Live updates, May 26: Hold up in vaccines a ‘clarification’, not delay, says Hipkins

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for May 26, bringing you the latest news updated throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

4.10pm: Vaccine programme faces ‘clarification’ – not delay – as timeline slips

Political editor Justin Giovannetti writes:

Most New Zealanders will need to wait a little longer for their Covid-19 jab after the government moved the expected start of vaccine programme for the general population to “the end of July.”

The change was made, without public notice, on the ministry of health’s website on Friday. Speaking with reporters today at parliament, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said the new language wasn’t a delay, but a “clarification”.

The ministry had previously said group four – most New Zealanders – would start receiving their vaccinations from July. That was broadly understood to be early in the month.

“July is July, it’ll still be from July,” said Hipkins today. The minister was adamant the change to the timeline was not a delay.

Part of the reason for the change was because of a “clarification” with the earlier group. The vaccinations for group three, a large cohort of 1.7 million at risk of getting sick from Covid-19, began at the start of May. However most people in that group won’t get a shot before July at the earliest, Hipkins said. There won’t be enough doses before then.

Earlier this month the auditor-general told the Ministry of Health that it should improve its communications with the public around the vaccine rollout, specifically around the timing of groups getting a jab. A week after that recommendation, the ministry updated the timeline without any public notice. The change only became public after being spotted by reporters.

Director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield said the change in the timeline was made “to give more clarity to people”. When asked why the ministry hadn’t told anyone of the change, Bloomfield conceded that “it may not have been the best way to convey that information. But what I can say is that was not trying to hide or obfuscate anything.”

This is Hipkins’ second issue this month that has, in part, centred around his use of language. Earlier this month, in his role as public services minister, Hipkins fought the characterisation of his plan to restrict the wages of the public sector as a “freeze”.

Critics of the slow vaccine rollout will call his use of the term “clarification” spin for a delay, while the minister’s defenders will reject that.

Today’s top stories

3.25pm: The Mongrel Mob v Simeon Brown

The war of words between the Mongrel Mob and National MP Simeon Brown has heated up.

Brown has allegedly received death threats for criticising the gang on social media, telling Newshub he would be giving further information to the police today.

The gang’s Waikato public liaison Louise Hutchinson said Brown’s comments about a recent tangi were “culturally insensitive”. However, she said the gang does not stand for death threats.

“We’ve repeatedly asked him and the National Party to come down and meet us and they keep saying no,” she said.

“Why should he get to sit in that privileged position in parliament when he knows nothing about what’s going on for those people?”

First: Marama Davidson’s advice for anyone thinking about getting into politics

The Green Party co-leader tells us about becoming a politician, sniffing her kids, embracing the spaghetti jeans trend and more in the latest episode of our web series First.

2.20pm: Cash rate stable at 0.25%

The official cash rate is unchanged, staying at 0.25%.

The Reserve Bank said while the global economic outlook has continued to improve, divergences in economic activity remain significant.

“The sustainability of the global economic recovery remains dependent on the containment of Covid-19,” Reserve Bank governor Adrian Orr said.

Economists had widely expected the OCR to remain steady.

“While economic growth in New Zealand slowed over the summer months following an earlier strong rebound, construction activity remains robust,” Orr said.

“The aggregate level of employment has also proved resilient, while fiscal spending continues to support domestic economic activity.”

1.00pm: Saliva testing to be rolled out to border staff; vaccine roll-out still ahead of schedule

Updated

Saliva testing will be rolled out to border workers in order to reduce the number of invasive nasal swabs given, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins has announced.

More than 1400 border workers who currently receive tests each week will be able to receive the tests, with a nasal swab still required every fortnight.

“Extensive due diligence has been completed and we are now satisfied that a combination of the two tests, along with frontline managed isolation workers being very close to being fully vaccinated, will continue to provide the assurances we need at the border while reducing the level of discomfort among frontline staff,” said Hipkins.

“What today’s announcement means is that workers who have to be tested for Covid-19 once a week because of their important roles, can now have saliva swabbing incorporated as part of that mandatory regime.”

Saliva samples will be taken every “two to three days”, Hipkins said, in between nasopharyngeal swabs. “This increased frequency will improve our surveillance.”

Meanwhile, more than 562,100 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have been given out so far – around 8% ahead of schedule.

Of that, 191,000 people have received both doses and are fully vaccinated. More than 16,000 doses were given out yesterday alone.

Hipkins said that all DHBs have started giving out vaccines to those in group three, but some people may have to wait until July due to vaccine supplies.

There are no new cases of Covid-19 in the New Zealand community or in managed isolation.

Responding to the situation in Melbourne, Ashley Bloomfield said health officials are keeping in close contact with their counterparts in Australia. Last night, quarantine-free travel with Victoria was paused as a result of the new outbreak. Bloomfield said making that decision wasn’t easy, but was a “proportionate and precautionary measure” to keep Covid-19 out of New Zealand.

The Ministry of Health is now asking anyone who has been in the Whittlesea area, north of Melbourne, to have a test five days after they were last in the area and stay in their accommodation until they have a negative test result, even if they do not have symptoms.

Anyone from the wider Melbourne area who develops symptoms while in New Zealand should also ring Healthline and arrange to get tested.

12.45pm: Health officials to give update after 72 hour pause to travel bubble

Chris Hipkins and Ashley Bloomfield are set to front a vaccine update at 1pm, the day after a 72 hour pause to quarantine-free travel with the state of Victoria.

The travel bubble was popped after a community cluster in Melbourne emerged earlier this week.

Also on today’s Covid-19 agenda: the vaccine roll-out. National has criticised the government for quietly pushing back the vaccine roll-out without the public being informed.

