Live updates, April 20: Vaccinated airport worker tests positive for Covid-19; Ihumātao deal ruled ‘unlawful’

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for April 20, bringing you the latest news updated throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

Top story: Airport border worker tests positive for Covid-19

5.40pm: Locations of interest released after airport worker tests positive for Covid-19

Three locations of interest visited by the Auckland airport worker who tested positive for Covid-19 today (see 1.25pm and 2.40pm updates) have been released by the Ministry of Health, which says the risk to the public appears low.

They are:

·        Westfield St Luke’s Food Court, Saturday 17 April 2021 12:15pm to 2:30pm
·        Bunnings New Lynn, Saturday 17 April 2021 2:30pm to 3:50pm
·        Movenpick Dominion Road, Saturday 17 April 2021 5:15pm to 7:20pm

People who were at these places at the relevant times are considered casual contacts, and should monitor their health and be aware of any symptoms of Covid-19, said the ministry. If anyone develops symptoms they should stay at home, contact Healthline on 0800 358 5453 and get a test.

The person, who cleaned planes that had arrived from high-risk countries at the airport, is currently isolating at home while being interviewed by health officials, said the ministry. They will be moved to the Auckland quarantine facility after this.

So far, 16 close contacts have been identified, which the ministry says will likely change. Five household contacts have been tested and have returned negative results, while close contacts from the person’s workplace are being identified, isolated, and tested.

Additional pop-up testing was set up at Auckland airport this afternoon, said the ministry.

As mentioned in the 2.40pm update, the person has been fully vaccinated – they received two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine early in February and March. “We know the Pfizer vaccine is highly effective, but at 95% effectiveness a small number may not be protected,” said the ministry. “Breakthrough infections happen with all vaccines. This shows us how important it is that as many New Zealanders as possible take up the offer to receive the vaccine when they are offered it and are protected. The more people that are vaccinated, the more protected we will all be.”

The PCR test from this case has been sent for whole genome sequencing, with results expected tomorrow, which will help provide information on how the person was infected, says the ministry.

3.15pm: Ihumātao deal ruled ‘unlawful’, PM defends process

The auditor general has ruled the government’s payment for land at Ihumātao was unlawful because the government did not seek the correct approvals for the purchase.

According to a statement on the auditor general’s website, opposition MPs David Seymour and Nicola Willis had complained about $29.9 million of the appropriation for the Land for Housing Programme being used to purchase the land at Ihumātao from Fletcher Residential Limited; the use of that amount being outside the appropriation for that programme and, therefore, potentially unlawful; and the importance of the public being reassured that significant sums of taxpayer money are being managed appropriately.

“In our view, the intent of the ministry, and the intent of ministers, was to establish a new appropriation that would provide authority for the purchase of the land at Ihumātao,” said the statement. “However, because the ministry did not seek the correct approvals, the expenditure was incurred without appropriation and without authority to use Imprest Supply. For these reasons, the payment is unlawful until validated by parliament.

“We do not intend to carry out further inquiry work into this matter as it will be addressed in the normal course of our controller work.”

Speaking at a press conference this afternoon, in response to the ruling, the prime minister said, “We’ve been confident on our side that we were using funding that was from Land for Housing, and that is ultimately what all parties have determined we are working towards.

“We were very clear this was land, once we reached this agreement, that will be utilised for housing. There’s a lot of work to go through between all parties to determine where on the land, how it can be most appropriately done, and how it can be used for housing for the community.”

National, Act, slam findings

Unsurprisingly, given they were behind the initial complaint, both National and Act have come out with press releases condemning the government.

“The auditor general’s report uncovers extremely dodgy behaviour from Labour government ministers as they tried to justify this spending,” National’s Nicola Willis said. “This is a disgraceful abuse of the law. Ministers are not a law unto themselves with authority to write cheques whenever they wish. They need to get the approval of parliament first.”

