Live updates, May 18: ‘Real risk’ that vaccine roll-out will not meet schedule, says auditor-general

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for May 18, bringing you the latest news updated throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

3.55pm: Health officials confident they can meet planned vaccine schedule

The Ministry of Health has welcomed recommendations made about how to improve the vaccine roll-out – and claimed to already have implemented a number of them.

Earlier today, the auditor-general released a report that raised concerns around the ministry’s planned public vaccine drive.

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said the report was conducted at early stage in the roll-out and improvements have already been made. “In all areas identified as needing to be strengthened, the programme has made a number of initial changes and improvements,” he said. “This was done at the time the report was being undertaken, or ahead of it being finalised. Some recommendations have been fully implemented or are largely complete.”

Responding to the report, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said he remained confident that all New Zealanders would be vaccinated by the end of the year. However, he said there was also a degree of nervousness.

“It’s an ambitious rollout plan, there’s no question about that we’ve always known that this was a really big task, and I am confident that we can do it, but it is going to stretch the system,” Hipkins said.

3.15pm: ‘Weak positive’ Covid-19 case in Bluff confirmed as historic

Health officials have confirmed a possible case of Covid-19 in Bluff was an historical case.

As reported in today’s 1pm update, a mariner had recorded a “weak positive” Covid-19 result after getting tested before disembarking from their vessel. They had been on the ship for 25 days, making the possibility of Covid-19 infection low.

“The initial test result had a high CT value, indicating an old infection,” a Ministry of Health spokesperson said. “A repeat swab was taken and processed and has returned a negative result.”

3.05pm: Staffer at high commission in India dies of Covid-19

A long-serving staff member at the New Zealand High Commission in India has died of Covid-19, as the country continues to battle a resurgence of the coronavirus.

The local staffer – who was not a New Zealander – had worked at the high commission since 1986.

“I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of a long-serving New Zealand High Commission employee in New Delhi. Our thoughts and aroha are with the family at this time,” foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta said.

“Any loss of life is extremely sad, and I know the MFAT whanau will be grieving at this time, and they need time to process what has happened.”

2.25pm: ‘Real risk’ that vaccine roll-out will not meet schedule – auditor-general

A “significant scale-up” of our Covid-19 vaccine roll-out will be needed if the government is is to meet its targets.

The auditor-general has released a report on the early stages of the vaccine drive, ahead of the wider public roll-out. It raises concerns that the government will not be able to get everyone vaccinated within the timeframe previously publicised.

“I am not yet confident that all of the pieces will fall into place quickly enough for the immunisation programme to reach the level of vaccinations required for the government to meet its goals,” the auditor-general John Ryan said. “In my view, there is a real risk that it will take more time than is currently anticipated to get there.”

The report said that while the health ministry has a “high-level plan in place”, a plan to extend the roll-out to the general population had not yet been fully developed.

“At the time of our audit, significant risks remained with having enough vaccinators; having an improved distribution model to ensure that vaccine doses are delivered to the right place at the right time to minimise wastage; and ensuring that Māori, Pasifika, people with disabilities, and hard-to-reach communities are supported to access vaccinations.”

Earlier today, the government said it now had more than 5000 vaccinators helping with the roll-out.

“There will no doubt be some further operational problems and, in my view, the ministry needs to manage public expectations appropriately,” added Ryan.

“Although my audit team found several issues with the readiness of the immunisation programme for full-scale roll-out, these are not related to the safety of the vaccine.”

Overall, six key recommendations were made by the auditor-general, including transparency with the public about things like vaccine supply risks and developing contingency plans for vaccines not arriving into the country on time.

Health officials were also advised to provide more clarity to primary health care providers (including general practitioners) about their role in the wider roll-out to ensure that they have adequate time to prepare.

1.35pm: Greens table motion on Palestinian statehood

The Green Party will seek leave to move a motion in parliament tomorrow “to recognise and support the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and statehood through a two-state solution”.

“The harrowing violence we are witnessing in Gaza and East Jerusalem are part of an ongoing atrocity against the Palestinian people,” the party’s foreign affairs spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman said in a statement. “Violence against civilians, whether committed by Hamas or the Israeli Defence Force must be condemned in the strongest terms, but the massively disproportionate death toll … speaks to the context of a powerful military force indiscriminately attacking a trapped community.”

