Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for April 22, bringing you the latest news updated throughout the day. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
3.40pm: Australian PM set to visit NZ ‘in two weeks’
It’s been confirmed that Australian PM Scott Morrison will make his way across the Tasman – but the official details are being kept under wraps.
Australian foreign minister Marise Payne is in the country at the moment for a biannual meeting with her counterpart Nanaia Mahuta. It’s the first official visit to New Zealand by an Australian government rep since border restrictions were imposed over a year ago.
The details of Payne and Mahuta’s meeting today remains vague, with a press release giving the ambiguous explanation that the duo “discussed the importance of promoting our shared interests in an open, resilient and prosperous Indo-Pacific”.
A new episode of Remember When…
In the latest episode of Remember When… we’re looking back on the nice, different, unusual TV masterpiece Kath & Kim for Australia Week. Join The Spinoff’s Jane Yee, Josie Adams and Lucy Reymer as they reminisce about a show that, as I’ve discovered this week, holds up surprisingly well.
2.20pm: Watch – Aus, NZ foreign ministers front joint press conference
Australia’s foreign minister Marise Payne is in the country for a whirlwind tour, just days after the launch of the trans-Tasman bubble.
She’s about to front a press conference with her New Zealand counterpart Nanaia Mahuta after the pair met today.
2.00pm: Corrected child poverty stats reveal more children in material hardship than previously thought
Stats NZ has revealed corrected child poverty statistics, after a mistake was discovered in the calculation of the median household income.
The corrections applied have resulted in changes to the published statistics for the year ended June 2020, said Stats NZ.
“After the corrections are applied, all nine key measures of child poverty remain trending downwards across the two years since the year ended June 2018,” work, wealth, and wellbeing statistics senior manager Sean Broughton said.
Overall, the differences are slight but still noticeable – there are minor improvements and declines across the figures. For example, the original statistics showed the percentage of children living in material hardship at 11% – the updated figure is 11.3%.
Despite that 0.3% difference, it still represents a 1.9% improvement than from the previous June’s statistics.
Children’s commissioner Andrew Becroft has welcomed the updated statistics, saying reliable numbers are “vital” when working towards child poverty reduction.
“A different number behind a decimal point doesn’t change things for the thousands of tamariki and whānau doing it tough. Children who are growing up in a motel, or whose families are struggling to pay for the basics, still need big bold changes to unlock opportunities to live their best lives,” he said.
1.10pm: More close contacts of Covid-positive airport worker discovered
The number of close contacts of a border worker who tested positive for Covid-19 on Tuesday has now increased to 31.
In a statement, the Ministry of Health said this is because the person worked three shifts during their infectious period alongside “a number of colleagues”. Public health officials have now identified 22 colleagues as close contacts, up from 17 yesterday.
Of the 31 close contacts, 14 have returned negative test results to date – meaning an additional 17 are yet to test negative.
“All close contacts are being communicated with and asked to self-isolate, monitor symptoms and undergo required testing,” said a ministry spokesperson.
Meanwhile, there are no new cases in the community to report today. There are three new positive cases of Covid-19 to report in managed isolation. The seven-day rolling average of new cases detected at the border is one.
Four previously reported cases have now recovered, bringing the total number of active cases in New Zealand to 80.
Two previously reported cases have been reclassified as not cases. “One of these is now deemed historic and considered not infectious. The other case is also deemed historic and was recorded in the person’s country of origin so is not added to New Zealand’s count,” the ministry said.
The Real Pod: Shirley you can’t be serious
In this week’s episode of The Real Pod, Alex Casey and Jane Yee hatch a plan to infiltrate the amazing-sounding Christchurch Shirley Club and recap a week of girls on the outside, girls with glam sides and girls with kaleidoscope eyes on Married at First Sight Australia.
12.15pm: Blood donor study reveals unreported Covid-19 cases in NZ
Blood from almost 10,000 donors has revealed eight previously unreported cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand.
Collected in December and early January, the blood was tested for Covid-19 antibodies – detecting 18 cases of the virus. Six of these were previously known and four had travelled abroad, but the remaining eight were “unexplained”.
Study author Nikki Moreland of the University of Auckland said the results, while a surprise, were encouraging.
“It does support the evidence from other data sources such as community testing, which have consistently shown low rates of positive tests,” she said.
“So far there’s been no indication that Aotearoa New Zealand has experienced large undetected outbreaks in the community.”
