Auckland's southern motorway (Photo: David Hallett/Getty Images)

Live updates, June 17: Ministry of Health confirms Covid pair got lost, had ‘limited physical contact’ with two friends

For all The Spinoff’s latest coverage of Covid-19 see here. Read Siouxsie Wiles’s work here. New Zealand is currently in alert level one – read about what that means here. For official government advice, see here.

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8.20pm: Govt confirms Covid pair got lost, had ‘limited physical contact’ with two friends who guided them

As evidence emerged to back up MP Michael Woodhouse’s claim that the two women who tested positive for Covid-19 after being allowed out of isolation shared a “kiss and cuddle” with someone who helped them when they got lost trying to leave Auckland, the Ministry of Health has issued a press release.

Sent just after 8pm, the release confirms the women, who had recently arrived from Britain and were granted compassionate leave from mandatory isolation to visit a dying relative in Wellington, had contact with not one but two people who helped them navigate Auckland’s motorway system.

“Upon leaving the Novotel [Ellerslie] in a private vehicle provided by friends, the women got lost on the Auckland motorway system,” says the press release.

“On realising this they phoned the same friends who supplied the vehicle, who met and guided them to the correct motorway so they could go in the right direction. As part of this the pair were in limited physical contact with the two friends for approximately five minutes.”

“These two people have been contacted by local health authorities for a health check. Both had already had a test for Covid-19 once they heard of the positive results and are in self isolation.”

The release says “the information was gathered as part of a second interview conducted by the local public health unit on Tuesday evening and subsequent interviews on Wednesday”, and passed on to the Ministry of Health only this afternoon. The women had originally told authorities they had contact with no one on the journey from Auckland to Wellington, and only one family member in Wellington.

This afternoon, when health minister David Clark was asked about the claim by Woodhouse in parliament, Clark said, “I have been assured that there was no contact on their journey to the place where they visited their relative in the Wellington region.” (See 3pm update.)

The press release is careful not to lay blame, saying “it is important to remember that the two women were distressed at the time by the sudden death of their family member. It is not uncommon for information and details to evolve, including details being missed during case interviews and contact tracing where there is heightened emotion, intense grief and stress.”

The release also says that health officials have learned of “contactless deliveries of food or care packages to the women while they have been in self-isolation in recent days”. As the deliveries were contactless, there is no risk to the community from these interactions, says the release.

Meanwhile, earlier this evening the Herald reported that the person – or one of them, as it has now emerged – who had contact with the pair attended a gym class in the following days. According to a Facebook post, the person attended a “hands-on” training session at the Lioness Gym for Women in the Auckland suburb of Highland Park yesterday morning, before she knew her friends had tested positive.

7.20pm: Mike Bush claims six absconded from leave to attend Hamilton funeral, two yet to be ’rounded up’

Six people absconded after being granted an compassionate exemption from managed isolation to attend a Hamilton funeral, former police commissioner Mike Bush has told Newstalk ZB. Two of them, aged eight and 18, were yet to be “rounded up”, he said in an interview with Heather du Plessis-Allan this evening.

“I understand that authorities are working on the last two, to get them back into managed isolation, but the important thing is that they tested negative,” Bush said.

Yesterday director general of health Ashley Bloomfield told media that just two teenagers had run away after being allowed to go to the funeral, and that they had both been located.

6.00pm: The day in review

The fallout intensified from Tuesday’s revelation that New Zealand’s first new Covid-19 cases in 24 days had been allowed out of isolation before being tested. The prime minister called it an unacceptable failure of the system, and the health minister said he was “frustrated and disappointed”, but neither said anyone would lose their job.

In response to the blunder, the military was called in. Jacinda Ardern announced that Air Commodore Darryn (Digby) Webb, assistant chief of defence, had been appointed to oversee the managed isolation and quarantine facilities and audit the existing systems.

The Ministry of Health announced there were no new cases of Covid-19 for the day, and said 320 close contacts of Tuesday’s new cases were being traced.

