Live updates, March 22: Isolation hotel worker tests positive; Trans-Tasman bubble plan revealed; Davis rebukes Corrections

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 22, bringing you the latest news throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

9.40pm: Isolation hotel worker tests positive

The Ministry of Health has announced a positive Covid-19 test result in a managed isolation worker at the Grand Millennium Hotel, Auckland. The test was undertaken as part of routine surveillance testing, though there are no details on timing. “The information available indicates the worker is asymptomatic. Further investigation is being undertaken this evening,” the ministry reports.

“The managed isolation worker and their immediate household members are isolating at home in Auckland this evening. Additional tests and whole genome sequencing are currently being arranged. Further information will be provided as available.”

Earlier today Jacinda Ardern announced that a date for the opening of a trans-Tasman travel bubble would be revealed on April 6 (see 4.10pm).

5.30pm: Collins chides ‘announcements about announcements’

Responding to this afternoon’s announcement that the timing on a “green travel zone” with Australia will be revealed on April 6 (see 4.10pm), Judith Collins has said: “The prime minister should have given us the certainty of a start-date today.”

The National Party leader said the “time for excuses and delays is over” and it was “time for action”. She added: “Our tourism sector has been pleading for help for a year now. Kiwis have been separated from their families for far too long. The government has had months to work out the complexities of a trans-Tasman bubble. It’s unbelievable that it still hasn’t figured this out … New Zealand should already be well advanced towards a trans-Tasman travel and turning its attention to allowing quarantine-free travel into New Zealand from more Pacific Islands.”

5.10pm: ‘Total faith’ in Corrections chief executive – Davis

There was a “systemic breakdown” that led to harmful practices at Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility in 2019 and 2020 (see 3.40pm), Corrections minister Kelvin Davis has said. The frontline prison officers had been “let down by the system higher up”. He expected Corrections to “make amends and apologise to the women affected”, and he would be apologising, too.

It follows a District Court judge ruling that inmates had been treated in a “degrading”, “cruel” and “inhumane” manner as part of a “concerted effort to break their spirit”.

He confirmed that the review of women’s prisons would include looking at the prison operations manual and Corrections regulations to make sure they align with Hōkai Rangi, as well as additional training for frontline staff on the use of force and segregation management of difficult situations. “It’s inappropriate for women in prison to be treated as if their needs are the same as male prisoners,” he said.

He was not, however, calling for the resignation of the chief executive of Corrections, Jeremy Lightfoot, however. He had “total faith” in his work, Davis said.

“We need to have a good look at the way these women have been treated, and other women, and make sure we don’t keep making the same mistakes.”

Davis has also asked for the establishment of an external reference group led by the chief inspector to look at the complaints system.

Asked about allegations of strip-searching, Davis said he sought “assurances they were being treated in accordance with the Corrections Act, so despite what we’ve just discussed I have to have faith in my Corrections team that the information I am getting is accurate. Certainly, there are times when all prisoners go through strip searches, but it must be done in accordance with the act.”

4.20pm: Ardern pledges to ‘tip the balance away from property investors and towards first home buyers’

Most of the discussion at the post-cabinet press conference has focused on the trans-Tasman travel bubble, but Jacinda Ardern has also trailed tomorrow morning’s announcements on housing. The goal, she said, was to “tilt the balance towards first time buyers and increase housing supply”.

Ardern laid out the grim reality of the housing market in 2021. “Decades of failure to invest. Increasing numbers of speculators in the market. Unsustainable house price growth, locking out first time buyers. Soaring rent levels and restrictive planning rules. Property investors now make up the biggest share of buyers in the market. Meanwhile house prices are rising much faster than wages, so homes continue to climb out of reach for many first time buyers, and the New Zealand housing market has become the least affordable in the OECD.”

She added: “It will take time to turn all this around, and unfortunately, there is no silver bullet. But there are things we can do.”

So what to expect tomorrow? “A suite of both urgent and longer term measures. The package will include steps to increase the supply of houses and improve affordability for home buyers and renters. It will aim to tip the balance away from property investors and towards first home buyers, and curb rampant speculation.”

We’ll have the announcement in full here at 9am tomorrow.

