Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for February 26. All the latest news from New Zealand, updated throughout the day. Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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- New community Covid-19 case: Auckland KFC worker tests positive
- Simon Bridges denies leadership aspirations despite week of headline-grabbing comments
- National Party joins calls to vaccinate South Auckland first
3.00pm: Auckland KFC worker ‘should have’ stayed home – PM
Jacinda Ardern is warning New Zealanders of the “repercussions” for breaking the rules around Covid-19.
It was revealed today an Auckland KFC worker has tested positive for the coronavirus, after entering quarantine earlier this week (see the 1.45pm update).
Speaking to media, the prime minister said the latest case “should have” stayed home.
“Ultimately, we’re asking now of course now that we’re dealing with the fact that that situation arose, for everyone who may have come in contact to do the right thing, to make sure they’re isolating and make sure they’re testing,” Ardern said, according to Newshub. “That is how the rest of the country is able to stay at level one with all of their freedoms. They’re paying a price for everyone and doing the right thing for everyone.”
Ardern said that, like everyone, she was “frustrated” at the latest news. However, she said that even if people make the wrong decisions we need an environment where people still feel comfortable getting tested later.
“If there is a section 70 order, of course they are obliged. We actually have some legal footing for that and so there are repercussions,” Ardern said. “But actually, repercussions aren’t what we all want. We want people to do the right thing because that’s what keeps everyone safe. That’s how the team of 5 million have been so successful to date.”
2.15pm: Government to ‘confront tough decisions’ on housing – Robertson
Toby Manhire reports:
In tackling the crisis of a skyrocketing housing market, the government is ready to “confront some tough decisions”, said Grant Robertson at an Auckland Business Chamber speech this afternoon.
And, he said, “we will do that in the coming weeks”. It comes after yesterday’s formal directive to the Reserve Back to consider the housing market in its OCR decision making.
Robertson did not specify just what those further measures might involve but stressed the need, in a property market that has swollen in median price by an almost 20% in a year, to “tilt the balance in favour of first home buyers and away from speculators”.
In the speech, which comes almost a year after the first case of Covid hit New Zealand, Robertson told the business audience that the plan in the response to the pandemic had been vindicated, and while he was eager to open borders as soon as possible, the gains should not be imperilled, and economic advantages had been built on the public health response.
A KFC staffer who worked a shift on the day they went into quarantine has tested positive for Covid-19, the Ministry of Health has announced. The latest case – Case L – has direct links to the recent Auckland Covid-19 cluster; they are a household contact of cases I, J and K.
They were tested for Covid-19 on arrival into quarantine on Tuesday and returned a negative result, the ministry said.
They then developed symptoms and later returned a positive test. As the person was possibly infectious for up to 48 hours prior to developing symptoms, Case L’s workplace is being treated as a location of interest.
Case L worked at KFC Botany Downs between Monday February 22 3.30pm and 12.30am on Tuesday February 23 – the same day they were moved to quarantine.
There are three categories of contacts related to the KFC exposure event. All contacts should call Healthline.
11 KFC staff are being treated as close plus contacts as they worked at the same time as Case L. These people will be tested and required to isolate for 14 days along with their household contacts.
Members of the public who entered the store during the time Case L was working are considered close contacts and should isolate at home for the remainder of the 14 day period (until 8 March), and be tested on day five (tomorrow) and day 12.
Members of the public who went through the KFC drive through at the same time are casual plus contacts and should isolate at home until a negative day five test result is returned. For these contacts day five is tomorrow so they should get tested tomorrow and remain isolated until they get their test result.
“We are asking anyone affected by this latest KFC exposure event to get tested tomorrow, not today, to limit waiting times at testing centres. All contacts should call Healthline,” the ministry said.
“Detailed advice about the actions required for the different categories of contacts is provided on the Ministry of Health website.”
Meanwhile, there are 2 new cases of Covid-19 in managed isolation and one new community case, a person linked to the Auckland February cases and who has been in quarantine from Tuesday 23 February to report today.
Progress with tests at Papatoetoe High School
Just one of Case A’s 31 close contacts from the school has tested positive for Covid-19 (Case D). All others have tested negative, said the ministry.
“All the remaining students and staff at the school have been designated as Casual Plus contacts of Case A.”
There have been 1,537 casual plus contacts.
As at 8am this morning, excluding the three positive cases (Case E, I and J), 1,520 have returned at least one negative test result since 15 February.