National MP Michael Woodhouse claimed in parliament that the two women who tested positive for Covid-19 received help on their drive from Auckland to Wellington, and gave the helper a “kiss and cuddle”.

New Zealand’s chief ombudsman announced he would inspect the country’s Covid-19 isolation and quarantine facilities to ensure arrivals are being “treated humanely”.

The trade minister, David Parker, announced free trade talks with Britain were under way.

The Australian state of Victoria saw a spike in Covid cases, slowing hopes of a trans-Tasman bubble in doubt.

An auditor-general’s report found gaps in the Ministry of Health’s planning and provision of PPE (personal protective equipment) during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Bauer Media confirmed the sale of its Australian and New Zealand arms to private equity firm Mercury Capital, but a later report suggested the NZ titles could still be up for sale.

The government announced a $380m scheme to keep apprentices in training and encourage businesses to invest in new ones.

UK researchers revealed a Covid-19 “breakthrough”: low-dose steroid treatment dexamethasone, which is cheap and widely available, is effective in treating the virus.

3.45pm: Bauer’s NZ magazines still up for sale – report

The Herald is reporting that Bauer’s New Zealand magazine titles remain on the market, despite the Australian publishing business being bought by private equity firm Mercury Capital (see 10.40am update).

“It’s understood the sales process for these publications – being managed by EY – is continuing and that numerous parties remain interested in acquiring at least some of them,” says the Herald story. “Mercury was not initially interested in the New Zealand titles and it’s understood that these were simply bundled into the Australian deal. Mercury is likely to try and on-sell the New Zealand titles.”

3.00pm: National MP claims Covid cases got lost, gave person who helped them ‘kiss and cuddle’

A claim has been made in parliament that the two women who tested positive for Covid-19 after being released from isolation and driving from Auckland to Wellington received help on their journey, and gave the person a “kiss and cuddle”.

National MP Michael Woodhouse claimed that a source told him that the pair, who travelled from Britain to New Zealand and were granted compassionate leave from isolation to be with a dying relative, got lost on their way from Auckland to Wellington.

During question time, Woodhouse asked if health minister David Clark had “seen reports that the two individuals went the wrong way on their journey to Wellington and came into close contact with the people who gave them directions?”. He followed that by asking if Clark was aware “that the good Samaritans who assisted them were rewarded with a kiss and a cuddle, and would he consider that to be a close contact?”

Clark responded, “I would be deeply concerned if that were the case. I have been assured that there was no contact on their journey to the place where they visited their relative in the Wellington region.”

He added, “I have certainly asked the question about whether there was any contact at all, and I have been assured that there was no contact along the way. So I have certainly not heard that report, and if the member has actually heard that and not passed it on, that would be very deeply concerning.”

On leaving parliament, Woodhouse told reporters the pair had become lost trying to leave Auckland and “called on some acquaintances for help with directions”, reports the Herald. “When they were there, there was close physical contact, including a cuddle and a kiss.”

He said his source was “very reliable” and “closely connected”, a friend of the women’s family. He wouldn’t divulge who it was.

You can watch footage of Woodhouse’s questioning of Clark below:

2.40pm: Auditor-general finds gaps in planning and provision of PPE

An auditor-general’s report has found gaps in the Ministry of Health’s planning and and provision of PPE (personal protective equipment) during the Covid-19 pandemic.

An investigation was launched in April after health workers raised concerns about access to adequate PPE. The findings suggest New Zealand’s health system has flaws in its design, “with often complex arrangements between the Ministry, DHBs, and other organisations”, said a press release issued today by the office of the auditor-general.

“Despite having national reserve supplies, in early February 2020 the ministry did not know what PPE stock the DHBs held in their reserve supplies or have a system to forecast demand.”

This lack of clarity caused concern for the public and health professionals alike, said the report, which contains 10 recommendations to strengthen the management of PPE, which the auditor-general believes may be needed again in large quantities should another health emergency arise.

