Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for June 25 (extended to take in key developments across the weekend), bringing you the latest news updated throughout the day. Get in touch at email@example.com
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Sunday June 27, 1.45pm: Alert level two in Wellington to run till end of Tuesday
The Wellington region will remain in alert level two for at least another two full days, until 11.59pm Tuesday, Covid response minister Chris Hipkins has announced.
The partner of the person who tested positive after visiting Wellington has now tested positive, NSW Health has informed New Zealand authorities. That means the person was likely to have been infectious towards the end of their stay in the capital.
A reminder: you can check the locations of interest for the period June 19-21 here.
All quarantine-free travel from Australia was paused as of last night until the end of Tuesday. That decision was influenced by news that a miner had tested positive for Covid-19 in the Northern Territory, and fears that the delta variant of the virus may have spread across the country beyond New South Wales. A 48-hour lockdown has just been announced for Darwin. In New South Wales itself, 30 new community cases were recorded today, bringing the Bondi cluster to 110.
“It’s clear we are not out of the woods yet,” said Hipkins of the Wellington situation. More testing was required before they could confidently move the region out of level two.
There was also an “indeterminate case” in Masterton. “At this point we are not regarding that as relevant,” he said.
There are no new cases of Covid-19 in the community to be reported today. Wastewater testing shows no detection of Covid in the Wellington region.
The extension of the alert level two setting in Wellington triggers the resurgence support payment scheme for qualifying businesses.
Hipkins said they would like to see more people in Wellington to contact Healthline and consider being tested if they had cold and flu symptoms.
So far, 2,444 people have been identified as contacts of the Australian person who visited Wellington last weekend. Of those 2,444 total contacts, 2,067 have returned a negative result. The remainder are either being followed up or are awaiting a test result and the remaining 8 have been excluded from testing.
There were 58 passengers on the Qantas flight QF163 which the Australian passenger travelled on to Wellington last Saturday. All have been advised to self-isolate. Of those 58 passengers, 37 have had a negative test result, and the remainder are expected to have results in the next couple of days.
New Zealand based flight crew from both the inbound and outbound flights have all been contacted and are being tested. Those crew members based overseas are being managed by overseas jurisdictions.
On Saturday, 6,120 tests were processed across New Zealand, but fewer than 700 of those were the Wellington region. There were 938,548 Covid Tracer app scans in the 24 hours to midday yesterday, a substantial increase on the usage in the leadup to the Wellington scare.
Saturday June 26, 9.00pm: Australia bubble paused for three days
Following the Sydney outbreak, quarantine-free travel has been suspended until the end of Tuesday. Here’s the release in full:
“Quarantine Free Travel from all Australian states and territories will be paused from 10.30pm tonight until 11.59pm on Tuesday June 29, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has announced. The decision follows updated public health advice from officials this evening.
“There are now multiple cases and outbreaks in Australia in differing stages of containment and the health risk for New Zealand in response to these cases is increasing. As a result the government has taken the precautionary step of temporarily widening the current pause with New South Wales to include all of Australia.
“This short pause will give us time to get a better understanding of the developing situation and to consider the potential implementation of a range of measures to make the bubble safer, such as the introduction of pre-departure testing for all flights from Australia to New Zealand. The government will continue to monitor the situation closely and the decision will be reviewed on Monday. We remain committed to quarantine free travel with Australia. The pause is necessary given the growing number of Covid-19 cases being reported across Australia, Chris Hipkins said. “’I acknowledge the frustration and inconvenience that comes with this pause, but given the high level of transmissibility of what appears to be the Delta variant, and the fact that there are now multiple community clusters, it is the right thing to do to keep Covid-19 out of New Zealand.’
“New Zealand travellers in Australia should follow the health instructions of the state or territory they are in. Anyone who was in Australia from June 21 onwards should monitor their health, and be aware that the number of locations of interest are increasing and they should be checking these regularly. It is also important that people contact Healthline should they develop any symptoms.”
The lockdown in New South Wales now applies to all of greater Sydney.
4.35pm: Prime minister’s trip to Australia cancelled
Jacinda Ardern’s first international trip since the arrival of Covid-19 has been cancelled following a week that has seen the virus spread through Sydney and its suburbs.
The prime minister was supposed to lead a trade delegation to Australia in early July that would visit the country’s large eastern cities. Owing to the changing situation there, it still wasn’t clear if she’d be visiting Melbourne after a recent interruption in the travel bubble with Victoria.
