The effects of the drought on the Lower Nihotupu Dam in the Waitākere Ranges (Photo: Supplied)
The effects of the drought on the Lower Nihotupu Dam in the Waitākere Ranges (Photo: Supplied)

SocietyJune 30, 2020

Live updates, June 30: Auckland’s use of Waikato River fast-tracked; PM says opening borders too dangerous

The effects of the drought on the Lower Nihotupu Dam in the Waitākere Ranges (Photo: Supplied)
The effects of the drought on the Lower Nihotupu Dam in the Waitākere Ranges (Photo: Supplied)

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.

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7.00pm: The day in sum

New Zealand recorded no new cases of Covid-19, for the first time since June 19. This means our total active case count is still 22.

The Apec leaders summit and surrounding events that Auckland was set to host in November 2021 has been replaced with an entirely virtual event. New Zealand will remain the official host.

Drought-stricken Auckland’s application to the Waikato Regional Council to take an extra 200 million litres of water a day from the Waikato River will be fast-tracked by the government.

New Zealand is on the list of 14 “safe” countries that will be exempt from Europe’s travel ban from July 1. Anyone travelling to Europe to from New Zealand would still need to complete a fortnight in managed isolation or quarantine upon their return.

Newshub published an audio recording of fisheries minister Stuart Nash blaming pressure from NZ First for the delay in putting cameras on fishing boats. In response NZ First issued a press release denouncing the report as “clickbait” – hours before the programme aired.

Chinese pigs have been discovered to be harbouring a new strain of swine flu, which “could mutate further so that it can spread easily from person to person, and trigger a global outbreak”, according to the BBC.

5.45pm: Foreign nationals in hardship to start getting payouts

Non-residents stranded in New Zealand and facing serious hardship will be able to apply for in-kind assistance from tomorrow, the Department of Internal Affairs has announced. From July 1, foreign nationals can apply at for help meeting basic needs such as food and accommodation. The payments will be made by the NZ Red Cross on behalf on the government and will go directly to third parties such as landlords or power companies. No cash payments will be made.

As well as payments for food and accommodation, support is also being offered for

  • Household goods
  • Blankets, hot water bottles and basic clothing
  • Over-the-counter medication
  • Utilities (electricity, gas). Excludes internet and broadband connection and plans
  • Prepaid phone cards to enable emergency communication and communication with consulate/embassy
  • Petrol/travel (limited to travel required to shift to new location for employment purposes or to an airport to leave New Zealand)

The $37.6m scheme was originally announced earlier this month as the Assistance to Foreign Nationals Impacted by Covid-19 Programme.

4.30pm: Antarctic ice researchers win $500k science prize

A group of scientists behind the break-through discovery that Antarctica’s ice melted rapidly in the past – and that a tipping point in the Antarctic ice sheet may be crossed if global temperatures are allowed to rise by more than 2℃ – has won the 2019 Prime Minister’s Science Prize, worth $500,000.

In August 2019 a team of more than 20 scientists from Victoria University of Wellington, GNS Science and NIWA published research showing that during the Pliocene era three million years ago up to a third of Antarctica’s ice sheets melted, causing the sea level to rise as much as 20m above present levels.

“The Pliocene was the last time atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations were above 400 parts per million and Earth’s temperature was 2°C warmer than pre-industrial times. We show that warming of more than 2°C could set off widespread melting in Antarctica once again and our planet could be hurtling back to the future, towards a climate that existed three million years ago,” wrote two of the study’s authors at the time.

The prize was announced online this afternoon, following the event’s postponement in March 2020 due to the pandemic.

3.10pm: Consent for Auckland’s use of Waikato River water to be fast-tracked

Environment minister David Parker has fast-tracked Auckland’s application to the Waikato Regional Council to take an extra 200 million litres of water a day from the lower reaches of the Waikato River.

According to a press release from Parker’s office, he has “called in” the application, meaning it’s been referred to a board of inquiry under Part 6AA of the Resource Management Act 1991 and won’t have to go through the full RMA process.

Auckland mayor Phil Goff had pitched for the application to be fast-tracked as part of the government’s Covid recovery process, but the Waikato-Tainui iwi had objected.

“The future sources of drinking water for Auckland are a matter of national significance,” said Parker in the press release. “The application obviously affects Auckland, but also other activities in the Waikato and the river itself.”

Auckland has been facing its worst drought in 25 years and Watercare has already used its emergency powers to draw an extra 15 million litres of water a day from the Waikato River.

2.40pm: PM says calls to open borders ‘frankly dangerous’

The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has responded to calls for New Zealand to open its borders, saying anyone pushing for such a move while the pandemic is escalating is irresponsible.

Speaking to media at her now daily press conference, Ardern said New Zealand was in a privileged position due to its “hard-won gains”, and opening the borders would come at a potential price, but added that opening up more to Australia and the Pacific was being considered.

