Live updates, September 2: PM responds to Peters’ Covid dig as parliament adjourns

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for September 2, bringing you the latest on New Zealand news and the Covid-19 pandemic. The whole country is now in alert level two, with extra restrictions in Auckland. Official information here. Contact me at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

6.15pm: The day in sum

There are another five cases of Covid-19 today, with three in the community and linked to the Mount Roskill sub-cluster.

The government hasn’t yet started planning for a return to alert level one, Ashley Bloomfield told parliament’s health committee. Cabinet will meet on Friday to discuss the current levels.

Judith Collins called for Greens co-leader James Shaw to resign over the Green School funding saga.

Peter Ellis’ appeal against child sex offences will be allowed to continue, despite his death in September last year.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters returned to the campaign trail, and criticised the government’s Covid-19 response.

Labour MP Willie Jackson demand the opposition “apologise” to south and west Auckland, the areas worst impacted by the current Covid-19 outbreak.

6.00pm: Cabinet meeting on alert levels on Friday, tougher air crew rules coming

Cabinet ministers will be meeting on Friday to discuss the country’s alert levels, which expire on Sunday, but a shift to level one appears to be a way off yet Earlier today director general of health Ashley Bloomfield told the Health Select Committee the government hadn’t yet started planning for a return to level one (see 12.00pm update). On RNZ’s Checkpoint this evening, health minister Chris Hipkins said it was too premature to predict what would be decided on Sunday, and that whether changing alert levels would “unduly increase risk” would be considered.

Hipkins also said updated airline crew protocols are to be released by the end of this week, which would constitute the “strengthening of existing protections”.

“People want to know that the arrangements for international crew are robust and we’re doing work to make sure those are robust as possible,” he said, referencing a “good isolation and testing regime for when they return”.

5.00pm: PM responds to Peters’ Covid criticism

The prime minister has responded to criticism of the government’s Covid-19 response by her deputy. Earlier today, while skipping the last day of parliament to reboot his New Zealand First campaign in Upper Hutt (see 11.20am update), Winston Peters said, “Too many things fell through the traps, or the holes so to speak, that were deliberately left there by the bureaucracy … The fact of the matter is that the Labour ministers are the only ones in charge of all that,” reports the Herald.

“Don’t keep on gilding the lily and saying everyone’s fine when it wasn’t going fine. The testing wasn’t going on, the surveillance wasn’t going on, the oversight and scrutiny that should have been done by the military was not happening. And masks were not used.”

Asked about Peters’ remarks before parliament wrapped up this afternoon, Jacinda Ardern said, “I think we do a disservice to every single New Zealander whose been part of that team effort if we don’t acknowledge that,” reports the Herald.

“I think we need to take into account, relative to other countries, how well New Zealanders have done and the results that have been generated,” she said, adding, “ultimately I think what we’re seeing is that we’re getting closer to an election”, reports RNZ.

3.50pm: Parliament adjourned (for the second time)

And that’s a wrap: parliament has officially adjourned today, for the second time. The dissolution was delayed several weeks back due to the resurgence of Covid-19 in the community.

The final words spoken in the house by an MP (other than the speaker of the house) were: “bring on the election”, by health minister Chris Hipkins.

3.45pm: Marcus Lush, Judith and the albatross that wasn’t called Bob

After Merv, you’d have thought Marcus Lush’s quota of wacky late night talkback calls might be filled for 2020. Enter the ring: Judith.

Newstalk ZB late host Marcus Lush was last night confronted by Judith, who called up demanding answers to one of the biggest questions of our time. Why are Albatross chicks always given a Māori name?

Read more about Judith and the albatross here

3.30pm: ‘Rotten’ National needs to apologise to south Auckland – Willie Jackson

A fiery afternoon in the house has seen Labour MP Willie Jackson demand the opposition “apologise” to south and west Auckland, the areas worst impacted by the current Covid-19 outbreak.

Today is attempt number two at the adjournment of parliament, with the dissolution delayed due to the pandemic.

During general debate, when it was suggested that the current government owed some Aucklanders an apology for the resurgence of Covid-19, Jackson said it was the National Party who deserved to say sorry for “nine years of trauma” and “families missing out in terms of housing and health”.

Jackson labelled the previous National government “useless” and  “rotten” during his speech.

