Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for February 22. Auckland remains at alert level two and the rest of the country, level one. Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
3.10pm: Auckland to move to alert level one at midnight
Auckland will join the rest of the country at alert level one from midnight tonight, Jacinda Ardern has announced from Christchurch.
Face masks will remain a mandatory requirement on public transport across the country, Ardern said, even at alert level one. Children under the age of 12 are exempt along with those who have medical requirements that prevent them from wearing a face covering.
People are allowed to remove face coverings to eat, drink or take medication on public transport, if eating or drinking is usually allowed. There had previously been criticism of Air New Zealand allowing travellers to eat on domestic flights.
Face coverings for Uber and taxi drivers will remain mandatory, and encouraged but not mandatory for passengers. The order will be kept under review, especially as vaccines are rolled out, said Ardern.
Auckland’s move to level one followed more than 72,000 tests being taken after the reemergence of Covid-19 last Sunday, Ardern said. All the cases that have since been detected have been genomically linked.
“This decision reflects the incredible work on the part of all New Zealanders over the past week,” said Ardern.
It is still a requirement at alert level one, said Ardern, for businesses to display a QR code prominently. People should continue to use the Covid Tracer app.
Asked about a possible trans-Tasman bubble, Ardern said there would need to be a degree of “flexibility” in what ever arrangement is announced. This would allow for both New Zealand and Australia to decide border closures or other restrictions.
Ardern said she is “ready and willing” to be vaccinated but that she isn’t a priority. “I want to model that it is safe… so I will be publicly vaccinated, but I wanted to make sure those at the most risk were vaccinated first.”
2.45pm: Is Auckland moving to level one? Ardern to give update
The prime minister will be fronting a post-cabinet press conference at 3pm from Christchurch where she is expected to reveal when – or if – Auckland will be moving down to alert level one.
Cabinet has today reviewed the current alert levels, which have been in force since 11.59pm on Wednesday night. Earlier today, Jacinda Ardern hinted that Auckland would likely move alert levels unless something significant happened. There has since been one new community case linked to the recent Auckland cluster – however, they have been in quarantine since Friday.
2.20pm: Minister approves US ‘targeting’ satellite
Ollie Neas reports:
The minister responsible for New Zealand’s space regime has approved a controversial US military satellite for launch from New Zealand. On February 10, Rocket Lab announced its next mission would include the experimental Gunsmoke-J payload, which belongs to the US Army’s Space and Missile Defence Command (SMDC).
Its purpose is to improve US military targeting capabilities, as The Spinoff reported. The day after the announcement, economic development minister Stuart Nash told The Spinoff that he had not yet received an application for the satellite, even though officials have been assessing it for at least three months.
Nash has now confirmed to The Spinoff that he has received an application for the satellite and approved it. A spokesperson for the minister says Nash “assessed the application against a number of criteria set out in the Outer Space and High-Altitude Activities Act (OSHAA) drawing on advice from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. He is satisfied that the requirements in the Act are met.”
The Gunsmoke-J is designed is to improve US military targeting capabilities by improving how satellite imagery is provided to troops on the battlefield. A spokesperson for the Army Space and Missile Defense Command told SpaceNews last week that the satellite would demonstrate technologies that could assist in “long-range precision fires and other activities.”
The long-range precision fires is a type of missile used by the US Army designed “to provide the warfighter with an all-weather, 24/7, precision surface-to-surface deep-strike capability.”
The Green Party and peace groups condemned the announcement of the Gunsmoke-J, with security and intelligence spokesman Teanau Tuiono saying, “We should not be a launching pad for satellites for America’s military and intelligence agencies.”
Security expert Dr Paul Buchanan says the launch could make Mahia a military target.The launch is scheduled for mid-March from Rocket Lab’s Mahia Peninsula launch site.
2.00pm: What’s it like to get the Covid-19 jab? A border worker reveals
A health worker who received their Covid-19 vaccine in Auckland today has told The Spinoff it was “probably the least painful injection I’ve had, and I’ve had a lot”.
The official vaccination rollout kicked off on Saturday, with border workers the first to get the Pfizer jab.
The border worker told The Spinoff the vaccination process was a very large operation with heaps of staff. Vaccinations are today being given out at the Crowne Plaza and Ports of Auckland along with the Grand Mercure in Wellington.
