Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for June 29, bringing you the latest news updated throughout the day. Get in touch at email@example.com
6.35pm: Novotel Auckland Airport returnees allowed to go
The 135 returnees who last night had their stays at Novotel Auckland Airport extended have been cleared to leave after whole genome sequencing determined it unlikely that in-facility transmission of Covid-19 was occurring.
The extension to the returnees’ stays had been extended while an investigation was carried out into two day 12 Covid-19 cases at the facility that were reported yesterday.
Health officials now say the one case has no close links to any other sequences in New Zealand and the other case is likely to be historical.
Of the 125 affected returnees, 115 are eligible to leave the facility today, pending final health checks. The remaining 10 are able to depart on Wednesday 30 June, in-line with their original planned departure date.
6.10pm: A report from Wellington’s south coast
Emily Writes writes from her home in Ōwhiro Bay, on the south coast of Wellington:
Tonight we have friends camping marae style in our lounge because of the storm. We picked them up when their son got out of school and brought them straight here.
Maz Mace lives on Ōwhiro Bay Parade, close to the shoreline, with their husband Russell and son Odin. I asked Maz to tell me what’s going at their house and why they came to stay at our place, which is situated on higher ground.
“Last time [in April 2020] our water line on our house was taller than me. We stayed and just watched the waves pour into the house. It was really terrifying for our son. I mean, it was scary for us too. So this time we weren’t taking any chances. Last night we asked Emily if we could stay and we came straight from school today.
“Last time it hit during the day and this time it’s at night. We had no warning then [and] at least we have had a warning this time. I am really, really nervous. We are prepared for the whole garage to be gone. If it’s as bad as they’re guessing it will be, then it will be gone. We are worried about it flooding further than the bottom floor of our home. Last time, my husband was in the car trying to move it into the garage and a wave came and picked up the whole car. I’m just so glad we aren’t there right now.”
I asked Maz if it made them want to move and they said “nah I love the Bay too much”.
I asked how they will cope tonight (at our house) and they said “gin”.
Maz added: “It’s nerve wracking not knowing what’s going on down there. We just have to wait until the morning, and hopefully we might be able to go look tomorrow.”
4.45pm: Local state of emergency declared for Wellington’s south coast
Wellington mayor Andy Foster has declared a local state of emergency for Wellington’s south coast to allow pre-emptive evacuation of properties in Breaker Bay.
Houses on Breaker Bay Road from number 53 to 194 are expected to bear the brunt of southerly swells of six metres or more that could “present a significant risk to life and property if they overtop areas alongside the south coast”, said Foster in a press release, citing advice from Met Service and Niwa.
Residents have been asked to be clear of these areas by no later than 6pm this evening. There will be road blocks at the Wahine Memorial Park and the Pass of Branda, at the northern and southern entrances to Breaker Bay, after that time to prevent people entering the area.
The local state of emergency, declared under the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act, will be lifted as soon as it no longer required. People who are evacuated are asked to stay with family and friends outside the evacuation zones. If anyone is stuck, they can contact the Wellington City Council on 04 499 4444.
An emergency alert was sent out to cell phones of people near the affected area at 4.15pm, including that of The Spinoff’s political editor, Justin Giovannetti, who is on the other side of the bay in Eastbourne.
3.00pm: Inquiry into Lake Alice abuse concludes
Today marked the end of the inquiry into abuse at the Lake Alice child and adolescent unit, part of the wider Royal Commission looking into state care abuse in New Zealand during the 1970s.
Solicitor-General Una Jagose yesterday gave evidence and acknowledged the courage of survivors.
“Along with many other survivors you will forever be associated with the courage and persistence you have shown in your long fight against the behemoth that is the state and its bureaucracy,” Jagose said, according to RNZ.
Whether or not the harrowing stories told to the inquiry will lead to prosecution is currently unknown. Police plan to reveal in early July whether any charges will be laid over the allegations made about the Lake Alice facility.
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1.40pm: Vaccine stocks low – but more on the way
Next Tuesday will mark the day that current stocks of the Pfizer vaccine “almost” run out, with a new shipment of the jab on the way to make sure the roll-out can continue.
“We haven’t run out of vaccine and we’re not expecting to but we’re expecting to get very close to it,” said the Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins. “Our lowest point will be next Tuesday but we’re also expecting another delivery next Tuesday. We have very carefully calibrated this… if the deliveries are late that might create a bit of a headache for us.”
