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blog upd oct 26

PoliticsOctober 26, 2021

Live updates, October 26: New vaccine mandates announced; 40% of workers to require jab

blog upd oct 26

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for October 26, by Stewart Sowman-Lund. Reach me on Help support our Covid coverage – join Members today.

6.00pm: How to ensure vaccine mandates don’t polarise and marginalise

Professor Nikki Turner, the director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre at the University of Auckland, says it’s crucial that “balanced supportive strategic approaches” walk hand in hand with the new vaccine mandates.

“International evidence for the effectiveness of vaccination mandates is mixed – if they are poorly directed, implemented in isolation, or without supportive community approaches in place, they are at risk of backfiring by polarising communities, creating entrenched attitudes and potentially marginalising further,” said Turner via the Science Media Centre.

“It is vital that we continue to focus on genuinely listening to local communities and the range of reasons why some are not taking up vaccination options, and being compassionate to the historic and current reasons behind why some communities have lower trust and lower engagement with health services to avoid wherever possible further marginalisation,” she added.

“The recently announced extra funding into local service delivery particularly for Māori communities is important to allow communities to create their own solutions with their own local health services. Successful immunisation uptake across multiple diverse communities is a complex balance.”

Andrew Chen, meanwhile, said the government muse be careful about the language it uses to incentivise vaccination via mandates. “We should acknowledge that vaccination is to reduce public health risk as the ethical basis on which these mandates are introduced,” said the research fellow at the University of Auckland’s Koi Tū – Centre for Informed Futures.

“It is not just about individual rights, but also the rights of the community, not just from individuals getting sick, but also the demands on our healthcare system that everyone relies upon.”

5.00pm: Hospitality industry responds to new vaccine mandates

Hospitality industry bodies have expressed concerns about the potential impact of the new vaccine mandates.

Hospitality New Zealand CEO Julie White said the industry was “on a knife edge” after months of lockdown severely limiting income, and now was being asked “to go through the trauma of sacking treasured career workers, and to pay for their notice period”.

White said despite the “stressful weeks” the new law would create for hospitality staff and employers, it would ease some of the bigger legal risks of employers requiring vaccination. However, the sector remained “wary of the effects and costs of the law as there is a lot more detail to come, and practicalities to sort out”, said White.

“The law needs to eliminate the risk that any employer will be sued if they follow the government’s framework for sacking unvaccinated workers,” she said.

The Restaurant Association, meanwhile, welcomed the mandates but said they would “present challenges”.

“In our discussions with members, feedback has shown some concerns around enforcing a policy that could make employers liable for discrimination on the basis of vaccination status,” said CEO Marisa Bidois.

“Whilst mandating a policy is a welcome step towards helping to keep businesses safe and operational, there is still an ongoing concern around losing valued employees to the mandate.

“We need to remember that our industry is still suffering a skills shortage and so rolling this out is going to have to be carefully managed to reduce the risk of losing a percentage of our workforce.”

4.10pm: Vaccine mandates announced for workers in hospitality, hairdressers and gyms


Vaccine mandates will be extended to cover roughly 40% of the national workforce, with new requirements for hospitality, events, gyms and hairdressers.

The prime minister has announced that vaccinations will be required for workers at all businesses where vaccine certificates are to be mandated. “If customers must be vaccinated, so too must the workers,” said Jacinda Ardern. “We want workplaces open, customers safe, and workers safe too.”

Workplace relations minister Michael Wood said it wasn’t just employers that had been asking for clarity on vaccine mandates. “We’ve also had workers asking how they can have assurance that they will be safe of Covid while at work, and by mandating vaccinations for both customers and employees we hope to give them that peace of mind,” he said.

Timing for the mandates will depend on when we move into the Covid protection framework. “We’re working with the CTU and BusinessNZ to make sure we will have robust guidance for businesses ready well in advance,” said Wood.

Asked whether this was “government overreach”, Ardern said the government had been “very careful” when determining where vaccines will be needed. You will never need a vaccine to visit the supermarket or access healthcare, said Ardern. The mandates will cover about 40% of the workforce nationwide.