1.00pm: Five more cases of Covid-19, three in community

Updated

There are another five cases of Covid-19 today, Ashley Bloomfield has announced. Three of them are in the community and all linked to the Mount Roskill sub-cluster, which has been genomically linked to the main cluster. The three new cases were close contacts of existing cases and already in self-isolation.

The remaining two new cases are in managed isolation, Bloomfield confirmed. Both are in the Rydges MIQ facility in Rotorua, and travelled to New Zealand via Dubai on August 28.

Eight previously reported community cases are now considered to have recovered, taking the number of active cases to 129 – with 35 imported cases and the remaining 94 linked to the community.

Since August 11, 3,192 close contacts of cases have been identified, and 2,992 have been contacted and are self-isolating. There are seven people in hospital with Covid-19 – one in Auckland, two in Middlemore, two in North Shore and two in Waikato. Two people remain in intensive care.

Testing target of 10,000 a day met

There were 10,934 tests processed around the country yesterday, bringing the total number of tests conducted to date in New Zealand to 777,560.

Health minister Chris Hipkins announced that the target of 10,000 tests per day set by the ministry last week had been met. He called the testing regime a “critical part” of the response to Covid-19. He encouraged three target groups to continue to seek testing – those with cold and flu symptoms, contacts of any community cases, and contacts of contacts.

As of next Monday, frontline workers at the border and in MIQ facilities will have completed two full rounds of testing, Hipkins said. From Monday, a new schedule of testing will be implemented, with those most at risk being tested most often.

Ministry of Health undertakes ‘rapid review’ of communications failure

Ashley Bloomfield, who has been on leave, today apologised for the weekend’s communications bungle, where the official Covid-19 social media accounts and Ministry of Health website encouraged all south and west Aucklanders to get a test.

The Ministry of Health, Bloomfield said, has undertaken a “rapid review” of the messaging failure. The advertisement had not been signed off by a senior ministry official as it should be and steps had been introduced to avoid it being repeated. “Apologies for that,” said Bloomfield.

He also thanked Aucklanders for getting through the level three lockdown.

‘Little booklet’ available for those who cannot use Covid tracer app

Health minister Chris Hipkins emphasised the importance of contact tracing in preventing a re-escalation of alert levels. “If you don’t have a smartphone, we are now producing a little booklet that you can use,” Hipkins said. This will be particularly important for people who prefer to keep a physical record of their movements, Hipkins said, such as some senior citizens.

The booklet will be available from next week and distributed in packs of 10. Community groups, such as those who work with the elderly, are asked to order them from the Covid-19 website.

“We are also continuing with our trials of the CovidCard,” Hipkins said. The bluetooth enabled device is being trialled in Rotorua and in some managed isolation facilities.

More than two million people have now signed up for the Covid tracer app, or 50% of New Zealanders aged 15 or over, Hipkins said. He compared those numbers with other countries, citing Ireland’s 37% and Australia’s 24% uptake.

We may never know the source of the Auckland cluster – Hipkins

It’s still not known how Covid-19 made it back into the community, Hipkins said. No link has been established with managed isolation facilities or the border, he said. It’s possible we will never know the source.

“It is a bit of a mystery,” Hipkins said.

The minister asked Aucklanders travelling outside the city to “take your level 2.5 with you” and encouraged them to keep up mask use and try to socialise with no more than 10 people at a time, as they would in Auckland.

No decisions about future changes to alert levels have been made yet, Hipkins said. He said the relevant data is provided to cabinet about 36 hours before they meet, and they’ll base their decision on the most recent information.

Yesterday Megan Woods, the minister in charge of managed isolation facilities, said it was “highly unlikely” an MIQ staff member was the source of the current community cluster, as 97% of staff have now been tested and all returned negative results.

Bloomfield was reluctant to echo the term “highly unlikely” as they still don’t have any leads on who the source might be, stating rather that “the more people we test, the less likely it becomes”.

“We are very keen to find out the source and we continue to work with the Auckland regional public health service and ESR, because both the epidemiology and the genomic sequencing will be critical in helping us find that out.”

12.45pm: Bloomfield’s back, but are there more Covid-19 cases?

The director general of health Ashley Bloomfield is back from his time off and will be fronting today’s 1pm media briefing alongside health minister Chris Hipkins.

Yesterday, there were 14 new cases of Covid-19, with five in the community and the remaining nine detected in managed isolation.

Watch live:

12.00pm: Planning for alert level one hasn’t started yet, says Bloomfield

Political editor Justin Giovannetti reports from the health select committee:

The government hasn’t yet started planning for a return to level one Covid-19 restrictions, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield told parliament’s health committee today.

