blog upd nov 17

PoliticsNovember 17, 2021

Live updates, November 17: Human remains found in Pike River Mine; Auckland boundary to lift December 15

blog upd nov 17

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for November 17, by Stewart Sowman-Lund. Help support our Covid coverage – join Members today.

Top story: Auckland boundary to lift

  • Auckland’s boundary will lift at 11.59pm on December 14.
  • Fully vaccinated people – or those who have tested negative for Covid-19 – will be allowed to travel freely.
  • Police will conduct spot checks but there will not be a fixed checkpoint.
  • The whole country will shift to the traffic light system at the same time as Auckland. This is likely to be soon after November 29.
  • There are 194 new cases of Covid-19. One patient with Covid-19 has died overnight.

5.00pm: Christchurch locations of interest added after case confirmed

Two locations of interest in Christchurch have been added to the Ministry of Health’s website following confirmation of a positive case in the city earlier today.

The case had recently travelled to Auckland for an event, returning to Christchurch on Saturday, November 13 and becoming symptomatic on Sunday, according to the Ministry of Health’s 1pm statement. They went for a test on Monday.

The person lives in a household of six people, all of whom are isolating and will be tested.

The locations are Countdown Eastgate and the neighbouring Eastgate Shopping Centre on Buckleys Road in Linwood, both for exposure times of 3.15pm-3.45pm on Saturday, November 13, and 11.30am-12pm on Monday, November 15.

The advice for anyone who visited either location during either timeframe is to self-monitor for symptoms for 10 days and isolate and get tested if any develop. The full list of locations of interest is here.

3.30pm: Interested in what everyone’s watching on Netflix? I am

I’m about to head off for the day, so I’ll leave you with a weirdly insightful new tool from Netflix.

The Netflix Top 10 – which is a standalone website and not built into the streaming service – reveals the most popular films and TV shows from across the world. It has way more info than what’s visible on the regular Netflix site, and allows you to trawl through weeks of historical streaming charts.

Right now, in New Zealand, we’ve been exposed as having terrible taste with that nasty Dwayne Johnson flick Red Notice topping our streams (we’re not alone, it’s number one basically everywhere). On the telly side, Maid tops the list for the seventh week running (showing we have some taste).

Check it out and let me know what you think.

3.10pm: The shape of the outbreak

Here’s a look at today’s key Covid-19 numbers, fresh from our very own Covid Tracker page (which you can view here).

2.50pm: Judith Collins says government has ‘lost the plot’ over summer Covid plans

We’re heading for a “summer of chaos”, according to National Party leader Judith Collins.

It was announced today that Auckland’s border will open on December 15, with police spot checking travellers to verify that they are double jabbed or have tested negative. Meanwhile, the whole country is poised to move into the traffic light system in about two weeks time.

Collins said the government has “utterly lost the plot” and has been making up policy “on the fly”.

“Every week that goes by, Kiwis are being flooded with new, confused and contradictory messaging,” said Collins. “It was less than four weeks ago the prime minister announced the 90% DHB target. Now it has been abandoned.”

The traffic light system will now kick in regardless of each DBH’s vaccination rate. However, low vaccinated areas will move into the stricter restrictions of “red”.

“If Aucklanders can travel on December 15, they should be able to travel today,” said Collins. “The prime minister was unable to answer basic questions about how the new stop and search travel system would even work. No idea how many cars police would be pulling over each day. No idea whether people would need to provide photo ID alongside their vaccine certificate. No idea if this would apply to 12-year-olds or just adults.”

Collins said the situation is “farcical” and it’s unclear how any of it is going to work.

Judith Collins speaking to media the day (Getty Images)

2.20pm: Human remains found in Pike River Mine after 11 years


The human remains of at least two men have been discovered deep within the Pike River Mine – just two days before the 11th anniversary of the tragedy.

The Pike River disaster claimed the lives of 29 miners on November 19, 2010.

Addressing media, detective superintendent Peter Read said images from bore holes drilled into the mine have confirmed two bodies with the possibility of a third.

