Live updates, February 18: Free period products in all schools; zero new community cases

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for February 18. Get me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz. Auckland is currently at alert level two and the rest of the country, level one. 

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7pm: The day in sum

Free period products will be made available in all schools from June this year, the government announced.

Facebook announced it is banning publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content.

There were no new community cases announced on Auckland’s first day back at alert level two.

All employees at LSG Sky Chefs – the workplace of one of the latest Covid-19 community cases – have tested negative for the coronavirus.

New Zealand’s fertility rate is down “1.61 births per woman” in 2020, according to new data by Stats NZ.

4.40pm: Australian scientists speak out against Facebook

This morning’s extraordinary and immediate decision by Facebook to block all news content in Australia has prompted Australian science groups to issue a damning statement. “On Thursday, Facebook blocked content from groups including Science & Technology Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology, the Australian Science Media Centre, the Australian Science Teachers Association, Professionals Australia, The Royal Institution of Australia, and Research Australia,” it begins. “These organisations share valued and peer-reviewed science insights and Australia’s deep scientific knowledge.”

Science & Technology Australia CEO Misha Schubert said: “For Facebook to block access to the feeds of trusted science and health organisations in Australia during a pandemic and bushfire season is irresponsible and dangerous. At a time when the company is taking steps to tackle misinformation on its platform, it’s concerning it has chosen to silence some of this nation’s leading scientific voices.”

Facebook’s move follows the Australian parliament approving a new media code which obliges Facebook and Google to pay publishers millions of dollars. For more background read our explainer here.

3.30pm: Birth rate ‘lowest on record’ – new stats

New Zealand’s fertility rate was down “1.61 births per woman” in 2020, according to new data by Stats NZ.

It’s the lowest recorded level and well below the population replacement rate of 2.1.

“Fertility rates in New Zealand were relatively stable between 1980 and 2012, but have generally decreased since then,” population estimates and projections manager Hamish Slack said.

“Since 2013, the number of women of reproductive age has increased by 11% and the number of births has decreased by 2%.”

2.40pm: Milk ad banned for showing girl cycling on footpath

A Meadow Fresh ad that showed a young girl riding her bike on the footpath has been banned from television for condoning an illegal practice.

Under our land transport rules, cycling on a footpath is illegal unless it is for the purpose of delivering mail or newspapers or the bike’s wheels are under a certain size.

The complaint about the ad, made to the Advertising Standards Authority, read:”[Riding] a bicycle on a footpath… is against the law and dangerous as cars backing out can hit bikers, who are faster and less likely to hear the car.”

The decision to ban the ad has received widespread derision online, with National’s leader Judith Collins asking, “is this what authorities get upset about?”

1.30pm: Free period products to be made available in all schools

All primary, intermediate, secondary school and kura students will soon be able to access free period products at school, prime minister Jacinda Ardern has announced.

The products will be available from June, Ardern said, and followed a successful pilot programme running in 15 schools since last year.

“Young people should not miss out on their education because of something that is a normal part of life for half the population,” said Ardern, who is in the Waikato for the announcement.

“Removing barriers to healthy, active, educational outcomes for children and young people is an important part of the government’s youth and wellbeing strategy.”

Ardern said feedback from the pilot programme showed that students believed the products should be made available, free, to whoever needed them. More than 3000 young people formed part of the pilot.

Minister for women Jan Tinetti said the move will help reduce stigma at schools. “Feedback from the pilot noted that providing choice was important, both in types of products and the way they are accessed,” she said.

“Students also said they wanted information about periods, period products, and other practical elements of managing their period such as tracking and knowing when and who to reach out to for assistance.”

Speaking at today’s 1pm Covid presser, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield welcomed today’s announcement. “It’s particularly great for our lower socio-economic groups, who are more likely to be Māori and Pasifika, so I think it’s a fantastic move.”

1.05pm: No new community Covid-19 cases; new source for recent outbreak being investigated

Updated

There are no new community cases in New Zealand after some “strong testing”, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins announced. While the source of the recent outbreak is still unknown, a possible genomic link to the Four Points by Sheraton managed isolation facility is now being investigated.

The face covering requirements for public transport nationwide will be reviewed by cabinet on Monday, the same day the decision to keep Auckland in alert level two will be reviewed.