Bloomfield, along with health minister Chris Hipkins, faced over an hour of questions from opposition MPs and Labour members about the government’s response to the coronavirus. Parliament is expected to meet this afternoon for the last time before the October election.

Health officials are focused on bringing Auckland’s level two restrictions in line with the rest of the country, said Hipkins. Social gatherings in Auckland are capped at 10, while groups of 100 can meet in the rest of New Zealand.

Bloomfield, asked if the country would need to see two cycles of 14 days without community infections before the return to the lowest level of restrictions, said his office hasn’t considered what advice it’ll provide. The current south Auckland cluster is New Zealand’s largest collection of cases and officials have warned that the tail of infections as new cases pop up could continue for weeks.

The decision to move cases to quarantine facilities should decrease the number of ongoing infections, said Bloomfield. “We haven’t considered any advice on the shift from level two to level one,” added Hipkins.

The government also hasn’t considered lowering the alert level in the south island, where no community transmission has been detected in months. The health minister said the possibility of Aucklanders travelling to the South Island and unwittingly carrying Covid-19 with them was too high to consider dropping the alert level. Act leader David Seymour asked if the government had considered stopping Aucklanders from travelling south. “Cutting the South Island off from the rest of the country isn’t something we considered,” said Hipkins.

Labour MP Ruth Dyson, who represents the Christchurch electorate of Port Hills, interjected: “The Christchurch people are happy with things as they are.”

11.20am: The bus is back! Peters hits the campaign trail

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters is back on the campaign trail in Wellington today, which means the return of his massive, face-inlaid bus.

Peters is in the sprawling metropolis of Upper Hutt today (I’m allowed to say that, having spent 17 years there) to relaunch his “Back your Future” campaign for re-election.

According to the photos posted to his Twitter account, Peters has spent some time during his visit to the Hutt staring wistfully into the distant.

Winston Peters sees all (Photo : Twitter)

There has been no confirmation about when the Act Party’s slightly less significant campaign minivan will hit the roads, although The Spinoff’s been told the schedule is still being rejigged following the recent lockdown.

10.15am: Peter Ellis appeal to continue posthumously, court confirms

The Supreme Court has confirmed that Peter Ellis’ appeal against child sex offences will be allowed to continue, despite his death in September last year.

Ellis was appealing his 1993 convictions of sexual offending against seven children. He had appealed twice to the Court of Appeal, resulting in three of his 16 convictions being quashed. Ellis was granted leave to appeal his remaining convictions just a month before his death last year.

10.10am: Trump denies having ‘mini-strokes’

The US president has this morning denied he suffered a series of “mini-strokes” that saw him being hospitalised. Instead, as is to be expected, Donald Trump has turned the attention on his Democrat rival Joe Biden.

What makes this twitter outburst particularly interesting is the fact that the claim appears largely unprompted. According to the Washington Post, Trump might be foreshadowing claims made in an upcoming book about his presidency. White House physician Sean Conley confirmed that Trump is healthy enough to continue his campaign and “has not experienced nor been evaluated for a cerebrovascular accident (stroke), transient ischemic attack (mini stroke), or any acute cardiovascular emergencies”.

9.45am: Metservice offline again following cyber attack

Metservice appears to have been targeted by another cyber attack, with its website down for the second day in a row. Yesterday, the weather forecaster confirmed it had been the target of a DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack. It comes after five days of disruption to the NZX, along with attacks on banks and news providers.

Earlier this week, Andrew Little, the minister in charge of spy agency the GCSB, said he believed the attacks were coming from a criminal group, not state actors.

“The nature of this tends to be criminal activity rather than state backed. You can’t rule it out but it’s more likely than not to be criminal activity,” he said at the time.

8.30am: Judith Collins calls for Shaw’s resignation over Green School

The seemingly never-ending saga of the controversial Green School continues this morning, with National leader Judith Collins calling for James Shaw’s head to roll.

It’s been revealed Shaw, the Green Party co-leader, refused to sign-off on $3 billion of infrastructure projects unless the Green School was included. As Newshub put it, Shaw held his ministerial colleagues to “political ransom”.

Today, Collins told RNZ she was surprised Shaw didn’t step down yesterday. “This is absolutely unacceptable behaviour,” she said.