“In times of crisis, people need to have trust and confidence in the systems and arrangements set up to support them,” said the release. “To be sufficiently prepared in the future, the health and disability sector needs a clear understanding of what PPE is held where, who it should be provided to, a way of forecasting demand, and a scalable system for procuring and distributing stock.”

The report can be read in full here.

2.30pm: Free trade talks with the UK launched

Free trade talks with Britain are under way, the trade minister, David Parker, has announced. “As the UK embarks on its next steps post-Brexit, New Zealand is pleased to be among the first countries to negotiate a trade agreement with one of our oldest friends,” said Parker in a statement.

For Britain, the talks will be trumpeted as an example of the potentials of a post-EU global economy. For New Zealand, it will be brandished as post-Covid progress, particularly given the current deadlock with the EU over a trade deal.

“New Zealand and the United Kingdom have a close relationship, including strong trade and economic ties, common values and traditions and a shared history. A free trade agreement will be an important new milestone in that relationship,” said Parker.

“In the post Brexit environment, it makes more sense than ever for us to be working together to grow this partnership for the future.”

2.20pm: Spike in Victoria puts trans-Tasman bubble in doubt

The Australian state of Victoria has recorded 21 new cases of Covid-19, which takes the total number active case number to 70. Fifteen of the 21 new cases were people who had returned from overseas and are in hotel quarantine. While other Australian states have numbers that are more closely matched with New Zealand’s, the prospect of a trans-Tasman bubble in the near future looks slim.

1.40pm: Ardern calls in military to oversee isolation after ‘unacceptable failure of the system’

The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has addressed media on why yesterday’s two new cases, both New Zealand citizens, were allowed out of managed isolation before being tested.

She said it was “an unacceptable failure of the system”.

“From the beginning we have taken an extraordinarily cautious approach at the border … that is also why we required tests to be undertaken at those facilities – one at day three and one at day 12.

“That should have happened in the cases we learned about yesterday, it did not and there are no excuses. It should never have happened and it cannot be repeated.”

Ardern announced that Air Commodore Darryn (Digby) Webb, assistant chief of defence, will be brought in to oversee the managed isolation and quarantine facilities processes and audit the existing systems.

All compassionate exemptions would remain suspended until such time there was a “disciplined and rigorous system at the border that ministers have confidence in”, said Ardern.

Blame did not lie with the two New Zealand citizens returning from the UK, she added. “It is totally unacceptable that procedures we were advised were in place were not. Our job now is to fix that.”

Ardern said she would leave it to director general of health Ashley Bloomfield to determine where responsibility landed and if anyone’s job would be threatened.

She said she was not considering sacking the health minister, David Clark. “The minister is in exactly the same position that I am, we both find what has happened here unacceptable, it is counter to what we were told was happening… He is part of fixing this issue, not part of the problem.”

Ardern was critical of the pressure she said was coming from “a wide range of quarters, not least from some of my colleagues on the other side of the house” to loosen the border. “We have always said that we needed to be cautious. I utterly stand by that.

“This is a growing pandemic, not a slowing one, and we should be extraordinarily careful, and I send that message to the opposition.”

1.35pm: No new cases of Covid-19 in NZ today; 320 close contacts of yesterday’s new cases

There are no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand today, the Ministry of Health has announced. The news follows yesterday’s revelation that two women had tested positive for the coronavirus after travelling here from the UK, which broke a 24-day run of no new cases.

On yesterday’s cases, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said in an emailed update, “As director general of health, I have overall system responsibility for the health operations of our self-isolation facilities and exemptions.

“In this instance, these individuals should have been tested prior to leaving the managed isolation facility.

“I am taking responsibility for ensuring this does not happen again.

“We have put in place a number of actions to provide the public and government assurance that anyone arriving into New Zealand does not pose any risk from Covid-19.”

The two people reported as confirmed cases yesterday remain in self-isolation and are doing well, the update said. “There is one family member isolating with them who is being monitored daily by the local public health unit. The Ministry of Health is managing wider contact tracing from the National Contact Tracing unit.