“They’re not having heaps of people through because they’re seeing how the system works,” the worker said. After receiving the jab, recipients are observed for half an hour to see if they have any adverse reaction. “Maybe I’ll turn into a bat.”
Most importantly, however: “[It was] way less painful than a flu shot”.
1.15pm: New Covid-19 case, already in quarantine, linked to February cluster
On the day that cabinet will review Auckland’s alert level status, there is one new Covid-19 case linked to the recent community outbreak. The new case – who has been in quarantine since Friday – is a household contact of previous cases D, E, F and G.
They were tested and returned a negative result, and had been isolating at home since Monday last week. The person was transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility on as a precaution.
“Due to the steps already taken in identifying, testing and tracing individuals linked to the February cases, as well as Case H isolating at home since Monday and then being in quarantine for the last two days, the public health risk is considered very low,” a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said.
Due to Case H being in isolation while infectious there are no additional contacts to report, said the ministry.
Some casual plus contacts at Papatoetoe High school are required to have a second PCR test – four teachers and 28 students where a record of the test result isn’t available or a more recent test is required. Close contacts are expected to return to school on Wednesday or when advised by Auckland Regional Public Health Service.
Contact tracing has identified a total of 125 close contacts associated with all cases in the recent cluster, aside from the positive cases which have previously been reported.
Three previously reported close contacts have been ruled out on further investigation and one infant is not required to be tested. Of the remainder, 122 of the close contacts have returned a negative test result. We are awaiting test results for two people – all of whom are from the medical clinic and relate to Case C, which is considered a low risk exposure event.
As at 8.00am this morning, a total of 31 close contacts and 1,416 casual plus contacts have been identified at Papatoetoe High School. The number of casual plus contacts has increased by three following further investigation.
Of the casual plus contacts (that is other students and staff at the school), 1,402 have returned negative results, there is one positive (Case E), and 13 results are still to come.
Meanwhile, there are six new cases of Covid-19 in managed isolation – four of which are historical.
There is still no confirmed source for the recent outbreak, the ministry said, with investigations ongoing into how the virus made it back into the community.
The Auckland Airport precinct where Case B works remains the most likely source of the outbreak, but further testing has not identified any potential transmission routes.
ESR has been reviewing all B.1.1.7 variants identified over the last two months to see if there is any possible link to our new case. The Four Points by Sheraton managed isolation facility in Auckland continues to be investigated. This is where there is a possible genomic similarity between a previous positive case (now recovered) and the current community cases. However, this is not a direct match, the ministry said.
“There were 265 returnees at the facility in late December. Thirty six of these are based overseas. At this stage just 11 out of 229 based in New Zealand have not been contacted. We will continue to follow up with these.
“It is important to note that health officials consider this an unlikely source of the infection at this stage but are pursuing it as part of actively chasing down every line of enquiry.”
12.30pm: Watch – Jacinda Ardern to speak at Christchurch memorial service
Today marks 10 years since the devastating February 2011 earthquake in Christchurch. A memorial service is now under way to mark the anniversary, featuring messages from the prime minister, governor general, and former mayor Bob Parker.
A minute of silence will be observed at 12.51 – the time the earthquake struck a decade ago. The full order of service is here.
Watch the service live below:
11.35am: First Wellingtonians receive Covid-19 vaccine
Border staff working at Wellington’s Grand Mercure Hotel will today be the first in the capital to receive the Covid-19 Pfizer vaccine.
While media are unable to attend due to the strict infection prevention measures in place, footage of the occasion will be released later this afternoon.
The vaccine rollout officially kicked off over the weekend with border staff in Auckland getting the jab on Saturday. Vaccinators themselves were treated on Friday.
11.10am: Government recommits to conversion therapy ban; still no law on the table
The government has reaffirmed its intention to ban conversion therapy during this term of parliament – but has yet to prepare law on the subject.
Justice minister Kris Faafoi said policy work is under way now to bring legislation to parliament by the “middle of this year” with the aim of passing it by February next year.
“The fact that we are dealing with this issue in the first year of this term of parliament clearly shows the level of priority it has in our legislative programme and shows our commitment to ban these cruel and damaging practices that can amount to coercion and mental abuse in the misguided belief that a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression needs to be treated or somehow ‘cured’,” Faafoi said.
