Live updates, March 25: Possible Covid-19 transmission at Auckland MIQ hotel; 250 returnees to be retested

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 25, bringing you the latest news throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

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3.45pm: Officials unsure whether EU vaccine rules will impact our roll-out

It’s not known whether a decision by the EU to limit exports of Covid-19 vaccines will impact New Zealand’s roll-out.

The Ministry of Health along with government ministers have told Newsroom they can’t guarantee the distribution of vaccines won’t be affected.

“New Zealand expressed concern in February when the European Union introduced export restrictions on Covid-19 vaccines manufactured there,” a ministry spokesperson said. “We will monitor this closely, as it will be voted on in the EU tomorrow, and the Ministry of Health is in ongoing contact with Pfizer to understand any future impact if these additional measures are passed.”

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said he hadn’t received any advice or information from Pfizer regarding the EU’s decision. This morning, he told RNZ that he still expected all New Zealanders to be vaccinated by the end of the year.

“We’re watching those developments very closely. That’s an evolving situation, so we’ll keep that under review,” he told Newsroom.

So far, New Zealand’s supply of the Pfizer vaccine has come from Belgium and Hipkins said future shipments were “most likely” to continue coming from there.

3.00pm: Race commissioner apologises for labelling police ‘racist’

The Race Relations Commissioner has apologised for labelling the police racist, saying his comments were “incorrect”.

Earlier in the week, Meng Foon joined calls to cancel Police Ten 7, saying it reflect racist policing.

But today he told the Herald he had himself stereotyped with that comment. “I do admit that my comment regarding the police being racist was incorrect,” he said. He said his apology was for the police, but added that he still believed there was systemic racism within the force.

Read more: Is Police Ten 7 fly-on-the-wall reality or propaganda? These documents make it clear

On The Spinoff

Here’s just some of what you can read on The Spinoff right now:

  • Justin Latif talks to an expert about how new housing reforms could end up hurting South Auckland families.
  • Andrew Geddis rebuts Danyl Mclauchlan’s argument that ditching the Queen could lead to a worse alternative.
  • I interview Julian Dennison about his new movie Godzilla vs Kong, his experience working with Millie Bobby Brown and “those” Subway ads.
  • And Toby Manhire looks back at the 1he 150-hour NZ Covid whirlwind of 2020. How do you remember what happened 365 days ago?

1.15pm: Possible Covid-19 transmission at Grand Mercure MIQ hotel

Health officials are investigating possible Covid-19 transmission at the Grand Mercure managed isolation facility in Auckland.

It followed investigations into a recent “day 12” case at the hotel. Results from genome sequencing show a link between two returnees at the Grand Mercure. The infection for both returnees is confirmed as B.1.1.7 – the UK variant of the virus.

The returnees were staying in separate rooms on different floors. They arrived on separate flights within two days of each other. An investigation into the source of the infection is under way, the ministry said.

“At this stage, no other cases within the facility have been found linked to these two cases but investigations continue,” the Ministry of Health said.

“As a precautionary measure, around 250 returnees who have left the facility since March 10 are being contacted today, asked to get tested immediately and remain in isolation at home until a negative result is returned.”

Other immediate steps taken include additional on-site testing being provided and exit tests put in place for all returnees leaving the facility. The Ministry of Health and MBIE will communicate with all current returnees within this facility about any public health measures being put in place for them.

“Additional surveillance testing of staff at the Grand Mercure facility is being put in place as a further precautionary measure.”

Both returnee cases have been previously publicly reported and one is the case previously reported related to two bus journeys from the Grand Mercure to an exercise area, said the ministry.

The classification of 14 returnees who were also on the bus as close contacts is based on a public health assessment of the exposure event, in this case the bus. “The assessment will have included consideration of proximity to the case, amount of time that they may have been exposed, how infectious the case was likely to have been at the time, whether the virus is a new more infectious variant, and whether infection, prevention and control protocols were followed.”

There is no evidence of any Covid-19 cases in the community connected to this situation at this time.

MBIE is conducting an internal investigation into the bus journeys to determine what happened in this case and what improvements, if any, can be made to strengthen their processes.

