Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for August 17, bringing you all the latest as New Zealand moves back into lockdown. By Catherine McGregor and Stewart Sowman-Lund. Get in touch here.
We are doing our utmost to keep you updated on all Covid-19 related coverage. Every dollar our members contribute directly funds our editorial team and is devoted to ensuring we do more. Click here to learn how you can support the team today.
What you need to know
- The entire country will enter a snap 72-hour level four lockdown at 11.59pm tonight.
- Auckland and the Coromandel are “likely” to spend a further four days in level four.
- It follows a positive Covid-19 case being detected in the Auckland community.
- There is no known link between the individual and the border or managed isolation.
- An update is due tomorrow on whether the new case is the delta strain.
- Locations of interest updated.
9.00pm: Two close contacts; new locations of interest listed
Two people who work with the man who tested positive for Covid-19 are being treated as close contacts and are self-isolating, the Ministry of Health has advised in a new statement, “but this number is likely to grow as more information is gathered.”
So far there are more than 20 “exposure events” that have been identified, circumstances where the case could have had contact with others. “Some of these exposure events are expected to involve only a small number of people, who will be contacted directly,” reads the release. As for the locations of interest, here’s what we know now.
Additional testing sites on the North Shore and the Coromandel will pop up tomorrow. For Auckland testing centres, see here. For the rest of the country, go to the Healthpoint website. Daily wastewater sampling will now be undertaken, "and we are looking at the possibility of sampling in the Coromandel", said the ministry.
8.30pm: Business support confirmed
The snap lockdowns have prompted a package of government support measures, the finance minister Grant Robertson has announced.
- The Wage Subsidy Scheme, which will be available at least in Auckland and Coromandel given the automatic trigger of seven days in lockdown.
- The Resurgence Support Payment, intended to help support businesses or organisations with one-off costs due to a shift to alert level two or higher.
Wage subsidy rates will increase in line with wage inflation, as will the Leave Support Scheme and Short-Term Absence Payment.
“The government remains well-placed to respond to Covid-19. We have over $1 billion left over from the money set aside for WSS and RSP and if needed, the Covid-19 Relief and Recovery Fund has around $5 billion in it. Our net debt position is much lower than forecast and well below other countries,” said Robertson.
7.45pm: The view from the Beehive Theatrette
With political editor Justin Giovannetti travelling back to Wellington, the Spinoff's other Justin, Justin Latif, was at the Beehive for the press conference this evening. Here's his dispatch:
Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield were still rubbing their hands with sanitiser as they walked to the theatrette stage. There was tension on their faces, and through the room, but Ardern has done this before, and again her communications skills were to the fore.
Tova O’Brien produced probably most interesting question, asking whether a naval ship from Canada that may have disembarked in Devonport could be the cause of this outbreak. Ardern and Bloomfield were ready for this one, though, assuring the room all those onboard were fully vaccinated and had tested negative.
Grant Robertson followed the duo to the stage, with an update on what businesses could expect in the way of support during this upcoming lockdown. He was also left to answer the most awkward questions of the night around why Transpower was warning of potential powercuts just as people would be retreating to their homes for an extended period. He admitted a few choice swear words were uttered when he heard the news and reiterated that people should still put their warmth first, over saving power.
7.30pm: National backs 'decisive' lockdown move, but Act says 'questions to answer'
The National Party has backed the government's decision to push the country into alert level four lockdown, but Act has expressed disappointment over the move.
From 11.59pm tonight, the entire country will shift into a snap 72-hour lockdown after a Covid-19 case was discovered in Auckland's community.
In a statement, National's leader Judith Collins said "decisive action" was needed and strict measures were the right move. “It is better to act now to stamp out the spread of Covid-19 than to take half measures which do not work and result in it taking longer to shut down the spread," she said. “It is crucial that the government resumes vaccinations as soon as possible. This case only highlights how important it is that we get as many Kiwis vaccinated as we can."
Collins also asked New Zealanders to continue using the Covid Tracer app, following several weeks of low uptake. “We must act swiftly to get the situation under control and I ask New Zealanders to follow public health advice. Stay calm, don’t panic, and please use the Covid-19 Tracer app.”
Act's David Seymour questioned the level four shift, saying it showed the government only had "one tool" in its toolbox. “The government needs to be transparent about the performance of its contact tracing system. In past outbreaks it has been notoriously opaque. We must do better this time."