Further vaccine mandates, including for government staff, will be considered in the coming weeks.

There will be a law change to introduce a “clear and simplified risk assessment” for employers looking to mandate vaccination, in response to calls for certainty from unions and employers. A new four-week notice period will apply if mandated workers refuse to be vaccinated. “This change will only apply to employees who do not have a notice period, or whose notice periods are shorter than four weeks. Most employees will have notice periods in their employment agreement,” Wood said.

Employers will also be required to keep records about workers’ vaccination status. “MBIE will work with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to provide practical guidance on how to ensure workers’ records are handled appropriately,” Wood added.

$4.4 million is being given to WorkSafe to undertake more proactive work in vaccine engagement, education and enforcement.

Ardern signalled that vaccine certificates will be available next month and blamed a website error on speculation they had been delayed until December.

Meanwhile, Ardern also warned that alert level three restrictions will remain a useful tool when mystery cases of Covid-19 appear in the community before the shift to the traffic light framework. “We are very likely to continue to use the level three restrictions as we are now”, said Ardern.

A reminder: How vaccine certificates and the traffic light framework will interact

When the orange or red setting of the new Covid-19 protection framework is in place, close-contact businesses (such as hairdressers), events and gyms that choose not to use vaccine certificates will not be permitted to operate. Hospitality venues that don’t use vaccine certificates will have to operate contactlessly. Even when the green setting is in place, there will be restrictions for customer-facing businesses that choose not to use vaccine certificates: staff will have to wear face coverings and customers must be distanced.

3.50pm: PM to speak as delta outbreak grows

Jacinda Ardern is expected to make an announcement relating to vaccination mandates at this afternoon’s post-cabinet press conference.. There may also be an update on Auckland’s progress with its level three exit plan (yes, that’s still in play) however current restrictions in the super city are not due to expire for another week.

Also at today’s presser will be Ashley Bloomfield, the director of general of health, who will briefly recap today’s Covid numbers and answer media questions.

Here’s a livestream or follow along with our live coverage.

3.40pm: Open letter calls for Julian Assange to be given NZ asylum

An open letter has been released calling for Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, to be given asylum in New Zealand.

As reported this morning, the Aotearoa 4 Assange group have today held an online panel featuring international experts including Daniel Ellsberg – the whistleblower who released the Pentagon Papers.

The open letter, addressed to PM Ardern and foreign affairs minister Nanaia Mahuta, calls the charges against Assange “perilous to global human rights”.

It continues: “An assassination plot against a South Pacific journalist for revealing war crimes, demands a clear response from New Zealand – a nation trusted for its views on human rights.”

New Zealand should use its position as a “small principled nation” to stand for Assange, the letter adds.

3.10pm: Collins criticises, and supports, vaccine certificates

Judith Collins has criticised the government’s move to create a “two-class system” by implementing vaccine certificates – but also says she would introduce vaccine certificates.

Speaking at parliament, the National Party leader said she was concerned about the impact of pitting vaccinated people against the unvaccinated. “Most Kiwis don’t want to see a two-class system and social disharmony, and this week I’ll be demanding answers for those Kiwis,” she said, according to RNZ. “[I’ll be] urging the prime minister not to cause division and urgently ensure that any rights her government continues to breach are done so out of the utmost urgency and that there is in fact an end in sight for this.”

However, during the same press conference, Collins signalled she thought vaccine certificates should be brought in ASAP. “I’ve said all the way through that they need to have a system in place whereby if being double vaccinated brings you some of the normal rights and privileges that we experience, that we need to have that system in place properly,” she said.

“And we are still, since I asked the prime minister in February this year, waiting for this vaccine certificate and apparently it might be here in December.”

Collins’ colleague Chris Bishop, National’s Covid spokesperson, has also been calling for the introduction of vaccine certificates over the past few weeks.

2.10pm: The race to 90%

And here’s a look at how we’re doing in the race to get 90% fully jabbed.

2.00pm: Today’s numbers, charted

Here’s how the outbreak is tracking, thanks to some of the handy charts from The Spinoff’s Covid Tracker. 

