Passengers wearing face masks at Auckland Airport (Photo: Getty Images)
Passengers wearing face masks at Auckland Airport (Photo: Getty Images)

SocietyJune 29, 2020

Live updates, June 29: Two new cases in managed isolation; $150 million of PPE funding announced

Passengers wearing face masks at Auckland Airport (Photo: Getty Images)
Passengers wearing face masks at Auckland Airport (Photo: Getty Images)

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.

The Spinoff’s coverage of the Covid-19 outbreak is made possible thanks to donations from Spinoff Members. To support this work, join The Spinoff Members here

7pm: The day in sum

Two new cases of Covid-19 were detected in managed isolation facilities, bringing the total number of active cases to 22.

Passengers arriving in New Zealand will now be required to wear masks from the time they step off the plane until they reach their room at the managed isolation facility, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said.

$150 million of additional funding for PPE was announced with a firm focus on consistent supply and use for frontline border, airline, and managed isolation/quarantine facility workers.

The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases worldwide ticked over the 10 million mark, according to the Johns Hopkins University case tracker, while the number of Covid-19 related deaths passed 500,000.

National Party MP Paula Bennett announced she will be retiring from politics at this year’s election to pursue a new career in “the business world”.

5.30pm: NZ could have the ‘gayest parliament in the world’

New Zealand is poised to elect the “gayest parliament in the world”, according to a report by SBS News/AAP. There are currently seven out-and-proud MPs which will swell to nine on the basis of current polling. This could increase to 11 MPs should the Greens increase its vote on election day in September.

Nine rainbow MPs in New Zealand’s 120-seat House of Representatives would put us above the UK, which has 45 open members in its 650-member House of Commons.

Labour has five gay MPs, including Louisa Wall, Meka Whaitiri, Tamati Coffey, Kiri Allan, and Grant Robertson. On the basis of Ardern’s sky-high popularity, Labour’s next rainbow caucus would be joined by epidemiologist and Covid-19 adviser Ayesha Verrall and Northcote hopeful Shanan Halbert.

The Greens have two queer MPs, Jan Logie and Chloe Swarbrick. If the party manages to reach 8% on election day, LGBTQI+ activist Elizabeth Kerekere and anti-poverty campaigner Ricardo Menendez March would also become MPs and join the rainbow caucus.

National has no LGBTQI+ representatives and a party spokesperson said they had no gay candidates in winnable seats. “It is not something I’m particularly focused on, ensuring that we find someone who may or may not represent the LGBTI community,” said party leader Todd Muller.

4.50pm: Keeping border shut ‘untenable’ in long term – Muller

National leader Todd Muller has said New Zealand would be “on its knees” if it waited for a vaccine to be developed or for other countries to completely kill community transmission, reports Stuff.

“A strategy that says we stay completely closed to everybody for the next 12 to 18 months is simply untenable. We won’t recognise this country in terms of economic impact,” he said.

In order to prevent this, Muller said New Zealand needed a way for travellers to prove they were Covid-19 free, although he couldn’t say exactly how this would work.

Muller’s comments follow Newstalk ZB host Mike Hosking this morning calling for a reopening of New Zealand’s borders to tourists. He criticised the government’s cautious approach, noting that with tourists in Europe busy jetting “off to Benidorm”, New Zealand was at risk of missing out.

4.10pm: $150 million of PPE funding announced

Jacinda Ardern has announced an additional $150 million for the purchase of PPE from the Covid Response and Recovery Fund with a firm focus on consistent supply and use for frontline border, airline, and managed isolation/quarantine facility workers. This additional funding builds on the $200 million allocated to PPE in April.

“This latest funding will help protect health and other frontline workers and ensure that our strict isolation and quarantine procedures are maintained,” she said. “It will ensure health workers, who wear comprehensive PPE when they are in close contact with returnees as they do swabbing and health checks, continue to receive it. Face masks and gloves must also be available to other workers at the facilities – and returnees will also be required to wear face masks when they are in common or exercise areas.”

“We will also be ensuring that Air New Zealand has access to face masks for passengers flying into the country.”

Reiterating what Dr Ashley Bloomfield announced earlier today, Ardern said those in managed isolation would now have to wear masks on the journey from the plane to the facility, and when not in their room. “PPE use has been in play, our concern is it has not been consistent within our facilities and that’s what we are working to fix.” She also confirmed the government was looking at keeping those in managed isolation confined to their rooms for the first three days of their stay.

On this point, Megan Woods, the minister who has oversight of the managed isolation and quarantine facilities, said: “the clear expectation is people are in their rooms anyway – it’s not like people are just wandering around the facilities – but I know both Dr Bloomfield and Air Commodore Webb are interested to see if we could put more of a framework around that.”Pointing to an incident whereby someone tested negative on day three and positive on day 12, Woods said the test wasn’t a guarantee. “The strict enforcement of procedures of physical distancing will remain vitally important”.