Seymour said our low vaccination rate – with less than a million people fully jabbed – had left us sitting ducks. “Act sends our sympathies to those whose lives have been thrown into turmoil by this lockdown," Seymour said. "We cannot underestimate the toll this takes on those receiving healthcare, business owners, school children and families."
During last year's level four lockdown, the opposition-controlled epidemic response committee allowed questions to be asked directly to senior government ministers and health officials. Seymour said it needed to be brought back: "Act will be here to make constructive criticisms where necessary and helpful suggestions where possible, while asking the questions New Zealanders need answered."
The next official health update is expected at 1pm tomorrow.
Michael Plank: Why a swift move to alert level four was 100% the right call
With no clear link to the border, and a risk the virus has been spreading undetected, there could easily be more than 100 people infected by now, writes Michael Plank, a University of Canterbury professor and a key member of the modelling that has informed government decisions.
Here's an extract:
Moving the whole of New Zealand to alert level four is definitely the right move and will give us the best chance of nipping this outbreak in the bud before it can get too large.
Data from the outbreaks last year and the fact that the delta variant is about twice as infectious suggest that alert level three may not be enough to control the outbreak if community transmission has become established, whereas level four likely would be.
One thing we’ve learned from watching Sydney is that half measures can quickly lead to disaster. It’s better to go hard at the start and then relax than the other way round. With delta there are no second chances.
7.05pm: 'Devastating but no alternative': Business groups back lockdown decision
Michael Barnett of the Auckland Business Chamber has backed the decision to go swiftly to level four. “Going hard and early will be acceptable to business rather than risking a situation like Sydney and Melbourne,” he said in a statement.
“But to minimise the pain and let us get out of a prolonged lockdown and back to freedom, every one of us must strictly follow all the public health safeguards, scan in for fast tracing, get tested if unwell, wear a mask, maintain your distance, and for the safety of us all, get vaccinated to contain the spread. This community case has to jolt all of us out of slack habits."
Hospitality NZ's CEO Julie White said there was "no alternative but to go into level four, however much that’s going to hurt". It was nevertheless "devastating news for the hospitality sector", she said. “This will be another big blow for struggling businesses [but] we know it’s necessary."
6.15pm: New Zealand to enter snap level four lockdown at midnight
New Zealand will move to alert level four from 11.59pm for an initial period of three days, Jacinda Ardern has announced.
Auckland and the Coromandel will "likely" remain in total lockdown for a further four days – until next Tuesday – due to a higher risk of spread.
The move to alert level four means health officials believe that the spread of Covid-19 has not been contained.
Speaking at parliament tonight, Ardern confirmed the new community case of Covid-19 is a 58-year-old man from the Auckland suburb of Devonport. He had travelled to the Coromandel during his infectious period.
It's not yet been confirmed whether the new case is the delta variant of the virus, however Ardern noted that all recent cases in managed isolation have been the more transmissible strain. Genome sequencing of the case is expected back tomorrow.
"We have planned for this eventuality," said Ardern. "Going hard and early has worked for us before."
The assumption that the case is delta has "shaped all the decisions we have made this afternoon".
Bloomfield said the new case became symptomatic on August 14 and it's assumed they were contagious as early as August 12. "There is no obvious link between this case and the border," he added.
The person lives with their wife who has so far returned a negative Covid-19 result. Both have been self isolating at home.
He and his wife, who is vaccinated, travelled to Coromandel township during the infectious period. The man himself had not been vaccinated but, Bloomfield said, had been making "every effort" to get themselves a jab.
So far, a handful of locations of interest have been confirmed including a number around the Coromandel where the couple spent time over the weekend.
Further interviews are "under way", said Bloomfield, to understand more about the man's movements over the past few days. However, Bloomfield noted the individual had been a frequent user of the Covid Tracer app.
There will be more locations to come between Coromandel and Auckland. Hours for testing centres have been extended till 8pm tonight and additional sites will be opening tomorrow.
The time since infectious means there is risk of travel around the country, said Bloomfield. "Whilst it's a case identified in Auckland, it requires us all to be part of the response." Because the case travelled beyond Auckland, it is now a national issue, said Bloomfield.
Those temporarily away from their residence will have a 48 hour window to return home, but are encouraged to move as soon as possible.
