Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for February 19. Get me on firstname.lastname@example.org. Auckland is currently at alert level two and the rest of the country, level one.
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6.00pm: First Covid-19 vaccines given to vaccinators ahead of official rollout
People who will begin administering the Covid-19 vaccination to border workers tomorrow received their own jabs this afternoon, the Ministry of Health has announced. Twenty-five workers were vaccinated at the Jet Park quarantine facility in Auckland.
“Our trial run at the Auckland quarantine facility today has confirmed our processes and systems are ready ahead of our first official day vaccinating border and MIQ workers tomorrow,” director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said in a statement.
The vaccination of border and MIQ workers will begin at Jet Park tomorrow, with vaccinators receiving the jab in Wellington on Monday and Christchurch on Wednesday. About 12,000 border and MIQ workers are expected to be vaccinated over the next few weeks.
3.40pm: MediaWorks denies Peter Williams promoted conspiracy theory
MediaWorks has rejected that Magic Talk host Peter Williams was referring to a conspiracy theory when he questioned Grant Robertson about “The Great Reset”.
As reported earlier (see: 11am update), Robertson has pulled out of his regular interview slot with Williams after being quizzed on the debunk theory.
In a statement to The Spinoff, a MediaWorks spokesperson denied that Williams was referring to a Covid-19 conspiracy during the interview. “Peter Williams was referring to the World Economic Forum’s The Great Reset. He was not in any way referring to the conspiracy theories which have emerged with similar names,” the spokesperson said, linking to the WEF’s website.
A spokesperson for NZ Cricket – where Williams provides live commentary – would not comment on the matter other than to label Williams’ views “bizarre”.
2.50pm: Internet turns on Ted Cruz after Mexico trip
Former presidential candidate and Zodiac killer suspect Ted Cruz is in hot water after ditching his home state of Texas during an historical winter blast to visit Mexico.
As reported by The New York Times, Texan senator Cruz fled Houston to Cancún with his family for a respite at a luxury resort.
Texas is currently experiencing temperatures so low that pools have frozen solid, with many in the state going without power as well.
After returning to his home today, Cruz admitted he had made a “mistake” in leaving his constituents freezing in the dark to go on holiday. He said the trip had been a chance for him to do something good for his family. Leaked text messages from his wife, however, show they had travelled abroad to escape their “freezing” home.
"It was obviously a mistake. In hindsight, I wouldn't have done it. I was trying to be a Dad," Sen. Ted Cruz says after receiving criticism for flying to Mexico with his family during a major winter storm in Texas. pic.twitter.com/y8x22DxTgA
— Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) February 19, 2021
Twitter has not been Cruz’s biggest fan since news of his holiday broke. Previous interviews where Cruz criticised politicians for holidaying during crises were dug up and memes of his arrival back at the airport have been circulated.
OH MY GOD HERE WE GO WITH THE TED CRUZ MEMES just too funny:
Sorry I had to post! pic.twitter.com/HVPoOLurar
— al (@al_asifyouknow) February 19, 2021
1.50pm: New community Covid-19 case linked to recent outbreak
There is one new case of Covid-19 in the community linked to the recent Auckland outbreak, the Ministry of Health has announced.
The case – referred to as “case G” – is a household contact of cases D, E and F which were announced on Wednesday. This person had previously returned a negative test, taken on Monday, and has been isolating at home and is in the process of transferring to the Auckland quarantine facility.
There is one additional member of this household, who has returned a negative test result, but is also being transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility, said the ministry.
Genome sequencing has been completed for case F which showed a clear link to other cases in the cluster.
There are three new cases in managed isolation. One of the cases in managed isolation is classified as historical and deemed not infectious.
Contact tracing and test results
Other than the known cases which have been reported, all close contacts associated with the cases’ households, school and travel group to New Plymouth have returned negative results.