Meanwhile, there are no new community cases to report today. There are six new positive cases of Covid-19 in managed isolation.

Latest on Covid-positive MIQ worker and household contacts

The Ministry of Health is continuing to investigate a household member of the MIQ worker who tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this week. The household member returned a weak positive test followed by a negative test.

They are being managed as a close contact rather than as a case with further testing planned, said the ministry.

Auckland regional public health officials consider there to be a very low risk to the person’s workmates at Countdown Auckland City, but have discussed the results with the supermarket’s health and safety team. As a precautionary measure, it was agreed that some colleagues identified as working closely with the person under investigation will stay home until they receive a day five negative test.

Shoppers and other staff are not considered to be at risk.

12.15pm: National MPs question Mongrel Mob rep in select committee

National MPs Simeon Brown and Simon Bridges have confronted a Mongrel Mob PR rep during an appearance at parliament.

Lou Hutchinson – the mob’s Waikato-based public relations spokesperson – was in the Justice Select Committee to submit on Brown’s Firearm Prohibition Orders Bill, that would give new powers to police to try and limit gang access to firearms.

“Dog-whistle politics are great at playing on people’s fears and anxieties but not so good at solving any problems,” Hutchinson said according to Newshub. “The drive to create a boogeyman out of the so-called gang problem is nothing more than politicking for votes.”

Brown responded, calling Hutchinson’s appearance a “PR exercise”.

“You’ve talked about how you think gangs have a right to a gun to gather their kai, you’ve talked about how you want a more compassionate and caring society – something that I want too – but I ask the question: why am I reading in the papers that your members are still selling meth?” Brown said.

“I can listen to everything you’ve said which is about how you’re changing and all the other work you’re doing, but until you stop selling meth to the community across New Zealand, and you hand in your guns, I’m not going to believe it.”

Read more here

11.05am: New stats reveal how many businesses relied on financial support in 2020

Three out of four businesses accessed government financial support in 2020, according to new stats released today – on the one year anniversary of lockdown beginning.

Another one in three businesses delayed or cancelled capital investments in things like new land, buildings, construction, and machinery or equipment.

Stats NZ’s business statistics manager Geraldine Duoba said government assistance was one of the key ways firms stayed afloat. “Of the surveyed businesses, more than half cut working hours for existing staff and almost a third either made staff take paid or unpaid leave, or asked them to do so,” Duoba said.

“Many firms tried to save money in a variety of ways when non-essential businesses closed temporarily in 2020 and international travel was restricted to slow the spread of Covid. For example, 40% of businesses negotiated rent reductions, or deferred rent payments,” she added.

Meanwhile, other new stats confirmed just how much Covid-19 impacted businesses in the events sector. Almost all firms working in the areas of sport, concerts, weddings and other events were unable to operate during levels three and four.

“Similarly, businesses running hotels, motels, and other accommodation, as well as restaurants, bars, cafes, and other food service providers, struggled with the Covid-19 shutdown and related impacts on tourism,” Duoba said.

10.00am: Target still to vaccinate everyone by end of year, says Hipkins

Updated

The government is confident the number of people getting the Covid-19 vaccine will rise steadily in the coming weeks.

Yesterday, the minister responsible Chris Hipkins confirmed we were roughly 3% shy of our current target, with about 41,000 New Zealanders already vaccinated.

However, he told RNZ the overall goal had not changed. “We’re aiming to get everybody done by the end of the year,” he said.

The European Union this week said it would curb exports of vaccines for the next six weeks, possibly disrupting our supply chain here. “We’re talking regularly to Pfizer … they’re confident that they’ll be able to do the bulk of our deliveries in the third quarter,” said Hipkins. That third quarter delivery will be “critical”, he added, as it’s when the majority of people will be getting the jab.

Hipkins also addressed concerns that sportspeople could be queue-jumping by getting the vaccine ahead of the regular public. He said it wouldn’t be displacing other people. “Our allocation framework still continues to apply,” he said. Those being exempted were in the hundreds and would not affect the at-risk population.

Over on Newshub, Hipkins said a roadmap to opening our borders was “emerging” – but that it could be a long time before travel looks anything like it did pre-Covid.