11.55am: PM teases India flight ban to be lifted
The prime minister has teased that the ban on flights from India may soon be lifted.
An announcement is set to be made tomorrow by Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins, around a fortnight after the ban was first implemented.
Speaking to media this morning, Jacinda Ardern said an extension to the ban had not been part of the government’s thinking when it was first announced, at least when it came to New Zealand citizens. “If a New Zealander is abroad, the only legal place they are able to reside is New Zealand so we need to be able to enable them to do that,” she said.
Ardern said the ban was always intended to be temporary. “For citizens it would need to be temporary… we can’t deem our citizens stateless,” she said.
Pushed for further details, Ardern said all would be revealed tomorrow. I’ll be at the announcement live.
11.20am: School children tailed by private investigators after climate strike – report
There’s been an extraordinary and slightly unbelievable follow-up to a report I flagged in the live updates earlier this week. Investigate reporter Nicky Hager has been digging into private investigation firm Thompson and Clark, in a series of stories for RNZ.
Today, he’s revealed that school children linked to the School Strike 4 Climate group were followed by private investigators hired by clients from the oil and gas industry.
Hager’s investigation revealed that a major focus of Thompson and Clark in 2019 and 2020 was monitoring and helping to counter citizen groups concerned about climate change – including high schoolers.
The company’s most notable client related to climate change is OMV, New Zealand’s largest oil producer, who hired Thompson and Clark on a number of occasions.
10.30am: Janssen vaccine set to carry blood clot warning
Science journalist and Spinoff contributing writer Mirjam Guesgen explains:
The body charged with evaluating medicines in Europe, the European Medicines Agency, has concluded that a warning about blood clots should be added to the Janssen [Johnson & Johnson] Covid-19 vaccine product information. The likelihood of developing an unusual clot after receiving the shot is a very rare side effect, they stated in a press release.
The decision comes after eight people in the US developed serious clotting after being vaccinated. One person died.
The clots from the Janssen vaccine fit the tell-tale picture of post-vaccination clotting, described in an explainer I wrote this week. They were found in unusual places in the body – the brain, abdomen and arteries – and people who developed the clots also had low blood platelet levels. Platelets are the cells that prevent a clot from bleeding.
The clots were similar to those that people developed after getting the AstraZeneca vaccine, which the European agency also recently recommended come with a warning.
The European Medicines Agency’s decision could influence New Zealand’s medicine regulator, MedSafe, as they decide whether or not to approve the Janssen vaccine for use here. A decision from MedSafe is expected within the next week.
New Zealand is currently rolling out the Pfizer vaccine, which hasn’t been linked to clotting.
10.00am: NZ bank deposits to be covered by new insurance scheme
Political editor Justin Giovannetti writes from parliament about a very belated move to protect your money that’s about 90 years late.
A missing part of New Zealand’s social safety net is finally being added as finance minister Grant Robertson has unveiled plans to implement deposit insurance within two years.
New Zealand has been a global outlier as one of only two rich countries that doesn’t have a programme that protects bank deposits—the other is Israel. Nearly every other country with a banking system guarantees deposits, an idea that was born in the dark days of the Great Depression.
If your bank were to fail in New Zealand today, your money would be lost. That’s set to change. Banks, credit unions and other finance companies will soon be required to protect the first $100,000 someone deposits in their accounts through an insurance system. About 93% of money deposited in banks will be protected by the scheme.
The new programme will add an additional cost to banks at a time when Westpac has cited increasing regulation as a reason for looking to sell its New Zealand operation.
The Reserve Bank had argued against the change, stating that banks kept enough money in reserve to cover contingencies. That ignores recent history where the government was forced to create an emergency deposit scheme for four years during and after the global financial crisis where the public took on the responsibility for covering deposits in failing financial institutions.
“The recommendations will considerably strengthen New Zealand’s financial system safety net and contribute to a robust framework of protections for depositors. It also brings our protections into line with those in place overseas,” Robertson said in a statement.
As part of the new package of rules, cabinet will also look at giving the Reserve Bank more power to set wider lending restrictions, including loan-to-value ratios. Something that has so far been restricted to mortgages.
8.40am: All aboard for Air New Zealand’s first flight to Hobart in 23 years
On Monday, I was stationed at Auckland Airport watching happy travellers arrive and depart the country as the trans-Tasman bubble launched. It crossed my mind: where’s my media junket to Australia!?
Here’s The Spinoff’s deputy editor Catherine McGregor, reporting as she boards Air New Zealand’s first flight to Hobart in 23 years.