Reiterating the rules for alert level four, Ardern said it means essential contact only. Reasons to leave home include physical exercise in your neighbourhood, necessary medical care, visiting the supermarket, dairy, or pharmacy, and getting a test. It's been more than a year since the country was last in total lockdown.
Vaccinations will be suspended for 48 hours while it’s ensured that they can be taken in a safe environment. "Our plan over the coming days is to assess whether there are undetected chains of transmission elsewhere, to track down the source case, and to assure ourselves that there aren't other cases in the community elsewhere," she said.
The bubble is back, said Ardern, reminding everyone that these must stay intact once they are formed. "We are a strong team of five million," the prime minister said.
Ardern implored New Zealanders to be as vigilant as they were during level four lockdown last year. Maintain social distance, wear masks in public, and act like you have Covid.
"We're in the position to learn from experience overseas," said Ardern. "We've seen the dire consequences of taking too long to act in other countries, not least our neighbours. Just as successfully stayed home and saved lives last year, I'm asking the team of five million to unite once more to defeat what is likely to be this more dangerous and transmissible variant of the virus."
She added: “Do what you’ve done before. We want to be short and sharp rather than light and long,” said Ardern, in urging New Zealanders to continue to comply with lockdown measures.
Acknowledging the risk of the delta variant, Ardern said: "We know from overseas cases of the delta variant that it can be spread by people simply walking past one another. So keep movements outside to the bare minimum, wear a mask, and make sure you keep up that physical distancing."
Wastewater testing last Wednesday showed no traces of the virus, suggesting there isn’t widespread infection around Tāmaki Makaurau, said Bloomfield.
During this lockdown, Ardern confirmed that all schools will be closed – including for children of essential workers. "Educational facilities under level four are closed... I absolutely asked what we are asking of [parents]."
Masks should be worn "as a courtesy" when people leave the house. An update on any mandatory requirement will be provided tomorrow, the PM said. If you are exercising, "use your common sense" and try not to pass people on the street.
The lockdown order will exempt those in the NZ Defence Force being deployed as part of the Afghanistan response.
Both Ardern and Bloomfield will front the next official update at 1pm tomorrow.
5.45pm: Watch live – Ardern and Bloomfield reveal next steps after Auckland community case
Update: Press conference now scheduled for 6.10pm
Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield are about to speak from parliament amid speculation of a snap lockdown, roughly five hours after health officials were first made aware of the new community case of Covid-19 in Auckland.
Our reporter in the press gallery has confirmed the press conference has been pushed back until 6.10pm.
It's been 169 days since the last community case in New Zealand.
At this stage, we still don't know whether the case has been linked to the border or whether it is the more transmissible delta strain. According to reports, the community case is a man from the Auckland suburb of Devonport.
We'll have live coverage from 6pm and you can watch the presser below.
Meanwhile, there are reports of queues forming at Covid-19 testing stations in Auckland. RNZ's Nick Truebridge said there were as many of 60 cars waiting at the Balmoral site in Auckland. "I have not seen it like this in months," he said.
5.40pm: A simple, last minute reminder
5.35pm: Possible power blackouts after 'grid emergency'
Transpower has issued a grid emergency notice for the North Island, warning of "insufficient generation and transmission capacity". It's the same problem that sparked rolling blackouts across parts of the country last week, on one of the coldest days of the year.
According to RNZ, the emergency notice is in place from 5pm until 7.30pm tonight.
At this stage, power cuts have not been confirmed but with people glued to their televisions indoors, it's likely power use will be up across the nation.
4.55pm: Shop normal, supermarket groups urge
Amid reports of large crowds and empty shelves at Auckland supermarkets, Foodstuffs is urging calm.
"We know the news of a potential lockdown is unsettling but rest assured our stores have plenty of groceries on the shelves. And fortunately, our North Island distribution centre has plenty of extra capacity and the team have been holding extra volumes of key essential items should it be required in a case like this. So, we are again asking customers to #shopnormal and be kind to our teams and each other," said Antoinette Laird from Foodstuffs NZ in a statement.
"Our teams are preparing to move alert levels and we ask customers to be patient as we prepare to roll out the various safety precautions required to keep everyone safe. In the meantime we encourage everyone to scan the Covid tracer app and wear masks to protect themselves and our teams."
