Live updates, April 21: Confirmed – Airport worker infected with Covid-19 after cleaning plane

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for April 21, bringing you the latest news updated throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

3.15pm: Watch – PM attends Prince Philip memorial

The prime minister Jacinda Ardern and governor general Patsy Reddy are among those attending a memorial service for Prince Philip in Wellington today.

The Duke of Edingburgh, who died almost two weeks ago at the age of 99, was farewelled by the Royal Family in the UK on Saturday.

Today, a state memorial is being held in Wellington at the Cathedral of St Paul. The Duke had visited the cathedral on several visits to New Zealand, most recently in 2002.

On The Spinoff today

It’s been a massive news day and I am very tired. If you’re looking for other stuff to read this arvo, check out:

  • Rawiri Paratene is a proud paka: Actor, protestor and overall blimmin’ legend, Rawiri Paratene is about to retire from the stage. Sam Brooks spoke to him as he prepares to say goodbye.
  • The writer of Vegas responds: An essay published by The Spinoff Ātea editor Leonie Hayden on the new drama series Vegas, and Māori representation on screen, prompted an overwhelming response from Māori working in the sector. Vegas co-creator, writer, showrunner and executive producer Michael Bennett (Te Arawa) defends the series.
  • How to visit Australia without leaving the country: With the trans-Tasman travel bubble finally open, no one would blame you for jumping on a plane straight to the outback. But if airfares aren’t in your budget, Alice Webb-Liddall explains how to do a tour of Australia, New Zealand.

1.00pm: Confirmed – Airport worker infected with Covid-19 after cleaning plane

Updated

The link between a new case of Covid-19 and a recent returnee has strengthened. Chris Hipkins has confirmed the latest case – a cleaner at Auckland Airport – had cleaned the plane that brought the returnee to New Zealand on April 10, from Ethiopia via the UAE.

The worker tested positive on Monday during weekly routine testing, having tested negative a week prior.

At this stage, there are no new cases of Covid-19 linked to the worker. The person has 25 close contacts – including 17 work colleagues – seven of whom have returned negative results. The person worked three shifts during their infectious period.

The person wore full PPE while cleaning and cleaned planes from green zone countries as well as red zones, said Hipkins.

“We have been in touch with Australian authorities about the case, and believe there is no risk to people travelling on those green zone planes to and from Australia,” he added.

Meanwhile, Hipkins announced he had received his second dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 jab. “I know you all want to know – I’m feeling fine. Once again it was a trouble-free experience,” said Hipkins.

As of last night, 183,351 doses of the vaccine have been administered to date. Hipkins said the vaccine roll-out is “on track”. 41% of the first dose vaccinations have been delivered in the Auckland region, with 19% Māori or Pasifika.

Only 16,314 of the estimated 50,000-odd household contacts of border workers have received their first vaccine dose, said Hipkins. “I’d like that number to be higher.”

Hipkins said he is writing to the chief executives of all of the companies involved in our border and managed isolation response, reminding them that their staff need to be getting regular Covid-19 tests.

Finally, Hipkins acknowledged news of people handing out factually incorrect pamphlets about mask wearing to Wellington commuters. “My message to all those coming through the Wellington train station is if you receive one of these pamphlets, the Wellington train station has helpfully provided a variety of receptacles for these – they’re called the rubbish bin.”

This group’s actions are “highly disrespectful” to the small group of people who legitimately do require an exemption for a mask, said Hipkins.

There is just one new case of Covid-19 in managed isolation today: an arrival from Switzerland who tested positive after a routine day three test.

Top stories:

It’s been a massive morning of news: here’s what you need to know today.

FIRST: Finn Andrews on bombing in front of King Kapisi at his first Rockquest

The Veils singer talks us through his first big onstage disaster, first musical hero and more in our new video and podcast interview series.

Subscribe and listen to FIRST on your favourite podcast provider.

12.05pm: Cost of transport, housing, up in March quarter

Transport prices rose by almost 4% in the March quarter – the highest quarterly rise in more than a decade.

That, coupled with a 1% rise for housing, pushed the consumers prices index up a mere 0.8%, said Stats NZ.

Meanwhile, petrol prices rose by a substantial 7.2% (the biggest quarterly rise since mid-20165) but, overall, they’re currently down 3.8% on the same time in 2020.

“Global oil prices plunged in early 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. Prices have risen since then,” prices senior manager Aaron Beck said.

11.10am: Billy TK-led group pushes anti-mask propaganda onto Wellington commuters

Conspiracy theorists rallied by former political hopeful Billy Te Kahika have been handing out anti-mask propaganda to Wellington commuters.