“It has been nearly 11 years since the Pike River Mine disaster where 29 men tragically lost their lives,” he said. “These images will add to the picture of the investigation as we work to provide answers for the families.”

This is the first sighting of bodies from within the mine since the disaster took place.

The images – taken from the deepest part of the mine – have been reviewed by pathologists, said Read. However, it is not possible for the bodies to be recovered due to their location.

“At this point we have been unable to identify the remains however we will consult with forensic experts,” said Read. Six to eight people were working in the area where the remains have been located.

The photos were taken last week, said Read, and police have notified the families of the victims.

Read did not rule out future prosecutions but said the investigation was ongoing. “It’s been a very long, thorough investigation – but there’s a lot of information.”

Mines Rescue staff prepare to enter Pike River mine on June 28, 2011. Photo: Iain McGregor-Pool/Getty Images

2.00pm: The race to 90%

There were 21,031 first and second vaccine doses administered yesterday, made up of 6,664 first doses and 14,367 second doses. To date, of New Zealanders aged over 12 years, 91 percent have had their first dose and 82 percent are fully vaccinated.

Of course, we now know the move to the traffic light system no longer hinges on the 90% fully vaccinated threshold. But: want to know how your DHB is tracking? Check out our interactive graph below.

More graphs available at The Spinoff’s Covid Tracker here

1.40pm: What does today’s announcement mean for the South Island?

Jacinda Ardern said the government gave “special consideration” to the South Island in making its decision today around the implementation of the traffic light system.

It’s been announced the whole country will shift into the framework either at the end of November or in early December.

However, with Covid-19 almost entirely limited to the North Island, how will the South be protected?

Here’s what Ardern said: “The combination of the vaccine or testing requirement for Air New Zealand combined with the ability for the inter-islander to operate the same regime will provide solid measures to slow any spread to the South.”

1.25pm: Ardern ‘making a mistake’ on Auckland border, say Greens

The decision to relax the Auckland boundary on December 15 has been criticised by the Green Party, with co-leader Marama Davidson saying vaccination rates in vulnerable populations were not yet high enough.

“Aucklanders have being doing it really tough, but we have to hold the line to keep everyone safe while vaccination rates increase, particularly when so many of our vulnerable communities are still at risk,” said Davidson in a statement.

“Labour is making a mistake by committing itself to opening the Auckland border before evidence is known about how the traffic light system is working and cases have stabilised. A date for opening the border should only be agreed once vaccination levels are equitably high, the traffic light system tested and refined, and regional health systems prepared.”

1.10pm: Auckland border to lift from December 15

Aucklanders will be free to leave the city from December 15, when the strict border lifts for the first time since mid-August. 

Only fully vaccinated travellers, or those who have tested negative for Covid-19 within 72 hours prior to departure, will be able to leave the city. This requirement will be in place until January 17 next year. From this date, there will be no borders in place.

It was less than two weeks ago that the idea of allocated time slots for travellers was being floated. Instead, Aucklanders will be subject to no fixed checkpoint when leaving the city. Jacinda Ardern said police will have “operational discretion” to enforce the new rules.

“Police undertake random spot checks to enforce a range of laws on our roads, such as drink driving, and will take the same approach here,” said Ardern.

“On the northern boundary, and the gateway to Northland, police will work with Iwi to ensure people can move, but also that the people of Northland have confidence in the checks that are in place.”

The boundary is two ways, meaning Aucklanders and Auckland businesses can start receiving New Zealanders from all over the country around Christmas. 

People found breaking the rules will face a fine of $1,000.

Read more: When – and how – Aucklanders will be able to leave the city for Christmas

1.05pm: NZ to shift into traffic light system earlier than expected

The entire country will move into the new Covid-19 protection framework – or traffic light system – much earlier than expected.

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed the system will kick-in for the whole country on the same date Auckland moves out of lockdown. That’s likely to be around the end of November, after a cabinet meeting on November 29.

Previously, it had been said that the move into the traffic light system would not happen until the whole country hit 90% fully vaccinated.