While travel has resumed with that state, it’s now on hold with New South Wales for at least another 11 days. Sydney is in local lockdown for at least another week.
4.2opm: Sewage spilling on to Lambton Quay
A challenging and exhausting week for Wellington is coming to end on a bum note, with raw sewage reportedly spilling from a manhole on Woodward Street and down on to Lambton Quay as workers make their way home. Sometimes it doesn’t rain but it pours.
3.35pm: Government works on contingency plans for those stuck in Sydney
New Zealanders stuck in Sydney as the city shifts into lockdown will need to wait a little longer to learn their options.
Parts of the Australian city will be locked down for at least a week, while a pause on quarantine-free travel is confirmed for at least another 11 days.
Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said the government is now looking at what it can do for marooned New Zealanders. “We will work now over that 12-day period to prepare contingency plans so that should we not be in a position to remove the travel pause at that point, we have alternative arrangements in place, which is the work that we did around Victoria.”
One option on the table is to bring people back into the country and into managed isolation. “It’s one of the reasons we’ve got space set aside specifically for trans-Tasman contingency in our managed isolation facilities,” Hipkins said. “So that if it looks like this is still ongoing as we get towards the end of the pause extension, then we’ll be able to provide clearer guidance for people.”
2.45pm: National, Act unhappy with proposed hate speech law
We knew it was coming, and yet here we are: National and Act have come out against the government’s plan to toughen up our hate speech legislation.
The proposal was announced today with public consultation set to run through into August. The new law would see harsher penalties along with a broader definition of discrimination.
National’s justice spokesperson Simon Bridges said the proposed law change would counter freedom of speech.
“We are not ruling out supporting sensible changes to the Human Rights Act 1993 like perhaps updating the groups covered by anti-discrimination law, but we would need to see the law in writing before taking a conclusive position,” he said. “In any case, minister Faafoi’s proposed hate speech law changes seek to change a lot more.”
Act is even more critical, with leader David Seymour claiming the law change would be a “huge win” for cancel culture.
“What sort of government promotes social cohesion by having the state go around punishing people for unpopular views?” said Seymour. “This is a solution looking for a problem and will take away basic rights to free speech, it will shut down debate and make people too afraid to express valid opinions. It will put cancel culture on steroids.”
1.00pm: No Covid-19 cases after testing blitz in Wellington
There are no positive cases of Covid-19 in Wellington following a testing blitz over the past 48 hours.
Speaking to media, minister Chris Hipkins confirmed no traces of the coronavirus were picked up in wastewater around Wellington either. Yesterday, 10,749 tests were processed with more than 3000 of those in Wellington.
Demand for testing remained high, Hipkins said, and more test sites would be opening up.
Today marks five days since the Covid-positive Sydney traveller returned to Australia, meaning the lack of new Covid-19 cases is incredibly fortunate for Wellington. Cabinet will meet on Sunday to determine whether to keep Wellington in alert level two. The outcome of this will be communicated to the public later that day.
The genomic sequencing of the original Sydney case has not yet been returned, Ashley Bloomfield confirmed. “All going well” this will be provided later this afternoon, he added. There is a “strong” epidemiological link to the community cluster.
Bloomfield urged people to use the Covid Tracer App. He said there has been a surge in use with over 300,000 more scans today than yesterday.
As of 8am this morning, 1,752 people had been identified as contacts of the original Sydney case, 550 of whom are required to isolate for 14 days and be tested at least twice. The remainder must have a test at day five, then are allowed to leave isolation if the result is negative.
532 of the contacts have returned negative results so far. Eight have returned overseas, and the remainder are awaiting test results.
Both Hipkins and Bloomfield said the results so far were encouraging. The fact that close contacts of the person with Covid returned negative results was positive, but “we’re not out of the woods”, said Bloomfield. He referenced the Papatoetoe cluster, where a non-close contact of a case tested positive through fleeting contact at a school.
Sydney to go into lockdown
The city of Sydney, as well as the suburbs of Woolhara, Waverly and Randwick will go into lockdown for at least a week, New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian has just announced.
All people in those four council areas will need to stay at home “unless absolutely necessary”, she said. All people who have worked in the four areas but live elsewhere “are subject to the stay at home order”, Berejiklian added.