Hipkins said there has been a spike in uses of the Covid Tracer app over the past 24 hours and encouraged people to continue this. He said businesses that have older QR codes displayed should think about replacing them.

All three of yesterday’s new community Covid-19 cases – from one family linked to Papatoetoe High school – have been shifted to the Auckland quarantine facility, Ashley Bloomfield said. There are three new cases in managed isolation.

31 close contacts from the high school have returned negative tests, apart from the one school student who tested positive yesterday.

Of the 1,490 casual plus contacts, 1,398 have returned negative result, with 98 still to come

As reported yesterday, Case E is a worker at an Auckland McDonald’s restaurant. Bloomfield some fellow employees at the Cavendish Drive store have been identified as close contacts and will self-isolate for 14-days.

‘All scenarios’ being considered for initial source of Auckland outbreak

All close contacts from LSG Sky Chefs, the workplace of Case B, have returned negative results. Of the 444 people from the wider working environment, there have been 350 negative results, with 93 pending.

Bloomfield said “all source scenarios” for how the outbreak began are still being considered, with the most likely still that the virus spread through the workplace of Case B.

ESR has been reviewing all the variants of the strain the new cases have they have processed over the last two months. One new line of inquiry is the Four Points by Sheraton managed isolation facility in Auckland, where there is a possible genomic similarity with a previous case from December and the current cases.

Bloomfield said a B.1.1.7 genome-sequenced case from late December is similar enough to the current cases that it’s worth seeing if there’s the possibility of an epidemiological link. It seems very unlikely because the cases are six weeks apart, he said, but it’s being investigated.

People who were there at the time have been contacted to either get a PCR or a serology test if they’ve had symptoms since leaving the facility. It’s still considered to be an unlikely source of the infection.

Bloomfield confirmed the mingling of higher-risk and lower-risk staff at LSG Sky Chefs was being investigated. “The airport precinct seems the most likely route of infection.”

Person to person is the most likely scenario, followed by aerosol transmission, with fomite transmission – surfaces – the least likely.

Final preparations in place for vaccine rollout starting Saturday

More than 25,000 tests have been performed across Auckland since Sunday. An end-to-end dry run of the vaccination launch ran yesterday, said Hipkins, involving teams in Christchurch and Auckland. Wellington will run one tomorrow. It was an opportunity to stress test the system and identify any gaps, he said.

“These tests give us confidence we can move into real-time vaccinations over the weekend,” said Hipkins. The final steps in preparation for border workers to receive their vaccines includes vaccinators receiving their vaccines, which will take place tomorrow.

There are 100 vaccinators who have been trained and an additional 300 are being trained now.

12.50pm: Watch – Hipkins, Bloomfield to give Covid-19 update

Chris Hipkins and Ashley Bloomfield will be providing today’s Covid-19 update. As of this morning, no new Covid-19 cases linked to the recent Auckland outbreak had been detected and all employees of LSG Sky Chefs had tested negative.

You can watch the presser below:

12.40pm: Facebook bans Facebook (and other non-news pages)

The fallout from this morning’s Facebook news (see: 8.20am update) has seen the social media giant ban a number of distinctly non-news services from its platform in Australia.

As announced this morning, Facebook said it would ban all news content for its Australia’s users.

However, it’s seen pages – including Facebook’s own – get banned as well.

A number of other news-free pages have also been killed off, including Harvey Norman, a page dedicated to Eurovision, and the official government weather account.

Have you watched Scratched yet?

We’ve had almost a million (yes, a million) views on the latest episode of Scratched – so if you haven’t watched it, you probably should.

Years before he joined NZ First and became a member of parliament, Tuariki Delamere was a promising long jump athlete with a scholarship at Washington State University. One of the oldest track and field events, the long jump has remained virtually the same since the first modern Olympics – and he wanted to change that.

Watch the full episode below:

11.30pm: SkyCity and Auckland Airport see massive profit drops.

Business editor Michael Andrew reports:

Both SkyCity Entertainment Group and Auckland Airport have today reported significant declines in half-year net profit.

SkyCity’s net profit dropped 76% from last year’s $249.6 million to $78.4m, while revenue for the half-year fell 37% to $449.9m. The company said the figures were influenced by the pandemic, the convention centre fire in 2019 and a settlement agreement reached with Fletcher Construction last November.

