Live updates, May 28: No new Covid-19 cases in NZ as Melbourne cluster grows

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for May 28, bringing you the latest news updated throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

5.00pm: Some travellers from Australia to require Covid-19 pre-departure test

Travellers who were in Victoria before the bubble was paused with the Australian state will need to show a negative pre-departure test from Tuesday June 1.

The new restriction applies to anyone who has been in Victoria since May 20 and is allowed to travel to New Zealand. Travel from the state itself was paused on Tuesday after a new Covid-19 outbreak in Melbourne and won’t resume before next Friday at the earliest. Children under two are exempt from the test.

The number of locations of interest in the state during the current outbreak has made contact tracing difficult for authorities on both sides of the Tasman. The pre-departure tests are part of a “prudent step” to control risk, according to the ministry of health.

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison was in Victoria on May 20 and is expected to arrive in Queenstown on Sunday for a two day visit with prime minister Jacinda Ardern. Before the new testing requirement was announced, Ardern’s office said Morrison would be subject to the same restrictions as any other traveller.

2.30pm: China unhappy as US investigates Covid-19 origin

China has hit back after US president Joe Biden announced an investigation into whether Covid-19 was created in a laboratory.

Biden, speaking earlier this week, said he had asked for a report on the origins of Covid-19, “including whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident”.

But, as NBC reported, China’s foreign ministry has responded angrily and accused the US of “political manipulation and blame shifting”.

“Some people in the United States completely ignore facts and science,” said spokesman Zhao Lijian.

On The Spinoff: Tauranga ratepayers get ready to fight back against Wellington

Alex Braae went to the launch of the Tauranga Ratepayers Alliance and reports from the angriest room in the country:

Local government minister Nanaia Mahuta’s decision to sack the council was always going to cause a backlash. Many in the city believe the problems the council faced were either solvable, or left the building when former mayor Tenby Powell resigned. And while commissioner Anne Tolley and her colleagues have been seeking to reassure residents that the city is now on the right track, not everyone is convinced.

The Tauranga Ratepayers Alliance (TRA) has launched on the back of this anger, with a packed meeting on Wednesday night at Club Mount Maunganui. They lined the walls to hear an all-star lineup of the city’s political right fan the flames, and plot a return to power. Unlike a soporific council meeting, the room crackled with fury – a sentiment the speakers were happy to pick up and run with.

Read Alex’s full report here

1.20pm: No new Covid-19 cases in NZ as Melbourne cluster grows

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

The total number of active cases in New Zealand today is 21. Our total number of confirmed cases is 2,314.

Today’s media update from the Ministry of Health reaffirmed the need for anyone who visited the greater Melbourne area between May 20 and 25 to self-isolate and get a test.

About 5000 people fit into this group and the ministry said that 500 were unable to be reached by email so are being followed up with phone calls and texts.

“The number of locations of interest around Melbourne has grown substantially, making it difficult for visitors to easily keep track,” said the ministry.

At this stage, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison is still set to visit New Zealand over the weekend despite being in Melbourne on May 20.

Melbourne lockdown: four new cases confirmed

Meanwhile, on the first day of Victoria’s week-long lockdown, four new community cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed.

It brings the number of active cases in the state up to 39, although nine of these were detected in managed isolation and linked to the border.

12.15pm: ‘Do the right thing’ – people urged not to share leaked Waikato DHB data

The group responsible for the Waikato DHB hack could spread the stolen data further, the privacy commissioner has warned.

IT systems for the entire DHB have now been down for almost two weeks and it could be several more days before a solution is found.

John Edwards told the Herald that anyone leaked personal patient or staff information from the group should “do the right thing” and pass it on to the Ministry of Health or police.

“The information that has been taken is likely to be sensitive personal information. This is likely to be causing a great deal of anxiety to the people affected,” he said.

“It is vital that people respect the personal information of others. Treat the information as you would expect others to treat yours if it were disclosed to you.”

Several media outlets, including RNZ and the Herald, were sent information from the group that was later confirmed to be legitimate.

11.40am: NZ’s ethnic diversity to grow over next two decades

New data shows New Zealand is set to become more ethnically diverse over the next 20 years.

Stats NZ said that while all ethnic group populations are projected to grow, the “broad European ethnic group” will likely grow the slowest.

According to the median projection, the “European or other” group will reduce its population share from 70% in 2018 to 64% in 2043. Meanwhile, the broad Asian group will have the largest rise, increasing from 16% up to 26%. That will mean it overtakes the Māori population group in the early 2020s, however both will surpass one million within the next decade.