It's a similar message from Countdown. "We’re in the process of preparing our stores for a change in alert level protocols, and ask customers to keep calm and kind while we do this," said Kiri Hannifin. "We know this is unnerving news for everyone, but we are well-practiced at shopping safely during alert level changes and we can do it again. We’d ask customers to wear a mask when you’re shopping in our stores as an extra precaution, and use the contact tracing app as you come in. At the moment all of our stores are open and we will have physical distancing measures in place, as well as extra cleaning and hygiene practices on top of what we do normally."
In Auckland, The Spinoff has received reports of cars queued out onto the main road at Three Kings Countdown. Ponsonby Countdown's carpark was reportedly also clogged.
Police to increase presence at Auckland supermarkets
In a statement, police said it was aware of lengthy queues forming at supermarkets throughout Auckland. "We will be increasing our visibility at these locations to provide both workers and the public with reassurance. Police reiterate advice from our partner agencies to remain calm and that there is no need for panic buying."
Evening traffic congestion is also building across the region, said police.
4.35pm: Mask up, Aucklanders, says Siouxsie Wiles
As we wait for news from the Beehive on measures in response to the Covid case detected in the Auckland community, microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles is urging people in the city to err on the side of masking.
Whether on public transport or anywhere indoors, "mask up and scan", is her message.
And if, like most people, you haven't been diligently scanning of late, "take a moment to note down where you've been over the last week or so", she suggests. "We don't know how long the person has been in the community, and people are infectious before they know it," she says. "So limit your interactions."
The Australian lessons are clear, she says. "We just have to bear in mind how fleeting some of the contacts have been that have led to transmission."
4.10pm: What will cabinet consider?
There are a range of options in play, including a snap level three or four lockdown. Among the factors that will inform any decision by cabinet, and advice from the director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, are the following:
- Is there any epidemiological link established to arrivals or the border? (As it stands, none has been found.)
- Was the person who tested positive vaccinated?
- Was the person who tested positive symptomatic, and if so how long have they been symptomatic. (If the answers are yes and for a number of days, there is a grave risk of undetected chains of transmission.)
- How active has the individual been in the community?
- Is there wastewater testing that is helpful?
- Can a close link be established to a border case by genome sequencing?
- Is it the delta variant?
Those last two are likely to remain unknown until lab processing is complete; it will be a working assumption, however, that we're dealing with delta, and from that point of view, a powerfully instructive consideration will be: what we've witnessed in Australia in recent weeks.
It's been confirmed, according reporters in the parliamentary press gallery, that Jacinda Ardern will speak at 6pm. She'll be joined by the director general of health Ashley Bloomfield.
Earlier, our political editor Justin Giovannetti reported that cabinet would be meeting twice before any public announcement on next steps was made.
In the meantime, health officials are offering the following general advice:
- Stay home if you are sick, call your doctor or Healthline on 0800 358 5453 for advice about getting tested.
- Keep on scanning QR codes
- Wear a face covering on public transport and when you can’t keep 2 metre distance from others.
- Practice good hygiene – wash hands often.
Put simply, we don't know this yet. No mention of the particular strain was revealed in this afternoon's Ministry of Health alert and as officials only found out about the new case at 1pm it's probably too early to know.
What we do know is the possible recourse if the case is confirmed to be delta. Less than a week ago, on August 11, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said New Zealanders should be prepared for a sudden shift to alert level four if the delta variant makes its way into the community.
“My message to all New Zealanders is that this is not over… further lockdowns are possible,” Hipkins said at the time. “Everybody should have a plan for what they would do in this circumstance.” Hipkins said the preference was for a “swift and severe” response.
The Ministry of Health teased this in today's update, saying: "A hard and early response is the best tool to stamp out any potential spread..."
According to Stuff, 100% of Covid-19 cases detected at the border in last three weeks have been the delta variant.
3.20pm: Our latest vaccination data
As of midnight, more than 2.55 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in New Zealand. Breaking that down further, 1.61 million are first doses with 934,000 people fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.
More than 140,000 Māori have received their first vaccination. Of these, more than 86,000 have also had their second vaccinations.
More than 95,000 doses have been administered to Pacific peoples. Of these, around 59,000 have also received their second doses.
Political editor Justin Giovannetti has the details:
Cabinet will be meeting twice this evening to discuss a response to the appearance of a community case in Auckland. The government was made aware of the case at about 1pm.
Cabinet is currently meeting virtually (at 2:50pm) and the prime minister is on her way back to Wellington. They are discussing the limited amount of information that is currently known.