Official-looking pamphlets titled “What’s all the fuss about masks?” were given to people waiting to board trains out of the capital at peak hours yesterday, reports RNZ.

The flyers – that matched the official Ministry of Health Covid-19 colour scheme and came complete with logos – were created by Te Kahika’s group The Freedom Alliance. It even included an exemption card that purported to tell commuters they could opt-out of wearing a face mask on public transport.

According to RNZ, one of those handing out the pamphlets was a “self-confessed conspiracy theorist” called Mike – a volunteer for the Freedom Alliance. He said he had not actually read the pamphlet he was giving out and had no idea it had not been approved by the Ministry of Health.

“Well, this whole Covid thing is not just masks, it’s everything. It’s about the lockdown. It’s about the vaccinations. This is only a tiny element,” he said.

Read Charlotte Cook’s full report here and, if you’re interested, you can check out a new feature on Covid-19 conspiracy theories in the wellness community here.

10.55am: Still getting your head around the health sector overhaul?

If you need more detail on the major health sector reforms announced this morning (see here), Bulletin editor Alex Braae has put together a substantive explainer that should give you all you need to know.

Check that out here

9.50am: Scrapping DHBs will remove ‘local voice’, says National

The opposition has criticised today’s major health reforms, saying the abolition of District Health Boards will see our regions and smaller communities lose their voice and their autonomy. The party has pledged to repeal the newly announced centralised health service and seperate Māori Health Authority, if re-elected in 2023.

“Our regions know what works for them when it comes to keeping their communities healthy, and that isn’t always having Wellington dictate terms,” National’s health spokesperson Shane Reti said in a statement.

“Removing DHBs is similar to when Regional Health Authorities were centralised, it didn’t work then and it won’t work now.”

Reti said that the government should have considering consolidating some DHB functions, rather than centralising the entire system.

“We have no idea how much this plan will cost, how long it will take to implement, or how disruptive this process is going to be,” Reti added.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, party leader Judith Collins has retweeted a post claiming that the new Māori Health Authority is “separatist”.

Collins also agreed with one tweeter who said the sweeping health reforms will be a “cluster F”.

“Taking the focus off getting vaccines out,” Collins said. “Remember when we would have the winter flu vaccine out by this time each year.”

9.10am: Derek Chauvin found guilty of George Floyd’s murder

Former US cop Derek Chauvin has been found guilty of the murder of George Floyd.

Chauvin was convicted by a racially diverse jury that had been deliberating for the past two and a half days.

Floyd died last May after Chauvin pinned him down by the neck for more than nine minutes, triggering worldwide protests against police brutality and racism.

Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He was convicted on all three counts.

According to US media, the conviction could see Chauvin put behind bars for most of his life – if the harshest sentences are handed down. The maximum sentence for second-degree unintentional murder is imprisonment of not more than 40 years, while Chauvin could face 25 years in prison for third-degree murder an additional decades for the manslaughter conviction.

Chauvin had pleaded not guilty on all charges.

Ahead of the verdict, protests in Minneapolis were predicted: some stores were boarded up, the courthouse was surrounded by concrete barriers and razor wire, and thousands of National Guard troops were on standby.

Earlier today, president Joe Biden admitted he was “praying” for Chauvin to be convicted and had spoken to Floyd’s family.

“They’re a good family and they’re calling for peace and tranquility no matter what that verdict is,” Biden said. “I’m praying the verdict is the right verdict. I think it’s overwhelming, in my view. I wouldn’t say that unless the jury was sequestered now.”

(Photo: Jeenah Moon/Getty Images)

8.35am: Verdict reached in George Floyd murder trial

We’re briefly jumping away from the health announcement here in New Zealand (see below) to the trial of former Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin, charged with the murder of George Floyd.

Floyd died last May after Chauvin pinned him down by the neck for more than nine minutes, triggering worldwide protests against police brutality and racism.

Today, US president Joe Biden controversially weighed into the trial, saying he was “praying” for the right verdict. “I think it’s overwhelming, in my view. I wouldn’t say that unless the jury was sequestered now.”

According to local media, the jury has reached its verdict and we’re expecting it to be delivered any minute now.

Watch live:

8.10am: DHBs to be abolished, replaced with national health service

Updated

The government has revealed sweeping changes to the health sector, abolishing all 20 District Health Boards and replacing them with a national health service – Health New Zealand.

A new Māori Health Authority will also be established that will have the power to commission health services, monitor the state of Māori health and develop policy.