4.10pm: Ardern announces timetable (for announcing) travel bubble with Australia

A commencement date for a “green travel zone with Australia” will be revealed on April 6, Jacinda Ardern has announced. The criteria for opening the bubble are, she said, as follows:

  1. The response framework for when there is an outbreak in Australia is in place.
  2. Measures to contact trace visitors.
  3. Technical issues including transiting passengers.
  4. Appropriate regulatory measures.
  5. Airlines, airports and agencies ready to go.
  6. Director general of health has provided an updated assessment.

The approach now was to “work through an arrangement that sees us operating with some [Australian] states but not others”, Ardern said at the post-cabinet press conference.

Ardern confirmed that closing the travel bubble was likely to happen at very little notice if an outbreak occurred. “There may be occasions where we take a precautionary approach and travel ceases.” She added: “There will be an element of flyer beware.”

Asked about what quarantine-free travel would mean in terms of increasing the proportion of arrivals from higher-risk countries in MIQ hotels, Ardern said the government would consider to what extent the vacated spaces would be required for “emergency situations involving the bubble”. She said an announcement about MIQ capacity would be made at the same time the bubble date is revealed.

4.00pm: Ardern to speak on bubble with Australia

Via RNZ, here’s a livestream of today’s post-cabinet press conference:

3.40pm: ‘I want and expect better from Corrections’ – Kelvin Davis asks for urgent overhaul of women’s prison management

The corrections minister Kelvin Davis has rebuked his own department and asked for an urgent overhaul and review of women’s prisons, saying: “I want and expect better from Corrections”.

He’s also apologised for the harm caused to prisoners as a result of practices in place and said Corrections should do the same.

Davis’ strong words come after receiving a report by the District Court regarding incidents that took place at the Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility in 2019 and 2020, as detailed extensively by RNZ’s Guyon Espiner.

It’s a turnaround from comments he made last year, when he said Corrections had assured him harmful practices were not in place at the facility.

In a letter to the chief executive of Corrections, Davis said the failings noted in the report are “unacceptable”.

“At the outset I sought further information from Corrections, received advice from the attorney-general around concerns I had and have now reviewed the chief inspector’s preliminary findings,” Kelvin Davis said.

“The failings highlighted in the chief inspector’s report are unacceptable. The lack of oversight and leadership has had a major impact on prisoners.”

In his letter, Davis said his expectations include:

  • That Corrections accepts the recommendations provided by the Chief Inspector.
  • A detailed plan outlining how Corrections will address systemic issues raised about ARWCF, with a staff member from the Chief Inspector’s Office allocated to oversee implementation for 12 months.
  • An urgent overhaul of the maximum security classification for women, the development of management plans for women and a review of all women’s prisons.
  • That Corrections review parts of the prison operations manual and relevant Regulations that relate to areas of concern mentioned by the chief inspector.
  • That additional training is provided to frontline custodial staff with a focus on use of force, segregation, use of cells and searches, and management of difficult situations.
  • An external team to review the complaints process, with the chief inspector to allocate more staff to oversee the complaints process at each prison site.

Davis will speak to the media at 5pm.

3.20pm: Ardern poised to reveal new details of trans-Tasman bubble

The prime minister will be fronting a 4pm press conference today to reveal new details of cabinet’s discussion about a trans-Tasman travel bubble.

However Jacinda Ardern this morning lowered expectations about what will actually be announced at 4pm. While she confirmed cabinet would be discussing the bubble this afternoon, Ardern said: “today is not the day that you’re going to get that final date and decision”.

If that’s the case, National will not be happy. The opposition released a press statement today flaunting its 41,000-strong petition calling for a travel bubble. “Our tourism sector is crying out for this. The longer the government waits, the more jobs we will lose and the more businesses we will see close down,” said Chris Bishop, National’s Covid-19 response spokesperson.

Air New Zealand appears to have predicted a mid-April start for travel to resume across the Tasman. Its homepage displays a link for bookings direct to Hobart in Tasmania, while the Herald is reporting the airline is selling tickets to a longer list of Australian destinations.

We’ll have all the details, including a livestream of Ardern’s press conference, from 4pm.

Photo: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

2.30pm: Spy agency’s report into Christchurch attack released

New Zealand’s spy agency the SIS has released its full report into the events of March 15, 2019.

The 135-page internal report ordered by the SIS after the Christchurch terror attack found the agency’s systems were “broadly effective”, according to RNZ.

