Live updates, November 19: PM pays tribute to Pike River victims, a decade on

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for November 19. Reach me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

8.00pm: The day in sum

Two new cases of Covid-19 were reported in managed isolation. There are now just 37 active cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand.

The prime minister was among those marking a decade to the day since the Pike River Mine Disaster.

BNZ announced it would close 38 branches across the country, beginning on Christmas Eve.

The government announced a $164 million investment in school upgrades nationwide.

Jacinda Ardern was awarded a $150,000 prize from Harvard University honouring her leadership throughout the Covid-19 crisis.

New mandatory mask rules for Auckland public transport came into effect.

The government unveiled new rules mandating more regular Covid testing for border workers.

3.44pm: Pike River Mine disaster, a decade on

The prime minister has paid tribute to the 29 men who lost their lives in the Pike River Mine disaster on this day, at this time, in 2010.

A commemorative service attended by MPs and family members of victims is being held at parliament this afternoon.

“The tragedy of Pike River Mine has been the loss of these men to their loved ones and generations to come – they were never able to lead full lives and their families have suffered because of that. They have also suffered because no-one was held accountable at the time,” Jacinda Ardern said.

“The Pike River families have repeatedly told us that justice for their lost loved ones also means ensuring all New Zealand workplaces are safe. That is the legacy they want for their men and one we are committed to fulfilling for them.

Ardern said while we can never make up for the loss suffered by the families, they can be honoured by improvements to New Zealand’s “woeful” record on workplace safety.

These men died at work and that just should not happen,” Ardern said.

2.45pm: Grace Millane’s father has died after a battle with cancer

The father of British backpacker Grace Millane, who was murdered during her trip to New Zealand almost two years ago, has died.

According to the Herald, David Millane was diagnosed with cancer after he spent time in Auckland for the trial of his daughter’s killer.

He died earlier this week after learning that his cancer had spread and was untreatable.

2.40pm: 39 ‘unlawful killings’, finds inquiry into Australian special forces

A major probe into alleged war crimes by Australian special forces in Afghanistan has been released, with the report recommending 19 soldiers be investigated by federal police for the “murder” of 39 civilians.

The inquiry, led by Major General Paul Brereton, characterised the SAS actions as “disgraceful and a profound betrayal” of the Australian Defence Force.

The ABC reports that revelations of a “culture of secrecy, fabrication and deceit … cast a heavy shadow over the legacy of the Australian special forces deployment in Afghanistan”.

Writing for The Spinoff today, Nicky Hager, co-author of Hit & Run, argues that the Australian investigation into special forces’ activities stand in stark contrast to the approach witnessed over allegations in New Zealand. Read his article here.

The Spinoff’s Coming Home podcast tops iTunes charts

The Spinoff’s newest podcast series, Coming Home, has topped the iTunes charts in the first week of release.

Hosted by Jane Yee and Duncan Greive, the five-part podcast series delves into the phenomenon of high achieving New Zealanders returning to Aotearoa in the wake of Covid-19.

Check it out here and see why more New Zealanders are tuning into Coming Home than Joe Rogan.

2.00pm: BNZ to close 38 branches across the country

Business editor Michael Andrew reports:

The Bank of New Zealand has announced it will close eight of its branches on Christmas Eve and a further 30 branches in 2021.

BNZ chief customer office Paul Carter said most customers were using online banking and physical branches were often sitting empty.

“The majority of our customers are banking online and our talented bankers are often waiting in empty branches for customers who simply do not arrive.”

While BNZ had initially promised “in good faith” not to close regional branches until 2022, Carter said Covid-19 had accelerated the trend of customers moving away from face-to-face banking.

“However, Covid changed everything. Our customers have embraced digital services and tools and our bankers are serving customers irrespective of where they are,” he said.

“Branches will still have a role in how we serve our customers. We will continue to invest in modern customer centres to help customers take advantage of online banking and our digital tools, and where they can access specialist services.”

Earlier this month Australian-owned BNZ reported a net profit of $762m, down from $1.02b last year.

1.00pm: Two new Covid-19 cases, in managed isolation

There are two new cases of Covid-19 to report in New Zealand today, both detected in recent returnees in managed isolation. There are no new community cases.

One of today’s new cases arrived from Moscow (via London, Qatar and Brisbane) on November 14. The other arrived from Dubai on the same day.

There are now just 37 active cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, with 29 people recovering overnight. The total number of confirmed cases is now 1,654.

Yesterday our laboratories processed 8,665 tests for Covid-19, bringing the total number of tests completed to date to 1,208,091.

November quarantine cluster

Auckland Regional Public Health Service continues to follow up contacts from existing cases that are part of this cluster.

