Live updates, March 24: Some sportspeople will be able to get early Covid-19 vaccine

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 24, bringing you the latest news throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

Top stories:

3.40pm: National continue push for Mallard’s resignation

The National Party is continuing to advocate for the speaker of the house – Trevor Mallard – to resign, after wrongly accusing a parliamentary staffer of rape. 

The well-documented incident led to a costly taxpayer funded court case: including a $158,000 settlement payment from the speaker to the man, $171,000 to cover legal fees, and $4641.70 for Crown Law advice to the former deputy speaker.

Speaking in parliament today, National’s Chris Bishop said he had obtained the statement of claim that went to the High Court in the defamation action against Mallard. The statement shows that after Mallard made the comments about a rapist working in parliament, he was informed this was incorrect; Mallard then stood by the comments later in the day.

Bishop said it was “shocking” and called on the prime minister to back a no confidence vote in order to oust Mallard. Judith Collins has written a letter to Jacinda Ardern, asking her as both prime minister and Labour Party leader to support the no confidence vote.

“That is behaviour totally unbecoming of a person who is meant to uphold the standards and the integrity of parliament,” Bishop said.

The statement of claim also alleged that Mallard intended to use the defence of truth in any defamation proceedings, something Bishop said showed he was “planning to mislead the court”.

Watch Bishop speak here

3.15pm: Covid-19, on this day

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

On March 24, 2020: The day before New Zealand shifted into alert level four, 43 new cases of Covid-19 were recorded. It brought the total number of cases to 155. Four of the cases involved community transmission in Auckland and the Wairarapa.

Tomorrow, we’ll be taking a look back at how the news unfolded on the day the country moved into total lockdown.

Rec Room: Drunk Sir Peter Blake

Have you subscribed to The Spinoff’s Rec Room newsletter? I certainly hope so, because if not you’ll be missing out on exceptional recommendations from Spinoff staffers, such as this video of an inebriated Sir Peter Blake:

As Duncan Greive writes: “Here’s a video of Sir Peter Blake at a press conference after the ‘95 America’s Cup victory, refusing to confirm the new challenger of record because “I’m not really fit for anything right now”. It’s part of a great lineage of victorious sportspeople having to do media admin when gloriously inebriated and/or hungover, but despite its clearly iconic nature I’d never seen it before. I was pointed to it by an excellent new-ish (and free) Substack from NZ tech founder and investor Rowan Simpson (Trade Me, Xero, Vend, heaps more), where he writes on a lot of interesting and knotty issues from business to investment to sports in a way that is both heady and accessible at the same time.”

Subscribe to The Spinoff Rec Room here for more high quality recs

2.30pm: Hipkins ‘optimistic’ for travel bubble in April

The Covid-19 response minister is “optimistic” a travel bubble with Australia can get up and running next month.

It was confirmed on Monday that the start date for quarantine free travel across the Tasman will be announced on April 6.

Speaking to RNZ, Chris Hipkins said there are visa and logistic issues to resolve before anything is confirmed, and more work is done to get airports prepared. “We just want to make sure that physical separation is absolutely robust,” he said.

1.00pm: No new Covid-19 cases in the community; urgent vaccination criteria announced

Updated

Some sportspeople will be able to get the Covid-19 vaccine early after new criteria for urgent overseas travel. People travelling abroad on “compassionate grounds” will also be able to get the jab ahead of the public roll-out, but only in some circumstances.

Meanwhile, there are no new community cases of Covid-19 following a managed isolation worker testing positive earlier in the week. As reported this morning, further tests have come in to show a suspected second case – a family member linked to the Covid-positive MIQ worker – has returned a negative result after being retested.

At this stage, Ashley Bloomfield said there remained just one location of interest: the Mount Roskill Countdown on Stoddard Road.

Bloomfield confirmed that some places the person went have not been classified if correct infection prevention controls were followed or if everyone at those exposure events had been contacted.

On the circumstances in which the MIQ worker was infected, Bloomfield said: “We have a really clear lead – CCTV footage and the access card records are being gone through at the moment.”

Criteria for getting emergency vaccine announced

The government has updated the criteria for those who can get the Covid-19 vaccine ahead of urgent overseas travel. This is for people who need to travel outside of New Zealand on compassionate grounds or for reasons of national significance.

“A high threshold has been set, which will balance compassion with the need to avoid potential queue jumping ahead of at-risk groups, without a strong justification. These provisions will not extend to vaccinations for new arrivals or returnees,” Hipkins said.

The compassionate grounds that would be considered for travel overseas include:

  • Needing to provide critical care and protection for a dependant;
  • accessing critical medical care that is not available in New Zealand; and
  • visiting an immediate family member who is dying.