Hipkins said the government had specifically chosen to use all the vaccines available rather than keeping back-up supplies in a freezer. Current stock levels were “just under 30,000,” he said.
The risk of New Zealand completely running out of jabs will be keeping him awake over the next week, Hipkins said, but he remained confident Pfizer will meet its shipping obligations.
Make It 16: A documentary about the fight to lower Aotearoa’s voting age
When you turn 16 in New Zealand you can drive a car, get married or leave school, work full time and pay tax. But if you want the right to vote, you’ll have to wait another two years.
That’s unfair, say the young people leading the campaign to Make It 16, a move they believe will make New Zealand a more inclusive and robust democracy. “It’s important to have a lot of people’s voices in the mix, because that’s what democracy is,” says Make It 16’s Benjamin McKie. “It really is that simple: the more people who are able to contribute, the stronger your democracy is.”
The group has launched a petition calling for the voting age to be lowered. “Young people should have a direct say in the policies adopted today which will disproportionately affect our futures, especially when it comes to climate change, health reforms, and the country’s debt that our generation will need to pay back,” said Make It 16 co-director Cate Tipler.
“In launching this petition, we hope to show how eager 16 and 17 year olds are to actively participate in our democracy” they said.
Watch the documentary below:
1.00pm: Wellington to move back to alert level one, travel bubble to partially resume
Wellington will move back to alert level one from 11.59pm tonight.
There are no new Covid-19 cases in the community today, more than a week after an Australian traveller with the virus visited Wellington. Four cases have been reported in managed isolation.
Of the 2608 people identified as contacts of the Australian Covid case, 93% have so far returned a negative result. Nine additional people are awaiting a result, 11 have been granted a clinical exemption and eight have returned overseas. The remaining contacts are being followed up by contact tracing teams.
Another 7,250 tests were processed yesterday, all with negative results.
Hipkins urged everyone in Wellington to check the locations of interest if they were yet to do so, and anyone with cold or flu symptoms to get a Covid-19 test. Cabinet is confident that if there was Covid-19 transmission in the Wellington region, we would have seen evidence of it by now, said Hipkins. But he urged people to remain vigilant.
Ashley Bloomfield said that more than 950 people would remain in isolation for the full 14 days, even after Wellington returns to level one. There have been more than 8,200 tests in Wellington since it moved to level two.
Meanwhile, the two contacts of a positive case was detected in the Newmont Granite goldmine north-west of Alice Springs, Northern Territory, have both tested negative.
Travel bubble to partially reopen
From 11.59pm on Sunday night, quarantine-free travel will resume with South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania and Victoria.
This decision was made “in principle” based on the current Covid-19 situations in those particular states. The travel pause will continue with New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia due to their respective Covid-19 clusters.
Those coming into New Zealand from Australia will now have to get a pre-departure test within 72 hours before their flight, Hipkins confirmed. Partially lifting the pause is an appropriate course of action, particularly when bolstered with a pre-departure test requirement, said Hipkins.
12.00pm: The Great Spinoff Weather Report
Apparently, the weather isn’t that great today.
Here in Auckland it’s a lovely 10 degrees with intermittent rain and blustery wind. Personally speaking, I wore a scarf and jacket but I have seen at least one person in shorts. The Spinoff’s deputy editor Alice Neville decided to leave the comfort of our office and said: “it’s cold and windy”. You heard it here first.
Meanwhile, down in Wellington, our political editor Justin Giovannetti has claimed it’s a “pleasant day”. “The rain has moved into Wellington interrupting what had been a pleasant winter morning, graced by a touch of Autumnal chill,” he said. “The only thing that would have made the last few hours better would have been a nice dusting of pumpkin spice on your morning’s flat white. With the mercury hanging around 6C, it’s finally time to break out the wooly jumpers in the capital. I took the dog for an hour-long walk at dawn along the coast as a strong wind from the south pushed into the bay. It was marvellous. Do keep an eye out for black ice as it can form once you start seeing your breath hanging in the air. Which is around this temperature. While there have been reports of snow on the nearby ranges, it certainly isn’t time to reach for a winter jacket yet.”
I’d take Justin’s report with a grain of pumpkin spice based on the reports coming from elsewhere in the capital. More than 20 flights have been cancelled in and out of Wellington Airport and there are reports of snow on the surrounding hills. According to my dad in Upper Hutt, it’s “pissing down”. Photos circulating online show streets blanketed in thick hail.
