Live updates, March 29: Pre-departure tests scrutinised after 10 Covid-19 cases arrive on same flight

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 29, bringing you the latest news throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

3.00pm: Minimum wage to rise, but PM won’t commit to further increases

Updated

The minimum wage is set to rise to $20 an hour from Thursday, but the prime minister won’t reveal if it will continue to increase under her leadership. Flanked by social development minister Carmel Sepuloni at this week’s post-cabinet press conference, Jacinda Ardern said the $20 an hour figure was the fulfilment of an election promise.

Cabinet has not decided what happens next to the minimum wage, she added. “We haven’t gone beyond that at this stage,” she said. However, she said that it would be unusual for a Labour-led government not to raise the minimum wage annually. “What I’m not committing to is by how much [it will increase],” she said.

Also from this Thursday, Ardern said main benefits and superannuation will also rise.

Pushed on whether these increases were enough, Ardern said “changes to benefits are changes forever”. She added: “We do need to keep going… we acknowledge that.”

Moving onto other topics, and the PM acknowledged the issues in Canterbury where a software coding error allowed people to see private information when they booked a Covid-19 vaccination appointment.

“That’s not a situation anyone wants, but it is not a situation we believe has occurred in any other DHBs.”

People vaccinated overseas will still have to, “at this stage”, quarantine for 14-days upon arriving into New Zealand.

Asked about the 10 new cases of Covid-19 that arrived in the country on the same flight, Ardern said the government does not treat pre-departure testing as “fool proof”. That is why, she said, we test people at day zero. “When we see those numbers, particularly around airlines, we do ask questions,” she said. “We have followed up on that, we’ve had conversations with airlines.”

Ardern brushed aside concerns the government’s housing package will lead to rent rises. She said, at this stage, those concerns were simply “speculative”.

2.45pm: ‘Non-negotiable’ – MediaWorks CEO focused on making organisation a safe environment

MediaWorks’ head Cam Wallace has told The Spinoff he wants the company, under his lead, to move away from its past cultural issues.

Just three months into his role, Wallace has already made waves in the company, kicking John Banks off air after Banks made racist comments on Magic Talk and now dealing with allegations of sexual abuse made against workers at various stations under MediaWorks.

Speaking to Duncan Greive on a brand new episode of The Fold, Wallace said he is focused on making sure that anyone who has any issues feels that there is the right environment to confidentially come forward. “When we have issues we will investigate them… there will be no stone unturned,” he said, calling it “non-negotiable”.

Read more here and listen to the episode below:

Subscribe and listen to The Fold via Apple PodcastsSpotify or your favourite podcast provider.

1.45pm: PM’s office concerned about rent rise criticism after housing package

An email, accidentally sent from the prime minister’s press secretary to Stuff, has revealed just how concerned the government is about the possibility of rent increases stemming from new housing policy changes.

“I assume rents will come up at post-cab[inet] today,” Andrew Campbell wrote. “Can we get a table rent increases year on year since been in Govt year on year compared to increase in wages and house prices [sic].”

He added: “My understanding rents have been in line with average wage growth and obviously a lot less than house price growth.” He also wanted to know whether rent increases have been in line with those under the previous National government.  “If they have been that would be good to point out,” he said.

As noted by Thomas Coughlan in his Stuff piece, it is incredibly hard to look at rent data. As he explains, the main government measure only records rent when a new bond is lodged meaning incremental rises are missed.

Campbell’s email also asked staff to pull together a list of quotes from economists the government could use “arguing against the assumption rents will go up”, with this likely to be pulled together for a social media push.

Jacinda Ardern will front media at 3pm today where it is all but certain she will face questions around housing.

1.00pm: 11 new MIQ Covid-19 cases; 10 from the same flight

There are 11 new cases of Covid-19 in managed isolation, with 10 of those having travelled to New Zealand from India on the same flight via the UAE.

The seven-day rolling average of new cases detected at the border is four.

(Image / MOH)

The new cases follow concerns around the efficacy of pre-departure testing, including reports of people being offered false negative test results before travelling to New Zealand (see: 7.55am update).

On The Spinoff right now, you can read more about India’s new “double mutation” coronavirus variant.

Grand Mercure managed isolation facility

Meanwhile, an investigation continues into the “day 12” case at the Grand Mercure managed isolation facility in Auckland.

As at 9am this morning, a total of 236 of the 272 returnees have now been contacted and 235 have returned negative test results so far. One person has returned a positive result which is classified as a historical infection on the basis of further testing and serology results. Historical cases are not considered to be infectious.

The total number of returnees in this group has increased as further returnees take an exit test and isolate at home until the test has returned a negative result. The assessment was that this additional step was needed until today, and it has now been lifted for anyone leaving the facility from now on.

12.45pm: Local film Cousins hits $1m at local box office

The film adaptation of Patricia Grace’s novel Cousins, directed by Māori directors Briar Grace-Smith and Ainsley Gardiner, has crossed the $1 million mark at the local box office.

BusinessDesk reported on the milestone over the weekend; it’s just the 33rd film to pass the mark.

“Despite partial Covid lockdowns, tsunami warnings and the America’s Cup, so many New Zealanders are still finding time to experience [Cousins] in the cinema, supporting another New Zealand film to pass $1 million at the box office. We hope they continue to do so,” Gardiner and Grace-Smith said in a statement.

12.00pm: Brisbane goes into lockdown after new community cases

Brisbane has recorded four new community cases of Covid-19, with the city set to enter a three day lockdown from 5pm tonight.