Meanwhile, Auckland Airport has reported an 80% decline in its half-year net profit to December 31 2020, which it credits to Covid-19 travel restrictions. The company said it expects to report a net loss of between $35m and $55m for the full year.

11.10am: LSG Sky Chefs employees test negative; Bloomfield, Hipkins to provide Covid update

All employees at LSG Sky Chefs – the workplace of one of the latest Covid-19 community cases – have tested negative for the coronavirus.

“A comprehensive test of all LSG Sky Chefs employees – conducted mainly on site by a task force from the local health authority – showed that no other member of the workforce is infected,” a spokeswoman for the company told the Herald.

“All test results returned 100% negative.”

Meanwhile, Covid-19 response minister and director general of health Ashley Bloomfield will provide today’s coronavirus update at 1pm, on the first day of Auckland’s stint in alert level two.

On The Spinoff: What does Facebook’s decision to block news in Australia mean for us and the world?

The Spinoff’s managing editor Duncan Greive digests the massive Facebook news. Here’s an extract:

At 7.38am today a short email arrived from Facebook News Partnerships. It contained a total of five sentences, the most  important reading: “I am writing to confirm that due to new laws in Australia, from today we will reluctantly restrict publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content on Facebook.”

Despite its matter-of-fact tone and brevity, it could hardly be more consequential – this is the end (for now, maybe forever) of Facebook as a news distribution channel in Australia. Facebook says news represents less than 4% of content on its platform – but for publishers it can be the source of as much as half their traffic. And for Facebook, the risk is that even if it is only 4% of content, if users consider it critical, do they become less reliant on the platform?

This decision impacts New Zealand operators, too: more than 500,000 New Zealanders live across the Tasman, with many avidly consuming news from news organisations here. It’s as if our second-largest city has dropped off the map overnight. It means, for example, that if you live in Australia and follow The Spinoff on Facebook, links to Spinoff content will no longer appear in your feed.

Read Duncan Greive’s full explainer here

10.00am: Covid-19 – What events are still going ahead?

After the recent Covid-19 scare and subsequent shift up to level three and back down again, a number of events in Auckland and around the country have announced plans to go ahead, postpone or cancel.

Here is a very non-exhaustive list that will continually be update:

The Garden Party will go ahead as planned this weekend after Wellington’s return to alert level one. Presented by Verb and The Spinoff at the Botanic Gardens, there’s a slew of great chats, music and more. Check out our highlights post here. And on Saturday night join us for music and a drink and a few surprises at the Garden Party After Party. More info and tickets here.

The Auckland Art Fair will proceed as planned next week, pending a Monday shift to alert level one.

The Auckland Pride Festival has announced plans for alert level two, with some events cancelled or postponed and a number going ahead with restrictions in place.

Splore has been postponed until March.

The Auckland Fringe Festival will continue on until March 6 “once alert levels allow”, according to a statement. 

Joseph Parker v Junior Fa will go ahead “business as usual(ish)” on February 27, pending a shift to alert level one. If Auckland stays under restrictions, the event will be postponed.

The Prada Cup final series has been delayed following the decision to keep Auckland under level two restrictions. There’s been a bit of in-fighting over the decision and it’s kinda confusing.

9.40am: Unsafe lead levels found in children’s blood tests after Otago water scare

Children in east Otago have been caught up in the recent lead contamination scare, after blood tests were given to more than 1500 residents.

As RNZ reported, unsafe levels of lead had been intermittently detected in the water supply of Waikouaiti, Karitane and Hawksbury Village going back to July last year. A no drink warning is still in place.

“As expected some people have come back with levels that are higher than the cut off of 0.24 micromoles per litre,” medical officer of health Susan Jack told RNZ. “It’s not very common when we look at the whole population that was tested.”

She added: “The first test usually on the children it was a finger prick or heel prick – it’s a screening test. Then we need to confirm that using a venous sample.”

8.20am: Facebook bans Australian news content from its platform

In massive news from the media world overnight that will surely require a two-hour Duncan Greive monopod, Facebook has announced it is banning publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content.

It’s in response to Australia’s proposed new “media bargaining” law that would require the social media giant to pay news organisations.

