’s time for you to do the same thing.”

Obama said that, on his last day in the White House, he felt like he was leaving the presidency in the hands of “someone diametrically opposed to everything we stood for.”

“That may be the one thing that Donald Trump and I agree on; that he doesn’t agree with me on anything,” the former president said.

2.30pm: South Australia records 17 community cases in a day

South Australia is on high alert as it looks set to face a second wave of Covid-19 cases – the first to hit the state in months.

The cluster of 17 new community cases is believed to have spread from a worker at a quarantine hotel in Adelaide.

South Australia’s premier Steven Marshall has briefed Australian prime minister Scott Morrison on the outbreak and said the state will do whatever it takes to contain the outbreak.

“The way we’re going to get on top of this is by putting as many people as we need to into isolation as quickly as possible and making sure those tests are done so we can stop this in its tracks,” he said.

The outbreak has also led to Western Australia reimposing travel restrictions on people travelling from South Australia, with the Northern Territory also declaring the state a Covid-19 hotspot.

Victoria’s recent outbreak also stemmed from a quarantine hotel. The state has just had 16 days in a row with no new Covid-19 cases.

1.00pm: One new Covid-19 case, in managed isolation

There is just one new case of Covid-19 today, detected in a recent returnee in managed isolation. There are no new community cases – however, investigations are continuing into the Defence Force cluster, also known as the November quarantine cluster.

Today’s new case arrived from Singapore on November 11 and tested positive around day three of their time in managed isolation. They will be transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility.

One previously confirmed case from managed isolation has been reclassified as under investigation as it is a suspected historical case.

It means the total number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 remains at 1,645, with 58 active cases of in New Zealand.

Yesterday, laboratories completed 5,298 tests for Covid-19, bringing the total number of tests completed to date to 1,184,885.

Testing stations in the Auckland area continue to report steady volumes, and the Ministry of Health continues to encourage anyone with cold or flu symptoms to get a test and stay home until they receive a negative result.

November quarantine cluster

Investigations continue to identify the epidemiological link between Case A and Case D, who have the same genome sequence.

The Ministry of Health said Case D, the shop assistant from A-Z Collections, most likely contracted the virus from Case A, the New Zealand Defence Force worker at the Auckland quarantine facility. The investigation is now focused on identifying the exposure event that connected the two people, if possible.

Case E – the case reported yesterday – is a close contact of Case D, who lives in the same building. Whole genome sequencing from Case E has now been completed and indicates the same lineage as Case D, with one additional mutation. This means that Case E contracted the virus from Case D, the ministry said.

A spokesperson said: “We have currently identified 11 close contacts of Case E, and nine of those have returned a negative test result, with two pending.”

Case E has been at the Auckland quarantine facility since 12 November.

12.10pm: NZME plans to rename regional newspapers

NZME, owners of Newstalk ZB and the Herald, have outlined a three year business plan that includes renaming iconic regional newspapers.

As part of the company’s strategy to make the NZ Herald “New Zealand’s Herald”, the Northern Advocate would become the Northern Herald – and so on.

(Image : NZME)

It’s not known when the name changes may occur.

Other changes in the pipeline include the sale of GrabOne, an increased radio dominance and accelerating OneRoof’s growth trajectory.

11.15am: Mahuta’s new role continues to make waves abroad

Nanaia Mahuta’s move into the role of foreign affairs minister has taken her globally in the media, even if travel restrictions mean she’s unlikely to travel around the world herself anytime soon.

A write-up over the weekend in the New York Times focuses on Mahuta as a Māori trailblazer along with praising Ardern’s progressive and diverse “anti-Trump” government.

As noted by the below tweet, it was also the first time the word kaitiakitanga made an appearance in the New York Times.

10.55am: Trump staffer Chris Liddell hoping for NZ’s support to become OECD head

Chris Liddell, the New Zealander working directly under Donald Trump, is hoping for New Zealand’s support in becoming the next secretary-general of the OECD.

His appearance on Newstalk ZB marks the second interview the typically quiet New Zealander – Trump’s deputy chief of staff – has given in an as many days, appearing yesterday morning for a 50 minute discussion with Jack Tame on Q&A.

Asked why he has survived the entire four year term – a rarity aside from Trump’s own family – Liddell said: “I have been good at my job, but more particularly I’ve been trusted by everyone. It’s not easy in the political environment we have, but I have managed to keep the trust of the people. I stick to the team agenda.”