Act Party leader David Seymour agreed: “Grant Robertson illegally spent taxpayer money to solve a political problem created by Jacinda Ardern. Act has always said this deal was unlawful. The role of minister of finance carries with [it] a huge responsibility. Clearly Grant Robertson is not up to that task.”

Dietary Requirements tastes some advanced Australian fare

Crack open a carton of Oak flavoured milk, rip into a pack of BBQ Shapes and join Simon, Alice and Sophie for a special Australia Week episode of Dietary Requirements. They talk classic Aussie dining experiences, remember the time Simon got fired from an Australian-themed restaurant in Copenhagen, taste-test some kangaroo meat seared on the office sandwich press and more.

Subscribe and listen on Apple PodcastsSpotify or your favourite podcast provider.

2.40pm: Covid-positive border worker cleans planes, is fully vaccinated

Updated

An Auckland Airport worker who tested positive for Covid-19 cleans aeroplanes that have arrived in the country from red zone countries, Jacinda Ardern has revealed.

The prime minister is speaking to media from Papatūānuku Kōkiri Marae in Māngere, near Auckland Airport.

The worker tested positive for the coronavirus as part of routine testing, Ardern said, having tested negative a week prior on April 12.

Despite their positive test, they were fully vaccinated against Covid-19, the prime minister said. “They were vaccinated quite early on in our roll-out… so we would consider them fully vaccinated,” Ardern said. “We entirely expect that people who are vaccinated will still get Covid-19 but they won’t get sick and they won’t die.” The vaccine is about 95% effective, Ardern said.

The prime minister rejected claims that the new case indicated New Zealand had a “leaky” border and repeated her assertion that the virus is “tricky”.

“We are still undertaking the case investigation [and] are still gathering information,” she added.

Despite this new case arising just a day after the launch of the trans-Tasman travel bubble, Ardern was confident this would not impact green zone travel. However, she had not yet spoken to Australian PM Scott Morrison to discuss the matter.

1.25pm: Airport border worker tests positive for Covid-19

A border worker at Auckland Airport has tested positive for Covid-19, the day after the launch of the trans-Tasman bubble.

In a statement, the Ministry of Health confirmed the worker would be isolated, interviewed and their contacts and movements would be traced.

“More information will be provided later today and this case will be included in tomorrow’s totals,” the ministry said.

Meanwhile, there is one historical case of Covid-19 to report since yesterday – this case is a recent returnee who is considered recovered. The seven-day rolling average of new cases detected at the border is two.

The total number of active cases in New Zealand today is 86, with 17 previously reported cases now recovered. The total number of confirmed cases is 2,241.

The total number of tests processed by laboratories to date is 1,978,011. On Monday, 3,252 tests were processed. The seven-day rolling average up to yesterday is 4,254 tests processed.

As stipulated above, there will be a further update about the new border Covid-19 case later today and we’ll have all the details for you as soon as they drop.

12.20pm: NZME pinged $100k over stock exchange rule breach

Media company NZME – owners of the Herald and Newstalk ZB – has been fined $100,000 for breaching stock exchange rules.

According to an RNZ report, the company breached market rules by “releasing misleading information that was likely to have a material impact on the company’s share price” in May last year. It’s in relation to the company’s attempted merge with competing news organisation Stuff.

NZME gave the impression that its bid to acquire Stuff from Australian-owned Nine Entertainment was well under way and was waiting for government approval to consolidate the two companies, the Market Disciplinary Tribunal said.

“In the Tribunal’s view, the announcements were incomplete and had the potential to mislead the market because they gave the impression that NZME’s acquisition of Stuff was still progressing and subject only to overcoming the competition obstacle,” it said.

NZME gave no indication that its attempted merger was likely to fail as Nine had been offered a rival bid from Stuff’s chief executive Sinead Boucher, who ended up acquiring the company for $1.

NZME was publicly censured and ordered to pay $80,000 for the breach, and penalised $20,000 for a second breach of the rules for failing to notify the market promptly about the resignation of chair person Peter Cullinane.