Berejiklian announced 14 new cases of Covid-19 linked to the current outbreak. All but one of those was already in isolation.
There are now 65 cases linked to the Bondi cluster.
12.45pm: Bloomfield and Hipkins to speak as next wave of Covid-19 test results due
The director general of health Ashley Bloomfield and the Covid-19 response minister are set to provide an update on the situation in Wellington at 1pm. We’re anticipating the the crucial results of testing from all the locations of interest, along with the genomic sequencing of the original case.
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12.00pm: Cassie Roma joins The Real Pod
Incredibly exciting news for any fans of The Apprentice Aotearoa (which I honestly implore you to watch).
Entrepreneur and star of the show Cassie Roma joined The Real Pod this week to share some sensational behind-the-scenes scoops from the season’s greatest moments (including Mally the Mallard), talk us through the cinematography of Mike Pero’s “you’re fired” point and more.
11.20am: 1pm press conference confirmed
And there we go: Chris Hipkins and Ashley Bloomfield will in fact be speaking at 1pm to provide an update on the situation in Wellington.
We’ll have a livestream for you.
11.00am: Mandatory mask rule would be too difficult, says PM
Jacinda Ardern won’t be moving to make mask use mandatory in the capital.
At this stage, a face mask is only required on public transport and flights. Using the Tracer App is also not mandatory.
Speaking to RNZ, Ardern said forcing people to wear a mask was too difficult. “Putting out guidance that is so prescriptive that it becomes hard to understand, it’s much easier for just us to say, we encourage you to wear a mask,” she said.
That same principle applied to QR codes, she said. “The same issues keep coming back, it’s always about enforcement, and particularly for businesses. It would require someone to ask people not to enter until they had scanned, and for some businesses, it may be counterintuitive for them to say ‘you cannot enter into my business or engage in business without scanning a QR code’.”
Ashley Bloomfield said that making masks and scanning mandatory wasn’t off the table. “It’ll be up to cabinet to decide that. I know the minister will keep people informed about that.”
10.30am: What would zero cases mean today?
We haven’t had official confirmation of a 1pm press conference but we can probably assume there will be one this afternoon – so what would it mean if that revealed no new Covid-19 cases?
Well, obviously it would be great news for Wellington. But even more so, it would suggest the capital may have dodged a bullet. Speaking this morning, Ashley Bloomfield said today roughly marked five days since most of the close contacts had visited a location of interest. That means that if they now test negative, the chance of them later testing positive is reduced significantly (it usually takes about five days for some form of symptom to appear).
As always, we’ll have a livestream for you if there is a press conference this afternoon – so stay tuned.
Bernard Hickey: How hope for a generation was lost
An extraordinary column/podcast from Bernard Hickey on The Spinoff this morning. He explains how the housing market bolted and destroyed the dreams for our youngest people and why there’s no real prospect our leaders can (or want to) wrangle it back to affordability.
Here’s an extract (and listen to the podcast below)
I checked again this week and that first house of ours is now valued at $1.43m, which is about 10 times the median household income for Wellington. Sadly, although young renters reading this will rightly feel little sympathy, we sold it two years later to move to Canberra in Australia with my work, and then Sydney, and then London. As we bounced along, we rolled up any leveraged gains we got into houses we owned in serial fashion in Sydney, London, Auckland and now Wellington.
We are now rich in anyone’s language, and not because we earned it. Sure, we worked hard and didn’t “waste” too much money, but that wealth was purely about leveraging the endowments we had and riding for free on a once-in-a-century collapse in interest rates and the withdrawal of the state from financing enough infrastructure to provide enough housing for population growth over the the last 30 years.
9.20am: Proposed new hate speech law would see harsher penalties for offenders
Hate speech could become a criminal offence under a new proposal about to face scrutiny.
The government is asking for public feedback on whether the existing criminal provision prohibiting hate speech (contained within the Human Rights Act) should be replaced with a “clearer and more effective” version in the Crimes Act. That would mean harsher penalties for people who break the law.
The proposed law has been long-planned following the 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks.
Under the new rules, anyone who “intentionally stirs up, maintains or normalises hatred against a protected group” by being “threatening, abusive or insulting, including by inciting violence” would be liable for punishment.
“Building social cohesion, inclusion and valuing diversity can also be a powerful means of countering the actions of those who seek to spread or entrench discrimination and hatred,” justice minister Kris Faafoi said. “Abusive or threatening speech that incites hostility can cause significant harm and divide communities.”