However, there were areas that could be improved, with the report suggesting more resources should go toward identifying emerging threats and sharpening up strategic intelligence analysis.

In a statement, SIS director-general Rebecca Kitteridge said the agency had now “strengthened the way we identify and investigate national security threats, and has changed the mechanism through which leads are prioritised and assessed”.

She added: “It is important for New Zealanders to know that NZSIS sought to learn everything it could from this terrorist attack.”

Read the full report here


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1.50pm: Covid-19, on this day

Your daily look at where we were in the Covid-19 pandemic one year ago: 

March 22, 2020: New Zealand had just moved into alert level two for the first time. The country was just days away from shifting into total lockdown.

On this day, 14 new cases were confirmed and community transmission had yet to be ruled out. The total number of cases in New Zealand was 66.

1.20pm: When can you get the Covid-19 vaccine? New online vaccine tool launched

The Ministry of Health has launched a new online tool allowing you to work out when you can get the Covid-19 vaccine.

Earlier this month, the government unveiled a four-tiered system for the vaccine roll-out, with those in group one already receiving the jab.

(Image / MOH)

The new tool allows you to work out what group you are in and provides a rough timeline for when you can get the Pfizer vaccine. As you can see below: I’ll be waiting until July.

I won't be getting the vaccine until July

(Image / MOH)

Find out when you can get the vaccine here

1.05pm: Eight new cases in MIQ, none in the community

There are no new cases of Covid-19 in the community, the Ministry of Health has confirmed. Since yesterday’s update, there have been eight new cases in managed isolation.

There is also one new historical case to report. The total number of active cases in New Zealand today is 63.

Our total number of confirmed cases is 2,106.

Five of the new cases announced today have arrived in the country from India via the United Arab Emirates, with three cases testing positive at day 12 of their stay in MIQ.

The total number of tests processed by laboratories to date is 1,852,557. On Sunday, 2,690 tests were processed. The seven-day rolling average up to yesterday is 4,447 tests processed.

Scratched: Now available on TVNZ OnDemand

Both seasons of The Spinoff’s acclaimed web series Scratched can now be viewed on TVNZ OnDemand!

Winner of best sports programme at the 2020 NZ TV Awards, Scratched finds and celebrates the lost sporting legends of Aotearoa.

In season two: enjoy stories of what could have been, like revolutionary long jumper Tuariki Delamere and pioneering skateboarder Lee Ralph. There are stories of athletes before their time, like triple-international Jane Tehira, and athletes whose performances were overshadowed by other events, like 1990 Commonwealth Games gold medal gymnast Angela Walker. And in the case of weightlifting legend Precious McKenzie, there’s the story of a world-beating athlete who made New Zealand his home.

Check out the complete Scratched collection on TVNZ OnDemand 

11.45am: Skypath ‘scrapped’, replacement plan in the works

Plans for a cycling and walking path across the Auckland Harbour Bridge have reportedly been pushed back and the current Skypath plan scrapped, according to the Herald’s Simon Wilson.

According to reports, there were concerns about the agreed upon design and the capacity of the piers to take the extra load. A replacement plan will be announced at some time in the future.

The revelation is a blow for cycling enthusiasts who will now likely face years of delays before an updated plan is unveiled. Greater Auckland director Matt Lowrie told Newstalk ZB it was disappointing.

“The Skypath is very much needed. It was needed years ago and we need to get on with and find a way to get it built,” he said. “We will be watching very closely to see what happens next.”

Chair of Bike Auckland Barb Cuthbert told Newshub the delay related to the bridge itself. “Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport have told me themselves that there is a technical issue to do with how the pathway is supported. So it’s all to do with the piers it seems.”

In the short term cyclists need to be given a lane on the Harbour Bridge to use, she said. “Auckland is now growing with apartment development. There is a huge complex planned just right by the motorway on Esmonde Road and it is specifically designed to get people easy to the city, it has its own cycling bridges out the back and it’s designed to link up and get people into town, so doing nothing is not an option.”

On the agenda

1.00pm: We’re expecting the latest Covid-19 info from the Ministry of Health. We’ll have this up as soon as it lands in my inbox.

4.00pm: Jacinda Ardern will front the regular post-cabinet press conference where she is expected to provide an update on the trans-Tasman bubble. Cabinet are meeting today to discuss travel with Australia, but as reported earlier (see: 8.00am update) there is not expected to be any finalised details today.