Gaza health officials say that at least 212 Palestinians, including 61 children and 36 women, have been killed since the conflict flared up last week, according to reporting by Reuters. Ten people have been killed in Israel, including two children. “The Israeli military said militants had fired about 3,350 rockets from Gaza, and that Israeli air and artillery strikes had killed least 130 Palestinian combatants.”

1.15pm: Sailor returns ‘weak positive’ Covid-19 test

A mariner has returned a “weak positive” Covid-19 test when trying to disembark from a ship in Bluff, prompting an investigation.

Health officials believe the result is an historical infection as the person has been at sea for 25 days. The test result has a high CT value.

“The mariner was tested in order to disembark to receive medical treatment. They remain on board the ship, which is currently docked in Bluff,” said a Ministry of Health spokesperson.

“The Public Health Unit has assessed the public health risk as negligible.”

Further testing is being undertaken to confirm the infection as historical.

Meanwhile, further details of wastewater testing in Wellington are due back tonight following two samples returning weak positive Covid-19 results over the weekend.

There are no new community cases of Covid-19 to report today with one new case to report in a recent returnee in a managed isolation facility.

The total number of active cases in New Zealand today is 19. Our total number of confirmed cases is 2,297.

11.35am: More than 5000 vaccinators now fully trained to give Covid jab

There are now more than 5000 qualified vaccinators administering the Covid-19 jab in New Zealand.

The milestone was reached this week after the first vaccinator training was started back in February.

“So far, almost 2,000 vaccinators have been involved in actively immunising people since the Covid-19 vaccine rollout started nearly three months ago,” said Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins.

“Our dedicated vaccinators – nurses, doctors, pharmacists and those in other approved vaccinating professions – are working extremely hard to protect New Zealanders against this virus as our rollout expands into group three, and I want to thank them for their vital contribution.”

Hipkins said that when the nationwide vaccine drive begins in July, around 1600 full time equivalent vaccinators will be required to meet targets.

“Not all of the people trained so far will be available to work full-time, so additional initiatives are also underway to further boost our pool of vaccinators,” said Hipkins.

11.10am: Covid-19 lockdown did not lead to increase in births

Despite New Zealanders being stuck inside for weeks on end, the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown did not cause an increase in child births.

New figures from Stats NZ show that there were 14,070 births registered in the first quarter of this year, compared with 14,538 in the same period of 2020. “Over half of babies born in December 2020 were registered in the March 2021 quarter,” said Stats NZ in a release. “However, the number of births registered in the December 2020 quarter also dropped by 183 compared with the December 2019 quarter.”

Over the past year, 57,105 births were registered down from 59,238 in the year ending March 2020.

10.20am: Discovery confirms merger with AT&T

Discovery has confirmed it will merge with AT&T to create a single, standalone entertainment company. It brings together major brands like HBO, CNN, Discovery, Warner Brothers and Bravo under one roof and could have massive implications for little old TV3.

Earlier today, The Spinoff’s Duncan Greive broke down just how immense this media shift is.

Here’s an extract from his piece:

What’s the best case scenario for Three?

Around 20 years ago, Sky TV bought Prime to serve as a shop window for its stunning line-up of pay TV channels – bringing delayed All Blacks games and major HBO shows to free-to-air. There is a version of this merger which sees these brands all taken out to the large network of free-to-air stations the cable giant would own, and having them function as promotion for a new streaming colossus. Tova O’Brien breaking stories on CNN NZ at 6pm (and serving as the local correspondent for a global audience), before an evening of local reality TV souped up by global budgets and distribution – with major sports and drama rights for good measure? It really could happen.

And the worst case?

It could also swing the other way, with the New Zealand linear asset seen as too small and obscure, with the company’s focus all brought to bear on the streaming product. It might keep a local sales office, and a sprinkling of productions – just enough to maintain a local presence for a dual advertising-funded / subscription product offer. The gulf between those potential outcomes shows just how little we know about what this media leviathan might do with its vast empire.

Read Duncan’s full piece here

9.30am: Wellington bus drivers offered $10,000 to accept weakened deal

Wellington bus drivers are being offered a one-off cash boost of up to $10,000 if they accept a weakened collective agreement.

It follows a recent strike by drivers employed by NZ Bus in the capital.

As Stuff reported, drivers with more than five years’ service would be eligible for the full $10,000 and those with less than 5 years’ service would receive $5000.