Today’s announcement goes well beyond a significant health report delivered to the government last year that recommended halving the number of DHBs, but preserving the existing system.

Speaking at parliament, health minister Andrew Little said the changes would see the end of the “postcode lottery” and mean that health workers can focus on helping people rather than battling bureaucracy.

“The reforms will mean that for the first time, we will have a truly national health system, and the kind of treatment people get will no longer be determined by where they live,” Little said.

The new system will be overseen by a “strengthened Ministry of Health”, said Little, which will also advise the government on policy matters. The ministry will continue to be fronted by the director general of health.

“The reforms herald a change in focus for the health system – we will treat people before they get sick so they don’t need to go to hospital, thereby taking the pressure off hospitals,” Little said. “The reforms will also ensure the system is able to cope with the effects of an ageing population and respond more quickly to public health crises like the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Also at the announcement was associate health minister Peeni Henare, who said Māori continue to lag behind in key health status indicators. “Māori health has suffered under the current system for too long,” Henare said. “We will legislate for a new independent voice – the Māori Health Authority – to drive hauora Māori and lead the system to make real change.”

Little said that the Covid-19 pandemic is not a reason to preserve the current system, but instead shows what can be achieved when all 20 DHBs work as one. “That is exactly what the current reforms aim to do. I am mindful we need to progress carefully and not disrupt day-to-day health services. No one should miss out because the system was distracted by change,” he said.

Maintaining services – including the Covid-19 vaccination programme – will be a priority during the transition, Little confirmed.

The new health system is expected to be in place by July next year.

Watch below:

8.00am: New Covid-19 case is UK variant, linked to recent arrival

Genomic testing has confirmed a direct link between the latest case of Covid-19 – a worker at Auckland Airport – and a recent arrival who landed in the country on April 10. It’s also confirmed the worker, who cleans planes that have arrived from red zone countries, has contracted the highly transmissible UK strain of the virus.

Speaking to RNZ, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said that at this stage there was no risk to the trans-Tasman bubble as a result of the new case.

Based on the genomic testing, health officials are confident that the worker caught the virus directly from the Covid-positive arrival with no intermediaries. “Looking at the [testing]… it would suggest that it was direct person-to-person,” Hipkins said.

Asked how the virus may have spread, Hipkins said an investigation was still under way but posited that it could be to do with the plane’s air conditioning being switched off for cleaning. “It’s possible that if someone with Covid-19 has been leaving droplets in the air… the air is quite stagnant,” he suggested.

Based on the information he has so far received, Hipkins said the worker had been doing everything right before their Covid-19 diagnosis. “The worker concerned was a very diligent worker, signed in regularly, was tested like clockwork every week, had both their vaccinations early in the programmes, wore PPE as appropriate… if there are any issues here that will be highlighted [in the report],” he said.

Last night, three locations of interest were released in relation to this new case.

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

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

A scathing review has outlined how the budget blew out for major Wellington road Transmission Gully. As Stuff’s Thomas Coughlan reports, the contract was put out at an unrealistically low price in the first place, and that key errors were made when in 2012 the National government decided to change it from a public works project to a public-private partnership. The details of the story reveal some remarkable moments of magical thinking on the part of those involved, for example, see this paragraph:

Setting the tender price so low meant firms were tendering for a project knowing that it was unrealistic to be able to deliver it at that cost. The review noted that setting the price low essentially “double counted” cost savings because the public sector figure was already required to consider the most efficient and cost-effective way of doing things.

That has put those who were around in the previous government on the back foot. National’s transport spokesperson Michael Woodhouse said “the report makes some quite outrageous comments that imply that the contractors were forced into signing up to a contract” – in other words, if they didn’t like it, they shouldn’t have signed on, reports Radio NZ. He also took something of an ‘all’s well that ends well’ view of it, saying Transmission Gully will actually soon be finished and open. The road is being delivered behind schedule, but in fairness that schedule included an earthquake, which made delays inevitable.

What does it mean for the future of massive projects like this? Infrastructure NZ put out a release noting the criticisms, but defending the concept of PPP’s as being useful. “New Zealand has a very large nation-building investment programme ahead. Use of private capital to manage public cashflows, inject innovation, attract international expertise and better allocate risk is critical to successful delivery,” said INZ policy director Hamish Glenn. But I think it’s also worth looking back at this piece on The Spinoff from last year by Matt Lowrie, which argued that Transmission Gully showed how dangerous PPPs could be. A key line: “With interest rates at record lows and much of the risk still sitting with the government, it’s hard to see what value PPPs bring – other than delivering good returns to private financiers.”

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