Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for February 24. All the latest news from New Zealand, updated throughout the day. Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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- No new community Covid-19 cases; half of Papatoetoe school already retested
- Judith Collins reprimands one of her MPs over ‘wokester’ insult
- Bloomfield warns of ‘not-typical symptoms’ of UK Covid-19 variant
4.00pm: Space minister unaware of capabilities of US military satellite he approved
Ollie Neas reports:
The minister responsible for New Zealand’s space regime has defended his decision to approve a controversial satellite designed to improve US military targeting capabilities – but says he is unaware of its “specific military capabilities”.
On Monday, The Spinoff reported that economic development minister Stuart Nash had approved for launch next month a satellite belonging to the US Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command.
The purpose of the experimental “Gunsmoke-J” satellite is to improve US military targeting capabilities by improving how satellite imagery is provided to troops on the battlefield. A US Army spokesperson says the technology being demonstrated 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 to provide “an all-weather, 24/7, precision surface-to-surface deep-strike capability”.
In parliament this afternoon, Nash defended his decision to approve the satellite, in response to questions from Green Party security and intelligence spokesperson Teanau Tuiono. “The NZ Space Agency assessed the application and provided me with advice that in fact this satellite did not pose a risk to national security and its operations would not be contrary to NZ’s national interest,” Nash said.
Nash said he was “unaware of the specific military capabilities” of the satellite – but said the US Army had “provided all the information that was deemed required by our space agency to make a recommendation to me”.
Nash did not provide a clear answer to the question whether he thought the government has a “moral responsibility to make sure technologies delivered into orbit by NZ companies from NZ soil do not assist other countries’ armies to wage war”.
“What I will say is that cabinet analysed the process for signing off on satellite launches. We analysed this process very very carefully when we signed off the relevant legislation. One thing I will say is that we take our national obligations, our international obligations very seriously,” Nash said.
Legal criteria for approval of a satellite include that it will be operated safely, is consistent with New Zealand’s international obligations, does not pose a risk to national security, and is not contrary to New Zealand’s national interest.
Rocket Lab’s announcement that it would be launching the Gunsmoke-J came just a day after Air New Zealand came under fire for its work for the Saudi military. The Green Party condemned the announcement, with Tuiono saying “we should not be a launching pad for satellites for America’s military and intelligence agencies”. Security expert Dr Paul Buchanan said the launch, scheduled for mid-March from Rocket Lab’s Mahia Peninsula launch site, could make Mahia a military target.
3.30pm: Green MP tried twice to get emergency MIQ spot
It’s been revealed Green MP Ricardo Menéndez March tried to get an emergency spot in managed isolation two times, with both applications being rejected.
Menéndez March returned to New Zealand from Mexico after travelling abroad to be with sick family members.
According to Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins, as reported by Newshub, Menéndez March first applied for a room in MIQ as a person whose entry into the country was “time-critical for the purpose of delivering specialist health services required to prevent serious illness, injury or death; or the maintenance of essential health infrastructure.”
He then reportedly applied as someone where urgent travel was required for national security, national interest or law enforcement reasons.
National’s Covid-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop said it beggers belief. “It is extraordinary chutzpah for a new MP to claim they are critical to delivering public health services, or critical for national security. The emergency MIQ allocation is not meant to be for MPs trying it on to come home,” he said.
2.50pm: Bridges, Goldsmith, walk out of House after speaker stand-off
Senior National MPs have walked out of the House after a stand-off with speaker Trevor Mallard.
Mallard ruled that Paul Goldsmith would not have any further questions after he claimed not have seen or heard Mallard’s previous ruling.
After learning he would have no further questions, Goldsmith – along with Simon Bridges – chose to walk out.
According to Stuff’s Henry Cooke, Bridges could be heard calling Mallard a “twat”. Goldsmith said it was a “waste of time being here”.
In case you were wondering, there has been no prior use of the word “twat” in the House, according to the Hansard (although Winston Peters once referred to something as “twit-twat” in 2018).
2.20pm: OCR unchanged, ‘prolonged monetary stimulus necessary’
The Official Cash Rate will remain unchanged at 0.25%, the Reserve Bank has announced.
A statement from the central bank’s governor Adrian Orr said that while global economic activity has increased since November, “this lift… has been uneven both between and within countries”.