As part of the new agreement, the base pay rate would rise from $19.29 an hour plus allowances to $22.10 an hour, or $24 for drivers with more than six months’ service. But, it would also see overtime pay and other benefits slashed.

The instant cash injection has been criticised as a dirty negotiation tactic, with the Tramways Union advising its members not to accept the proposed offer.

“It doesn’t cut it… we’re opposed to selling terms and conditions philosophically,” said Tramways secretary Kevin O’Sullivan​.

8.00am: Debt collectors ordered to recoup unpaid managed isolation fees

Debt collectors will be used to recoup thousands of dollars of unpaid managed isolation costs.

Under our MIQ rules, citizens and permanent residents are required to pay $3100, with $950 for each additional adult and $475 for each additional child (3-17 years old).

But new figures reveal just how much has yet to be paid. According to the Herald, 291 invoices were more than 180 days overdue by the end of last month, representing a combined total of $909,535. It’s unclear how much of this will be recovered through debt collection, but debt recovery action is only considered once invoices are 90 days overdue.

In a statement, National’s Covid-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop said that the party had acquired data showing the government was owed almost $7 million in overdue invoices from MIQ guests.

“Right now the government is operating MIQ under an honesty system,” he said. “It’s taking months for invoices to be issues for stays in MIQ, and then people have a further three months to pay on top of it. It’s a very lax system.”

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins agreed it was taking too long for payments to be made but said that was because of how complex the system is.

“I’ve sought advice on ways to do [simplify it] and on reducing the time before bills are considered overdue. It’s currently 90 days and we’re looking to reduce that to 30 days or to put people who are in challenging circumstances into a repayment plan,” he said.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

Immigration settings will be very different when the border reopens, the government announced last night. In a speech actually delivered by minister Stuart Nash (immigration minister Kris Faafoi was sick) the government told businesses to prepare to employ far fewer migrant workers, and far more locals. Political editor Justin Giovannetti reported in our live updates that it follows plenty of other signals in this direction from the government. Here’s a set of key paragraphs about the proposed changes, and what they signify:

In recent weeks the Labour government has said that immigrants have been responsible for driving down wages and pressures on the country’s infrastructure and housing. Tonight, Nash made it clear that the high levels of migration seen in recent years is no longer welcome.

“When our borders fully open again, we can’t afford to simply turn on the tap to the previous immigration settings. That path is a continuation of pressures on our infrastructure … and downward pressure on wages. Since the borders closed, we’ve seen a reversal in the horticulture sector, for example, where there’s been a lift in wages to bring in local workers,” said Nash.

Nearly 5% of the country’s workers are on temporary visas, by far the highest level in the OECD. Thousands of those workers, including many in the healthcare sector, haven’t been able to bring their families into the country over the past year because of Covid-19 restrictions. In a sign of what’s to come, Nash said that won’t change. The government is instead creating a new exemption for foreign businesspeople who want to come here to negotiate deals in-person.

The speech was more about a direction of travel than a set of hard numbers to work with. But even within that, some observers were left confused at that lack of detail, reports the NZ Herald. As Stuff reports, there was no further clarity on either how quickly the direction would be implemented, or whether more resources would go to the under-pressure Immigration NZ – the latter question will be answered on Budget Day. Politik (paywalled) reported that some observers were left wondering where the “Kiwis first” workforce was actually going to come from. On The Spinoff, Bernard Hickey argued that a lack of migration planning generally has contributed to the infrastructure and housing deficit New Zealand now faces.

And finally, the numbers that give context for the policy reset: Radio NZ reports that immigration – in terms of people from overseas countries coming to live here – basically stopped over the last year. The net migration gain for the country last year was about 6k people – the year before it was more than 90k.


Sāmoa has a new PM-elect, but it’s not yet clear if she will actually get the top job. The Supreme Court issued two major rulings around the disputed election: The first involved striking down an extra seat given to the incumbent HRPP on the grounds of a misapplied MP gender quota, and the second was to cancel the snap election that had been called later this month. As the Samoa Observer reports, the HRPP plans to appeal those rulings, and that’s not to mention the dozens of petitions currently before the courts, which could see further seats change hands. But if the situation stays how it currently is, Fiame Naomi Mataafa from the FAST party will become the first woman to be PM in Sāmoa.




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