“This does not include reuniting with family, attending a funeral or memorial service, or attending a school or university,” Hipkins added.

National significance overseas travel will include representing New Zealand:

  • In an official capacity;
  • at significant international events; and
  • in an official non-government capacity.

There have been questions asked in recent week about whether our top sportspeople, such as the Black Caps and the Olympics squad, should be able to access the vaccine ahead of the general public.

Asked whether the Black Caps would fit the criteria for early vaccinations, Hipkins said, “They’ll have to make an application. It will depend on what sort of events they’re participating in.” Olympians will meet the criteria, and sports people participating in “significant” events, confirmed Hipkins. Sports teams participating in events that “everyone is hanging out to watch on television” are more likely to qualify under the national significance criteria, Hipkins added.

“The key yardstick here is people travelling in an official capacity and ensuring their participation is in our national interest. We also expect these requests will need to be made by the appropriate agency or association on behalf of the individual, not by individuals themselves. It does not include private or recreational travel.”

Hipkins confirmed that people vaccinated under the special criteria to travel overseas would still need to quarantine on their return. He said that New Zealand is “slightly” behind the scheduled vaccine roll-out, but he was comfortable with the progress being made.

Whether MIQ requirements would change for vaccinated people would be kept under constant review, said Hipkins.

So far, in New Zealand, 41,500 doses of the vaccine have now been administered. By next Tuesday – March 30 – there will be nearly 50 clinics open for vaccination around the country. 95% of border and MIQ workers have received their first Covid jab and the focus is now shifting to frontline health workers.

Asked about whether there were any leads on the cause of the February Covid-19 outbreak, Bloomfield said it remained a mystery.

12.50pm: WATCH – Bloomfield, Hipkins to give Covid-19 update

12.10pm: I just got the Covid-19 vaccine – this is how it felt

Josie Adams explains her experience:

It’s an absolute joy to declare the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine the least painful shot I’ve ever had. The jab itself is the quickest and easiest part of a very quick and easy process. From the moment I arrived at the East Tāmaki vaccination centre I was guided: first to a car park, then to a temperature check, then a series of desks, and finally to the little syringe that could. Every step of the way there’s a staff member nearby – nurses, vaccinators, admin staff, Māori wardens, doctors – asking how you are feeling, and do you have any questions at all?

Staff ran through the consent form with me twice, and the vaccinator triple-checked I felt OK receiving it. You will need to bring photo ID and the email detailing your appointment. If you show this email to your bus or train conductor, public transport to and from the appointment is free. You don’t need to bring a mask – they prefer to give everyone a fresh one. Don’t wear long sleeves or tight sleeves, because the jab goes in your upper arm and if you roll your sleeve up into an accidental shoulder tourniquet the jab site will bleed quite a lot. My bad.

I spoke with a vaccinator who said there are busier moments, but so far it’s been manageable. The group I came through with was entirely household members of border workers (of which I am one), and despite all the cars in the park there were only about 30 of us. By the time the wider public has access to the vaccine there will be multiple centres – right now it’s just this one. It took me half an hour to get there, and two others who arrived at the same time had come from the North Shore – it’s apparently an hour’s drive from Hillcrest. They say the process takes 45 minutes, but I walked out after 30 – including the 20 minute post-vaccine observation time.

“How are you feeling?” asked a staff member as I left. “I’m feeling immune!” I said, and pumped my fist. He laughed at me, because I am not. But I have a little business card in my wallet that says I’m only one jab away.

11.55am: Spies front up at parliament for annual public airing

Alex Braae has been in select committee and reports:

The country’s top spy has warned that further terrorist attacks could be inspired by the ideology that motivated the Christchurch mosque shooter, along with other extremist ideologies.

SIS boss Rebecca Kitteridge has been fronting up to parliament’s security and intelligence select committee this morning, an annual event in which some of the work of the spies is brought to light. She admitted failings around the March 15 attacks, particularly around how the SIS engaged with Muslim communities.

Many in those communities have criticised the spies as being too heavily focused on Muslims as potential threats, rather than potential victims of terrorism.”We know we must do better, and we will,” said Kitteridge. “It is important to note that we did not wait for the findings of the Royal Commission before acting.”

In response to a question from Green co-leader James Shaw about whether spies were looking hard enough at white supremacism, Kitteridge said that was an “unfortunate international trend.” However, in response to a question from PM Ardern she stressed that the SIS was not focused on hate speech or online extremism – rather they were solely focused on violent extremism.

When speaking about threats outside of white supremacism, Kitteridge noted that the SIS now speaks about “Identity Motived Violent Extremism” and “Faith Motived Extremism”.