Down in the South, Christchurch bureau chief Catherine McGregor said the temperature gauge is reading 6C as well. “The sun also briefly came out in Christchurch… and there’s a stiff and icy breeze that is making my nose run and ears red. I’m writing this from outside so will make this short as this particular Aucklander is still not yet acclimated to real southern winters. Also, the rain is starting up again – this shot I just took of foreboding clouds over the snow-covered Port Hills should have been my warning to make a run for it.”
Narrator: it was actually hail.
In Dunedin, we’ve had reports of snow on the surrounding hills and a huge line of trucks waiting for the motorway north to reopen. “Alternating sleet and hail for a while this morning, but now more settled, sun is out, just a bit windy. And forecast is for rain all afternoon and all day tomorrow,” says our eyes on the ground.
11.05am: New high speed internet cable connects NZ with Sydney and California
Alex Braae reports:
An attempt to bring a massive, brand new internet infrastructure cable ashore on Takapuna Beach was unsuccessful today, but another attempt will be made tomorrow. The Southern Cross Cable network is getting a major upgrade, and the new cable will significantly increase the capacity available to get data in and out of the country.
In a release, Southern Cross Cables said the new cable will provide 72 terabits of data per second in and out of the country, which in qualitative terms is close to the entire population of New Zealand streaming an Ultra HD 4k video at the same time.
The cable will connect New Zealand with Sydney and California. Along the way, it will connect up to Fiji, Tokelau and Kiribati. Because it provides increased connectivity to the Pacific, some of the funding for those spurs came from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade aid budget.
Today’s event was the first stage in laying the new cable, which is expected to come fully online in April 2022. The existing Southern Cross cable is the primary connection between New Zealand and the world. New Zealand’s internet infrastructure is already highly developed, particularly with the rollout of fibre and ultra-fast broadband. However, to make full use of that New Zealand’s connection with the world needs to be similarly advanced.
Spark CEO Jolie Hodson, a founding shareholder of Southern Cross, said “the SX NEXT cable is a critical piece of infrastructure that will support the growth of technologies like 5G and the Internet of Things, which have the potential to transform sectors.” The new cable will also lower “latency” times, which is good news for any gamers who are sick of lagging.
10.35am: Judith Collins thinks RMA reform is… woke??
Now, in a press release, Collins has inexplicably labelled the government’s planned RMA overhaul a “grab at wokeism”.
The statement itself contains no further mentions of the word “woke” or any variations. Instead, from my interpretation, Collins is claiming the slow speed of replacing the RMA could be woke. Or, perhaps, the possible cost of the overhaul is woke. Or maybe it’s the fact that the replacement law could be “cumbersome” – that is possibly woke.
10.00am: Returnees at Auckland MIQ facility to have stay extended
A number of returnees staying at the Novotel Auckland Airport managed isolation facility will be required to stay longer as health officials investigate two positive day 12 Covid-19 results.
The two cases arrived on June 14, one from Moscow and one from Dubai, before testing positive yesterday. It is standard protocol that any cases detected after day three are investigated further, said the Ministry of Health, to rule out in-facility transmission.
“Investigations are currently underway by Auckland Regional Public Health Service. Whole genome sequencing is also currently underway to establish the strain and if there is a genomic relationship between the cases. Results are expected in the next 48 hours,” said the ministry.
“This means the departure of some returnees will be delayed. A number were due to leave the facility last evening while the remainder were due to depart today or tomorrow.”
The ministry said extended the stay of returnees is “not an extraordinary measure” as the safety of New Zealanders remained the highest priority. “We are committed to keeping New Zealand free of Covid-19 and must be confident that everyone who undergoes managed isolation is well enough to return to their communities,” the ministry said.
9.35am: Hipkins, Bloomfield, to speak at 1pm
The director general of health Ashley Bloomfield will front a Covid-19 press conference today at 1pm alongside the minister in charge of our response Chris Hipkins.
The presser will follow a cabinet meeting to look at whether or not restrictions should be loosened in Wellington and if quarantine-free travel should resume with Australia (except New South Wales).
So far, there have been no community cases of Covid-19 since a scare in Wellington last week. It was yesterday revealed two close contacts of a Covid-infected Australian miner had made it across the border but were both in managed isolation.