11.45am: Young Labour breaks from parent party, calls for decriminalisation of drug use

The youth wing of our Labour Party has called for complete decriminalisation of drug use – a policy not endorsed by the party itself.

Young Labour held its annual conference in Auckland over the weekend where, the Herald reports, the issue of drug law reform was on the agenda.

In a subsequent Facebook post, Young Labour vice president Neihana Isaiah said: “With the ban of conversion therapy moving through Parliament, I’m looking forward to shifting my energy to new mahi – more specifically, decriminalisation of all drugs in Aotearoa.

“No one is saying drugs are good for you. However, the system we have in place is simply not working.”

Health minister Andrew Little has indicated that decriminalisation is not on the cards under this government, after last year’s cannabis referendum failed.

Going a step further, Young Act wants to legalise all low risk illicit substances, including cannabis, psilocybin (magic mushrooms), LSD, mescaline and MDMA.

While you’re here: have you watched The Spinoff’s web series Youth Wings?

11.25am: Details of US Treasury Secretary chat with Grant Robertson released

Finance minister and deputy PM Grant Robertson has talked with his American counterpart Janet Yellen, according to official minutes released today.

During the conversation, Yellen said she wished to work with Robertson on “tackling priority issues” for our two countries: “ending the pandemic, supporting the global economic recovery, fighting growing income inequality, and forcefully addressing the threat of climate change.”

10.25am: Exclusive Brethren spied on ex-members – report

I thought I’d direct your attention toward an absolutely insane report from investigative journalist Nicky Hager, broadcast on RNZ this morning.

The somewhat cult-like Exclusive Brethren church has been using private investigators Thompson and Clark to spy on former members of the church. According to the report, the firm has conducted “hundreds of hours of surveillance” over the past two years on former members who have criticised the church.

Thompson and Clark is the same firm that made headlines after spying on Greenpeace and Christchurch earthquake insurance claimants.

There’s not a lot more to say here but I urge you to check out the extensive piece and listen to Hager’s conversation with RNZ host Corin Dann.

9.50am: Government blames National for delays to Transmission Gully completion

The government is placing blame on its National-led predecessor for delays to the Transmission Gully highway north of Wellington.

A new report has found “serious flaws” at the planning stage of the project, which is finally expected to be completed at the end of this year.

In a statement, finance minister Grant Robertson said the review found the public-private partnership (PPP) established under the last National government lacked the proper rigour and consideration.

“The review found there was a lack of transparency as to how key PPP decisions were being made, less than ideal consenting risk management, a non-PPP scheme design used in the PPP procurement, and the price was set far too low from the beginning,” he said.

“Obviously this was not a recipe for success and I’ve asked the Infrastructure Commission Te Waihanga to revise New Zealand’s PPP guidance to make sure any future PPPs don’t encounter the same issues.”

Earthquake forecast just in: the Alpine Fault is due a major quake – and soon

New research shows that the risk of the big one hitting the South Island’s spine is far higher than previously thought, write Ursula Cochran and lead researcher Jamie Howarth.

Here’s an extract:

Calculating the chance of an earthquake on a particular fault currently relies on the long geological earthquake record, which is both notoriously hard to find and labour-intensive to decode. These records are rare worldwide, but here in New Zealand, on the Alpine Fault, we have one of the best. It’s been used to test whether computer models that simulate earthquake occurrence can replicate reality – and it turns out, they can. The days of routine forecasts of earthquakes on known active faults are getting closer.

It’s been a multigenerational journey of discovery. And it’s not over. But with research published this week in Nature Geoscience, there’s a step-change afoot in the forecasting of earthquakes.

It started with a pencil line in a field notebook back in the 1940s. At first it marked the boundary between rock types that Harold Wellman and Dick Willett noticed as they explored the South Island’s West Coast for minerals. But Wellman was quick to understand its significance. He knew it was the reason for the Southern Alps. He knew it was the reason that a band of dunite rock had been separated by hundreds of kilometres – leaving remnants in Nelson and Fiordland. In a time before plate tectonic theory, he argued for geologically recent and rapid sideways movement along the 3D plane he named the Alpine Fault. And he found evidence for how this occurred: metre-scale movement in repeated large earthquakes.