He said his role within the Trump administration hasn’t been without its costs, but he’d rather be a “player than a spectator”.

If he becomes the next OECD head, Liddell said the agenda would involve doing what the members want. “How do you rebuild in a post-Covid world? Secondly, one of the big issues is inequality and how do you build jobs for the future,” Liddell said. Climate change, he said, was also an issue that was common to all of the organisation’s member nations.

Liddell said he is a proud New Zealander and it would be really “important” to get the support of the government.

“I hope to get that. The New Zealand government, I’m sure, will look at my application; to date they’ve really taken a hands off approach but hopefully they’ll get engaged,” Liddell said.

“If you look at somewhere like Australia, their prime minister has been politicking on their behalf for three or four months… when an Australian really wants something it’s probably worth keeping an eye on.”

Read more: Complicity with Trump’s inhumanity should be disqualifying, even if you’re from Matamata

10.00am: UK PM Boris Johnson in Covid-19 self-isolation

Despite having already contracted Covid-19, UK prime minister Boris Johnson has been ordered to enter self-isolation after coming into contact with someone who tested positive.

According to local media reports, Johnson was notified of the need to enter self-isolation via the country’s Covid-19 tracer app – similar to what we use here in New Zealand.

Johnson is reportedly “well” and “does not have any symptoms of Covid-19.”

“He will carry on working from Downing Street, including on leading the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic,” a spokesman for Johnson told Reuters.

8.10am: Cabinet to decide new rules for mask usage in Auckland

Cabinet is meeting today to decide whether to make masks mandatory on domestic flights and all public transport in Auckland.

Currently, while strongly encouraged, mask wearing is only a requirement in alert level two and above.

Jacinda Ardern told Newstalk ZB that if cabinet agreed to the new rules, they would be in place for the “foreseeable future”.

“We’re thinking about places that it’s hard to trace people,” she said, meaning locations such as buses.

On RNZ, the prime minister rejected an assertion the government had been too slow to move toward mask usage.

“Level one has always been designed to acknowledge that the level of risk was lower… now we’re seeing situations where we are able to well manage when we do have cases arise, without moving up alert levels,” Ardern said. “It means we want to adjust the way we work at level one as well.”

7.45am: Trump admits defeat, retracts it an hour later

Donald Trump has seemingly admitted for the first time that he lost the election to Joe Biden – only to later clarify he was not conceding the election.

The current president went on a Twitter rampage overnight, sending a series of increasingly unhinged tweets about the election being rigged, and blaming the “fake news media” for Biden’s victory.

After initially saying Joe Biden won the election “because the election was rigged”, Trump later retracted that statement and said he conceded nothing.

Twitter has flagged almost all of Trump’s tweets as “disputed”.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

A proposal will be taken to cabinet today to increase the scope of mandatory mask-wearing, particularly on public transport. As Justin Giovannetti reported on Saturday, it likely indicates a shift in how the government thinks about the general Covid response, moving away from a more goodwill based system, to something that will require people to follow the rules. One thing that will need to be discussed will be consequences for deliberately not wearing a mask, presuming that is the decision that is made.

It follows advice from public health expert professor Michael Baker, who has long been calling for such a move – he outlined his thoughts again yesterday morning on Radio NZ. “We all want to do everything we can to avoid a lockdown. This is one of the big benefits of masks – we know that they are effective at reducing virus transmission and they’re not particularly disruptive of normal activities, people can still take public transport, they can go to work and school.”

And what about the app? An expert is also suggesting it’s time to make scanning mandatory in certain situations. Dr Andrew Chen spoke to Newstalk ZB (text from Radio NZ) that such a move would massively speed up contact tracing operations, particularly over paper based systems (which realistically would probably also have to be offered, given not everyone has a smartphone.) Scans were up again over the weekend, but as Newsroom’s Marc Daalder writes, the general trend has been of scans falling away, except for circumstantial blips like publicity around Labour weekend.

In other Covid news, there’s confusion over whether or not the owner of a store really did tell a worker to come in despite waiting for a test, which later came back positive. One News reports that worker has now issued a sworn affidavit saying the information released by the government was inaccurate, with the different information a result of not having access to a translator. A statement was also released by the owners of the shop, saying “before the employee was diagnosed on 12 November 2020, the employer was not told by the employee or by anyone else that she was feeling unwell. She did not call in sick or ask for sick leave.” On this subject, I’d highly recommend reading this from Michael Andrew, about why it can be so difficult for service industry workers to call in sick.




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