Watch below:

12.00pm: Melbourne avoids lockdown – for now

Updated

Melbourne has narrowly avoided a snap lockdown, after a community Covid-19 cluster increased to 15 cases overnight.

Six new local cases of Covid-19 were recorded in Victoria overnight, around 36 hours after the first case was reported.

Yesterday, the trans-Tasman bubble was suspended for 72 hours while the source of the outbreak is investigated.

A man in his 60 is believed to be the earliest known infection in the new outbreak, which currently has no known links to other confirmed cases.

Health officials told media that the next 24 hours will be critical for determining whether the whole state needed to be shut down.

11.20am: Government accused of ‘hiding’ vaccine roll-out delays

National has accused the government of “moving the goal posts” after it quietly pushed back its vaccine roll-out schedule.

The Ministry of Health’s vaccine website used to stipulate that people in group four could get the jab from July. It’s now been updated to say “end of July”.

Chris Bishop said the government isn’t being upfront. “If there are going to be delays, the government should tell us. Right now it looks more like a surreptitious attempt to hide the fact our vaccination roll out is slow,” he said. 

“Once again the government is moving the goal posts. It said we would be at the front of the queue for vaccinations, but then it turns out that the government meant we would be at the front of the queue to sign contracts for vaccines.”

A recent vaccine report from the auditor-general raised concerns around a lack of transparency with delays.

Chris Hipkins, the Covid-19 response minister, is set to front the regular Wednesday press conference at 1pm today where the latest vaccine data will be provided.

10.50am: IT expert calls for Andrew Little to quit over Waikato DHB hack

An IT expert is calling for Andrew Little to quit over the ransomware attack on the Waikato DHB.

Little is doubly involved in the incident as both the minister for health and the minister responsible for New Zealand’s spy agency, the GCSB.

Daniel Ayers told RNZ that he was concerned after Little said earlier this week that the IT security of the Waikato DHB had been up to scratch.

“That’s crazy. If you look at the history of the Waikato DHB it’s had about seven major security incidents in the last 15 years, including in 2009 a virus attack that had a very similar effect,” Ayers said.

Meanwhile, ill cancer patients in the Waikato could be sent to Australia for treatment as a result of the hack.

A senior doctor within Waikato Hospital’s cancer centre told the Herald that the situation was a “national health crisis” and was putting at risk a number of lives.

National’s leader Judith Collins agreed, saying she backed sending our most ill overseas in order to get them the necessary treatment.

9.45am: Health expert concerned after MIQ audit finds number of problems

An audit of 13 managed isolation facilities conducted earlier this year found a number of problems that could have risked our Covid-19 response.

According to RNZ, random facility checks in February and March revealed staff shortages, PPE problems, returnees mingling in hotel lobbies, and bus drivers not wearing the correct face coverings.

Epidemiologist Nick Wilson told RNZ it was “a real concern” that people involved with our MIQ system were not wearing the correct protective equipment.

“Those people should be moved to jobs where they’re not in any contact with infected people,” he said.

“Now that we’re experiencing these more infectious variants of Covid, it really is completely inappropriate for people not to be using state of the art equipment.”

The audit found nine bus drivers, involved in transporting people to four different MIQ facilities, had not been wearing the correct PPE.

Read the full report here

8.05am: White privilege doesn’t exist, says Judith Collins

Judith Collins doesn’t believe white privilege is real.

The National Party leader was asked the question on Newshub’s The AM Show, in the context of school children being taught about the concept.

The opposition has recently taken aim at Te Hurihanganui – an education “blueprint… based on evidence of what works for Māori in education”. Part of that includes recognising white privilege.

Collins said if she was prime minister, any mention of it would be scrapped from the curriculum.

“What is actually a privilege is having parents who love you and care for you, and education, and socio-economic things,” she said. “But actually that’s nothing to do with colour. What they’re teaching kids is [that] if you’re not white, to say ‘there’s a reason I haven’t achieved’. And then you have other kids who say ‘well I’ve only achieved because I’m white.”

Teaching children about white privilege created hatred and division, Collins claimed.

Two weeks ago, the National leader equally dismissed the existence of “systemic racism” within New Zealand’s police.

“For people to say that there is systemic racism completely denigrates the hard-working men and women of New Zealand police and I’m going to stand up for law and order and for them any day over patched gang members who commit awful offences in this country, many of them against women and children,” Collins said at the time.


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7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

Dismay from dentists: The government has pulled back on an election pledge for increased emergency dental grants, but says it will be done in later budgets. Stuff’s Thomas Coughlan reports the $44 million supposed to be earmarked for this year won’t now be paid out, from an overall package of $176 million. It would have increased the cap people could claim for emergency grants to $1000, which would bring many more procedures into reach. National’s Dr Shane Reti criticised the delay, saying it had been brought up at Waitangi in 2020 as a way to reduce inequality. Newshub reports spending priority in this budget was put towards the huge health system overhaul.

You may or may not recall, but there was a very useful election debate on this, on Newshub Nation. Because at this stage not a lot of firm promises had been made, it gave the two spokespeople a chance to discuss the underlying issues, costs and benefits of more dental funding. Reti promised a surprise, and in the end the party policy was not overly generous. But the party is more than entitled to argue that it would have delivered it. Since the election, dental poverty has been covered with great heart and urgency by The Hui.


Public servants in Sāmoa have continued working as usual, despite the two major parties competing for power. The Samoa Global News quoted an anonymous official, who said their job was to be loyal to the country regardless of who became their minister. The caretaker cabinet, serving caretaker PM Tuila’epa, met yesterday as normal in government buildings, and in a press conference Tuila’epa made it clear he had no intention of handing over to PM-elect Fiame.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here




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