“Those parts of the country with lower vaccination rates will move into the new system at ‘red’, which has greater protections than the current alert level two, meaning there will be stronger measures to minimise the risk of spread,” said Ardern. “This decision carefully balances the need to give Aucklanders the ability to move and comfort to the rest of New Zealand that we’re still taking steps to slow the spread of Covid.”

Currently, 82% of New Zealanders are fully vaccinated however a number of areas – particularly on the South Island’s West Coast, the North Island’s East Coast, and in Northland – are lagging well behind.

However, Ardern said: “We will be in an even safer position by mid-December when it’s expected New Zealand as a whole will be around 90 percent fully vaccinated.”

1.05pm: 194 new delta cases across the North Island; Covid patient dies in hospital


There are 194 new cases of Covid-19 in the community. Of these, 180 are in Auckland, five are in Waikato, three are in Northland and six are in the Lakes DHB area. There is also one new case in Christchurch, however, this has direct links to the Auckland outbreak (more on this below).

There are 48 mystery cases among today’s total. From the past fortnight, 836 cases remain unlinked.

There has also been another death of a man with Covid-19. The man, in his 60s, died at North Shore Hospital yesterday. He was admitted to hospital on November 4.

There are 88 people with Covid-19 in hospital, including seven in intensive care.

Today’s case details

There is one new case in Christchurch today, linked to the Auckland cluster. The person flew back to Christchurch on flight NZ 1295 last Saturday after travelling to Auckland for an event. According to the Ministry of Health, the person became symptomatic on Sunday and went for a test on Monday.

The person lives in a household of six people. The household is isolating and will be tested.

There are seven new cases in the Lakes area, although one was reported yesterday. Six of the cases are in Taupō and can be linked to known cases in the area.  One case is in Turangi and is also linked to known cases in Taupō. Interviews are continuing to determine their movements and any locations of interest will be added to the ministry’s website.

In Waikato, two cases remain unlinked to the wider outbreak. Today’s new cases are from Ōtorohanga, Te Kuiti, Huntly, and Cambridge.

There are four new cases in Northland; one in Kaitaia, two in Dargaville, and one unlinked case in Whangārei who will be interviewed today. “One of these cases is not included in the overall case numbers today and will be added to the tally tomorrow,” said the ministry.

Finally, in Auckland: A further resident at the Rosaria Rest Home in Avondale has returned a positive result following re-testing yesterday, bringing the total to five residents who have tested positive for Covid-19.

Public health staff are now supporting 4,735 people to isolate at home around Auckland – this includes 2,119 cases.

1.00pm: A message from The Spinoff’s new editor Madeleine Chapman

While we wait for the big announcement – a message from our new editor:

Like any good door-to-door salesperson, I’m about to cheerily introduce myself and then, in the very next breath, ask you for money. Hi! I’m Madeleine (or Mad) Chapman, previously an intern at The Spinoff, then a staff writer, senior writer and now editor. It certainly wasn’t the plan to step into this role in the middle of a delta outbreak, nor did I think my first weeks on the job would unfold alongside New Zealand’s largest city slowly coming out of stagnation. But despite the strange and unfortunate circumstances, The Spinoff team has stepped up once again, working tirelessly (and mostly from our bedrooms) to bring you the most important news when you need it, and the lighter moments when things are looking a little bleak. We’ve been able to continue this work because of the ongoing contributions from our members, and I can’t thank you enough.

But I can boldly ask that you consider becoming a member if you aren’t one already. If you’ve read something on our site recently that you enjoyed or appreciated, consider it a koha for that alone, because every dollar donated through The Spinoff Members is used to create more of the work you see every day. And with Christmas around the corner (which I’m finding genuinely hard to believe), there’s no such thing as shipping delays on a membership of The Spinoff bought for whānau and friends.

12.45pm: Decision on Auckland border to be announced at 1pm

Here we go, Auckland. The time has finally come. At 1pm, prime minister Jacinda Ardern and Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins will announce when – and how – Aucklanders can leave the city over the summer period.

We’ll also get today’s Covid case numbers from the Ministry of Health.

As always, follow along with our live coverage or tune into the livestream below.

