Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for June 28, bringing you the latest news updated throughout the day. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
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4.00pm: Government considering mandatory Covid Tracer app scanning in high-risk locations
The government has commissioned advice on whether to make use of the NZ Covid Tracer app mandatory in high-risk places, the prime minister has announced, as well as mandating mask use at alert level two and higher in high-risk places. A decision will be made next week.
Speaking at her post-cabinet press conference, Jacinda Ardern said app use has been consistently low in New Zealand, with a peak of 2 million scans per day in September last year dropping to just 405,630 on June 7.
Only 585 alerts were sent out to people who had been in locations of interest in Wellington after a Covid-positive traveller from Australia visited, despite there being 2,600 potential contacts. This “leaves us exposed”, said Ardern.
High-risk locations will include “close quarters” such as bars and restaurants, she said. Options for those who don’t have cell phones will also be considered. Ardern said it’s hoped scanning in will become “part of normal life”, like having IDs checked at a bar.
Mandated mask wearing in high-risk locations is also being considered, but only at alert level two or higher. Masks are currently compulsory at all alert levels for those using public transport.
Ardern said more stringent measures had to date been avoided, but “with the inherent risks associated with the trans-Tasman, combined with the emergence of more transmissible strains, we can and should adjust our footing”.
Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said potential penalties for failing to comply with mandatory app and mask use were likely to be “relatively modest fines”.
Wellington test numbers, mandatory vaccinations for border workers, potential miner contacts
Also speaking at this afternoon’s press conference, Hipkins said mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations would soon be required for “a much bigger group of border workers” than the order currently applies to. There would be an announcement “fairly soon”, he said.
Asked about low testing numbers in Wellington recently, Hipkins said those who had been in the locations of interest were complying, with just under 100 of the 2,597 identified outstanding. Another couple of hundred hadn’t been tested yet as their tests weren’t due. Yesterday’s announcement that anyone symptomatic in Wellington should be tested, rather than just those who were symptomatic and had been in locations of interest, had resulted in a “slight uptick” in tests.
Some locations of interest had “question marks” around them in terms of how many potential contacts had been tested, said Hipkins, which cabinet would consider tomorrow when making a decision about Wellington’s alert level.
Ardern and Hipkins were unable to say whether two people who travelled to New Zealand after possibly coming into contact with a Covid-19-positive mine worker in the Northern Territory had been in the community here before being asked to isolate, but said locations of interest may be released. They emphasised that the the pair were two of around 600 people and were only potential contacts.
The prime minister also said businesses affected by the extension of alert level two in Wellington could apply for the Covid-19 resurgence support payment from 8am Thursday.
3.55pm: PM, Hipkins to give update on Covid-19 response
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern and Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins are speaking to media in a post-cabinet press conference from the Beehive at 4pm. The pair are expected to share some news relating to Covid-19 regulations.
There may also be an update on the two contacts of the Covid-positive Northern Territory mine worker who are in isolation in New Zealand, and Ardern will likely face robust questioning over the government’s proposed hate speech overhaul (see 3.25pm update).
We’ll bring you all the details here.
3.25pm: PM faces pressure over hate speech
Jacinda Ardern is facing pressure over the government’s proposed hate speech overhaul following media appearances this morning.
The PM was across radio and television today to face questions on the Covid response but, unsurprisingly, the conversations soon turned to the controversial proposal to update the country’s hate speech legislation. Justice minister Kris Faafoi had already been in the firing line with a shaky performance on Newshub Nation on Saturday morning.
In a column, Newshub’s Tova O’Brien said Ardern “misled” the public on The AM Show today. “Not only is the prime minister wrong about the basic facts of the proposal, she was wrong to shut down debate on hate speech on The AM Show… with her glib, inaccurate dismissals,” wrote O’Brien.
Both Act and National sent out press releases this morning with similar claims that Ardern had lied to the nation.
Ardern will next be speaking at a post-cabinet press conference at 4pm where we can expect another round of questions on the subject.
2.30pm: Sydney’s Covid outbreak grows again
Sydney’s Covid-19 outbreak has grown by another 18, taking the total number of cases connected with the Bondi cluster up to 124.
All but one of the new cases could be immediately linked to the community outbreak, with the remaining case in the “vicinity” of other positive cases.
New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian said six of the new cases have been in isolation since before testing positive. “A number of [the other cases] were in isolation for part of the time but some, unfortunately, were active in the community,” she said.
In other NSW news, this incredibly bizarre video (and another tweet):
The NSW Commissioner just detailed one covid breach..
☀️ Two men were sunbaking naked on south coast beach..
🦌 They were startled by a deer and ran into the national park..