“There is no therapeutic purpose or medical basis for these conversion practices, which can cause real and lasting damage, particularly for vulnerable young people who are often the victims of these practices.”
The Ministry of Justice is currently investing hoe to define “conversion practices”, how legal practices would work, and whether the law would be a civil matter as well as criminal. “We know this is an important issue, which is why we made the Manifesto commitment before last year’s Election, and we want to ensure the legislation passes as quickly as possible so the Rainbow community and all those affected by these abhorrent practices are protected.”
A ban is supported by both the Greens and National and Faafoi said he is hoping for constructive collaboration across the political spectrum.
On the agenda
Today marks exactly a decade since the devastating 2011 Christchurch earthquake. The prime minister is in the city today to remember those who lost their lives. She will speak at a memorial service this afternoon, where a minute’s silence will be observed at 12.51pm for the 185 peopled killed in the quake.
Later, at 3pm, Jacinda Ardern will speak at a post-cabinet press conference from Christchurch will she will reveal the next steps in our Covid-19 response. This morning, Ardern said that Auckland will likely shift down to alert level one unless something significant happens.
8.30am: Almost 70% of NZers want increase to income support rate
New data shows 69% of New Zealanders believe “the government should increase income support for those on low incomes and not in paid work”.
The poll was commissioned by a group of NGOs made up of unions, social service NGOs, kaupapa Māori groups, churches, child poverty experts and other organisations.
Jacqui Southey from Save the Children said the poll confirmed that, as a nation, people are no longer willing to tolerate inequality. “We all want to work together and do our bit to ensure all of our team of five million have liveable incomes. We’re in this together,” Southey said.
Janet McAllister from Child Poverty Action Group agreed: “This poll shows that ensuring liveable incomes for all would be a popular move for the government, across the board, as well as the right thing to do.”
Even two-thirds of those with household incomes over $100,000 agree the government should increase income support for those financially less fortunate than themselves, McAllister noted.
“Our compassionate and inclusive approach to caring for the most vulnerable during Covid-19 outbreaks served us well. We must take the same common sense approach to ensure everyone, whether they are working, caring for children, living with a disability or illness, learning, or have lost their jobs before or because of Covid-19, has a liveable income.”
7.45am: PM signals likely Auckland shift to alert level one
There have been no new community Covid-19 cases overnight or across the weekend, indicating a shift to alert level one in Auckland is looking likely (touch wood).
Jacinda Ardern said, “bar anything significant coming through”, the supercity should be able to reduce its current restrictions. The rest of the country has been at alert level one since last Thursday.
Ardern said the decision to keep Auckland at level two was “precautionary” and based on advice from health experts including Ashley Bloomfield. “That was us being really cautious,” she said.
Cabinet is set to officially review the alert levels today with the outcome to be revealed at a press conference from Christchurch this afternoon.
7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin
The first jabs in a long campaign of Covid-19 vaccinations have been given this weekend. It perhaps marks something of an end of the beginning of the pandemic for New Zealand, which continues to rage around the world. It will still be a long time before there is anything like herd immunity in the country, but at least now the programme of getting there is underway. Siouxsie Wiles & Toby Morris have explained why the vaccine is so important in the overall fight against Covid.
The first people vaccinated have been border workers and those at the most dangerous MIQ facilities. Radio NZ reports some of them spoke about their families and communities, and how by getting the vaccine they might now be able to become more a part of the world again, after a long year of living “level four lives”. One vaccinated worker also spoke about how it has been a big deal and source of pride for her to serve the country over the last year – personally, I’m pretty proud to be part of the same country as heroes like these.
Some people are going to be skeptical, or even downright hostile towards getting the jab. This article by Toby Manhire looks at how a quarter of New Zealanders say they’d refuse to take it, and discusses ways people might be persuaded. One important point to make is that a vaccine being approved by Medsafe does not necessarily mean there will be no short-term side effects at all – that is addressed in this NZ Herald Q+A about the vaccine.
Today marks ten years since Christchurch’s deadly earthquake, which cost 185 lives and profoundly changed the city forever. For comprehensive coverage of the years since, I’d strongly encourage you to browse The Press, which has a range of stories about rescuers, rebuilds and the structures that came down.In terms of streets, Radio NZ has taken snapshots of the aftermath, to how places look today. And on The Spinoff, Susan Wardell has written about collective memory of tragedy, and how we come together to express grief.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.