“It’s not just that he advocated for a particular Green School that doesn’t even have education registration to be a school, but that he’s actually held up all these projects on the basis that he was holding the government to ransom. This is totally unacceptable.”

Collins said that her party supported the government’s shovel-ready projects because people were losing their jobs due to Covid-19 and needed certainty. “We thought that was the right thing to do… James Shaw was the one holding them up,” Collins said.

8.00am: Mosque attack victims want Australia to pick up jail bill

Last week saw the man convicted of the Christchurch terror attack imprisoned for life with no chance of parole. Today, RNZ’s reporting some survivors of the attack want Australia to pay for the man’s incarceration.

“I think Australia needs to pay the total cost for what we’ve spent already, they need to pay that plus ongoing,” said John Milne who lost his 14-year-old son Sayyad Milne. “They need to cough up big time. There’s a big bill out there for this now, he’s Australian, not a Kiwi, we shouldn’t have to pay for any of it.”

Abdul Aziz, who chased the gunman from the Linwood mosque, told RNZ he would rather see the millions being spent on the gunman, re-directed towards education programmes aimed at stamping out racism.

“Make sure we have some sort of classes or some things you know for the next generation. Make sure [that with] bullying or this racism and things we try to get rid of it you know [with] more education. That money you know we can do a lot better things than spending it on that coward.”

Yesterday, the gunman was designated a “terrorist entity” by the prime minister. This freezes all his assets and also makes it a criminal offence for anyone to support the shooter financially.

Read more here

7.45am: Auckland travel ban should have stayed in place, says expert

Aucklanders should still not be allowed to leave the city, despite the move down to alert level two, according to one expert.

Professor Michael Baker told the Herald that “it’s not in the spirit” of the prime minister’s recommendations that people head off from Auckland to attend conferences. Baker’s referring to the Morgo conference being held in Queenstown this week, with Aucklanders on the guest list.

7.35am: Top stories from The Bulletin

Yesterday’s developments were arguably the most dramatic. As our live updates (scroll down, busy day) reported, Green co-leader James Shaw made a public apology to all and sundry for supporting the project. “I apologise to parents, to teachers and unions. I apologise to Green Party members who… have felt demoralised by this decision. I apologise to the schools in Taranaki who quite rightfully want the best for their children. And I want you to know, all of you, that I have listened to your concerns,” Shaw said. He also pointed out that others had been in favour of the spending on the shovel-ready, job creating project, including the mayor of New Plymouth.

Just how hard did Shaw push for the funding to go ahead? As Newshub’s Tova O’Brien reported, an email from his office regarding the whole $3 billion package included the following line – “Minister Shaw won’t sign this briefing until the Green School in Taranaki is incorporated.” It also said that Shaw had discussed the briefing with education minister Chris Hipkins, who had previously said he hadn’t been all that keen on the idea, but had backed down in the face of Shaw pushing for it. Like it or not, it is becoming something of an albatross for the Green co-leader, and it’s all a bit weird to have him be clearly in favour at first, only to then turn around and say he now wouldn’t support it.

Want more weirdness with this story? A few other angles ended up popping out. One was the New Plymouth Labour candidate Glen Bennett, who Radio NZ’s Jo Moir said changed his initially supportive position to one of bitter opposition within four days. There was the strange spectacle of National railing against funding for a private school, despite being in favour of that during their last term of government. And as for the school itself, Newshub’s Anna Bracewell-Worrell had a funny story about it hosting an event run by a conspiracy theorist couple with some rather out-there views. Given how much bizarre drama we’ve all got out of this story, you’d have to say $11.7 million is a bargain.

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

There were 14 new cases of Covid-19, with five of those in the Auckland community.

Between August 21 and 27, 97% of MIQ staff were tested for Covid-19, according to the government.

A Roy Morgan poll put Labour at 48%, down 5.5 points since the same poll in July but still 20 points clear of National. The poll also had a surprise jump of 3.5 points for the Green Party, to 11.5%.

MetService became the latest NZ organisation to be hit by a DDoS attack, following sustained attacks on the New Zealand Stock Exchange and less successful attacks on RNZ and Stuff.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw made a public apology for his decision to support a controversial “Green School” in Taranaki.

Health minister Chris Hipkins urged Auckland parents to send their children back to school, but said the government had no plans to make masks mandatory on school premises.

Facebook threatened to block Australian users from sharing news if a proposed code forcing the company to pay for the news content it uses becomes law.

Read all the key stories in yesterday’s live updates.




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