“Contact tracing has identified 128 close contacts associated with all cases in this cluster, aside from the positive cases which have previously been reported. Of these, 112 of the close contacts have returned a negative test result,” the ministry said. “We are awaiting test results for 16 people. Seven of these people are from the medical clinic and relate to Case C, which is considered a low risk exposure event, and nine are workplace contacts of Case E.”
All are in isolation and have been or are being tested.
As at 8.00am this morning, a total of 31 close contacts and 1,476 casual plus contacts have been identified at Papatoetoe High School. The number of casual plus contacts has decreased as these people were not at school at the time of exposure.
Of the 31 school close contacts, 30 have returned negative results, with one positive result (Case D).
Of the casual plus contacts (that is other students and staff at the school), 1412 have returned negative results, there is one positive (Case E), and 63 results are still to come.
“We do remind all students and staff at the school to please stay home and have a test if they haven’t already. School is expected to return on Monday February 22. Close contacts at the school will not return until they have been advised by public health that they can,” the minister said.
As part of the source investigation, LSG Sky Chef staff were also tested. As reported yesterday, all nine contacts in the laundry returned negative results. Of the 444 people in the wider working environment, 384 are negative and 59 results are pending.
Investigations will continue today into the second household group, including further interviews with contact tracing staff. “As a result, a potential increase in the number of locations of interest, close and casual plus contacts is not unexpected.”
“The priority is for close contacts and close casual contacts to be tested so we can understand any risk in the community.”
An investigation into the possible source of the recent outbreak is still ongoing, the ministry said.
“As we have said, all scenarios for potential infection sources continue to be thoroughly investigated including the school, the workplace and a managed isolation facility.”
The ministry added: “For completeness, we have reviewed previous cases for a similar genome and have not found any direct matches.”
A possible genomic similarity – but no direct match – involved a guest at the Four Points by Sheraton managed isolation facility in Auckland. Guests and their household contacts who were at the facility in late December are being contacted.
For the 265 people in the Four Points Sheraton Hotel, 176 have now been contacted. Of these, 149 have been assessed and cleared; nine are now overseas; 18 are being followed up by public health units for further investigation. Of the 89 people to be contacted, finding services have provided details for 44 and they are being contacted.
Finding services are actively pursuing details for the remaining 45 individuals. “ESR and health officials do not consider this a likely source of infection at this stage,” the ministry said.
1.35pm: Ministry late with Covid-19 update
If you’re tuning in for the 1pm Covid-19 update, you haven’t missed it. The Ministry of Health appears to be running a bit late with its scheduled media release.
We’ll have it for you when/if it arrives.
1.30pm: Youth-specific mental health services to be rolled out
The government is rolling out youth-specific mental health and addiction service around the country, after a more than $10 million investment.
Health minister Andrew Little made the announcement in Christchurch today, acknowledging the city has faced more than its fair share of events that may have caused anxiety.
“A lot of great work has been done to help support the people of Christchurch through very challenging times over the years and that has helped build the resilience of this community. But this government is committed to do more to help young people all across the motu to improve their wellbeing,” Little said.
Rolled out over the next few weeks, the services will be available in Bay of Plenty, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington, Kāpiti Coast, Hutt Valley and Canterbury. The services will be offered in a range of locations including youth one-stop shops (YOSS) and community centres, Little said.
“It’s important young people have a broad range of youth-friendly support they can access, that also reflect their specific needs. These services will help with early detection and intervention of any issues so we can set our young people up well for the rest of their lives.”
12.45pm: Billy TK quits politics, shuts down conspiracy-pushing party
The controversial leader of the Freedom Party (formally the Public Party) has announced he’s quitting politics.
Billy TK had hoped to become an MP after the October election, gaining a major online following through pushing back against the scientific consensus on Covid-19.
Today, he’s revealed he plans to focus on activism going forward.
“This is not the end of my fight for freedoms and being a voice for concerned Kiwis. I am leaving the political world to be what I have now become and that is a voice for all concerned New Zealanders and a commentator about the important issues as an independent activist journalist,” he said in a statement reported by the Herald.