An all of government meeting, involving police and other agencies, will meet at 3pm.
There will then be a briefing between officials and senior government minister around 430pm, which will be followed by a second cabinet meeting.
A standup is expected late in the afternoon, around 6pm.
All these times are very much subject to change.
The Ministry of Health has just shared the following media release:
A positive case of Covid-19 has been identified in the community early this afternoon and is now under investigation.
We will provide further updates once additional information comes to hand.
The case is located in Auckland and a link between the case and the border or managed isolation is yet to be established.
The Auckland Regional Public Health unit is undertaking interviews with the case for contact tracing purposes. While we collect more specific information all New Zealanders are reminded of the basic public health measures of mask wearing and hand washing. In particular anyone in Auckland catching public transport this afternoon or who cannot socially distance in public spaces should wear a mask as a precaution.
Ministers will meet this afternoon once additional information is gathered to confirm a response. An update will be provided after that.
A hard and early response is the best tool to stamp out any potential spread and everyone in New Zealand is asked to stay calm, be kind and play their part while we gather more information on the potential case.
NZ Covid Tracer numbers
The Ministry of Health reports that there were 524,585 scans using the NZ Covid Tracer app in the past 24 hours to midday yesterday. Despite a slight uptick as the delta variant has taken hold around the world, including in Australia, those numbers are a small fraction of what they were in 2020.
The highest number of scans took place on September 6, when more than 2.5 million scans were recorded in 24 hours.
As The Spinoff's Toby Manhire wrote in June, NZ’s next Covid scare is just around the corner, and we’re acting like we don’t care.
2.20pm: NSW records 452 new cases, one death
The delta variant of Covid-19 continues to ravage greater Sydney, with health officials reporting 452 new cases across the state in the last 24 hours, most of them based in Sydney's western and south-western districts. Seventy-five per cent of the new cases are aged under 40.
Yesterday the state recorded a record daily high of 478 cases, and today NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian said such high numbers meant cases would likely increase over the coming days and the state's strict lockdown would continue for the foreseeable future.
“Can I make it very clear that we are assuming that case numbers will go up,” she said.
“Now, I say that only as a realist because when you have cumulative days of high case numbers, there is a tipping point where case numbers go up. Our challenge is to make sure that we keep vaccination rates up.”
The premier said the state government is assessing which “low-risk activities” could be allowed for fully vaccinated people in September and October after the state has reached 6 million shots.
Elsewhere in Australia, Victoria recorded 24 new cases; and ACT recorded 17 new cases.
2.00pm: A tiny bit of good news
— Marcus Weisgerber (@MarcusReports) August 16, 2021
A US military jet has taken a near-record number of Afghan people to safety following the collapse of Kabul, reports the national security news outlet Defense One.
The US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III evacuated 640 refugees from Kabul late on Sunday. That number is four times its normal capacity and is believed to be among the most people ever flown in such a plane.
"The C-17, using the call sign Reach 871, was not intending to take on such a large load, but panicked Afghans who had been cleared to evacuate pulled themselves onto the C-17’s half-open ramp, one defense official said.
"Instead of trying to force those refugees off the aircraft 'the crew made the decision to go,' a defence official told Defense One."
12.55pm: PM 'can't give guarantees' on timing of evacuations from Kabul
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern has been speaking to media in Auckland about efforts to evacuate New Zealanders and their Afghan support workers from Kabul. With defence minister Peeni Henare confirming this morning that our Hercules aircraft will not land in the capital, and his Australian counterpart Peter Dutton stating that Australia will not land there either for the time being, it is unclear how and when the New Zealanders will be able to leave.
"We are doing everything that we can but... across the different defence forces there will be different options to bring people out, and we may carry the foreign nationals of other countries and they may carry ours. The most important thing is that we get in as soon as we can and get people out," said Ardern.
"At the moment though we can't give guarantees around the timing as it will literally come down to what is possible and when."
Pushing back on suggestions that New Zealand is relying on Australia to evacuate its citizens, Ardern said she didn't think it was "fair to say that any one country is relying on one other. It will be a joint effort across the international community."
She said it was "really important" to keep in mind that the international community, as well as many inside Afghanistan itself, overwhelming believed that the Taliban would not advance across the country so quickly.
"Look around the world, every country is in exactly the same position as New Zealand right now, everyone is surprised by how quickly this has happened."