10.00am: O’Connor’s comments on tourism ‘appalling and offensive’, says National

National’s tourism spokesperson Todd McClay has slammed comments made by Damien O’Connor, calling them “appalling and offensive”.

Last week, O’Connor – the agriculture minister – said that Covid-19 has taught the tourism industry “not to be so cocky”.

In a statement, McClay said the comments are “tone deaf” and “out of touch” with what’s going on in the tourism industry. ”

“This week more Kiwis will be forced to lay off their staff and close their businesses. They are not cocky,” he said.

“Tourism was our largest export earner and employed more than 400,000 people. Hardworking Kiwis have borrowed against their houses and poured their life savings into keeping their businesses afloat.”

9.15am: MIQ system receives about 100 complaints each week

The managed isolation booking system is receiving about 100 formal complaints every, according to a report by RNZ’s Katie Todd.

It follows recent criticisms over the system, with people wanting a place in MIQ having to reserve a spot several months in advance. Two weeks ago, when spaces for June and July were released, the website crashed after a million hits.

8.00am: No ‘final date’ on travel bubble today, says Ardern

Following on from the top story in today’s Bulletin:

A trans-Tasman travel bubble will be discussed in cabinet today – but the prime minister isn’t revealing anything ahead of those talks.

Jacinda Ardern repeated her assurance to The AM Show that the bubble will open “soon” but remained cagey around when exactly it would be. Recent reports suggested it would be mid-to-late April, but Ardern would not comment. An update will be provided at today’s post-cabinet press conference.

However: “Today is not the day that you’re going to get that final date and decision,” said Ardern.

Establishing a bubble has been harder for New Zealand than Australia, Ardern said, as “we’re dealing with multiple states” while Australia only has to deal with one. “This is something that we have been working hard on,” she said.

Ardern warned that even when the bubble has been set up, it’s possible that it could be turned off if an outbreak occurs in New Zealand while people are in Australia. “People need to be aware that this will continue,” she said.

After commenting that a lot of people remain “anxious” about international travel resuming, Ardern said that she herself was not concerned. A travel bubble would only be signed off when cabinet was confident it was safe, she said.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

It’s a subject that has been well covered in recent days, but that’s partly because it’s one of the most important subjects in the country right now. So in terms of recent developments, cabinet is expected to be discussing today a proposal for a trans-Tasman travel bubble. Radio NZ reported yesterday that there are high hopes among the tourism and travel industries for it opening up, with a massive rush of bookings expected even just between New Zealand and Australia. And it’s also fair to say it would mark a major change in what life in New Zealand is like, and the relative isolation of the country right now.

Even if tourism restarts with Australia, the industry cannot expect things to necessarily go back to exactly how they were before. Minister Stuart Nash has been outlining his vision in recent days – as Justin Giovannetti reports, that is heavily based around cutting back on the volume of tourists, but trying to squeeze more money out of each of them, either through spending or levies. Just on the types of tourism generally, this is a fascinating story from Marlborough LDR Chloe Ranford about how many freedom campers tried to park up in contravention of bylaws over summer.

On other travel bubbles, National is pushing hard for Fiji, Samoa and Tonga to become part of one with New Zealand. Judith Collins told Newshub that it was necessary both to support the islands through tourism, and to allow recognised seasonal employer (RSE) workers into New Zealand – more stories about that below. But it isn’t entirely clear that the Pacific countries actually want a bubble with New Zealand – here’s an excerpt from this morning’s Politik email newsletter that suggests the opposite.

“There are calls now to open up bubbles with the Pacific, but both Samoa and Tonga tightly restrict any inward migration. New Zealand officials have had difficulty even persuading them to accept repatriation flights of New Zealand RSE workers. POLITIK understands they have not requested a travel bubble with New Zealand.” 


An important new study into one of the hidden harms of bottom trawling – the destructive fishing practice that involves dragging weighted nets across the seafloor. Stuff has reported on the Nature journal article, which found that an immense amount of carbon gets released as a result – more carbon in fact than was released by global air travel in 2019. That’s because the ocean floor acts as a massive and vital carbon sink, so by disturbing that habitat humanity is increasing the likelihood of catastrophic climate change. The study has added momentum to calls from campaigners for a ban on the practice.




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