12.40pm: Simon Thornley retracts paper with false claims on vaccine and pregnancy

Toby Manhire reports:

The contrarian epidemiologist and “Plan B” leader Simon Thornley has retracted a widely criticised paper that wrongly claimed there was a higher incidence of miscarriage among those who had received Covid vaccinations. It follows an email from Professor Robert Scragg, the head of the School of Population Health at Auckland University, which urged Thornley and his co-author, Aleisha Brook, to “immediately publicly retract their article”. Such an intervention is almost unheard of in academia.

Thornley told The Spinoff that he had issued a correction to the paper last week, but that “following the [Scragg] letter, I have decided to withdraw it”. He refused to comment further on the faulty methodology and the impact of the paper, published in a journal that regularly promotes anti-vaccination misinformation and which has been widely shared among anti-vaccination groups. The journal that published the article, edited by an American anti-vaccination campaigner, who is a prominent advocate for the debunked theory that MMR vaccines can cause autism

In the letter to colleagues, Scragg wrote: “I am taking the extraordinary step in my regular Covid email to publicly criticise a recent publication by a member of staff, because of the public furore this article has created and to confirm with staff that I do not agree with the findings from the article.”

Read the full report here

Simon Thornley is best known for his commentary as part of the ‘Plan B’ group. Photo: University of Auckland

12.10pm: Ex-National MP Matt King upset by media coverage of his Thornley interview

Former National MP Matt King has criticised a RNZ report about a livestream he hosted with a discredited academic.

King, who represented National in the Northland electorate until the 2020 election, hosted Auckland University epidemiologist Simon Thornley on a Facebook Live last week. Thornley has been an outlier among his epidemiologist colleagues, often going against the scientific consensus on Covid-19.

In the video, the pair discussed the vaccination roll-out and touched on topics commonly debated by anti-vaxxers, such as the debunked Ivermectin treatment.

However, King – who did not respond to RNZ’s request for an interview – subsequently accused the media of “suppressing freedom of speech”. He said RNZ had just “extracted parts of this livestream out of context”.

Judith Collins, King’s former boss, distanced herself from comments made on the livestream. “The National Party supports vaccinations, we have been absolutely robust in this and that Matt is not speaking for us on it,” she said yesterday

In an interview this morning with Newshub, Collins added: “Matt King is a lovely guy and he genuinely is concerned about some of the information that he has received.”

11.25am: Ticket company to allow vaccine pre-verification

Ticketing company iTICKET has announced plans to build the government’s Covid-19 vaccine pass into its service, providing a streamlined verification process ahead of large events.

The company said it’s secured an integration license to provide secure pre-verification for events built into the ticketing process.  Event promoters who wish to use pre-verification can make their onsite entry process faster for events where vaccine passes are required.

Event attendees will be able to pre-verify their vaccine status ahead of time, meaning just the ticket will need to be scanned on arrival at the event. It’s expected to be in place by the end of November, timed for the launch of the new traffic light framework.

10.35am: Thousands return to the classroom in level three Auckland

Thousands of school children in level three Auckland have returned to the classroom today, a day after the government’s vaccine mandate kicked in for the education sector.

Yesterday was the deadline for all student-facing education workers to have had at least one dose of the Pfizer jab. They’ll have until the new year to be fully vaccinated or face redundancy.

But, today, all eyes are on years 1-10 who have headed back to school for the first time since mid-August. Their senior counterparts have been back for a few weeks preparing for end of year exams.

Children outside Grey Lynn School
Children return to Grey Lynn School (Photo / Alice Neville)

9.30am: Vaccine passes now available

Vaccine passes are now able to be downloaded from the MyCovidRecord website.

When you visit the website, and log in with your RealMe details, you should be presented with the following:

What you should now see on the My Covid Record site (Image / Screenshot)

After clicking confirm on a couple of simple prompts, your vaccine pass will be sent to your nominated email address and is then able to be downloaded to your phone’s wallet.

The first time I tried this I got an error message but it worked on my second attempt, so – as Ben Gracewood wrote below – please be patient while the technological kinks are worked out.

8.45am: Where’s my vax pass at?