Check out the full piece here

8.00am: Concerns euthanasia patients may take unapproved drugs, suffer prolonged death

An investigation into how prepared New Zealand is to introduce euthanasia, following last year’s referendum, has uncovered concerns that people may be given unapproved drugs and subsequently suffer a prolonged and distressing death.

According to a report by Guyon Espiner, people who choose to swallow the life-ending medicines would be given drugs mixed up by a pharmacist and without Medsafe approval. Those who choose a lethal injection will be given medicines approved by Medsafe – but approved for a different purpose. 

It has raised concerns that people who choose to end their life may experience a traumatic and possibly prolonged death. 

An email from Dr Bryan Betty, medical director at the Royal New Zealand College of GPs, released to Espiner under the Official Information Act warned of the risks of mixing concoctions of drugs. 

In American states that could not access death penalty drugs due to cost and availability, people had suffered prolonged deaths, he said. “Belgium had a standard process but [this was] not used by many doctors for some years, also resulting in prolonged, distressing deaths,” the email read.

“I think we need to mitigate those risks upfront and be very prescriptive about what could be used and an end of life situation,” he said.”

Read the full investigation here


To mark the opening of the trans-Tasman bubble, The Spinoff is casting an eye across the ditch all week – read our Australia Week content here


7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

Foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta has sought to continue a ‘best of both worlds’ approach to the growing divide between China and US-led nations. The speech, made at the New Zealand China Council, comes at a time of significant difference between this country and Australia over how to deal with China. And as such, it’ll be closely watched by other Five Eyes countries. Our political editor Justin Giovannetti was there, and made the following assessments:

Did Mahuta speak at all to specific human rights abuses, or were there any more generalised statements?

Giovannetti: This was probably Nanaia Mahuta’s most significant policy speech yet. She compared China and New Zealand’s relationship to that of the dragon and the taniwha. It was a bit of a dense metaphor. In this case, the taniwha was very reserved to speak about the dragon’s human rights abuses. She said the government reserves the right to speak publicly about what she called “the developments in Hong Kong,” the treatment of the Uyghurs and “cyber incidents” but didn’t actually deliver any criticism yesterday.

How much did her comments contrast with those of trade minister Damian O’Connor recently, in which he said Australia should “follow us and show respect” to China?

Where O’Connor was blunt, Mahuta was trying to keep her head down–but the message wasn’t all that different. She wanted to tell New Zealand’s security partners, Australia and the U.S., that we are willing to criticise China, but we’ll do it privately. And she promised China, our main economic partner, that we’ll be a respectful, predictable and consistent friend. So no need to worry about New Zealand. Show respect, was basically O’Connor’s terribly delivered message and she echoed it.

Australian trade has been heavily punished by China in recent months. And looking ahead to the visit of Australian FM Marrisa Payne, does it suggest any movement towards their position?

None. I asked Mahuta after her speech about the inherent contradiction in New Zealand’s foreign policy: Our friends want us to criticise China, while China holds a lot of economic cards and won’t put up with any criticism from us. Instead of answering directly, she spoke about how the Five Eyes intelligence alliance hasn’t been used correctly by the other four members. They’ve put out statements on its letterhead to criticise China. It’s beyond the alliance’s remit and she won’t sign New Zealand up for it. It was strong, unequivocal language and got me thinking for the first time that the Five Eyes might look to shrink to four.

A few other pieces about the speech that are worth reading: Newsroom’s Sam Sachdeva picked up on how it wasn’t a complete embrace of China, with warnings made that the New Zealand economy needed to remain diverse. Waikato University international relations professor Al Gillespie wrote on The Conversation about how other democracies are moving on with new alliance formations, without including New Zealand. And on Politik, Richard Harman writes about how significant a break it represents away from the positions of former FM Winston Peters.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here




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