TK teamed up with ex-National MP Jami-Lee Ross – founder of the Advance NZ party – in the last election. Together they received less than 1% of the vote. Since then, TK has continued to be a vocal opponent of the government’s Covid-19 plans. Last month, he spread a baseless rumour of a nationwide lockdown and held a rally at parliament.
11.35am: Visitor visa restrictions loosened, automatic extension announced
The government has announced a two month automatic visa extension for “most” visitor visa holders.
Immigration minister Kris Faafoi made the announcement, saying it will automatically apply to about 12,500 visa holders – excluding those on the short term Covid-19 visa.
“The government recognises that some visitor visa holders are keen to stay in New Zealand longer while the Covid-19 pandemic is still attacking communities in their home countries,” Faafoi said. “We have also listened to New Zealand’s business sector, including tourism ventures, which say foreign visitors who are still here can help our local economies.”
The extension will cover anyone on a visa that expires on or before March 31. During the two month extension, visa holders will have to apply for a new visa to stay longer.
In addition, the government has agreed to temporarily waive a rule which states that visitor visa holders can only be in New Zealand for nine months out of an 18 month period.
11.00am: Magic Talk host defends bringing up Covid conspiracy theory with deputy PM, says it’s not a conspiracy theory
It’s not been long since Magic Talk’s Sean Plunket quit the station in the aftermath of racist comments made by fill in host John Banks. Now, morning host Peter Williams is defending his choice to bring up a conspiracy theory during an interview with deputy prime minister Grant Robertson.
“Grant, what’s your understanding of the phrase – the movement – called “the Great Reset”, and is New Zealand going to be part of it?” Williams asked Robertson.
“Well, Peter, I think it’s actually absurd that you raise that on the programme today. My understanding – which I’ve only recently read about this – is this is a giant conspiracy theory,” said Robertson in response.
As explained by the BBC, the Great Reset is a “baseless” conspiracy theory that claims a group of world leaders orchestrated the pandemic to take control of the global economy.
“The conspiracy theory has its origins in a genuine plan entitled ‘The Great Reset’, drawn up by the World Economic Forum [WEF] the organisers of an annual conference for high-profile figures from politics and business. The plan explores how countries might recover from the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic.”
Robertson has since chosen not to return to the morning interview slot with Williams, with his press secretary saying shutting down conspiracy theories is “not really a constructive use of [Robertson’s time]”.
Later in his opinion piece, Williams said the Great Reset wasn’t a conspiracy theory: “It’s not as if the Great Reset doesn’t exist. There are websites, videos and a book written about it. It’s not a conspiracy theory. Klaus Schwab of the WEF uses the phrase regularly. And New Zealand is involved at the WEF.”
On the decision for Robertson to pull out of the regular interview slot over the exchange, Williams said he always thought of the deputy PM as a “level headed, amendable, approachable sort of bloke”.
“But something has set him off big time, and that’s the end of a beautiful relationship on my radio station. Oh well. That’s that. If that’s all it takes to get the deputy prime minister upset, then we – that is the country – has an issue.”
The Spinoff has approached MediaWorks – the owners of Magic Talk – for comment.
10.20am: ‘Let’s not stuff it up’ – Goff’s reminder to Aucklanders
Auckland’s mayor is asking the city’s residents to “not stuff it up” this weekend, following the recent Covid-19 outbreak in Papatoetoe.
“Like all Aucklanders, I am also really keen to get back to level one as soon as possible and stay there,” Phil Goff said in a statement, as reported by Stuff. “But all of that depends on how well we follow the rules this weekend. We’re almost there so let’s not stuff it up now.”
Despite the shift down from alert level three, Goff said we are “not out of the woods” and reminded Aucklanders to continue using the Covid Tracer app and social distancing while at level two.
“I know the temptation will be to make the most of the last days of summer but please remember gathering sizes are still limited. Even if you are at a gathering of less than a 100 people, you must maintain social distancing,” said Goff.