Last night my colleague Alice messaged me a friendly warning: “Don’t forget your passport!” And then, “Haven’t been able to say that for a while.” It was a reminder of how travel – a once relatively everyday activity – has developed a talismanic quality over the past year: when we can travel freely overseas, we’ll know Covid is at long last over. While of course people have been flying out of the country since the pandemic began, this week marks the return of international travel for leisure, and the beginning of the end of Fortress New Zealand. Today I’m off to Tasmania, on board Air New Zealand’s first direct flight to Hobart since 1998. Almost incredibly, I’m staying only four days, and will sleep in my own bed on the night I return.
That doesn’t mean things are entirely back to normal, however. Before you board a flight to Australia there are a few extra hoops to jump through, including an online federal Australian Travel Declaration to fill out alongside a state-specific Covid safety form. And of course, you’ll need your mask, even after you disembark: unlike New Zealand, masks in Australian airports are mandatory, not simply “encouraged”.
In celebration of this inaugural Tasmania flight – and the opening of the trans-Tasman bubble – Air New Zealand is pulling out all the stops, treating my group of media and a smattering of travel agents to bubbles and bite-sized breakfasts before departure. It’s always exciting to set off on an international flight, but today the elation is palpable. One travel agent I spoke to said the bookings to Australia are starting to roll in – primarily for the Gold Coast at this stage, but she expects a lot of New Zealanders to book self-drive holidays for the spring. With the rest of the world still closed off to us, 2021 will be an opportunity to take that major Australia trip people have long considered but always put off. It’s still a long way from life as the travel industry knew it, but they’re seeing light at the end of the tunnel, for sure.
And yes, I remembered my passport.
8.05am: ‘Unexpected’ Covid-19 fragments found in Melbourne wastewater
Melbourne is on high alert after “unexpected” Covid-19 fragments were found in wastewater.
Samples taken from sewer catchments in the suburbs of Moonee Ponds and Ringwood revealed evidence of the virus, with dozens of surrounding areas warned to keep an eye out for Covid-19 symptoms.
It’s one of several Covid-related scares in the days since the trans-Tasman bubble launched on Monday: earlier this week, an Auckland Airport worker tested positive for the virus while health officials in New South Wales are investigating possible spread within a managed isolation hotel.
Addressing the possibility of new cases in Melbourne, the health department said: “The unexpected [wastewater] detections may be due to a person or persons with Covid-19 being in the early active infectious phase or it could be because they are continuing to shed the virus after the infectious period.
“While it is possible that these detections are due to a visitor or visitors to these areas who are not infectious, a cautious approach is being taken.”
7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin
So, the headline figures: Inflation is up 0.8% for the quarter, and 1.5% for the year overall, reports the NZ Herald. Inflation is basically a measure of how much the price of stuff has changed over a period of time. Within that, there was an interesting bit of movement for petrol prices, which are way up over the quarter, but down over the year, reflecting the crash in demand that came during the biggest months of the pandemic. The price of building a house, and the cost of rent, has also gone up ahead of the wider trends.
And that’s part of the wider issue around inflation right now – it is hitting harder for people with less ability to pay for increased costs of living. The Council of Trade Unions put out an analysis of the wider figures, noting that big rises for essentials like groceries and early childhood education are being offset in the headline figures by falls in the prices of more discretionary spending, like on consumer electronics. “Today’s data supports other recent economic data – be it on unemployment, wage growth, or housing – that shows we have an uneven recovery from the economic impact of COVID-19,” said CTU economist Craig Renney.
Will these figures prompt any changes in approach from the Reserve Bank? Part of the central bank’s remit is to keep inflation within target levels of 1-3%. Radio NZ quoted ASB senior economist Mark Smith, who expects inflation to start rising more quickly from here. “We expect annual headline inflation to move above 2 percent for much of the rest of this year and next as a perfect storm of stretched capacity, supply bottlenecks, and higher costs flow through in consumer prices.” Having said that, he didn’t expect the RBNZ’s approach to change, because they’re also directed to maximise employment levels, and low interest rates tend to support that.
Sweeping reforms to the structure of the health system were announced yesterday, including an end to DHBs altogether. I’ve gone over the major parts of the announcement in this cheat sheet to get you up to speed. We’ve also collected the views of a range of people with a connection to the health system, to get more of an insider perspective. And finally, health policy expert Gabrielle Baker takes a give and take approach to the news that a Māori Health Authority will be established.