Live updates, July 29: Sydney Covid cases spike again; minimal NZ tsunami risk after Alaska quake

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for July 29, bringing you the latest news updated throughout the day. Get in touch at

8.05pm: No tsunami expected to make land in NZ

7.00pm: Civil Defence assessing Alaska tsunami risk

A Civil Defence communication has been sent out about an earthquake estimated at 8.1 magnitude off the Alaska peninsula. In a tweet about half an hour ago, the organisation said “if a tsunami has been generated it is not likely to arrive in New Zealand for at least 12 hours.”

A tsunami warning has been issued for parts of the US state.

New Zealand’s Tsunami Experts panel has been activated, Geonet confirmed. Up to date details will be provided on the Civil Defence website. The The US Tsunami Warning System has issued an alert for Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific.

3.45pm: Olympic wrap – what’s on the tele tonight?

ICYMI: New Zealand has nabbed its first gold today after a strong win in the rowing. We’ve now moved up the medal table to 21st, with one gold, two silvers and a bronze.

We also have a handful of medal hopefuls coming up, including Emma Twigg who today won the women’s single scull semifinal and swimmer Lewis Clareburt who just qualified for the 200m individual medley final.

Here are some of tonight’s highlights:

  • 5.21pm: Canoe slalom – Luuka Jones, women’s C1 semifinal (the final is at 6.55pm tonight if Jones qualifies).
  • 6pm: Tennis – ​Marcus Daniell and Michael Venus are taking on Croatia in the men’s doubles semifinals.
  • 9.30pm: Rugby sevens (pool play) – women’s Black Ferns v Great Britain.
  • 10pm: Swimming – Eve Thomas in the 800m freestyle then, later, Ali Galyer in the 200m backstroke.

I’m out of here but, as always, will be back tomorrow. Byeee.

3.20pm: Shock! Americans love Wellington Paranormal

We’ve already reported on the positive/amusing critical response in America to Wellington Paranormal – the spinoff to Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s What We Do in the Shadows.

But now, an (unscientific) American survey has suggested the show is not just critically beloved but gaining a healthy following as well.

A recent JustWatch streaming chart was shared on Twitter by Clement, showing Wellington Paranormal topping the list ahead of programmes like Ted Lasso and The White Lotus.

Unofficial, probably. But still very cool!

Read more: America is freaking out about Wellington Paranormal 

2.05pm: Sydney Covid cases spike yet again, outbreak likely to ‘get worse’

New South Wales’ Covid-19 cluster has grown yet again, with a record 239 new community cases overnight.

Of those, 66 cases were infectious while in the community and the isolation status of 70 cases is under investigation. Two more deaths were also recorded.

State premier Gladys Berejiklian told media that the outbreak had likely not peaked. “Based on those numbers, we can only assume that things are likely to get worse before they get better given the quantum of people infectious in the community,” she said.

1.20pm: Covid-positive patient in Fiji to be transferred to NZ; no new community cases

Health officials have approved a request to transfer a Covid-positive patient from Fiji to New Zealand.

The decision was made after an agreement by the metro-Auckland DHBs to treat the patient along with an approved transfer plan.

“The plan takes into consideration the safety of both the patient and the crew who will be transporting the patient,” said a Ministry of Health spokesperson.

The metro-Auckland DHBs are working in an extremely busy and dynamic environment, due in part to higher than normal presentations of RSV and winter illness. The receiving hospital is yet to be confirmed, and will be determined by the treatment required by the patient and the capacity in the respective Intensive Care Units (ICUs).”

Today’s Covid numbers

There are no cases of Covid-19 to report in the community today, with five reported in managed isolation.

Two previously reported historical cases, associated with the Playa Zahara fishing vessel, have now been reclassified as “not a case”.

The number of active cases in New Zealand is 46.

12.40pm: Gold! Prendergast and Gowler row to victory

New Zealand has scored its first gold, with rowing pair Grace Prendergast and Kerri Gowler beating out Canada and the ROC.

The duo were out in front for much of the latter half of the race, crossing the finish line with a time of six minutes 50.

12.20pm: ‘Record day’ for vaccines as booking system launches

More than 100,000 people booked in for their Covid-19 vaccine yesterday as the national booking system went live.

Around 165,000 people aged 60-64 were sent invitations yesterday, the Ministry of Health said, as bookings opened for those in group four.

More than 70% of people aged 65 and over have now either been vaccinated or are booked in, the ministry said.