Two of the new cases are known contacts of a previous confirmed case with the UK variant of the virus. The other two, however, are under investigation.

“This is the UK strain. It is highly infectious. Now we need to do this now to avoid a longer lockdown and that lockdown will commence at 5pm this afternoon,” Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said, as reported by the Herald.

“That will mean that our schools will close from tomorrow and, as I said, we need to do this – this will also enable our health authorities to get on top of the contact tracing. This is a huge job now that we have to do because we’ve got more of this community transmission.”

11.05am: National calls for vaccination target; worries roll-out could be like KiwiBuild

The opposition thinks we should be aiming for “at least” 70% of the adult population getting the Covid-19 vaccine.

Recently, the government confirmed it did not have a specific target for how many people should get the jab, instead saying the goal was “as many as possible”.

National’s Covid-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop said that’s not good enough.

“New Zealand is one of only a few countries in the OECD that doesn’t have a target for how many adults should be vaccinated. The others are Colombia and Mexico,” he said in a statement. “Almost all countries are setting a vaccination target – usually 70% of the adult population – and a date for achieving that target. New Zealand isn’t doing this either.”

Bishop cited targets for the measles and flu vaccines and said that not having one for the Covid-19 vaccine suggested the government didn’t want to held to account. He went as far as to suggest the vaccine roll-out could become the next KiwiBuild.

“If KiwiBuild taught us anything, it’s that the Labour Government isn’t great at hitting targets. But that shouldn’t matter. Our Covid-19 vaccine rollout is too important not to have one.”

9.20am: Euthanasia training may just be online

There are fears our new assisted dying laws could lead to health practitioners with as little as six hours training providing euthanasia to patients.

That’s how the rules work in Victoria, Australia, where a similar law is also in place: before administering euthanasia, a GP or specialist must have undertaken a six-hour online training course.

An in-depth investigation from RNZ’s Guyon Espiner today also revealed details of a Ministry of Health survey that showed while almost half of practitioners supported assisted dying in principle, fewer than 30% were “possibly or definitely” willing to provide the service.

Despite that number seeming low, health minister Andrew Little said it was higher than he anticipated.

“Even at that number, that leaves me satisfied that there will be enough health practitioners who will be able to assist those who elect to choose assisted dying under the legislation,” he told RNZ.

Read Guyon Espiner’s full report here

7.55am: Efficacy of pre-departure Covid-19 tests called into question

Questions are being asked about the efficacy of our Covid-19 pre-departure test scheme, with reports of people being offered fake negative Covid-19 test result certificates at a cost.

In recent weeks, the number of people testing positive for Covid-19 during their first day in managed isolation – despite the requirement for a negative test before travelling – has remained steady at around four cases daily. Now, according to the Herald, Ashley Bloomfield has directed officials to look into the system.

Siouxsie Wiles said she has been made aware of someone who was offered the chance to buy a fake negative pre-departure test certificate before travelling to New Zealand.

“I have no doubt that unscrupulous people will also be offering fake negative pre-departure test certificates for a fee,” she told the Herald. “Someone got in touch with me to tell me a relative of theirs had been offered one in France but declined.”

Wiles said that the introduction of pre-departure testing was a good idea, but the number of day zero positive tests indicated things weren’t working as well as they could be.

“That doesn’t mean they weren’t incubating the virus or won’t become infected in the time between their test and arriving in New Zealand,” she said.

Back on March 15, we reported in the live updates that Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins had some concerns around pre-departure testing. He told us: “There is also no way to verify the quality of pre-departure tests and test reports so an important additional step is day 0/1 testing once in New Zealand. Additionally a proportion of cases detected at the border and in managed isolation are subsequently found to be historical.”

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

For a lead story today, an incident that we really can’t say what the full implications are yet – but they could be vast and extremely damaging. Business Desk (paywalled) reported on Saturday that Carter Holt Harvey – an absolute giant in the timber industry – will be halting timber supply to ITM, Bunnings and Mitre-10. They say they’re facing “critical supply issues” and are unable to honour commitments. They will however continue to supply to Placemakers, which is owned by Fletchers, and subsidiary company Carter’s Building Supplies. Within that group of companies, there is both a range of the type of trade they do, and a range of reactions to the announcement.

On one level, it could have a big impact on building businesses. The Rotorua Daily Post reports some contractors “are at risk of going under” – particularly smaller operators. New Zealand Certified Builders Association chairperson Mike Craig said there could be severe flow-on consequences. “Some of the smaller builders who just do one house at a time and they can’t get product, what do they do with their workers?”

It is also likely to change the nature of the building industry, with timber shortages expected for the rest of the year at least. Stuff reports some construction projects may look to get around the issue with alternative timber products. A story on One News included suggestions that the problem was “industry-wide”, and would hit housing hard. At the very least, the cost of timber is almost certain to keep going up. This also comes at a critical time for housing generally, with supply issues and housing shortages contributing to pretty much every other social problem New Zealand currently faces.

It’s not clear what the solution to this will be. Backlogs globally mean it is highly unlikely there will be any sort of quick fix. We’re also in a period of extremely high prices and export demand. New Zealand grows huge swathes of forests for timber, and to have domestic shortages feels like a damning indictment of an economic system that allowed this situation to occur. As I say, we don’t yet know the full implications of this, and it may be that they turn out to be mild and minor. But there will be extremely justified anger if the housing crisis drags on because of a lack of processed wood.




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