As you can see, today marked a sharp drop in the number of new cases from the recent triple figure days. However, yesterday was also a poor day for testing numbers across the country due to the public holiday.

Meanwhile, a number of discharges has seen our Covid-related hospitalisation rate fall back into the 30s.

1.35pm: Residents in two Auckland suburbs still asked to get tested

Two suburbs on Auckland’s North Shore are continuing to be singled out for Covid-19 testing.

Anyone in Redvale and Rosedale is asked to get tested as soon as possible if they have even mild symptoms of Covid-19, even if they are vaccinated. This follows high positivity rates of more than 6% in Redvale and 3.8% in Rosedale.

“This testing will help to provide assurance that any undetected spread of Covid-19 in these communities is identified as quickly as possible,” said the Ministry of Health.

While Redvale was the location of the highly publicised “party” from the weekend before last, no cases linked to that event have so far been confirmed.

New Lynn and Bayswater are no longer specific areas of concern however residents in these areas are urged to be vigilant for symptoms and get tested no matter how mild.

Community Testing Centres on the North Shore are operating at: 

  • North Harbour Stadium, Oteha Valley Road in Carpark B – open 8.30am to 4.30pm
  • Northcote Community Testing Centre, Corner of College Road and Kilham Avenue – open 6.30am to 6.30pm

1.25pm: Public holiday causes testing, vaccination slump

The nationwide public holiday saw the number of people getting tested for or vaccinated against Covid-19 drop significantly.

There were just 14,430 tests processed on the holiday Monday, down by almost a half from the recent average. Of these, roughly 7700 were in Auckland.

On the vaccination front: 87% of the eligible population has now had their first dose, nationwide. However, just 10,660 doses were given out yesterday comprising 3,492 first doses and 7,168 second. Rates were down by almost 75% on last week’s daily tallies.

1.10pm: Delta outbreak grows by 79, including four in Waikato

There are 79 new community cases of Covid-19 to report today, with 75 in Auckland and four in Waikato. However, it comes a day after notably lower testing numbers due to the nationwide public holiday.

Currently, 33 of the cases remain unlinked with 281 mystery cases from across the past fortnight. The four new Waikato cases were all expected and linked, said the Ministry of Health, and were in isolation throughout their infectious period. The cases are in Te Awamutu/Kihikihi area and isolating currently at home with public health support.

Six Waikato cases remain unlinked to the wider outbreak.

Of yesterday’s 109 cases, 42 were infectious while in the community.

There has been a decrease in hospitalisation from COVID-19 following a number of discharges over the weekend.

The number of people hospitalised with Covid-19 has risen slightly, up to 37 from yesterday’s 35. The average age of current hospitalisations is 45. There are four people in intensive care. The overall number in hospital has dropped over the past few days. “This reflects some instances where individuals were identified as having Covid-19 when presenting for other issues and were admitted for a short period while their other issues were managed,” said the ministry.

No new cases in South Island or Northland

Meanwhile, no new cases have been detected in the South Island after a positive Blenheim result over the weekend. Interviews are continuing with the infected person, said the ministry, and their three close contacts are due for further testing this week following their initial negative test results over the weekend.

There are also no new confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Northland. Seven people in the region have so far tested positive. Despite this, the ministry said people in the region should remain vigilant and take Covid-19 precautions such as wearing a face mask.

1.00pm: A message from The Spinoff publisher Duncan Greive

While we wait for the 1pm numbers to land:

We’re rapidly approaching 10 weeks in lockdown here in Tāmaki Makaurau, and still unsure when a more recognisable form of living will resume. Which means that for the foreseeable future our staff will be working to bring you the latest from the delta outbreak – and to distract you from it – in a situation with a considerably reduced commercial foundation. This makes us more reliant on our Members than ever. To those who have contributed, a huge thank you from all of us.

To readers who enjoy our work and have yet to join The Spinoff Members, please consider doing so today if your circumstances allow it. Head here to donate, or to find out more.