Ashley Bloomfield said yesterday was also a “record day” for the vaccination programme with over 41,000 doses administered. “This really demonstrates that our teams throughout the country are working to our plan as they ramp up the delivery of vaccines to New Zealanders,” Bloomfield said.

“Over the past week, our vaccinators have administered 212,527 doses, setting a new seven-day benchmark.”

Bloomfield encouraged any eligible New Zealanders – namely, anyone over 60 and those with underlying health conditions – to book in for their jab as soon as they can.

11.45am: Third vaccine receives ‘provisional approval’ – cabinet yet to decide whether to roll it out

The two-dose AstraZeneca vaccine has been given “provisional approval” from the country’s drugs regulator Medsafe.

It’s the third to receive approval following the Pfizer jab and the single-shot Janssen vaccine, although the latter has not yet been rolled out.

“We are in a fortunate position to now have three vaccines receive provisional approval,” said acting Covid-19 response minister Ayesha Verrall. “Cabinet is yet to consider whether to use the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in New Zealand.”

The approval is “an important step” towards enabling the donation of AstraZeneca from New Zealand to Pacific countries, said Verrall.

The AstraZeneca shot is one of four that the government purchased ahead of approval being granted. “We took a portfolio approach to manage the risk that some vaccines might not complete trials or be approved for use in New Zealand,” Verrall added.

New Zealand secured 7.6 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through an advance purchase agreement last year.

The first delivery of the AstraZeneca vaccine could be as early as late August, said Verrall, and officials are working to confirm delivery schedules.

Despite having three vaccines to choose from, Verrall said the government remained committed to rolling out the Pfizer jab to all New Zealanders. “We are on track to provide two doses of the Pfizer vaccines to everyone in New Zealand who wishes to have one, by the end of this year. No one will miss out,” Verrall said.

11.30am: Voices for Freedom dumped from Facebook for sharing ‘misinformation’

Voices for Freedom – a lobby group noted to spread Covid-19 misinformation – has had its Facebook page removed.

According to the social media website, in a statement provided to Newshub, the removal was triggered after Voices for Freedom shared “misinformation that could cause physical harm”.

Facebook added: “We encourage free expression, but don’t allow false information about Covid-19 that could contribute to physical harm.”

Last year, ahead of the election, aspiring political party Advance NZ had its Facebook page removed for similar reasons. Claire Deeks, a co-founder of Voices for Freedom, was a candidate for Advance NZ.

Voices for Freedom is gone from Facebook (Image / FB)

11.00am: Anti-vaxxers target schools

Schools have been targeted by anti-vaccine campaigners, according to a report in the Herald. 

The protestors have reportedly been turning to school board meetings as well as handing out flyers to staff and students.

In Whanganui, campaigners from group Voices for Freedom were caught distributing anti-vaccine material to students. Meanwhile, the Counties Manukau DHB confirmed it was aware of South Auckland schools being targeted.

10.15am: Olympics morning wrap

New Zealand has another medal, winning silver last night in the rugby sevens. It’s moved us up the medal tally to 36th with two silvers and one bronze.

Some other results from yesterday:

  • Luuka Jones has moved to the women’s C1 semi-final.
  • The Olywhites move to the quarter-final after matching Romania 0-0
  • Lewis Clareburt has made it through to the semifinals of the men’s 200m individual medley heats.

And some highlights ahead of us today:

  • 12.30pm: Rowing – Grace Prendergast and Kerri Gowler in the women’s pair A final
  • 1.50pm: More rowing – Emma Twigg in the women’s single scull A/B semifinals
  • 2.30pm: Rugby sevens – women’s tournament, Black Ferns v Kenya
  • 3.14pm: Swimming – Lewis Clareburt in the men’s 200m individual medley semifinals.

8.45am: The country’s grocery sector is broken – Commerce Commission


Consumers are losing out due to a lack of competition between supermarkets, with the government being asked to consider creating a new grocery brand to drive down prices.

The Commerce Commission this morning released its draft report into competition in the retail grocery sector which found that “the structure of the market” was not working for customers.

“If competition was more effective, retailers would face stronger pressures to deliver the right prices, quality and range to satisfy a diverse range of consumer preferences,” said commission chair Anna Rawlings.