In a statement, Facebook’s Australia and New Zealand managing director William Easton said the law “fundamentally misunderstands” the relationship between the platform and publishers.

“It has left us facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia. With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter.”

Easton said the business gain from news is “minimal”, making up just 4% of content shared on news feeds. “Journalism is important to a democratic society, which is why we build dedicated, free tools to support news organisations around the world in innovating their content for online audiences,” he said.

“We were prepared to launch Facebook News in Australia and significantly increase our investments with local publishers, however, we were only prepared to do this with the right rules in place. This legislation sets a precedent where the government decides who enters into these news content agreements, and ultimately, how much the party that already receives value from the free service gets paid.”

Read more: What Facebook’s threat against news in Australia means for NZ (and the rest of the world)

Yesterday, Google announced it would be abiding by the new rules, striking a three-year deal with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

7.50am: No new Covid-19 cases on first day of shift to level two

The government is not aware of any new Covid-19 cases overnight, on the first morning of Auckland’s shift into alert level two. The rest of the country dropped back down to level one overnight, but with mandatory mask rules on public transport.

Speaking on TVNZ, associate health minister Ayesha Verrall said genome sequencing on the three community cases announced yesterday linked them to the cases discovered over the weekend – with just one mutation of difference.

“That confirms that they’re linked and that we’re not dealing with two different chains of transmission.”

Wastewater testing in Papatoetoe overnight also revealed no new Covid-19 cases, Verrall said.

7.40am: Top stories from The Bulletin

We got the news yesterday that the alert levels will be shifting down to level two for Auckland, and level one for the rest of the country as of today. It came amid new cases in the cluster being announced, both connected to the student at Papatoetoe High School. To the best of our knowledge the spread has been contained. However, with new cases being announced, why was the shift made?

Part of the reason for the shift was because of that containment. The NZ Herald reports Dr Ashley Bloomfield described that as “reassuring”. PM Ardern also said there was encouraging data from both mass test results, and wastewater testing. Ardern said when unknown source cases appear in the community, the plan has always been to move quickly with alert levels. “However, it is also our plan to avoid using the alert level system to manage cases once we have a good handle on them.” She also thanked the Papatoetoe community for responding rapidly in trying circumstances.

But the announcement has been met with some consternation by experts. In reaction gathered by the Science Media Centre, Otago University professor Nick Wilson said it was “not cautious enough from my public health perspective, and also from an economic perspective given that regaining successful elimination is also best for the economy.” And professor Michael Baker said “I would feel much more comfortable with this Alert Level change if we used this opportunity to introduce a more sophisticated approach to managing Covid-19 containment.”

It’s fair enough to question whether this lockdown was necessary – after all, these are political choices as much as health choices. It’s also fair enough to say the answer was yes. Two pieces I think are especially worth reading on that. The first comes from (paywalled) NZ Herald science journo Jamie Morton, who has gathered comments from experts justifying the call, particularly in light of the risk that there had been a previously undetected super-spreader event. But for a balancing view, this is an excellent piece of analysis from Stuff’s Thomas Coughlan, about why decisions like this can’t be made on the basis of pure science alone – they have to be balanced by other considerations. He’s talking more specifically about border policy, but the thinking could be equally applied to questions like why the whole country didn’t move to level three, for example.

For those in Auckland, level two does not mean you should go out licking handrails, literally or metaphorically. Some restrictions will still apply, big events won’t be going ahead, and you need to be aware that there’s still potential for the virus to spread. Aucklanders are also being asked to “take their alert level with them” if they travel. Our live updates page has details on what the new alert levels mean. And for the rest of the country, think about this – when the cases were first announced, did you have peace of mind about being able to help contact tracers if needed? There’s probably going to be a next time.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.30am: Yesterday’s headlines

Cabinet decided to move Auckland down to alert level two from midnight, and the rest of the country to level two.

Another community case was announced, a household member of the two cases announced earlier in the day.

The Ministry of Health announced wastewater testing had found “no evidence of any community cases of Covid-19”.

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins announced two new cases of Covid-19 in the community, linked to Papatoetoe High School.

Jacinda Ardern had a “constructive” discussion with Australian PM Scott Morrison following his government’s cancellation of the citizenship of a suspected Isis terrorist.

New Zealand ended its deployment in Afghanistan after 20 years.




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