“We are treating anyone on the flight or in the facility at the same time as the cases as if they are close contacts who have potentially been exposed. We are getting them all tested and isolated until a negative result is received.

“At this point, there are 320 identified close contacts. The majority of these will have been contacted by the end of the day. All of these people will be encouraged to get a test.”

The ministry is confident no contact was made with anyone on the women’s journey between Auckland and Wellington, the update said. “The actions of these two individuals have been exemplary in terms of following health advice and the agreed plan on departure from the facility. I want to thank them for their cooperation and ask that their privacy  continues to be respected during this time.”

1.30pm: Jacinda Ardern giving briefing on new cases – watch live

12.50pm: Case numbers to be updated, PM to give briefing on border at 1.30pm

Will there be a return to zero today after yesterday’s two new cases broke a 24-day run? The numbers will be updated by press release at 1pm or thereabouts, and we’ll be bringing you the details here. And at 1.30pm, the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, will be speaking to media about the border.

12.35pm: Role for military in managed isolation, says minister

The government is urgently considering reshaping oversight of the managed self-isolation following the failure of the system revealed yesterday.

While the Ministry of Health was “very good at the health parts of it”, said David Clark, the health minister, “we may need to strengthen the oversight”.

He told RNZ: “A lot of it is logistics, and making sure systems are in place … It might be somebody in the military who might have that expertise. Certainly MBIE does the logistics side of things well, so they’re definitely involved.”

Read our full report here.

12.20: Bauer Media confirms sale to private equity firm

Bauer Media has confirmed the sale of its Australian and New Zealand titles to private equity firm Mercury Capital, as reported earlier today by media (see 10.40am update). In a press release sent at 12.10pm, Bauer says, “Mercury Capital will acquire all of Bauer Media Australia’s print and digital assets which cover Women’s Entertainment & Lifestyle; Fashion, Beauty & Health; Homes; Food; Motoring & Trader lifestyle categories. The agreement also includes those brands recently acquired by Bauer from Pacific Magazines and Bauer’s New Zealand mastheads.”

There is little mention of the New Zealand titles that were closed down in March. The press release quotes Bauer Media COO Veit Dengler as saying, “Bauer Media remains committed to magazine publishing. This decision supports our strategy to invest in our market leading brands where we believe we are best placed to do so.

“We have been proud to be the custodian of these iconic brands in Australia. I would like to thank our talented teams for their commitment and the contribution they have made to Bauer Media. I wish them well for the future.”

The sale is subject to relevant regulatory approvals, with completion expected by the end of July, says the press release.

11.00am: Chief ombudsman to inspect Covid-19 isolation facilities

New Zealand’s chief ombudsman will next month begin inspecting the Covid-19 isolation and quarantine facilities at the border to ensure arrivals are being “treated humanely”. Speaking to a parliamentary committee this morning, Peter Boshier said the government-run hotels are designated as detention facilities and his office will inspect them going forward.

Thousands of people have completed isolation in the hotels are thousands more are expected to over the coming months.

“I am setting up a new inspection programme to independently monitor and report on them. The public needs to be assured that people who are being isolated for health reasons are being treated fairly and their basic human rights are being respected,” said Boshier.

While the inspections will be conducted under the UN’s convention against torture, the ombudsman said his office will also look at specific Covid-19 criteria. Inspectors will ensure that people in the facilities have access to fresh air, exercise and whether they can keep physical distancing from members of the public.

10.50am: Cheap, widely available drug touted as Covid breakthrough

The world’s biggest trial testing existing treatments to see if they also work for coronavirus has found that the low-dose steroid treatment dexamethasone can help save lives, reports RNZ.

UK researchers say it’s a major breakthrough in the fight against Covid-19, cutting the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators, and by a fifth for those on oxygen. In the trial, led by a team from Oxford University, about 2,000 hospital patients were given dexamethasone and compared with more than 4,000 who were not.