All 23 close contacts of Case A have now returned negative day 12 tests and all occupants of Case A’s apartment (the Waldorf Apartments) have returned negative day 12 tests.

The genome sequencing has shown that Cases A, B, C, D and E are all part of the same outbreak.

To provide further reassurance, the Ministry of Health encourages anyone who visited a location of interest during the relevant time period to get tested.

12.15pm: National Party staffer returns to parliament after working in MIQ facility

A National Party staff member returned to work at parliament after time spent working for the Defence Force in a managed isolation facility, according to a Stuff report this morning.

The most recent outbreak of Covid-19 – known as the November quarantine cluster – involved a Defence Force worker who contracted the virus within a MIQ facility.

According to Stuff, the staff member returned to work yesterday. They had emailed Parliamentary Service on Monday asking to return, and were told they could if health advice from the Ministry of Health suggested they were low-risk. However, they returned to work before the advice was received.

“I have concerns with the advice and the high-risk extensive transmission especially once all MPs are back next week to Parliament and I have, therefore, asked that the individual not come into the buildings today [Wednesday] and tomorrow [Thursday] while I get further advice,” house speaker Trevor Mallard said.

Read the full report here 

On The Spinoff: Two types of fraud

Right now on The Spinoff, you can read two new articles about two very different types of fraud. One, from Alex Braae, reports on an influx of scam texts experienced over the past 24 hours, purporting to be from UPS.

Here’s an extract: 

If you get a text purporting to be from UPS telling you a package is waiting for you, and they just need an unpaid customs charge, don’t click the link.

It’s part of a new phishing scam sweeping the country, which has the potential to take “significant financial loss” from victims, the Department of Internal Affairs has warned. Hundreds of people have so far made complaints about the messages.

The scam begins with a text message, generally carrying some variation on the following words: “We have attempted to deliver your package (code number) but there is an unpaid customs charge. Follow the instructions here:” This is followed up with a link, which is the trap.

You can read Alex’s piece here.

Another article, written by me, looks at why our Electoral Commission is being bombarded with tweets alleging voter fraud in the New Zealand election. It looks like these tweets stem from claims made by Donald Trump that the election was stolen from him (which is, of course, not true).

Check out my piece here

11.15am: Major classroom upgrade unveiled; 7,500 students to benefit

The government’s revealed a $164 million investment in school upgrades nationwide, including money for new classrooms that will benefit more than 7000 students.

Education minister Chris Hipkins has made the announcement in Greytown today, where the local school is set to have a century old block of classrooms replaced as part of the package.

“I know the school and the wider community has been waiting for this for a long time,” Hipkins said. “It’s only right that families expect quality classrooms for their children to learn in.”

The education package will help create and sustain more than 3,000 jobs, Hipkins said, and the Ministry of Education will be engaging with local builders, plumbers, carpenters, roofers, and electricians to get the upgrades completed.

“I’m proud the government is doing more to lift the quality of the classrooms students and teachers spend so much time in. Our investment is backed up by our plan to make training opportunities readily available to ensure there is a pipeline of skilled workers to support regional economies and employers,” said Hipkins.

10.45am: Jacinda Ardern wins top award for Covid-19 leadership

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern has received the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership Gleitsman International Activist Award, honouring her leadership throughout the Covid-19 crisis.

In addition, the award, which carries a $150,000 prize, rewards Ardern for “her leadership, decisive action, and commitment to reformative and inclusive policies that have served her country and the health of our planet.”

Ardern has asked that the prize money go to a scholarship for a student from New Zealand enrolled at Harvard Kennedy School.

“We are thrilled that prime minister Jacinda Ardern will accept this year’s award,” said Wendy R. Sherman, professor of the practice of public leadership and director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School.

“The prime minister exemplifies principled, effective and just leadership, exactly the kind of leadership our students aspire to uphold. She has wielded a steady and swift hand, an open mind, and a keen reflection of her entire community in meeting challenges of terror, earthquakes and now Covid-19.

“The prime minister reminds all of us that strength, compassion, science, clear communications, humility and activism go hand in hand to create positive results.”

9.20am: It’s not just Guns N’ Roses… The Wiggles announce new tour

In even more major post-lockdown tour news, The Wiggles have announced a nationwide tour of New Zealand for next March.

It’s the second concert tour announced today, following Guns N’ Roses – which are basically the same as The Wiggles as far as I can gather?

The “We’re All Fruit Salad Tour” kicks off in Invercargill on March 19, before the group heads up the country through into the start of April.

Having two tour announcements on the same day, from performers based outside New Zealand, is a strong indication from promoters that they believe live events will be able to go ahead with minimal restrictions in 2021.

More info here

8.45am: New mask rules in force from today

A reminder of the new rules for public transport in Auckland, and domestic flights, today.