Part of the changes would see trans, gender diverse and intersex people specifically protected from discrimination and “incitement to discrimination” would be outlawed. This change would make it against the law for someone to incite others to discriminate against a protected group, a move the government said would bring us in line with international law.
9.10am: Government would have to borrow more for another lockdown, says National
National has claimed the government won’t have enough in its Covid-19 response fund to cover the costs of another outbreak.
Opposition shadow treasurer Andrew Bayly, as reported by the Herald’s Hamish Rutherford, said the $50 billion pot of Covid cash had been run down due to general spending. If another outbreak happened, more money would have to be borrowed.
“In a traditional budgeting sense, everyone knows what the operational allowance is. What [Robertson] has done is he’s just chosen to create this artificial fund, a conceptual fund, and every time he needs a bit of extra money, he’s just dipped into it. And, unfortunately, he’s dipped into it again and again and now there’s only $5 billion left,” Bayly said.
“What I’m worried about is, what happens going forward. If we do get Covid, we actually need this money spent on good projects that relate to Covid, but more importantly this was set aside for a health response.”
Robertson denied that the fund could only be used in the event of a Covid lockdown. “The Covid Response and Recovery Fund is to respond to Covid but also to support the economic recovery,” the finance minister said.
8.00am: No new Covid-19 cases, but further location of interest identified
Wellington has survived another night with no new Covid-19 cases reported in the capital. That means there are still no cases of the coronavirus in the community following a Covid-positive Sydney traveller’s return to Australia earlier this week.
There is one new location of interest confirmed overnight: the men’s toilets at Wellington Airport on Monday morning.
Speaking to Newstalk ZB, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said so far things were looking positive. “We know there were a lot of tests taken in Wellington yesterday… but so far so good in that we haven’t been notified about any positive tests,” he said.
“Those people who were exposed at one of those places on Sunday – today and yesterday they will have been tested. It’s important that those people at those locations of interest are tested at the right time and that’s day five.”
Bloomfield rejected the idea that moving Wellington to level two was an overreaction. “I don’t think anyone is saying we’ve overreacted,” he said. “I think alert level two was the right thing to do.” The Sydney traveller’s movements around Wellington raised the risk of Covid spreading, Bloomfield said, and acting early was the right decision.
At this stage, the strain of the virus is still not known. Bloomfield said the workers in the New South Wales lab are sick so the ability to complete the genome sequencing has been delayed.
7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin
Over the course of this week, the Covid situation in Australia has started to look increasingly uncomfortable. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that 11 new cases were announced yesterday in New South Wales, and that the outbreak has spread to neighbouring Victoria. A lockdown hasn’t yet been put in place in NSW, though someexperts believe that with the Delta variant on the loose, such a move would be justified – particularly if it was a ‘hard and early’ lockdown rather than something delayed and dragged out. 9News reports there are also several cases in Queensland, but they are believed to be contained. To sum up the general picture, it is one of concern rather than panic – but this can change quickly.
So it was not surprising that last night the travel bubble pause with NSW was extended by a further 12 days. Our live updates covered that news, with Covid-19 minister Chris Hipkins saying “the government strongly believes a cautious approach is the best course of action while these investigations continue.” That in turn is raising questions about whether the travel bubble is worth it. Newshub reports medical expert Des Gorman, who argued that the risks of keeping it open at all are too high.
Meanwhile in Wellington, no cases in the community have yet been reported. The NZ Herald reports that if the person who came through Wellington did pass Covid on to anyone, today or tomorrow are likely days for those cases to emerge, given that people can still test negative in the early days after being exposed. In the meantime, residents of the capital are advised to keep scanning everywhere, because if there are cases hiding in the community that’ll make tracing them much easier.
Various issues around the development of Wellington were thrashed out at a marathon council meeting last night. The NZ Herald’s Georgina Campbell and Stuff’s Damian George were both there, and their stories capture the tension and anger around the council table that also came through loud and clear on the live-stream I watched in Auckland. The key points are that moves to massively increase character protections have been largely defeated, and the way ahead for more densification is now clearer. The ‘walkable catchment’ areas – in which six storey buildings can be put in the suburbs so long as they’re near a train station – will be increased. But a proposal to remove height restrictions altogether from central city housing developments was voted down.