“The new terminology makes it clear that our concern is with violent extremists and terrorists of varying ideologies. Those threats should not be conflated with communities,” said Kitteridge.

Kitteridge said all aspects of the organisation have been reviewed, and said the Royal Commission’s reports noted changes already made.

Acting director-general of the GCSB Bridget White also spoke to the committee, highlighting increasing cybersecurity risks, both for the government and for private organisations. She said these threats included “high profile Denial of Service and ransomware attacks” that were carried out.

“These attacks are showing levels of sophistication and capability previously seen only by well-resourced state-backed actions but are now being deployed by criminal actors motivated simply by financial gain.”

Much of the work of the agencies was not openly discussed – at least in the public session of the select committee. A private session for MPs will be held afterwards.

For example, White claimed that the GCSB “have made, and are continuing to make, valuable contributions to global counter terrorism efforts.” “I am however unable to talk in this open forum about specifics of this activity without putting at risk highly sensitive intelligence equities and capabilities,” said White.

The PM, Judith Collins etc in select committee

(Photo / Alex Braae)

11.40am: Another Countdown linked to confirmed Covid-19 case

Another location has been identified in relation to a confirmed Covid-19 case – although the Ministry of Health is yet to confirm whether or not it is a formal “location of interest”. 

A Countdown supermarket on Quay Street in downtown Auckland closed yesterday for a deep clean, with a spokesperson telling Stuff it was because a staff member “may have tested positive for Covid”.

The spokesperson said: ”As a precaution, we talked to our store team and closed the store just before midday to undertake a deep clean and wait for further advice.”

We’re expecting the latest updates from the director general of health Ashley Bloomfield at 1pm.

11.10am: NZers required to stay 180 days in the country to avoid MIQ fees

From the start of June, all returnees will be required to spend at least 180-days – or roughly six months – in the country in order to avoid paying for their stay in managed isolation.

The changes, according to MBIE, will allow for the MIQ system to be “more financially stable”. It is estimated that extending the minimum period to 180 days will affect about 3% of returning New Zealanders.

In addition, the government has made changes to the fee changes set to come into effect from tomorrow.

Temporary entry class visa holders who are partners, spouses, legal guardians or children (under 18) of New Zealand citizens or residents, or a critical health worker, and are sharing an MIQ room with that person, will remain liable to pay the lower MIQ additional person rates ($950 for an additional adult in room, $475 for a child, aged 3-17).

However, where they are travelling separately, the temporary entry class visa holder will be charged the higher fees of $5,520 for the first or only person in a room, $2,990 for an additional adult, and $1,610 for an additional child (all including GST).

10.25am: Confirmed Covid-19 case visited kindergarten

The Covid-infected MIQ worker visited an Auckland kindergarten before testing positive for Covid-19, according to a report on Stuff.

The worker – who is a cleaner at the Grand Millennium hotel – visited BestStart St Lukes kindergarten on Friday, to pick-up a grandchild.

No changes have yet been made to the locations of interest list, which currently still lists the Mount Roskill Countdown visited the following day – March 20. The worker tested positive two days later, on Monday.

On The Spinoff

A couple of excellent pieces that I’d like to draw your attention to this fine morning:

9.30am: ‘Serious stress’: Reforms to health system on the way

Andrew Little has admitted the health system is under “serious stress” and confirmed reforms are on the way, during an address to sector representatives at parliament.

The health minister said that the system does not “deliver equally for all” – in particular, Māori.

“We have to accept that the way our system presently delivers for Māori is inadequate. This simply must change,” he said.

“At the core of our reform is a by Māori, for Māori approach. Our role as the Crown is to be the enablers of change, and not the barriers to it.”

Little said that the so-called “post code lottery” of healthcare was wrong: “where you live in New Zealand should not dictate your access to good quality health services,” he said.

9.10am: Budget 2021 confirmed for May 20

Budget 2021 will be revealed on May 20, the finance minister Grant Robertson has announced.

“My focus continues to be on making sure spending is targeted at the areas and people that need it the most,” he said in a statement. Robertson has previously teased further support for first home buyers will be in the Budget.

“We will manage the books carefully including ensuring we are getting value for money in all areas of government spending and reprioritising spending where appropriate.

“We will also continue the balanced approach to invest in strong public services and addressing issues like housing, while keeping a lid on debt,” Robertson said.

The 2021 wellbeing objectives are:

  • Just transition to a low carbon economy;
  • Future of work: lifting productivity and innovation;
  • Lifting Māori and Pacific incomes and opportunities;
  • Reducing child poverty and improving child wellbeing; and
  • Improved mental and physical health outcomes

8.25am: ‘This is not a capital gains tax’ – Robertson rejects concerns around new housing package

The finance minister has refused to say whether he wants house prices to decrease as a result of the government’s new housing package.