There are currently 53 known New Zealand citizens in Afghanistan, and around 200 Afghans identified as NZ supporters (including family members) who will be evacuated from the country when possible. The latter number is expected to rise.
Update on vaccinations for children 12+
Ardern said that discussions on vaccinations for children aged 12 and over were ongoing. At present only those aged 16+ will be eligible for vaccines when open bookings start on September 1. Noting that it's important that vaccination is made as convenient as possible, Ardern said the easiest way for those aged 12 and over to be vaccinated may be for them to receive the jab at the same time as their parents.
Doing so "gets over things like consent issues", she said, and so the government wanted to ensure vaccination centres had the flexibility to vaccinate families together. If children had to be vaccinated at a later date than their parents, many would have "exams, other activities at the end of year that do make it difficult to use those sites. And it does produce extra work by ensuring that you have individual consent for those children if they're not with their parents.
"Vaccinating families together gets over a number of hurdles."
12.20pm: Taika Waititi's new TV show gets NZ air date
The highly acclaimed US comedy Reservation Dogs will air on Disney+ streaming service Star from September 15, the channel has announced. The show about a group of hapless Native American teen criminals was co-created by New Zealand's Taika Waititi and Native American filmmaker Sterlin Harjo, and was made with an entirely Indigenous cast and crew. It's been called “a triumph” by Variety, “perfect” by Paste Magazine and “kooky, hilarious and just what you’d expect,” by Indiewire.
Congratulations to The Spinoff's Chris Schulz, whose day just got a whole lot better.
11.15am: Covid transmission confirmed inside Jet Park MIQ
Cross-bubble transmission of the delta variant of Covid-19 has occurred inside Auckland’s Jet Park quarantine facility, the Ministry of Health has confirmed. The transmission arose from room doors opposite each other being opened for just 3-5 seconds at the same time.
Three people who were part of a bubble of five caught it from a solo traveler across the hall, the ministry said. While one person in the bubble of five was already infected, necessitating the group's quarantine stay, genomic sequencing showed the three caught it from the solo traveler, and not from the person in their bubble.
The in-facility transmission happened around a month ago, and meal delivery and health check procedures have been changed to prevent doors in the same hallway opening at the same time, the ministry said.
10.50am: Simon Bridges on his Māori identity
The former National leader, whose memoir National Identity is out this week, has spoken to Danyl McLauchlan about the book in an interview for The Spinoff that focuses on his working class Māori background and his self-described introversion – all traits that made him a somewhat unusual right-wing politician.
He said he's still aggravated by the way his historic role as the first Māori leader of a major party was all but ignored, agreeing with McLauchlan that it was because he didn't fit the mould of what a Māori politician should look and sound like.
"Yeah. And that grates with me. Because people do want to typecast Māori. And many people doing the typecasting are Māori. We don’t say of Scottish people that if you’re not wearing a kilt and eating haggis every day they’re not the real deal. There are hundreds of thousands who have a similar story to me. And history is what it is: a grandmother, off a marae for reasons of racism or urbanisation – or other reasons that cleverer people can explain better than me – who isn’t too proud of being Māori. And so it’s suppressed. My father was useless and amnesiac about all this stuff. And that’s part of who I am. Now I’m proud of my whakapapa. But I don’t like the typecasting."
10.10am: Nurses get go-ahead for negotiations on overdue pay equity claims
Negotiations between nurses and DHBs over a long-delayed pay equity claim have been given the green light by health minister Andrew Little, who says he has written to the nurses' union, DHBs and the Ministry of Health urging them to make a start on a deal worth, he says, "hundreds of millions of dollars".
The announcement comes ahead of planned strike action by nurses on August 19 and September 9-10. Little said he did not know if today's pay equity announcement would change those plans, since the pay equity claim and the collective agreement rates, staffing and working conditions – the focus of the strikes – are separate negotiations.
9.40am: More Groundswell protests planned
Farmers are planning more protests against government regulations, Groundswell New Zealand co-organiser Laurie Paterson told Newstalk ZB this morning.
Thousands of farmers (and their tractors and utes) came to town last month for the Groundswell-organised Howl of a Protest, a nationwide demonstration against new rules around freshwater use, climate change mitigation and the so-called "ute tax".
Farmers will be out honking horns for two minutes around lunchtime for the next three Fridays, she said, and another major protest is planned for November.