Asked by The Spinoff’s politics editor Justin Giovannetti whether people arriving in New Zealand could be asked to contribute to the cost of their hotel isolation, the prime minister said that was a “very complex” matter, given the expectation that citizens should not be prevented from returning home. They would only be moving “cautiously” on the issue, she said. However, it would be a “very different situation” for people who left New Zealand for a trip overseas on the expectation that they would return and spend a public-funded fortnight in a hotel, said Ardern, adding that there could be action on that front more quickly.

On the failures of the border management system, highlighted in yesterday’s report, Ardern said: “we will have issues to fix as we go and it is right that these concerns are raised. You will not find a harsher critic than me when things aren’t perfect in our system, but it’s important these issues are put in perspective and examined alongside the facts and in the global context”.

On Paula Bennett’s departure from politics, Ardern said, “I saw the joint piece she did with Tom Sainsbury, which I think just demonstrates the spirit in which Paula has approached politics – she’s always had an ability in a very difficult environment to keep her sense of humour, but she’s also a very experienced person and I imagine that will be felt as a loss in the National Party.”

4.00pm: PM talks to media after cabinet meeting

Watch here:

3.00pm: Ticket sales a beacon of hope for ‘gig economy’

Ticket sales to live music events this month show New Zealanders are frothing for local tunes at unprecedented levels. At the beginning of June, six Orchestra Wellington concerts sold out. In a couple of weeks’ time, the Beths will play to a packed-out Powerstation in Auckland. Soon after, Wellington’s TSB Arena will host a massive rave. L.A.B. has sold out Spark Arena, as has Benee – twice. She’s also sold out Wellington’s Shed 6 thrice over. And music festivals this summer are expected to be packed with New Zealand artists, as well as other local workers.

Read more about the transformative opportunity the current “gig economy” has for the New Zealand music scene here

2.00pm: Today’s charts

1.30pm: Covid-19 numbers in Victoria highest in three months

The curve continues to go in the wrong direction in the Australian state of Victoria, where 75 cases were recorded in the last 24 hours, the state health minister has just announced. It’s the highest reported number since March 31, and the fourth highest overall.

More than half of those cases, 37, were detected in the community after testing was ramped up in the worst affected suburbs. Fourteen are linked to known outbreaks, one is in hotel managed isolation and 23 are under investigation.

1.00pm: Two new cases in managed isolation

Two new cases of Covid-19 have been detected in managed isolation, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield has announced.

Both of today’s cases have been in managed isolation since arriving in New Zealand. The first is a man in his 50s who arrived from India on June 24. He was diagnosed after day three testing. The second is a woman in her 20s who arrived from the United States on June 18. She is the wife of a previous case who tested positive on June 22, and was already in quarantine as a close contact.

These new cases bring the number of active cases to 22, all detected at the border. New Zealand has now had 1,178 confirmed cases in total.

Yesterday, 2,574 tests were completed, bringing the total to date to 395,510.

The new case reported yesterday remains in Auckland City Hospital in a stable condition. Asked how the man went from having no symptoms (he was in managed isolation, rather than quarantine) to requiring hospital treatment and subsequently testing positive for Covid-19, Bloomfield said he believed the man’s symptoms could have been related to a pre-existing condition.

The ministry has still not been able to get hold of 367 people who left managed isolation between June 9 and June 16, Bloomfield said. A further 1,269 people have been contacted and have tested negative for Covid-19.

Bloomfield said it was “frustrating” that so many people tracked down by the government hadn’t returned numerous calls, texts and emails, reiterating their obligation to get in touch.

Masks now required for arrivals

Bloomfield said he welcomed yesterday’s review into managed isolation and quarantine facilities and is working closely with Air Commodore Webb on implementing a number of recommendations that relate to the health aspects of managed isolation.

He said he and Air Commodore Webb had discussed the PPE recommendations in the report and were making some changes. This includes a new requirement for people in managed isolation to wear a mask from the time they leave the aircraft until arriving at their hotel room. Masks would also be worn by those in managed isolation whenever they were outside of their room, such as in reception areas.

He said the Ministry of Health had “a team on the ground” in Auckland last week who carried out an in-depth review of the health aspects of managed isolation, separate to the one released yesterday, which was commissioned by housing minister Megan Woods. The report will be finalised this week.

Bloomfield said they had sent someone to Los Angeles to review the procedures for air crew that were staying over in the city between flights. “Everything looked very good and tight”, he said, but he was awaiting a full report.

Flowers received

The press conference finished with Bloomfield asked whether he’d had any floral deliveries. “I’ve received some flowers,” he said. “Thank you very much.”

12.45pm: Watch Ashley Bloomfield’s media briefing here

12.00pm: Covid update at 1

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield will hold a media briefing at 1pm today. He’ll say if there’s any new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, and probably talk a bit about the report into managed isolation facilities that was released yesterday. You’ll be able to watch a live stream of it all here.

11.45am: Goldsmith admits he didn’t understand Green Party tax policy when criticising it

National Party finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith has admitted that a statement he released yesterday criticising the Green Party’s new tax policy was based on a misunderstanding. 