12.50pm: Covid-19 numbers due via written statement

A PSA that there is no 1pm press conference today. The latest Covid-19 numbers will be sent out in a written statement from the Ministry of Health, tentatively around 1pm. We’ll have all the details in full.

Then, at 4pm, we’ll hear from prime minister Ardern.

Keep this page refreshed for all the latest.

12.40pm: Stats NZ v Ministry on population data

The Ministry of Health and Stats NZ have different population numbers, according to Newsroom’s Marc Daalder. 

That means it’s entirely possible our move to the new traffic light system – triggered at 90% fully vaccinated – could happen before the country is actually ready.

Here’s an extract from his piece:

On the one hand, these data glitches make for amusing anecdotes. But experts say they also pose a risk to our ability to loosen restrictions in an evidence-based manner. If the Government reopens because it thinks 90 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated and it turns out that only 87 percent have had two doses, the consequences could be severe.

That throws a wrench in the Government’s new traffic light system, which will only be introduced once 90 percent of the eligible population of each DHB is double dosed.

Read the full report here

12.00pm: Extremely Online – What are the rules of the internet?

Have you ever wondered why platforms don’t get shut down when they host extremist content, why Twitter doesn’t get sued every time someone spreads misinformation, or how sites like 4Chan can even exist? It’s because of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act – or the 26 words that created the internet. The Shit You Should Care About team explains in this week’s episode of Extremely Online.

11.25am: Home isolation set to become the norm

The prime minister is poised to announce shorter MIQ stays at today’s 4pm post-cabinet press conference.

It’s anticipated that home isolation will slowly become the norm for returning New Zealanders in the lead-up to Christmas.

According to the Herald, the new MIQ requirements could be in place next month. It would allow vaccinated travellers from low risk countries to isolate at home, freeing up more space in MIQ facilities for higher risk returnees.

MIQ is expected to be scrapped altogether in the future, but that’s unlikely to happen before our vaccine roll-out has been completed.

9.50am: Calls for Julian Assange to be given asylum in NZ

A New Zealand lobby group wants Julian Assange to be given sanctuary on our shores.

Aotearoa 4 Assange has today hosted a panel discussion, featuring international experts, calling on the government to welcome Assange to New Zealand.

Assange has been imprisoned in London since 2019 after his asylum in Ecuador was withdrawn.

One of those backing the call, and speaking at today’s online panel, is Daniel Ellsberg – a whistleblower who released the Pentagon Papers relating to the US involvement in the Vietnam War.

Former New Zealand minister for courts, and a campaigner for Ahmed Zaoui, Matt Robson will also speak.

9.25am: The latest locations of interest

A supermarket and a chemist in inner city Auckland are the latest locations of interest linked to positive Covid-19 cases.

Both the Countdown Metro store on Victoria Street and the nearby Chemist Warehouse have been listed on the Ministry of Health website. They were visited by Covid-positive customers late last week.

Meanwhile, locations were confirmed in Otorohanga yesterday afternoon following a pair of confirmed Covid cases. Visitors to the Otorohanga Mini-mart and McDonald’s at the listed times are asked to monitor for Covid symptoms for 14 days.

The full list is available here

8.50am: Call for tighter border around level three, pre-departure testing for domestic travellers

There’s a call for pre-departure Covid-19 tests to be required before people travel to the South Island.

After almost a year without the coronavirus, Blenheim is now facing a Covid scare after a person linked to the Te Awamutu cluster tested positive over the weekend.

Covid-19 modeller Dion O’Neale told RNZ that the lack of a hard border around Waikato led to Covid spreading. “That is maybe something the government would want to be thinking about: what requirements would they want to have on people leaving the Waikato region? Or possibly, even as the Waikato outbreak spreads even more through the North Island, leaving the North Island into areas that are currently Covid-free or mostly Covid-free, like the South Island?”

Microbiologist and science communicator Siouxsie Wiles agreed, saying rapid antigen testing could provide results within 15 minutes – but with a caveat. “You can do them as you’re, for example, crossing a border or getting onto a train. The other side of that though is that they are not 100% accurate,” she said. “Nothing is a guarantee, but the more things we put in place, the more chance you minimise the virus moving to the South Island.”