Had the drug had been used to treat patients in the UK from the start of the pandemic, up to 5,000 lives could have been saved, researchers say, and it could be of huge benefit in poorer countries with high numbers of Covid-19 patients.

The UK government has 200,000 courses of the drug in its stockpile and says the NHS will make dexamethasone available to patients.

10.40am: Bauer magazines reportedly sold to private equity firm

The Australian Financial Review is reporting that Bauer Media’s New Zealand and Australian operations have been sold to private equity firm Mercury Capital. The German-owned magazine company abruptly shut down its New Zealand titles, including the likes of The Listener, North & South, Metro, New Zealand Woman’s Weekly and Woman’s Day, in March, blaming the Covid-19 crisis. More than 200 people lost their jobs.

The AFR reports that the deal was finally signed on Tuesday night after months of talks. The Herald reports that Mercury is headed by New Zealand-born Clark Perkins, a former Goldman Sachs deal maker, and includes high-profile New Zealand directors such as Sky TV founder Craig Heatley, Tom Sturgess and Geoff Ricketts. Mercury has made about a dozen investments in Australia and New Zealand, reports the Herald, including printing company Blue Star, which runs Webstar NZ, previously one of Bauer’s bigger clients.

Whether the Mercury deal means that all the publications will return to the local market is yet to be seen, says the Herald, pointing out that many former staff members have already moved on, such as former Home editor Simon Farrell-Green, who has launched a new magazine.

10.25am: $380m subsidy for employers to train apprentices announced

The government has today announced a $380m scheme to keep apprentices in training and encourage businesses to invest in new ones. From August, Apprenticeship Boost will provide up to $16,000 per eligible employer over a 20-month period to help subsidise the cost of training.

Education minister Chris Hipkins said up to 18,000 employers would be able to apply for up to $12,000 per apprentice in their first 12 months of training, and up to $6,000 in their second 12 months. He said this would help maintain the domestic supply of skilled workers for when the economy began to recover.

“Without support of this kind after the global financial crisis, apprentices were let go and when the economy picked up, New Zealand struggled with huge skills shortages and had to pay more to find skilled people from overseas,” said Hipkins.

Apprenticeship Boost would apply to apprenticeships in all fields, unlike the free trades training scheme announced in the May budget, which focuses on skills most relevant to the Covid-19 economic recovery.

9.05am: Police minister says ‘ineptitude’ that led to Covid cases leaving isolation ‘unforgivable’

Stuart Nash, the police minister, has used language far stronger than either the prime minister or health minister has in condemning the mistakes that led to two women who had Covid-19 being let out of managed isolation on compassionate grounds.

“I cannot repeat the words on your show that I said when I heard what had happened,” Nash told Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB this morning. “Someone does need to be held to account. We need to have a review of what’s happening in quarantine because it’s totally unacceptable, when five million Kiwis do it real tough,” he said.

“To get this sort of ineptitude, man, it is unforgivable. As David said, he’s cancelled compassionate dispensation and there’s a review of the system. Let’s make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

9.00am: Proposed DHB overhaul raises concerns about political influence

A former Waikato DHB member who says he was appointed because of who he knew, not what he knew, has told RNZ getting rid of district health board elections could lead to boards being stuffed with “political flunkies”. The views of Dave Macpherson, who was speaking about a major review of the health and disability sector released yesterday, were shared by former Green Party health spokesperson Sue Kedgley, who now sits on the Capital and Coast DHB. “It would mean that all boards were comprised of politically appointed members who were there to carry out the instructions of the minister,” said Kedgley. “My concern is that there’d be less independence, less questioning and less challenging of the political ideology of the day.”

Asked on Morning Report whether “favourites and stooges of whatever flavour the government of the day is” would end up on boards, health minister David Clark said getting rid of elections was not a risk to democracy. “People want professional governance across the sector. We need people who have the skills to deliver change and be held to account.”