🌲 The men got lost and needed to be rescued by the SES
*As told by Mick Fuller w a straight face
— Laura Jayes (@ljayes) June 28, 2021
1.40pm: No community Covid-19 cases; two contacts of infected miner travelled to NZ
There are no new community cases of Covid-19 today, a week after a positive case returned to Sydney having visited a number of tourist hotspots and eateries around Wellington.
So far, 2597 people have been identified as potential contacts of the Australian visiter. Of these, 2273 have returned a negative result. The remainder are either being followed up or are awaiting a test result and eight have been excluded from testing.
Meanwhile, two contacts of a Covid-positive miner in Australia’s Northern Territory have travelled to New Zealand.
The positive case was detected in the Newmont’s Granite gold mine about 350km north-west of Alice Springs.
Health officials confirmed both close contacts are in isolation and being tested according to the type of contact they had with the case at the mine. One has returned a negative test result already, and the result for the other individual is expected tomorrow.
“New Zealand health officials remain in contact with our Australian counterparts and are closely monitoring the situation,” a Ministry of Health spokesperson said.
Testing in Wellington
Just 754 tests were processed in the greater Wellingon region yesterday. “Anyone who was at a location of interest or is symptomatic should ring Healthline on 0800 358 5453 for advice on testing and how to book a test,” said the ministry.
“Further capacity is available at all sites this afternoon and tomorrow and we encourage anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms to be tested.”
Ten new MIQ cases
At the border today there have been 10 new cases of Covid-19 recorded, all in managed isolation. The number of active cases in New Zealand is 28.
The total number of confirmed cases is 2,382.
1.20pm: Ministry yet to provide Covid update
While we wait for the slightly delayed 1pm Covid-19 update, this from Toby Manhire:
At the start of last week I wrote a piece with the headline “NZ’s next Covid scare is just around the corner, and we’re acting like we don’t care“. The basis for the we-don’t-care assessment was the usage of the Covid Tracer app, which had dwindled to less than one in every 15 New Zealanders over the age of 16 using the thing each day. How has that changed after the Australian visitor’s delta-weekend in Wellington?
Here’s the chart, updated:
The dip at the end is the same thing you see every weekend, but the boost in usage is markedly lower than we saw in August 2020 and February of this year, when outbreaks in Auckland saw the region go to alert level three and the rest of the country to level two.
Even on the busiest 24 hour stretch, up to 1pm on Friday June 25, fewer than half a million people used the app around the country. That is, if you'll forgive the technical epidemiological language, totally piss poor. Cabinet will be looking at these same numbers today; it's a difficult decision to make, but with the delta variation now known to have been in the community in New Zealand, the case for making scanning at especially high-risk locations mandatory, as advocated by Michael Baker, is increasingly strong.
12.30pm: Hipkins to join PM at 4pm press conference
The Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins will speak alongside Jacinda Ardern at a post-cabinet press conference at 4pm.
Cabinet will be meeting to discuss the Covid-19 response following the temporary pause of the trans-Tasman bubble. We'll have a livestream of the presser for you and be on hand with all the details as they are revealed.
Meanwhile, at 1pm today there will just be a press statement with the latest Covid-19 numbers.
11.30am: More than 20 rape claims made at Christchurch girls school
A survey commissioned by Christchurch Girls' High School has revealed a concerning number of alleged incidents of sexual harassment and assault.
Of the 725 participating students, 430 said they had been harassed – a quarter more than 10 times. Over 20 students described being raped.
School principal Christine O'Neill said the survey was commissioned following concerns raised by students. “It was clear we needed to know what was actually happening, how prevalent it was and how our young women and rainbow community deal with it,” she said.
“The number of incidents as well as the lack of reporting and the fact that our students have normalised this totally unacceptable behaviour, are all very concerning.”
Additional support has been put in place at the school today for both staff and students, said O'Neill. "Everyone has a right to feel safe and clearly they don’t. We would encourage parents and caregivers to talk to their teen, start a conversation. They need our support and involvement.”
11.05am: Te Papa to reopen after Covid scare
Te Papa in Wellington will reopen tomorrow after a temporary closure due to Covid-19.
The museum – and specifically a touring exhibition of surrealist art – was one of a number of locations of interest in the capital after a Covid-positive traveller from Sydney visited last weekend.
According to Stuff, most exhibitions and spaces will be open with a small number of high-touch interactive displays shut off. The surrealist exhibition will limit entrants to 78 people to ensure social distancing rules can be enforced.
Wellington is still in alert level two following the Covid-19 scare with cabinet set to review the restrictions tomorrow.