8.40am: No NZ Hercules to Afghanistan, says Henare
A NZDF Hercules will not be deployed to Kabul, defence minister Peeni Henare told RNZ this morning. “What we’ve been told is that there is a lot of airlift support in Kabul itself,” he said. “What we do know is that there will need to be a network of air uplift support in and around Afghanistan to get evacuees out.”
Since the Hercules will not be landing in Kabul, New Zealanders and the Afghans who are being given safe haven in New Zealand will need to be airlifted out by another country's aircraft.
However Henare could not give a guarantee “at this stage” that there are places for everyone – New Zealanders and those who have worked closely with New Zealanders – who will need to be evacuated.
“The list that we have at this stage has already been shared with our partners – Australia, America and the UK – but it is of course a difficult time, given the chaos we’re witnessing.”
New Zealand’s role in addressing the crisis unfolding in Afghanistan will be as part of a multinational effort based in a country outside of Afghanistan, Henare said. It is likely that the NZDF Hercules is heading for the UAE, but Henare said its ultimate destination should be confirmed later today.
The NZ Hercules is expected to leave for the Middle East on Wednesday morning, “at the earliest”.
8.00am: The Bulletin – Scenes of desperation as Afghanistan collapses
Today's top story:
The west’s 20-year war in Afghanistan is over. After tens of thousands of casualties, a bill that is well over $1 trillion and two decades of effort, Afghanistan’s government evaporated Monday morning and the Taliban flag is flying over Kabul again. All that remains of the forever war is the capital’s international airport, now protected by hastily deployed American and British troops attempting to keep the runway open.
New Zealand has joined an international effort to mount a mass evacuation. Stuff reports that the government is deploying a military transport plane to the region to help evacuate hundreds from the fallen capital. At the top of the list are 53 New Zealanders in the country, as well as 37 local Afghans who helped the defence force during its years of fighting. More locals may be added in the coming days. The final list, including immediate family, could be in the hundreds.
This will be an incredibly difficult operation for the world’s governments. There was absolute chaos at the airport on Monday, according to live reporting from The Guardian. Thousands of people ran onto the runway, trying to board military cargo planes. As military transports landed, soldiers ran out of the planes to join troops on the ground, with civilians running in to take their seats. Airlines are no longer flying into the airport, which is now in the centre of a war zone.
New Zealand’s cabinet has approved one month of evacuation flights. However, air marshal Kevin Short conceded yesterday afternoon in a press conference that the “security situation” likely won’t last that long. The Taliban’s sweeping victory defied expectations that former president Ashraf Ghani’s government could hold on for months. Instead, Ghani fled the country the same day the Taliban surrounded the capital. Yesterday he was the country’s leader, now his Wikipedia entry says he was the president of a country that no longer exists.
Afghanistan’s collapse has spread fear through the country. George Driver spoke to an interpreter who worked for the defence force in Afghanistan for a decade. It’s a deeply personal story of people on the run, whose lives have been upended in a country that has been more-or-less at war since the 1970s. Stuff has a similar story about a 26-year-old refugee worried about her parents who are still in Afghanistan. More stories are sure to appear in the coming days.
What the west calls the war in Afghanistan started less than a month after the 9/11 terrorist attack. An initial military alliance, including the US, UK, NZ, Canada and Germany, quickly toppled a Taliban regime that had harboured terrorists. Most of the fighting was done by locals, freeing themselves from a fundamentalist government.
Over the past two decades, Afghanistan fell off the front page of the news. The fighting was serious, but often less so than a military misadventure in Iraq and Syria’s civil war. The end game started in 2014, when western countries started pulling troops out, shifting from fighting the Taliban to training local replacements. New Zealand’s last soldiers left in May of this year. The US was expected to leave at the end of this month, letting a 16-year-old Afghan government take over. That government, both corrupt and inept, collapsed before the last American troops could leave.
The most important words belong to an Afghan woman. She’s anonymous, because she can’t tell the world who she is anymore, though only days ago she was a reporter. She’s 22-years-old and on the run because she’ll likely be killed if she’s found. Her words tell the story of what’s happened and what’s to come:
My whole life has been obliterated in just a few days.
I am so scared and I don’t know what will happen to me. Will I ever go home? Will I see my parents again? Where will I go? The highway is blocked in both directions. How will I survive?
Subscribe to Rec Room a weekly newsletter delivering The Spinoff’s latest videos, podcasts and other recommendations straight to your inbox.