8.45am: Two new cases symbolise a failure of New Zealand’s defensive wall

On The Spinoff this morning, our political editor, Justin Giovannetti, who has first-hand experience of mandatory managed isolation in this country, says New Zealand’s main line of defence against Covid-19 failed when two women were allowed to leave isolation without proper checks.

Writing of his time in managed isolation after arriving from Canada last month, Giovannetti said, “Every day, generally around 9.30 am, a nurse phoned my room or knocked on the door. The conversation went like this: It’s time for your health check. Do you have a cough, a sore throat, a fever, a runny nose, shortness of breath, maybe a loss of smell, any aches or pains?… During my two-week stint in government care it was made clear to me on a daily basis that any runny nose or scratch in the throat was cause for concern.”

Read the full story on The Spinoff

8.30am: Health minister grilled on contact tracing, managed isolation

Speaking to Morning Report’s Susie Ferguson on RNZ this morning, the health minister, David Clark, was unable to say how many people were being traced as potential contacts of the two women who tested positive for Covid-19 after being let out of managed isolation. “That is the job of those contact tracers,” he said. “I have confidence they have the best possible data.”

Yesterday, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said those who were on the same flight as the women from Brisbane to Auckland, as well as the other recent arrivals in managed isolation at the Novotel Ellerslie and staff at the facility, were being traced. Clark said reports that people in managed isolation facilities were “mixing and mingling” were unacceptable and he was seeking assurances this was no longer happening.

7.30am: PM says two new cases leaving isolation was ‘system failure’; Clark ‘frustrated and disappointed’

In a Facebook Live post last night in the wake of New Zealand’s first new Covid-19 cases in 25 days, the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, admitted health officials’ protocols failed to meet expectations. Yesterday afternoon it was revealed that two arrivals from the UK were allowed to leave a managed isolation facility on compassionate grounds without being tested; they drove to Wellington to visit a dying relative, where they tested positive for Covid-19.

In the Facebook Live post, Ardern said, “This case is clear – our expectations have not been met in this instance. The two cases that came in from overseas that were announced today were not announced under the circumstances that we would have expected at our border.”

Meanwhile, on Newstalk ZB this morning health minister David Clark told Mike Hosking he had believed anyone let out of managed isolation on compassionate grounds was being tested first. “I expected people to be tested negative and go through a thorough check before being allowed to leave the facility,” said Clark. “I am very frustrated and disappointed that we are where we are.”

Hosking called for director general of health Ashley Bloomfield’s head, saying, “Ashley’s in charge, Ashley let us down, Ashley needs to go”. Clark responded that he was not interested in a witch hunt. “I am interested in making the system work.” He said he had talked to Bloomfield last night, telling him “I wanted the suspension [of compassionate leave] immediately. It’s pretty clear I am unhappy with the situation and the director general is committed to fixing it.” Clark added “there will be consequences if it’s found people have failed in their duty”, saying he was “confident these people who have made the mistake will not be happening [sic] again”.

On RNZ’s Morning Report this morning, National leader Todd Muller said the handling of the cases was “clumsy and totally inappropriate. We can’t have such a lax approach at our border, overseen by an incompetent minister.” Epidemiologist Michael Baker, meanwhile, told Morning Report that letting the women out of isolation was a “serious error”, but he didn’t believe it posed the risk of an outbreak.

Baker yesterday told the Science Media Centre the new cases served as a warning about how cautious New Zealand should be. “In most parts of the world it would be absolutely mandatory that you be wearing face masks on the flight, going through the border and arrivals area, in the quarantine facility, and certainly if you were allowed to leave before your quarantine was up,” said Baker.

7.15am: Updates from today’s edition of The Bulletin

There are two new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, breaking a long streak of zero days. Our live updates page from yesterday has the details of what happened: basically, both people arrived in New Zealand from the UK on June 7, and had been in managed isolation, before being granted an exemption to drive from Auckland to Wellington to be with a dying relative. They say they didn’t use any public facilities on that trip, and adhered to the rules. But particular questions are being raised about the exemption as one of the people had symptoms, which they put down to a pre-existing condition, and why they weren’t tested before hitting the road. Contact tracing efforts are now underway, and hotel staff who came into contact with them or their room have been temporarily stood down.