Unveiled yesterday morning, the government has confirmed the bright-line test will be extended along with several other factors aimed at supporting first home buyers.

Speaking on RNZ, Robertson said that it’s about tilting the balance away from property speculators. “What we want is first home buyers to have a fairer go… I’ve seen a number of predictions here and ultimately they rely on the behaviour of people that we will see over the next few months.”

Asked about a prediction that house prices could continue to inflate by 27% by the middle of the year, Robertson would not say if that would amount to a failure of this policy. He said there are a lot of factors.

The opposition dedicated a lot of time yesterday to criticising the bright-line test extension, labelling it a capital gains tax by stealth. Last year, Robertson had promised not to adjust the test along with not introducing any new taxes. “What we did say at the last election was that we were going to address the housing crisis. The shape of that looks different than it did in September last year,” he said. “This is not a capital gains tax”.

Robertson said that the government is committed to “keeping an eye on rents”, as there has been some concern this package could push rental prices up or lessen the number of properties available. “Rents tend to be a product of supply and demand,” he said.

7.55am: MIQ cleaner has UK variant of Covid-19, Bloomfield confirms

Genome sequencing has confirmed our latest case of Covid-19 – a cleaner who worked in the Grand Millennium managed isolation hotel – contracted the UK variant of the coronavirus.

Speaking on TVNZ’s Breakfast, the director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said there was a direct link to a person who was staying at the hotel from March 13-15.

“The important thing about that was actually that was before our new case had their second vaccination, that’s the first useful information we’ve received overnight,” he said.

At this stage, there is “no suggestion” of any further spread.

Meanwhile, a household contact of this individual who yesterday returned a “weak positive” test has now been retested, with that coming back negative. “The re-testing there and the serology testing were both negative,” said Bloomfield.

“So, this is a little bit of a puzzle but it suggests it could have been a false positive, it could have been early infection, what we’re going to do is keep that person as a case under investigation and probably do some further testing in the next day or two.”

Over on RNZ, Bloomfield confirmed there are no further locations of interest. “Our case was not moving around a lot in those days prior to the positive test,” he said. And, in good news: “they were a very meticulous user of the Covid Tracer app.”

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

A lot of detail was announced yesterday around changes to housing policy, as the government looks to get on top of the crisis. Justin Giovannetti, as always, filed an excellent first up report on what is in the package. There’s been a lot of commentary about the politics of it all – but I thought it might be more useful to share some pieces that delve into what the effects of it might be, given we all have to live in the world it addresses.

First of all, will the package get to the roots of the crisis? Quite possibly not. Michael Andrew has been asking around experts, and found many were underwhelmed. The words “tinkering around the edges” were used by Kiwibank economist Jarrod Kerr, who said the money being put towards new development infrastructure (which looks huge on paper – $3.8 billion!) would end up being much less in practice. Housing researcher and advocate Jacqueline Paul was also quoted in the story, saying the package would do little to address housing inequality for those on lower incomes.

Will it result in lower house prices? Opinion here is split, and it’s worth bearing in mind that every prediction of house prices going down over the last decade has turned out to be wrong. Stuff has a story in which economists are sceptical of a fall, and the NZ Herald (paywalled) has a story in which economists say they could in fact fall. Given the importance housing has taken on as a class of investment, it’s hard to see any truly dramatic fall taking place.

What about higher rents? Again, if you look at recent history, it’s pretty clear that rent almost always seems to be going up too. But Treasury believes that is a possibility out of the package of changes, reports Stuff. In fact, quite a bit of their advice does not appear to have been taken on by the government – not that it necessarily has to be, of course, but it is a point worth noting.

Finally, for a detailed and measured look at what this all means for the tax system, I’d encourage you to read this by Interest contributor Terry Baucher. He doesn’t take a position on whether the changes are good or bad as such – he just gets right into the weeds about what the outcomes will likely be, including a potential tax windfall for the government from the removal of mortgage interest expense being tax deductible.

This is potentially the most significant single change of all, in terms of the overall nature of the property market. It was argued for a few months back by commentator Clint Smith, who outlined why the previous arrangement acted as an effective subsidy for large scale landlords. It’s also worth noting that it represents a pretty big shift in thinking on the how the country deals with tax, in that it effectively separates housing out from other sorts of assets or businesses. Property investor lobbyists are apoplectic at this particular change, and while they tend to be an excitable bunch whenever policy changes are made, this could prove to be a death knell for a particular type of highly leveraged property investing. Hayden Donnell has written on that with his inimitable combination of funny and furious.




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