Orr said: “The initiation of global Covid-19 vaccination programmes is positive for future health and economic activity. The Committee agreed, however, that there remains a significant period before widespread immunity is achieved. In the meantime, economic uncertainty will remain heightened as international border restrictions continue.”
2.10pm: Former ZB talkback host returning to airwaves
Danny Watson is returning to the radio biz, taking over the afternoon slot on Magic Talk from Sean Plunket.
The 12-4pm show will be co-hosted with Leah Panapa, the radio network announced.
Watson hosted the same show on Newstalk ZB for 15 years until 2015. But, while he may be excited to get back behind the microphone – fans of Plunket are unhappy with the announcement.
Magic Talk’s Facebook page has been flooded with comments criticising Watson for being “too woke” and “touchy feely”.
“Not happy and about to ditch Magic Talk!!!!” another person wrote.
There are no new community cases of Covid-19 to report today, Chris Hipkins has announced. More than half of the Papatoetoe High School community has now been retested, with all results so far negative.
The final small group of people outstanding from first round of testing are being followed up, he said.
Ashley Bloomfield said there were two new cases in MIQ – one a historical case.
“It feels like another climb up on our rollercoaster ride, but it doesn’t need to be alarming,” Bloomfield said of yesterday’s events. He is confident the system is working as it should be at alert level one and said, while unsettling, it “does not need to be alarming.”
The ongoing follow-up of contacts in isolation will continue, he said. There are now 11 cases associated with this cluster, all in the Auckland quarantine facility. He confirmed genome sequencing showed the new cases were very closely related to the original cases.
Both cases A, the original schoolgirl, and I, the new student from yesterday, are closely genomically linked. The exact transition link hasn’t been determined but it’s likely to have occurred in a common area such as a bathroom or corridor, said Bloomfield.
The 126 close contacts associated with the first two households, cases A-H, have now returned negative tests apart from three – two infants and one person from the medical centre who has not been found.
Of the 1,496 casual plus contacts from the school, 1,487 have returned at least one negative tests. Over 600 students and staff were tested yesterday and 328 have been tested at the school today.
Six students haven’t been tested, who are actively being followed up, including house visits. Four close contacts outside the household of yesterday’s three cases have been identified. 874 people have phoned Healthline indicating they were at one of the locations of interest at the relevant times, said Bloomfield.
Regarding alert level changes, Bloomfield said he had formally sought advice on the subject and there is currently “no need” to advise around raising the alert levels. “It’s not dissimilar to the Northland situation we had several weeks ago, with a large number of places of interest that we were significantly able to follow-up.”
Emerging evidence about the new variants is being monitored, said Bloomfield, especially how some very close contacts have not been infected while a casual contact has. “This just seems to be the nature of this virus and particularly the new variants.”
Some people with the UK variant of the virus have reported muscle aches as opposed to the typical respiratory symptoms, Bloomfield said.
Asked whether the Papatoetoe High School community would be vaccinated as a priority, Hipkins said this was not being considered.
The case that worked at Kmart spent a limited amount of time face to face with customers, Bloomfield said, as she helped with click and collect.
Bloomfield said the latest advice he’d received was that it may be helpful for him to receive the vaccine soon, but that he would not want to jump the queue ahead of priority groups.
“I’ve had quite a lot of feedback, as has the ministry, that people would see that as a sign of my confidence in the vaccine,” he said. An update on when he will receive the jab will come in the following days. “We’re aware of the important role we have as role models,” said Hipkins, indicating that other MPs, elected officials and community leaders may be able to get the vaccine ahead of the public rollout.
Second batch of Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines arrives in NZ
The second batch of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines has arrived in New Zealand, Chris Hipkins says. The shipment arrived early in Auckland, ahead of schedule, yesterday.
“This shipment contained about 76,000 doses, and follows our first shipment of 60,000 doses that arrived last week. We expect further shipments of vaccine over the coming weeks,” Chris Hipkins said. “As with the first shipment, quality assurance and checks by Medsafe are underway.“
By the end of March, we’re due to receive a total of about 450,000 doses – enough to vaccinate 225,000 people with a two-dose course.
“The Ministry of Health is working with Pfizer/BioNTech to develop a delivery schedule for the vaccines that ensures a smooth rollout and scaling up of our immunisation programme as we rollout to the general public in mid-year.