“Right at the very bottom [of the Green Party documents], there was a table that made the point that what they’re talking about is a tax of over $1 million,” Goldsmith told RNZ this morning. “I quite frankly admit I got it wrong … but when you look at the details in the press statement and all the policy documents it’s not clear as to where the threshold came through.”

Goldsmith said he still disagrees with the Green Party policy now that he properly understands it. “[The National Party’s] simple view is that at a time when our economy is going down, we don’t need more taxes,” he said.

11.00am: Paula Bennett retiring from politics

National MP Paula Bennett has announced she won’t be standing in this year’s election.

“The whole thing has been a hell of a ride and I have loved it,” she said this morning, announcing her retirement from politics after 15 years in parliament. “Now it is time for the next chapter. I am excited to take the skills I have out of parliament and into the business world. I have always wanted another career after politics and now is the right time for me to go and pursue that.” She said she didn’t have anything lined up yet and was “open to opportunities”.

Bennett first entered parliament as a list MP after the 2005 election, and spent two terms each as the MP for the Waitakere and Upper Harbour electorates. She served as deputy leader of the National Party from 2016 until May this year, when Todd Muller replaced Simon Bridges as leader with Nikki Kaye as his deputy. Bennett was ranked number 13 on the new National list.

Bennett said this morning that she was “particularly proud” of her work as minister for social development and Child Youth and Family.

Read Toby Manhire’s report here and Alex Braae’s report from Hobsonville here

9.30am: Volume of returning New Zealanders expected to increase

New Zealand’s head of managed isolation, air commodore Darryn Webb, expects the numbers of people returning home from overseas will continue to increase. “Early on we were seeing 20 flights a week with low loadings, maybe 10 percent of the normal capacity,” he told RNZ’s Morning Report. “That’s grown now to 30 flights per week with 30 percent loading, so it is growing rapidly.”

Webb said policy settings would need to be looked at to regulate arrivals. “That is being addressed by government and they will be taking things through cabinet in the next few weeks,” he said. At the moment New Zealand’s managed isolation system has capacity for 5,764 people.

8.25am: Woodhouse says ‘homeless man’ story wasn’t made up, but won’t say it was true

National Party health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse has defended his story about a homeless man sneaking in to stay at a managed isolation hotel, denying that he made it up but stopping short of saying it was true.

Last week director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said the story appeared to be an “urban myth” after government investigations couldn’t find any evidence of it happening. Housing minister Megan Woods called on Woodhouse to share his evidence that it had happened, but he didn’t respond.

Woodhouse told TVNZ’s Breakfast this morning the fact the government had taken the time to investigate his claim “suggests very strongly that it could have [happened]”. Asked if the story was true, Woodhouse said “I have never said that I can prove it,” but insisted it had come from a “reliable source”. “My job is to highlight the inconsistencies in the process and hold the government to account,” he said.

8.00am: Ardern defends health duo’s relationship, rejects claims Bloomfield was ‘thrown under bus’

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern says health minister David Clark and director general of health Ashley Bloomfield have a “collaborative and collegial” relationship, and there was more to last week’s viral Newshub interview than had made it to air. Ardern told Newstalk ZB this morning that she had seen the clip, but said “I also know the full transcript of what happened in the interview and the elements that weren’t included … that included Dr Clark talking about what an exceptional public servant Ashley was.” 

Asked by host Mike Hosking if Bloomfield had deserved to be “thrown under the bus” by Clark, the prime minister said “what Dr Clark said was no different to what Dr Bloomfield said only 48 hours before. No one here is placing blame at any individual’s foot for something that was a systems failure and that we are all working really well collectively together to resolve.”

Ardern denied speculation from many observers, including National Party body language expert Michael Woodhouse, that the health duo’s relationship had turned sour. “Both Dr Bloomfield and Dr Clark have worked together exceptionally well,” she said. “I have sat in meetings with these individuals frequently … I know the collaborative, collegial working relationship they have.”

7.45am: World reaches 10 millionth confirmed case of Covid-19

The number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 worldwide has reached a grim new milestone, with the Johns Hopkins University case tracker ticking over 10 million confirmed cases worldwide overnight. There have been just under 500,000 global deaths from the virus. Over a quarter of all confirmed cases and deaths are now recorded in the US. 

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

Four new cases of Covid-19 were reported in New Zealand, all recent returnees from overseas who were in managed isolation. One of them, a man in his 30s, is receiving hospital treatment.

The government’s Review of Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) was released, revealing “a system under extreme stress”.

The royal commission of inquiry into the Christchurch mosque attacks revealed it had interviewed the man responsible for the shootings.

The Green Party announced its first policy of election year: a “poverty action plan” including a guaranteed minimum income of $325 a week.

The Act Party unveiled a revamped party list, revealing a new deputy leader and a gun lobbyist at number three.

Read the weekend’s live updates here

Keep going!