“All casual plus contacts have been undergoing a follow-up test on or after February 22. So far, all results from the additional testing have been negative.
“We continue to work closely with the school to ensure all staff and students are tested. Where necessary, this includes visits to students homes to make sure people are getting the support they need to access testing and remain isolated.”
Kmart Botany contacts
A total of 32 staff members have been identified as close plus contacts at the Kmart Botany store where a confirmed Covid-19 case worked. “This number has increased from that previously reported after further investigation on their contact with the case. All these people have been contacted and are self isolating.”
There are currently 24 negative test results from this group; testing of others is being done at the appropriate time.
“We have also been contacted by 1,742 people who reported being at the store at the times of interest. They have been provided with public health advice,” the ministry said. “These people have been asked to isolate for 14 days and be tested at day five and day 12 after their exposure to the case. We currently have 1,073 negative test results for this group.”
Anyone who has visited the store at the times of interest is advised to contact Healthline. Those that have received a text with their initial Covid test result should continue to follow the advice above.
1.40pm: Covid-19 update expected
We’re still waiting on today’s Ministry of Health press release that was due to go out 45 minutes ago.
Yesterday, there were no new community cases of Covid-19 however three were reported in managed isolation. The ministry also provided information, following a Spinoff report, about an open home where the tenant later tested positive for the coronavirus.
We’ll have all you need to know ASAP!
12.30pm: Queen asks people to ‘think about other people’ and get vaccinated
The Queen has urged people to get the Covid-19 vaccine when given the opportunity, saying she feels “protected” now she’s had the jab.
The 94-year-old monarch made the comments while on a Zoom call with UK health leaders, according to the BBC.
The monarch said people should “think about other people rather than themselves” when deciding whether or not to get vaccinated. “It was very quick, and I’ve had lots of letters from people who’ve been very surprised by how easy it was to get the vaccine.”
She added: “It didn’t hurt at all”.
The Queen’s comments have made front page news in the UK, with the Daily Mail saying she had implied it was selfish not to get the vaccine. The tabloid called it an “historic” intervention by the monarch.
— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) February 25, 2021
11.35am: Three-day lockdown cost Auckland retailers $44m
New Paymark figures show the recent three-day stint in alert level three cost Auckland retailers $44 million in lost earnings.
As RNZ reported, the numbers show that cafes, restaurants and bars were most affected by the lockdown, with a 21% decrease in spending. Supermarkets experienced a small rise, however, but not enough to offset the overall losses.
For the rest of the country – which spent the same time in alert level two – spending dropped by $6 million, or 2%.
A fall in dairy and meat sales has led to a 10 point drop in total goods exports in January 2021 compared to the same time last year.
Stats NZ’s international trade manager Alasdair Allen said the $486 million fall in exports was “the largest year-on-year fall” since March 2016.
Milk powder was down $97 million, with butter down $62 million, and whey by $31 million from January 2020.
Exports of dairy were the largest fall for the US in January 2021, specifically exports of whey,” Allen said. “This is the fifth consecutive month this season where monthly dairy exports were lower than the corresponding month a year ago.”
China was the only one of our top trading partners to see a rise in January, added Allen.
Simon Bridges has rejected claims he’s hoping to become National Party leader once again, amid headlining grabbing antics over gangs.
The senior MP has been in the media more than Judith Collins this week, after labelling the police commissioner a “wokester” and hitting back at experts over gang numbers. He also called House Speaker Trevor Mallard a “twat”.
Asked on the AM Show this morning, Bridges said: “I don’t want to be leader. I just want to say what I think’s going on in New Zealand.”
Bridges said Collins was doing a good job as leader, despite her comments that Bridges should not be criticising a public servant. He repeated his line from yesterday that the only person who reprimands him is his wife, Natalie.
As an aside:
I just noticed something pic.twitter.com/8bYzRkKhud
— Tim McCready (@Tim_McCready) February 25, 2021
9.45am: Robertson argues government has made ‘huge’ efforts to increase housing supply
Grant Robertson has defended the government’s track record on housing in a fiery interview with John Campbell.
Yesterday, the finance minister directed the Reserve Bank to take housing into account in all its financial policy making. Robertson said the government has made “huge” efforts over the last three years to increase the amount of housing supply.