“We started our immunisation programme to around 12,000 border and managed isolation and quarantine workers last Saturday, and once completed, we’ll begin vaccinating their household contacts,” Chris Hipkins said.
Meanwhile a shipment of 490,000 special-purpose needles also arrived yesterday, to help vaccination teams administer the vaccine safely.
1000 people have now received the vaccine, with 40 border workers at Christchurch airport becoming the first in the South Island to be vaccinated.
12.55pm: Hipkins, Bloomfield, to provide Covid-19 update
Chris Hipkins and Ashley Bloomfield are set to provide an update after the announcement of three new Covid-19 cases in the Auckland community yesterday.
12.40pm: Government celebrates helping ’12’ families into homes, National labels it ’embarrassing’
The housing minister is being criticised for posting a video hailing the success of the government’s progressive home ownership scheme – despite it helping just 12 families into homes since July.
Launched in July 2020, our Progressive Home Ownership Scheme has helped 12 families into their own new homes with more in the pipeline, & will get between 1,500 & 4,000 NZ families locked out of the housing market, into their own homes.#livestransformed @nzlabour pic.twitter.com/q4UX13Cxej
— Megan Woods (@Megan_Woods) February 23, 2021
The video prompted a scathing response from National, with housing spokesperson Nicola Willis calling it an embarrassment.
“The fact that the housing minister is showing off about it beggars belief,” Willis told Newshub. “It makes me think she’s completely out of touch with just how bad housing issues are in the community.”
Willis added: “It’s a total failure that the government announced a rent-to-buy scheme in 2017 in the prime minister’s speech from the throne, and yet here we are three-and-a-half years later and only 12 places have been delivered.”
She called a “scandal” and an “utter embarrassment”.
Despite just 12 families benefitting from the scheme, Megan Woods said the government is committed to fixing the housing crisis. “The housing crisis will take more time to fix and we are determined to do it,” she said.
11.45am: Bloomfield, Hipkins to hold 1pm press conference
Following the revelation that three new Covid-19 cases were detected in the community, Ashley Bloomfield and Chris Hipkins will front another 1pm press conference today.
The new cases are all genomically linked to the recent Papatoetoe outbreak, with Bloomfield today saying there would be no need for an alert level change. He was reassured by the obvious connection between cases.
One of the new cases – a teenager – works at an Auckland Kmart store that closed for an overnight deep clean, Bloomfield said. They were not a cashier and all of the store’s staff members were being treated as “casual plus” contacts.
As always, we’ll bring you the press conference live at 1pm where we are expecting the latest details on the new cases.
11.30am: Tova O’Brien joins Newshub Nation team
Newshub’s political editor Tova O’Brien is joining Newshub Nation as a co-host, Three has announced.
The broadcaster has been in the spotlight a lot over the past 12 months, thanks in part to her starring role during many of the 1pm Covid-19 pressers. See also: her dramatic take down of Jami-Lee Ross and this excellent Henry Oliver profile in Metro Magazine. Oh, and who could forget the moment she basically filmed her own episode of The Thick of It.
But I digress. Newshub Nation kicks off again this Saturday morning on Three.
On The Spinoff: Introducing Remember When…
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National’s leader Judith Collins has responded to one of her MPs calling the police commissioner a “wokester”.
Simon Bridges, a senior MP and former party leader, said the “softly, softly approach from our wokester commissioner” would see gang and gun violence continue to worsen.
On RNZ this morning, Collins said it’s not a term she would use herself. A quick google search, however, reveals several instances where Collins has labelled people or things “woke” – including school photography classes and media studies.
“I have spoken to Simon and I’ve made it clear that the focus needs to be on the government and the ministers and the fact that the ministers have promised extra police and yet the police have stopped recruiting,” Collins said this morning.
“I’ve always made it very clear we don’t attack the commissioners, it’s the ministers who set the agenda.”
Collins said her focus is on the growing number of gang members. “Frontline police are saying gang numbers have almost doubled in the last four years and police numbers are static and that’s simply not acceptable. We’ve got now almost 8000 patched gang members.”
10.00am: Wellington mayor announces review into council governance
Wellington’s mayor has announced a review into council governance following a “succession of incidents and comments”.
Andy Foster said it’s time for the infighting to stop, with Wellingtonians wanting councillors to get on with the job.