The city’s alert level will be reviewed by the government after the weekend, meaning any move down to level one will likely not kick in until Wednesday – pending any new community cases being reported.
9.25am: Trump misses being president, repeats false claim he won
Ex-president Donald Trump has given his first interviews since leaving office last month, appearing on right wing US media to repeat false claims about the 2020 election.
Speaking on Fox News, Trump – who lost the presidency by a substantial margin – said: “I think we won substantially”.
After his dramatic departure from social media following the Capitol riots in early January, Trump said he won’t be making a return to Twitter.
“We don’t want to go back to Twitter. I understand it’s become very boring and millions are leaving,” he told outlet Newsmax.
Trump didn’t shut down rumours he’d be staging a political comeback in 2024, saying he missed being in the Oval Office.
“It’s too early to say … but I see a lot of great polls out there,” he said, claiming that his historic second impeachment bolstered his political ratings.
9.00am: The agenda – what’s happening today?
There will be no 1pm press conference today but, as usual, the Ministry of Health will send out an update on the latest Covid-19 infections and any other important details. We’ll have that for you as soon as it lands in my inbox.
Meanwhile, at 2pm today the first vaccinations are set to be given out to those who will be in charge of the official rollout from tomorrow. There’s a lot more info below (in the 7.50am update), but vaccinators are being vaccinated today before border workers start to get their jabs from tomorrow. We should have some official footage to bring you later this evening.
7.50am: First Covid-19 vaccine to be given out today
While the official Covid-19 vaccine rollout kicks off tomorrow, today will see the people responsible for giving out the vaccinations getting the jab themselves.
It’s almost a year since New Zealand reported its first case of Covid-19.
Vaccinators will receive the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine today after a “dry run” this week that saw them learn what to do if things go wrong.
Meanwhile, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins has admitted we may never know the source of the recent Auckland outbreak. “We might not be able to get to a point where we say, ‘actually, this is what we think is the most likely [source]’,” he said, according to the Herald. The cause of the August outbreak also remained a mystery, Hipkins added.
7.40am: Top stories from The Bulletin
The Wellington City Council has made a dramatic series of votes, in a bid to come to grips with their current budget crisis. Many have proven to be distinctly unpopular with the politically engaged folk of the capital on social media – that’s how I came to be aware of the votes happening in the first place – but it could end up setting the tone for how the Council is viewed for the rest of their term. It was all in an effort to get the proposed long term plan over the line, so the effects could be far-reaching. The city is also in a perilous financial position, leaving many councillors feeling there is no alternative but cuts.
The biggest news was the plan to partially privatise the library. Ever since it was shut due to earthquake risk, the library has been a problem the council hasn’t really had any way to deal with. As the NZ Herald’s Georgina Campbell reports, that flies in the face of what councillors had previously agreed to, and many were angry and taken by surprise at this move. It won a vote regardless, but politically it is likely to be a real sore of an issue leading into the next elections – Radio NZ reports councillor Fleur Fitzsimons said “tot on my watch, no way” to the prospect of it.
The last-minute nature of many of those votes was a constant theme of the meeting. Stuff’s Joel MacManus was watching the live stream, noting that Council “effectively attempted to budget the next decade on the fly, throwing more than 30 amendments at the plan over the course of the day.” Cycleways were also part of the debate, with a big upgrade to the cycling budget narrowly losing. The deciding vote against the package ended up being deputy mayor Sarah Free, who was elected as part of the Green Party slate. A smaller amendment on funding for cycleways was later passed.
In political terms, the meeting appears to have done nothing to improve the already strained working relationships of councillors. And now they’re going to have to face the public on it all. As Macmanus writes, “their plan for the next 10 years was a chaotic patchwork plan which left no-one particularly happy, and will likely lead to the most contentious public consultation in recent memory.” Who ever said local government didn’t matter?
7.30am: Yesterday’s headlines
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.
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