“Have you? What are the huge efforts? Sorry minister, what are the huge efforts? Huge is a big word,” Campbell said.
“The bit that the government controls, which is the building of state houses, public houses, we’ve actually seen more of that than any government since the 1970s,” Robertson responded. “We’re on track with the extra money we’ve put into build around 18,000 state houses over the next few years.”
There’s political pressure mounting on the government to vaccinate the wider South Auckland community ahead of the general public rollout.
The community has felt the impact of the most recent outbreak of Covid-19, with families linked to Papatoetoe High School testing positive.
Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins hasn’t ruled out targeting South Auckland – but said nothing has been confirmed yet.
“It’s quite possible that South Auckland will be one of the earlier geographical areas that we focus in on but again, we’ve got a little bit more work to do before we get to that point,” he told RNZ.
“The airport is at South Auckland and a lot of the people who are working in those jobs live in South Auckland and so them and their families are going to be very highly represented.”
National’s Shane Reti, however, said that shouldn’t stop the rest of South Auckland also being able to access the Pfizer vaccine early.
“The proportion of Māori and Pasifika border workers in our biggest city Manukau is small, not enough for us to say, ‘whew, we don’t need to do that community’,” he said.
Reti advocated for ranking regions for the vaccine: “I think those areas that are at high deprivation index should be the areas that are preferentially vaccinated, regardless of your ethnicity, solely on the basis that over-crowding increases the risk of transmission and these are the over-crowding areas – that’s South Auckland,” he said.
7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin
Finance minister Grant Robertson will be requiring the Reserve Bank to consider the impact on house prices when setting interest rates. With prices currently rising out of control, one reason often given for that is because money is so cheap, with the low interest rates. As Interest reports, the remit calls for the Reserve Bank to “support more sustainable house prices, including by dampening investor demand for existing housing stock, which would improve affordability for first-home buyers”. It follows an episode last year, in which Robertson politely asked the Reserve Bank to do something like this, and was equally politely rebuffed.
But how can the Reserve Bank achieve this, and is this just Robertson passing the buck? Some argue that the house price crisis is caused more than anything else by a lack of supply, which the government itself shares some responsibility for. On the demand side, speculators and investors are pushing prices ever-higher, with the prospect of the untaxed capital gains from houses being more attractive than any other form of investment. Robertson said yesterday this was just the first step the government would take in trying to cool the housing market.
It also means the Reserve Bank could have competing priorities. As foolish as such an approach would be, mass unemployment would probably bring down house prices. Right now the main goals of the Reserve Bank are controlling inflation, and maintaining sustainable employment levels – this new remit on housing is intended to slot in behind those on the priority list. So that all raises the question – will squaring this particular circle actually be possible? An opinion piece by Stuff’s political editor Luke Malpass concluded with a line that sums up the broader issue – “the problem is that every intervention will have an effect somewhere else in the system.”
Either way, the Reserve Bank currently expects house price inflation to slow in 2022 anyway. Business Desk’s (paywalled) Rebecca Howard reports the bank’s chief economist told a parliamentary select committee that “all of the factors boosting house prices will either diminish or turn around,” particularly on the supply side. But none of that will change the fact that the horse bolted long ago on this, and now we’re living with the consequences.
National MP Simon Bridges has clashed repeatedly this week with police commissioner Andrew Coster, culminating in a select committee showdown. As Stuff’s Henry Cooke reports, the key questions were around increases in gang member numbers, and the more nebulous concept of ‘policing by consent’. Coster insisted that the focus on preventing and punishing crime was as strong as it had ever been, particularly on gangs, but that the police had to make strategic decisions to avoid alienating the public. Just on those gang numbers, there are questions around whether the increased member figures are wholly accurate, with gang expert Dr Jarrod Gilbert telling Radio NZ that the nature of how the list is calculated makes growth almost inevitable.
The immigration minister Kris Faafoi is under pressure over critical migrant health workers being unable to bring families in, reports Newshub’s Tova O’Brien. And there’s a big inconsistency in the rules, in that critical workers are now able to bring families in – so those who arrived last year could go through the hassle of leaving and coming back to be reunited, but not simply have their families come into the country unaccompanied. One thing that jumps out from this story is how many individual anecdotes it contains – this is not an isolated problem, and a sizable chunk of the critical workforce is affected. Faafoi is currently refusing to commit to fixing it, on said he doesn’t want to give out “false hope”.
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