“Vaccines are certainly going to play a significant role in that… I don’t think it’s going to be a sudden wake up one moment and the world returns back to normal,” he said. “I think we’re going to see a series of progressive changes over the course of the latter part of this year, early into the new year.

“It’s going to be some time before the world starts to look more like what it did before Covid-19. Global movement of people probably won’t get back to those levels again for several years, even once border restrictions are removed. There will be some constraints there – the airlines for example have grounded huge proportions of their fleets. All of those things are going to take some time to work through.”

8.50am: Westpac considers pulling out of NZ market

One of the country’s four main banks is contemplating quitting the New Zealand market.

In a sharemarket statement, the bank said it was actively considering the businesses it operated in and considering a “demerger” of its New Zealand business.

“Westpac is also assessing the appropriate structure for its New Zealand business and whether a demerger would be in the best interests of shareholders. Westpac is in the very early stage of this assessment and no decisions have been made.”

Bernard Hickey, writing for The Kākā, called it “big news” for the housing market. “Along with this week’s interest deductibility shock, bank decision-making on mortgages will slow right down,” he said.

“The move came after the Reserve Bank ordered Westpac NZ to commission two independent reports into its risk governance and to increase its cash holdings, although the regulator reassured savers Westpac’s current funding and liquidity positions were sound.”

8.15am: One year on from the Covid-19 lockdown

How is the occasion being marked?

It may not feel like it, but today marks 12 months since the country headed into alert level four lockdown.

Here on The Spinoff, Toby Manhire has travelled back in time to re-report the happenings in a “live updates” format. Exactly a year ago, we were hours away from plunging into a nationwide state of emergency before the midnight shift into lockdown.

Over on RNZ, the anniversary is being marked with a look at some extraordinary pictures from the day we entered lockdown. Streets with no cars, cities seemingly absent of people.

And on Stuff, the moment is being relived through the most relatable of mediums – the 1pm daily presser with Ashley Bloomfield.

8.00am: Two stood down at MediaWorks pending harassment investigation

Two MediaWorks employees have reportedly been stood down ahead of an investigation into sexual harassment, according to a report by Stuff’s Alison Mau.

The outlet reported recently that an investigation had been commissioned after an anonymous Instagram account began revealing details of alleged incidents at an unnamed radio network.

According to reports, one of the two men stood down holds a “high-profile on-air position”. A MediaWorks website has been scrubbed of images and mentions of the on-air personality.

MediaWorks refused to comment to Stuff, citing privacy concerns.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

For a long time now, the National party has been trying to get rid of Trevor Mallard as parliament’s speaker. The efforts, to date, have amounted to very little – he remains in the job, and seems serenely unconcerned by their no-confidence motions. But the latest skirmish is worth covering, given what has been brought forward.

It concerns a legal statement of claim from Mallard was revealed, with regards to a former parliamentary staffer who the speaker falsely accused of rape, reports Radio NZ. The man was reportedly understood to be “notorious for sexist behaviour”, but that does not match the much more serious accusation made by Mallard. The man initiated defamation proceedings against Mallard. The statement of claim revealed that Mallard’s lawyer indicated they would “vigorously defend any defamation claim”, even though by this point Mallard is understood to have been aware that his statements had been wrong, and also threatened the plaintiff that “the question of his reputation and his conduct will be very much the centrepiece of any public proceedings”.

National MP Chris Bishop spoke in parliament yesterday about the issue, which you can watch the video of here. He argued that there was now an “overwhelming” case for Mallard to resign, saying his position was no longer tenable. Bishop reiterated that settling the legal action had cost taxpayers several hundred thousand dollars.

Some further background here: National MPs appear to really despise Mallard, and see him as an unfair arbitrator of parliamentary debates. The other important bit of context is that they don’t have any power to compel him to resign. That rests with PM Jacinda Ardern and the wider Labour caucus, who hold a dominating majority of MPs. And right now, Ardern seems to be in no mood to cut the speaker loose, saying “in my view, though, the information that’s been brought to the table here is in substance no different to what’s already been at select committee” – in other words, the PM believes there’s nothing significantly new in it.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here




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