Face coverings are now required on buses and trains in Auckland, but children under 12 and those on school buses will be exempt. These rules also apply to public transport in and out of Auckland.

Taxi and ride share drivers will be required to wear masks, but if you are a passenger, you will not have to. A QR code will continue to be available for taxi passengers.

Meanwhile, masks will also be mandatory on all domestic flights around the country.

8.10am: Stadium rock is back? Guns N’ Roses announce NZ tour

The first new major stadium tour since the Covid-19 pandemic took hold has just been announced, with rock group Guns N’ Roses scheduled to play two shows in November next year.

The group will play six shows across Australia before heading to our shores for a gig in Wellington at Sky Stadium on November 19 and Dunedin at Forsyth Barr Stadium on November 21.

Promoter Paul Dainty said that with Covid-related restrictions easing, New Zealanders can look forward to the return of large-scale stadium events.

“Announcing an international tour of this magnitude as we come out of the most challenging year in the history of live entertainment is truly gratifying,” he said.

It’s not made clear whether the band intend to quarantine in New Zealand before the shows, however a report on Stuff claimed they would. Dainty is also convinced a trans-Tasman bubble will be in operation by then.

7.40am: More regular Covid-19 tests announced for border workers

The government’s unveiled new testing rules for border workers, in the hope of stopping further cases of Covid-19 slipping in from overseas.

“These strengthened rules – to apply to all international airports and ports – build on the mandatory testing orders we’ve been implementing since August and will make our border safety even stronger,” said Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins.

“The rules extend testing to workers not previously covered and increase the frequency of testing for some higher risk workers,” Hipkins said.

This includes:

  • Increasing the frequency of testing for ship pilots and some other port workers who carry out work on affected ships, from fortnightly to weekly;
  • Increasing testing frequency for some workers who carry out work on aircraft that have arrived from outside of New Zealand, from fortnightly to weekly;
  • Mandatory fortnightly testing for port workers not already covered; and
  • Mandatory fortnightly testing for airport airside and landside workers not already covered who interact with international arriving or transiting passengers.

The new rules place further expectations on both employers and employees to keep track of testing.

“Employers will be expected to keep records about their employees’ testing requirements and their compliance, and facilitate employee testing,” Hipkins said, while employees will be expected to provide information to their employers for record-keeping purposes.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

There is now the possibility that every single New Zealander who wants a Covid vaccine will be able to get one in the next two years. It comes after an in-principle agreement was signed to purchase 5 million doses from Janssen Pharmaceutica, subject to the vaccine successfully completing clinical trials and passing regulatory approvals. Presuming a formal purchase agreement is signed – which a release this morning from Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods made clear is likely – about 2 million doses would be delivered next year, with the remaining 3 million delivered over the course of 2022.

It follows a previous announcement to buy enough vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech for 750,000 people. The two products aren’t necessarily the same, and the newly announced one has some significant advantages, said Woods. “A key point of difference for the Janssen vaccine is that it’s likely to be a single-dose vaccine and is compatible with standard vaccine distribution channels, so it may potentially be more efficient to administer.” For more on the difficulty of actually getting the Pfizer product to where it needs to be, read Siouxsie Wiles. Negotiations with other pharmaceutical companies continue, and New Zealand is also likely to attempt to purchase extra doses to provide to Pacific nations.

Even so, there will be some serious questions to ask with the rollout, and who gets vaccinated first. Barbara Allen and Michael Macaulay have looked at some of the ethical dimensions around how we’d prioritise people, and what the consequences of that would be. In the release from Woods, this was addressed with the following paragraphs:

The Ministry of Health is preparing for a range of vaccine scenarios and how best to sequence the delivery of vaccines once supply becomes available. Three broad considerations are being explored:

  • Those at risk of contracting COVID-19
  • Those at risk of spreading COVID-19
  • Those at risk of increased morbidity and mortality associated with COVID-19.

Ensuring equity of outcomes, including protection for Māori, Pacific peoples and our most vulnerable population groups, such as older people, disabled people, health workers, essential workers and border staff are some of our primary considerations in the availability of vaccines.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

Yesterday’s headlines: The day in sum

The state of South Australia was put into a strict lockdown for six days.

The royal commission of inquiry into the March 15 terrorist attacks finished.

There were three new cases of Covid-19, all detected in managed isolation.

The government said there had been an almost 50% jump in New Zealanders taking up apprenticeships, after they became free in July this year.

Climate change minister James Shaw said he wanted to see a new petrol and diesel car ban implemented.

The new tourism minister, Stuart Nash, said he wanted to target big-spending international tourists and essentially ban freedom campers.

Read yesterday’s updates here




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