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8.05am: Deputy PM ‘very confident’ school is safe for returning senior students

Senior students in level three areas are returning to the classroom today, despite the number of Covid-19 cases in the community rising almost every day.

For Auckland students, it’s been 10 weeks since they were last on school grounds. However, a number of schools in the supercity have announced plans to continue online learning or expressed concern about the plan to reopen.

Deputy prime minister Grant Robertson said he was “very confident” in the guidelines provided for years 11 to 13 students. “A lot of work’s been done to make sure that not only have we got staff who have been tested, that there’s adequate ventilation and the rules about mask wearing are clear,” he told RNZ. “Many principals and schools have been saying to us they need to their year 11-13 students to get back.”

Robertson said while he recognised there would be a “level of anxiety for some”, the government believed this was a safe course of action.

The goal remained to hit 90% double vaccinated by Christmas, said Robertson, however he refused to “guarantee” that restrictions would be lifted by then.

Read more: Our children cannot be vaccinated for Covid-19. Here’s how we can best protect them

Over on Newstalk ZB, Robertson defended the government’s recently announced traffic light system and denied that unvaccinated people were holding the country ransom. “Vaccinations have been available for a long time, but there are hesitant people out there,” Robertson told Mike Hosking. “There’s a small percentage of people who we know are against vaccination… but there’s another group who will do it with the right support around them.”

There was still an incentive for people in level two parts of the country to get the jab, he said, citing mass gathering rules and the ability to move around the country freely at Christmas. “We are a whole country. We need to make sure that if we move we move in a way that everyone can keep going forward,” he added.

Similarly, Robertson told The AM Show that the government was not dividing the country through its new Covid framework.

7.30am: From The Bulletin

Decades of public health neglect fuelled delta outbreak. Breaking his silence as the head of the government’s Covid-19 advisory group, epidemiologist Sir David Skegg told the NZ Herald (paywalled) that the country’s public health system wasn’t up to tackling delta. It’s a revealing interview and Skegg is concerned that the country’s underfunded health system won’t be able to cope with the “new abnormal”.

Looking forward: With over 100 Aucklanders now self-isolating at home after testing positive for Covid-19, the government is expected to announce changes at the border this week. Ministers might indicate that it no longer makes sense asking fully-vaccinated returnees to spend a full fortnight in MIQ in the current situation.

The Covid numbers: There are 35 cases in hospital (a sharp reduction from 50 on Sunday) and 5 in ICU/HDU. There are now 1,225 active cases in New Zealand (the first time this number has gone over 1,000). 103 new community cases were reported in Auckland yesterday, 4 in Waikato and 2 in Northland. 18,985 people were vaccinated on Sunday.

The Spinoff’s Covid data tracker has the latest figures.

The expanded bright-line test is hitting only 3% of house sales. The tax was extended this year to require sellers of residential investment properties to pay income tax on a capital gain if they owned it for less than a decade. As Stuff reports, the low proportion of sales captured by the test doesn’t mean it isn’t working. The number of homes being flipped seems to be falling and owners are exempt from the tax on their main property. The IRD estimates that 85% of people who fall under the bright-line test are declaring the income correctly.

Drug-checking at summer festivals will be funded again this year. RNZ reports that demand for the service soared last year, so the government is putting up $800,000 to fund it nationally. The programme looks likely to be permanent from now on. The first year showed how useful it can be. It found that 40% of what people thought was ecstasy was in fact a potentially dangerous drug known as bath salts. About 68% of festival-goes changed their behaviour after the results came in.

Auckland’s population fell last year, a first since record-keeping began. Despite a closed border, the population in most regions of the country still grew last year by about 0.6% on average. Auckland was a rare exception, according to Interest. The city’s population should have increased by 12,900 as births outpaced deaths, however 14,200 people left Auckland for elsewhere. After growing above the national average for the past two decades, Auckland is a slightly smaller city today than a year ago.

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