Wondering why you can’t download your vaccine pass just yet? The Spinoff’s CTO Ben Gracewood has you covered. 

The Ministry of Health’s official press release said the passes would be available “later this morning”. When doing important tech updates like this you want all hands on deck, so maybe give the tech nerds some time to grab a coffee, make sure their multiple monitors are aligned *just right*, flex their fingers, and then deploy the change.

Why is the site crashing/offline?

Because a large percentage of the country is logging in trying to find their (currently non-existent) vax passport. It’s the digital equivalent of lockdown toilet paper: we don’t all need to rush in at once. Provisioning systems for huge spikes in usage is always tricky, because you don’t want to spend a ton of time and money making something work for a million people per second when it normally only needs to work for a few hundred.

Whose fault it this? I want to blame someone!

I think it’s a mix of a confusing 5am press release embargo, meaning all the papers published “get your Covid Passport now!” at the same time, and perhaps a bit of under-provisioning on the MoH login system. It’s all working now so either everyone’s stopped spamming it, or they’ve provisioned some more capacity to cope.

Read more in today’s Bulletin.

8.10am: Decision day for Auckland boundary

It’s decision day for Auckland’s border.

The prime minister has been clear over the past few weeks that Aucklanders will not be kept in the city over the summer period. But, few details have been revealed around when movement might be allowed and how the system will operate.

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins told Newstalk ZB that today’s announcement will provide clarity. “We’ve been clear that we want Aucklanders to move over the summer period,” he said. “There are two things at play: one is moving to the traffic light system in Auckland and around the rest of the country. We’ve still got a week or two worth of work there. The second thing is around the boundary and we will set that out today.”

The two details so far unknown are around the date when Aucklanders will be allowed to move around and, secondly, what the vaccination requirements will be. Latest media reports, such as from RNZ this morning, suggest the boundary could be in place until mid-December. That will be roughly two weeks after Auckland moves into the traffic light system.

As for vaccinations, it was previously thought that only people who had received two jabs would be able to leave Auckland. That may not be the case, with Newshub now reporting that a negative test could be sufficient for movement. “What we need to make sure is that people are able to move freely but working hard to also add some extra layers of protection,” Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday.

It’s also likely that checkpoints will be scrapped at the Bombay Hills in favour of random spot checks in order to keep traffic flowing.

But, for now, all we know is that the announcement is coming at 1pm today and hopefully all these questions will be answered.

7.45am: From The Bulletin – Your vaccine pass is ready

Vaccine passes will be available from today. Writing for The Bulletin, Justin Giovannetti answers all your questions. Here’s an extract:

How will it work? The pass has your name, date of birth and a QR code that is scanned when you arrive at a business or venue. It can either be stored on your phone’s wallet or carried in printed form. The information on the QR code will be matched with a central database maintained by the Ministry of Health. People might also be asked to show photo ID to ensure their name matches the details on the pass.

How do I get it? You’ll first need to sign up for the pass at My Covid Record and they should be available later today. You’ll need a personal email address–shared household emails won’t work. The government isn’t asking for people to necessarily request a pass today, but to get their profiles set up. It’ll likely be a few weeks before the traffic light system kicks in. You can also call 0800 222 478 if you don’t have a computer or a required form of ID.

Where will it be required? The proof of vaccination will likely need to be shown by everyone over the age of 12 at events, hospitality venues, retail, community events, airports, sports and faith-based gatherings. On the other side of the ledger, supermarkets, pharmacies, health services, petrol stations and schools are some of the few places that won’t be allowed to deny entry based on vaccination status.

Read the full explainer – and sign up to The Bulletin – here 

This is part of The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s must-read daily news wrap. To sign up for free, simply enter your email address below

Yesterday’s key headlines

  • There are 222 new Covid-19 cases in the community – a new daily record.
  • Of these, 197 cases are in Auckland, 20 are in Waikato, one is in Northland, two are in Wairarapa and two are in the Lakes DHB area.
  • A Covid-19 patient in their 70s has died at Auckland Hospital.
  • There remain 91 people in hospital with Covid-19, including seven in intensive care.
Keep going!