9.00am: First look at draft RMA replacement bill released
The government’s released a first look at the replacement for the Resource Management Act (RMA).
An “exposure draft” of the new Natural and Built Environments Act will first be presented to parliament and then referred to a select committee inquiry. As it is just a draft, it means the proposed law will get scrutinised twice by the public and parliament – once in its current form and once in its finalised form.
As such, anyone hoping for a quick overhaul of the law will be waiting another couple of years for the process to be completed.
Environment minister David Parker said this is a “once in a generation opportunity” to get this right. “The initial select committee inquiry is a novel way to provide an open and transparent platform for the public to have an early say on this key legislation,” he said. “A second select committee process will be held when the full bill is introduced to Parliament in early in 2022.”
This new bill is one of two set to replace the RMA, fulfilling an election promise from the Labour Party. “The RMA takes too long, costs too much and hasn’t protected the environment,” said Parker. “The proposed NBA sets out how we can better protect and enhance our natural and built environments, ensuring that the way people and communities use the environment supports the well-being of current and future generations.”
Law professor Andrew Geddis said that the decision to have two select committees for the same piece of legislation was significant. “I’m guessing the government is trying to build something that might have a shot at lasting beyond a change in government in four to seven years time,” he said. “Important given that the plans to be made under this legislation are long-term propositions.”
8.00am: D-day for trans-Tasman bubble, Wellington restrictions
Cabinet will meet this morning to decide whether to reopen the trans-Tasman travel bubble and/or move Wellington back down to alert level one.
No community cases of Covid-19 have been reported in New Zealand since a Covid-positive traveller from Sydney spent time in the capital last weekend. But, despite this, Wellington has been in alert level two since the middle of last week after a number of “locations of interest” were identified.
Meanwhile, quarantine-free travel with New South Wales will remain on hold for a while longer due to the ballooning Covid cluster in Bondi. However the pause on travel with the rest of Australia is – at this stage – only on pause until 11.59pm. Most Australian states have acquired new cases of Covid in the community over the past week, all stemming from an outbreak of the Delta variant in New South Wales.
The pause in travel has been devastating for tourist towns like Queenstown. Mayor Jim Boult told RNZ that this week – the Australian school holidays – has been waited for since the bubble opened. “I’m now hearing from hoteliers, operators, that bookings are being cancelled by the dozen – somebody described it as an avalanche of cancellations. Instead of being a fabulous week, it’s a bit of a gloomy week, I’m afraid,” he said.
Jacinda Ardern announced last night that the government is considering mandatory mask wearing and QR code scanning at certain high risk areas.
As usual, we’re expecting the latest Covid-19 numbers at 1pm with an update from the government on the travel bubble and situation in Wellington due after that. We’ll bring everything to you as it comes to hand.
7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin
A major Supreme Court decision in Sāmoa, which appears to clear the way for FAST to take office: The Samoa Observer reports the court has voided the controversial swearing-in ceremony held last month, but also ordered parliament to convene within a week. The court also ruled that any further attempts to obstruct the sitting of parliament would be unlawful. That means that the “lock-out” scenes we saw preceding the impromptu swearing in also couldn’t happen.
On the current election results, FAST has a narrow majority over the Human Rights Protection Party, by 26-24. But that could still change. Currently the courts are hearing electoral petitions would could still change the balance of power, on questions of whether candidates bribed voters (in New Zealand we’d call it “treating”.) These sorts of cases are very common after Sāmoan elections. Some recent ones reported by Samoa Global News include a decision in which several FAST campaign roadshows were declared legal, and a challenge by a defeated HRPP candidate against the victorious HRPP candidate, in the electorate they were both contesting.
When will parliament actually sit? FAST is keen to get on with it, and could move to have parliament sit as early as today. But caretaker PM Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi wants to wait until all 52 MPs have been sworn in, reports the (paywalled) Sāmoa Observer, which depending on how election petitions fall could mean he’ll manage to hang on to the top job.
The government is looking at new, tougher measures around masks and QR scanning, reports Justin Giovannetti. It appears the calculations have changed on questions like mandatory masking in certain areas by the heightened virulence of the Delta variant. There were no formal announcements of new rules yesterday, but a strong indication was given that they’re on the way. Meanwhile, we’ll get an announcement later today on both the trans-Tasman bubble and Wellington’s alert level.