10.15am: Melbourne spends first day in lockdown

Victoria has woken to its first day in a new state-wide lockdown, after a number of new Covid-19 cases were confirmed yesterday.

The week-long lockdown is being described by local health authorities as a “circuit breaker” aimed at stopping further spread of the virus.

As 9 News Australia reports, more than 10,000 contacts of the cluster have now been confirmed.

More than 40,000 tests were processed on Wednesday and the government has since announced the number of testing sites had been increased to almost 200, almost a quarter of them running to extended hours.

9.00am: Group three vaccine criteria confirmed

After months of speculation, criteria for group three of the vaccine roll-out has finally been confirmed.

Group three vaccinations are starting to get under way now. It’s the final group before the general public roll-out begins in late July.

According to a list published by the Ministry of Health, anyone who qualifies for a publicly funded flu vaccine is able to access the Covid-19 jab in group three. That includes people with specific cardiovascular conditions, asthma and diabetes.

Since the four groups were first announced, the details of who qualified were limited. For example: while it specified that people with some respiratory illnesses could get the jab, asthma – which affects more than 600,000 New Zealanders – was not listed until today.

Disabled people and those who are severely obese also qualify for a group three jab.

Earlier this week, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins confirmed that while all DHBs had started vaccinating people in group three, vaccine stock levels could stop some regions from being able to complete the group before July.

8.10am: Australian PM still set to visit despite Melbourne lockdown

The long touted meeting between Jacinda Ardern and Scott Morrison could be scrapped due to the new Melbourne lockdown. But at this stage, no changes have been made to the planned trip.

The Australian prime minister was in the wider Melbourne area on May 20 – just a few days before the first Covid-19 case in the new cluster emerged. Yesterday, the director general of health Ashley Bloomfield issued a health order requiring anyone who had been in the wider Melbourne area since May 20 to self-isolate until they returned a negative Covid-19 test.

Morrison is expected to land in Queenstown on Sunday for a quick 48 hour trip to promote trans-Tasman relations. A rugby match set to be attended by the two leaders has already been cancelled due to the outbreak in Australia preventing the Rebels from travelling here.

Despite Morrison’s time in Melbourne, there is currently no decision made on whether the PM should be allowed to travel here.

A spokesperson for Jacinda Ardern told the Herald that the Australian delegation will be subject to the same rules as others travelling from Australia, which include pre-departure testing if that is introduced.

“With regard to the upcoming visit of prime minister Morrison, we are in close contact with the Australian government and working through any implications for the visit,” the statement said.

University of Auckland politics professor Jennifer Curtin told RNZ it could be a bad look for Morrison if he chooses to come, citing the criticism he faced for travelling abroad during the Australian bushfires. “New Zealand perhaps wants this visit more than Australia because the plan was to showcase the value of the travel bubble [and] tourism in Queenstown” Curtin said.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

The story broken on Wednesday about National and Labour agreeing to retire two MPs with links to the Chinese Communist Party has developed. If you missed it at the time, the initial work was done by (paywalled) Politik, regarding the departures of National MP Dr Jian Yang, and Labour MP Raymond Huo. To quote:

POLITIK has learned from multiple official and political sources that the retirements followed intelligence briefings of both parties. The almost simultaneous announcements were orchestrated by the offices of Jacinda Ardern and Todd Muller working together.

To be clear, there is no evidence of direct wrongdoing by either or both MPs while in office. But in both cases, there were incidents that will raise eyebrows. Yang effectively stopped speaking to English-language media after the story about his past involvement with an elite Chinese spy school was broken by Newsroom. And as chair of the justice select committee, Huo was involved in a decision to block (which was subsequently reversed) the appearance of trenchant Chinese government critic Dr Anne Marie-Brady, who intended to speak about her research on Chinese government interference in New Zealand’s political system.

Yesterday, further corroboration of the initial Politik story came out. Radio NZ’s Craig McCulloch reported that “another source also confirmed to RNZ that an agreement was reached during a meeting attended by the parties’ chiefs of staff.” The revelation about senior staffers being involved came as part of a wider story about both major parties refusing to comment on the allegation, citing policies against confirming or denying anything that may or may not be contained in security briefings. The story was further analysed in a column on the (paywalled) NZ Herald, by lobbyist and commentator Matthew Hooton.

You might also note that this week trade minister Nanaia Mahuta has given a warning to exporters about over-reliance on China, in an interview with the Guardian.On one level, this might simply be sound business advice to diversify markets. Or it might be a coded message that a cooling in diplomatic relations is coming, with a country that has a well documented history of using trade as a way of sending diplomatic signals. These stories may be related, or they may not be.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here




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