“In competitive terms, the major retailers, Woolworths NZ and Foodstuffs, are a duopoly, and while there is an increasingly diverse fringe of other grocery retailers, they have a limited impact on competition. This is because they are unable to compete with the major grocery retailers on price and product range in order to satisfy the widespread consumer demand for a main shop at a single store.”

The report was ordered by the government late last year to determine whether competition within the grocery sector was working and, if not, would could be done to improve it. The finalised report will be released in late November.

“The major retailers appear to avoid competing strongly with each other, particularly on price,” added Rawlings. “Meanwhile, competitors wanting to enter the market or expand face significant challenges, including a lack of competitively priced wholesale supply and a lack of suitable sites for large scale stores.”

One solution, the commission noted, was to increase wholesale access to a range of groceries at competitive prices, making it easier for new brands to enter or existing retailers to expand. A more radical solution involved the creation of a third major retailer to directly stimulate competition.

Government ‘welcomes’ draft report 

Commerce minister David Clark has welcomed the release of the draft report.

“The draft findings indicate that there are problems in the market and that New Zealanders would get better prices, ranges and quality if there was increased competition in the grocery sector,” he said.

“Consumers deserve to know if they are getting a fair deal at the supermarket checkout, and the draft findings indicate they may not.”

This story is developing – our political editor Justin Giovannetti will have a full report later.

8.00am: Millions of MIQ fees unpaid despite debt collector threat

Millions of dollars of managed isolation fees have been left unpaid despite the government bringing in debt collectors.

New figures revealed by Newstalk ZB show that $8 million in fees are deemed overdue from a total of $38 million unpaid, as of the start of the month. Overall, $100 million has been charged to returnees for a stint in MIQ.

Debt collectors were first called in back in May but, so far, they have reclaimed just $50,000.

The acting joint head of managed isolation Andrew Milne said more invoices will be sent out to debt collectors weekly, starting from this week. “All businesses and government agencies deal with overdue debt – this is to be expected – and we’re very focused on pursuing any overdue money,” he said.

National’s Covid-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop said it’s “ridiculous” people aren’t required to hand over a credit card when they check into MIQ, like you do at a regular hotel. “It takes 43 days for people to get invoiced,” he said.

“We use debt collectors for student loans, for example, and at the end of the day this is money owed to taxpayers,” he added.

Read more: Five ideas to improve New Zealand’s vaccine rollout – Chris Bishop

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

The vaccination programme has moved into a new phase. Our live updates at 1.00pm reported that those age 60 and up can now book an appointment here, with further age brackets being rolled out over the coming months. About 700,000 people are now fully vaccinated, with the rate now intended to speed up.

It comes at a time when only a small proportion of group three have been fully vaccinated, reports Michael Neilson for the NZ Herald. That has led to concerns from health expert Dr Rawiri Jansen that it would be better to hold off on group four until a greater share of a vulnerable population has been vaccinated. “They need to taihoa. Supply was challenging for a while and they needed to build up capacity before being able to ramp up,” said Dr Jansen.

PM Ardern said geographic availability might affect when people can book. For example, those living on Rakiura/Stewart Island are in the process of a pair of vaccination days, reports Radio NZ, along with many other small communities doing the vaccinations en masse. At the other end of the scale a mass vaccination event in Auckland has now been booked out, after initially failing to get a particularly good uptake, which local councillor Efeso Collins said reflected a communications failure. Stuff’s Hannah Martin has an explainer on the Manukau mass-vax event – the first of its kind.

It can be difficult to put in context the effects of mass vaccination, but in some countries it may be having an impact. About 70% of the UK has had one dose, and more than half are fully vaccinated. Case numbers are still wildly high – tens of thousands of new cases every day. But there hasn’t been a corresponding spike in death, and a few weeks ago the Guardian reported on a study that suggested 30,000 deaths had been prevented as a result of the rollout. But dozens of deaths a day are still being reported, and even outside that the symptoms of “Long-Covid” can last for months, and perhaps longer. In short, mass vaccination significantly limits the damage, but doesn’t stop it altogether. Meanwhile, CNN reports new data suggests that a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine might be needed to offer truly comprehensive protection against the delta variant.

Pharmac is opening up the priority lists for medicines it seeks to fund, in a bid to be more transparent. The NZ Herald reports it comes after criticism from patients that funding decisions are too opaque, and some aspects have continued to be kept under wraps for commercial sensitivity reasons. On the subject of Pharmac, the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Matt Nippert has come out with a majestic feature this morning, looking into the overall model and whether it is still fit for purpose.

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