As reported by RNZ, Foster said while the local government minister had ruled out appointing a Crown commissioner for Wellington City Council as yet, it should be of concern to all members that it was even contemplated.
Two cases of the UK Covid variant reported in New Zealand – including one of the cases announced last week – have reported muscle aches and lethargy, Ashley Bloomfield said.
Most commonly, Covid-positive cases report respiratory symptoms like a cough and sore throat.
“This is the interesting thing and we have seen this now in the last few cases with this variant, not-typical symptoms,” Bloomfield told TVNZ. “I want to alert people to this that muscle aches and lethargy [can be symptoms of Covid].”
He added: “We saw this in the case in Northland, we’ve seen it out here and even our first case from this school… the young girl who thought her muscle aches were from walking around Mt Taranaki.”
8.20am: ‘Isn’t a no test situation’ – student at centre of latest Covid-19 outbreak had been tested, but just once
Papatoetoe High School’s principal said the student at the centre of the three latest cases had sought a test for Covid-19, despite reports to the contrary.
“It isn’t a ‘no’ test situation, it’s an early test,” Vaughan Couillault told TVNZ. The student who tested positive yesterday afternoon had first tested negative more than a week ago, he said. They had not received a follow-up test, however.
“When you talk to the person face to face, you get their story and you understand them,” he said.
Contact tracers finally got hold of the family on Sunday evening and they got tested on Monday, Couillault said.
More than 700 tests last were completed at the school last night and a queue has been forming since 7.30am this morning.
“If I was a gambling man I’d say we’re shut for the rest of the week,” he said, telling RNZ the earliest the school would open would be Monday. “I’m expecting anyone who was tested yesterday should get their results today,” he said. A number of staff had already tested negative.
Genome sequencing has confirmed the three new Covid-19 cases announced yesterday are linked to the recent Papaetoetoe cluster – and are not a new outbreak.
A “casual plus” contact of one of the original Auckland cases tested positive yesterday afternoon, followed by two of their siblings last night.
Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield told Newstalk ZB it was a good sign. “Our genome sequencing results in from overnight show a very direct link back to cases A and B, so that first student in the school, so that’s reassuring that we’re not dealing with a different potential line of transmission here.”
There was no reason, Bloomfield said, for an alert level change in Auckland. Yesterday was the first day the supercity had spent in level one since the Valentine’s Day outbreak.
“We had a really good discussion about this last night – I had a formal discussion with my chief science advisor and director of public health – we didn’t see any reason to go up alert levels,” Bloomfield said.
Last night, two new locations of interest were confirmed by the Ministry of Health: Kmart in Botany and a nearby vape store.
7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin
Several new community cases were announced in the Papatoetoe cluster yesterday, but at this stage the alert level appears to be staying at one. Our live updates has details of how the day unfolded. First a solitary new case was announced – a student at Papatoetoe High School who had not been at school since the outbreak last week. That person was a ‘casual plus contact’ of the original student to test positive, and had been advised to self-isolate.
However, later in the evening two siblings of that case also tested positive. The parents and a third older sibling have returned negative tests, and the family has been transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility, the ministry said. One of the subsequent cases has been working at Kmart in Botany on Friday 19 February and Saturday 20 February between 4pm and 10pm, and anyone who was in the store at those times is now also considered a ‘casual plus contact’. New locations of interest have been added to the ministry’s website. Papatoetoe High School remains closed, and the ministry is advising everyone in a school household to stay away from work or any other school, educational facility or community setting. Radio NZ reports exhausted community testing staff in South Auckland are now gearing up for another big push.
To give a sense of how suddenly the subsequent cases happened, Covid minister Chris Hipkins was on Newstalk ZB at 5pm, and said he had no knowledge of those subsequent cases, even when pressed on a rumour about them by host Heather du Plessis-Allan. However, wastewater testing is still indicating that there is no widespread outbreak in the area. It is expected that further updates will be given by ministers today.
Yesterday’s top stories
Three new cases of Covid-19, in the community, were announced. They were a “casual plus” contact of one of the initial Papatoetoe cases, and two of their siblings.
New child poverty stats show that things are improving, slightly, but that 125,000 children remain in material hardship.
Judith Collins said the woman in managed isolation who is refusing to get a Covid-19 test should have been sent back to Australia.
You’ll soon be able to take sick leave from your very first day in a new job. New leave and pay entitlements are on the way in 2022.