10.00am: The Fold meets James Roque
On this week's episode of The Fold, Duncan Greive speaks to comedian James Roque about filming his hugely ambitious crowdfunded stand-up hour Boy Mestizo. He is unashamedly trying to sell it to Netflix, and believes its examination of his identity as a Filipino New Zealander will have appeal far beyond these shores.
He also talks about being part of the guessing panel on The Masked Singer NZ, the absence left by Jono and Ben – and why New Zealand needs its own late night show.
9.30am: Sir Bob Parker speaks out after debilitating stroke
Former television presenter and Christchurch mayor Bob Parker has given his first media interview after a severe stroke left him needing around the clock care in a specialised health facility.
Parker, who led Christchurch through the two devastating earthquakes, now struggles to remember the events that made him a household name.
Speaking to Sunday's Jehan Casinader, Parker said he agreed to the television interview as "personal task".
“You don't wake up each day feeling like today's going to be a great day,” he said. “You just wake up each day not knowing what it'll be like at all.”
8.00am: No financial support for businesses losing bookings over bubble pause – Ardern
Businesses impacted by the sudden shutting of the trans-Tasman bubble shouldn't be expecting any financial support from the government.
Thousands of cancellations have been made by Australians hoping to visit New Zealand over the school holidays. Businesses around the South Island have been particularly hard hit, with ski season typically a drawcard for overseas tourists. Hospitality NZ chief executive Julie White said this is not what the industry needs right now.
“Towns such as Queenstown and Wanaka had excellent bookings thanks to the Australian school holidays starting this weekend, but are reporting cancellations already and for some, these cancellations extend through to August," she said.
“Things were looking up, and with a big dump of snow expected this weekend, businesses were geared up for a busy few weeks. This is a kick in the guts for operators."
Jacinda Ardern, speaking to RNZ, confirmed that no financial help would be offered to businesses impacted by the bubble's temporary closure. "There is nothing attached to changes in the trans-Tasman arrangement," she said. "Unfortunately that is not something that is covered by any of our support arrangements." Ardern said that opening up to Australia was intended to bring benefits to local businesses but acknowledged there were "some risks" as well.
"We hope to have a safe restarting but I will always prioritise the safety of New Zealanders and the ability to keep those operations going because if we did have an issue with a case that spread here that would cause much more dire economic consequences."
Wellington businesses impacted by the shift up to alert level two will qualify for the Covid-19 resurgence payment along with the Covid leave support scheme.
7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin
A couple of significant bits of Covid news came in over the weekend, both relating to the trans-Tasman bubble. First of all, the situation in Wellington: On Sunday, a decision was made to extend level two restrictions (note the wording there – it definitely has not been a lockdown) for another 48 hours. The reason for this is the Sydney traveller’s wife has now also tested positive, indicating a possibility that there are still people in Wellington who were infected who could themselves test positive.
To be clear, no positive cases have been detected up to the present moment. And as always, keeping an eye on the details and instructions on the locations of interest site is vital. But according to the NZ Herald, testing rates in Wellington haven’t been as high as might have been expected, and Covid minister Chris Hipkins is encouraging those who may need one to make it a priority. Newshub reports Otago public health professor Michael Baker has described the extension of level two as justified, while also calling for refinement of the response to make greater use of masks and scanning.
Meanwhile, the travel bubble will be paused with the whole of Australia until at least Tuesday night – and who would bet against longer? It is the first time the bubble with the country as a whole has been paused, with previous suspensions affecting only certain states. Case numbers are escalating in Australia at an alarming rate, and Sydney has now been put into an actual lockdown. As the ABC reported yesterday, there are now cases in almost every Australian state. In terms of the impact that’ll have here, ski field operators are being hit particularly hard – Radio NZ reports there has been a wave of cancellations from Australians who would have otherwise come over.
Public feedback is currently being sought on changes to hate speech laws, and the proposals can be read in full here. Under the proposal, hate speech would become a criminal offence, and penalties would increase. But there are quite legitimate questions to be asked over what constitutes hate speech – at one end of the potential spectrum of bigotry it is clear and obvious, but fairly quickly it gets fairly grey. As an example of that, justice minister Kris Faafoi struggled badly with answers to theoretical questions about what may or may not be covered, in an interview with Tova O’Brien on Newshub Nation.
In a related story around political speech that some find hateful, the Speak up for Women group has won a significant court battle over the right to hold a public meeting in a council building, reports Stuff. Among other issues relating to trans people, SUFW opposes the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill, which would make it easier for trans people to self-identify their gender in government registration. The court found the council’s decision was a breach of SUFW’s rights, and that there was sufficient evidence to conclude SUFW are not a “hate group”.