It has led to immediate changes, with compassionate exemptions for border arrivals suspended indefinitely, reports StuffSimply put, this isn’t the first time the quarantine system has looked decidedly leaky. There was a story run by One News last week about guests at a quarantine hotel mixing with new arrivals, and comment from epidemiologist Michael Baker who said the problem wasn’t the protocols – it was whether or not they were actually being applied properly. A case was also revealed yesterday in which two teenagers ran away after being granted an exemption for a funeral, before being located again, reports the NZ Herald.

Should we be panicking about new cases? It’s definitely not good, of course, but we should also keep it in perspective. This article on The Conversation gives useful context – to the best of our knowledge, we haven’t had any community transmission for a long time now, and that’s a much more important question compared to whether cases turn up at the border.

And yet, in this instance it is theoretically possible for community transmission to have taken place, which is a huge failing. Justin Giovannetti, who has first-hand experience of how quarantine works if done properly, writes that “it came as a surprise on Tuesday afternoon when director-general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, said one of New Zealand’s now two active cases of Covid-19 left managed-isolation despite mild symptoms, and without being tested.” The NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Derek Cheng has looked at the political angles of this, writing that it is hugely embarrassing from the government and health officials, and that the PM “should be livid” about the failings.

A massive doorstopper of a report into the health system was delivered yesterday, after being commissioned two years ago. Here’s a cheat sheet on what is being proposed, and Josie Adams has reported on what those in the field say about the proposals. In short, among the big changes being mooted is an end to DHB elections along with a reduction in the number of DHBs, the creation of both a new crown entity called Health NZ to oversee DHBs and a Māori health authority, changes to the way health budgets move with population growth, and an overall shift to put a greater emphasis on population health and reducing fragmentation.

One reaction out of it all is a sense of positivity around the potential for greater equity across a system that currently delivers very unequal outcomes. That comes through from this explainer by Stuff’s Cate Broughton, who writes that “the review authors are confident the experience of health services would improve across the board, but particularly for Māori and disabled people”.

But what will actually be delivered? Right now, health minister David Clark is only making supportive noises, rather than giving his full backing to implementing recommendations – to quote, “Cabinet has accepted the case for reform, and the direction of travel outlined in the review” and to follow that up, “that means we are committing to an ongoing programme of reform”. As anyone who reads a lot of government press releases knows, this is absolutely not the same as a promise to implement all the recommendations – even if they have been delivered to be politically manageable, as Politik reports. Stuff’s Henry Cooke has made this point, noting that this government has strong form when it comes to commissioning massive reports, and then not actually doing much with them. Very little is likely to happen before the election – we’ll see if anything comes of it afterwards.

7.00am: Yesterday’s key stories

Two new cases of Covid-19 were announced, breaking the country’s 24-day Covid-free streak. The cases are two women who travelled from Britain were allowed to leave managed isolation on compassionate grounds to drive to Wellington.

Health minister David Clark later said that compassionate exemptions to our border arrival rules would be suspended indefinitely.

Two teenagers granted an exemption from isolation to attend a funeral in Hamilton late last week ran away afterwards, it was confirmed. The pair have since been located.

In other exemption news, farmers have won the right to apply for an exemption to the new rifle ban as long as they can prove they need otherwise prohibited firearms to control pest populations.

An end to DHB elections, a reduction in DHB numbers and a greater focus on population health are among the proposals made in the Simpson health system review, which was released yesterday.

The March 15 terrorist was wrongly granted a firearms licence, according to the Christchurch Press. Among other errors, police failed to interview a family member as required, instead relying on two men who met the terrorist through an internet chatroom, the paper reported.

Read yesterday’s live updates here




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