Ardern also said four more managed isolation facilities were set to open to accommodate increasing numbers of New Zealanders returning from overseas. The number of people in quarantine or managed isolation is currently 4,858, she said, with capacity for 6,103. The extra capacity would soon be filled as demand ramped up.

2.15pm: New index launched to monitor NZ economic recovery

Treasury today launched a new tool to monitor the impacts of Covid-19 on New Zealand’s economy and how its recovery is tracking – the New Zealand Activity Index (NZAC). A collaboration with Stats NZ and the Reserve Bank, NZAC summarises eight monthly indicators of economic activity, covering consumer spending, unemployment, job vacancies, traffic volumes, electricity generation, economic outlook and manufacturing expectations. The first edition shows that activity in April 2020 was 19% down on the same month last year and, even though activity bounced back in May, it still remained 6.5% down on May 2019. The May rebound was driven largely by sharp bounces in electronic card spending and light and heavy traffic movements (all up more than 80% on activity in April). The NZAC will be published each month on the Treasury website.

1.45pm: Today’s Covid-19 data, visualised

1.00pm: No new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand today

There are no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand today, according to a press release from the Ministry of Health.

This means the number of active cases in New Zealand remains at 22 and our total number of confirmed cases of remains at 1,178. All active cases have recently returned from overseas and are in managed isolation facilities.

One person remains in Auckland City Hospital in a stable condition on a ward, said the release.

Yesterday laboratories completed 1,960 tests, bringing the total number of tests completed to date to 397,470. This includes testing at managed isolation facilities and community-based testing across the country. The seven day rolling daily test average is 6,950. 

The release also had an update about PPE supplies, which the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, yesterday announced was receiving an additional $150m in funding.

In the release, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said at current usage rates, New Zealand has a minimum of three months’ stock of all PPE items required to deal with Covid-19. “We are ensuring we have sufficient stocks here in New Zealand to give us a buffer if supply chains are disrupted,” he said. “Some items of PPE such as gloves are in short supply globally. We are working with infection prevention control specialists to ensure the correct PPE is being used and that where appropriate alternatives exist, these are used.”

Bloomfield said that PPE is still being brought into New Zealand in case there is an increase in infections, and in the last two weeks, 63 million items arrived. He also said there are plenty of testing supplies.

The release also had an update on the people who left managed isolation between June 9 and 16 without being tested – as was the case yesterday, the ministry has still been unable to get hold of 367 of them.

12.45pm: Covid-19 case numbers to be updated

There’s no Dr Bloomfield media stand-up today, but the Ministry of Health will be providing an update via email at around 1pm. We’ll bring you all the details as soon as they land.

12.05pm: Apec 2021 will be digital-only

The government has announced that the Apec leaders summit and surrounding events will no longer take place in Auckland, instead “going virtual”. The event, for which organisers have had to scramble to find venues following the fire at the in-construction Sky Convention Centre, would have been a boon for the hotel, events and hospitality sectors.

The foreign affairs minister, Winston Peters, said the decision to cancel the physical event, which would have seen representatives from the 21-country Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation travel to Auckland, was a “pragmatic” response to the Covid-19 crisis.

“Covid-19 has seriously impacted how we conduct international diplomacy. That includes hosting Apec. As has occurred with many other international government-to-government events, Apec21 will proceed using virtual digital platforms,” he said in a statement.

“Given the current global environment, planning to have such a large volume of high-level visitors in New Zealand from late 2020 onwards is impractical. For planning and security reasons, we had to make a call on our Apec hosting now. It wasn’t practical to wait for many more months till a clearer picture of the virus’ spread emerged. While Leaders’ Week isn’t till November 2021, if we had hosted an in-person Apec we would have seen thousands of people entering NZ from late 2020 onwards, some from Covid-19 hotspots. We simply couldn’t guarantee these people would be able to enter New Zealand without being quarantined.”

Apec 2019, scheduled to be hosted by Chile, was cancelled owing to protests and social unrest in the country. Early meetings in the 2020 edition, for which the host is Malaysia, will be run via teleconferencing, but they’re yet to announce the fate of leaders’ week.

The last time New Zealand hosted Apec, people got very excited about the attendance of Bill Clinton. We digress, but thought you’d want to know the NZ Herald reported that the president went on a “shopping spree”, with one bystander saying, he had “an eye for a pretty girl”. Among Clinton’s purchases was “a black pottery cat as a fun present for a mystery person”.

11.55am: NZ’s big economic challenge still to come, says Robertson

Despite a rapid bounce back following lockdown and success in keeping Covid-19 out of the community, New Zealand’s economy continued to face severe challenges, Grant Robertson has said. Speaking on Bloomberg’s Inside Track webinar series, the finance minister said New Zealand was in a strong position relative to the rest of the world and was still able to borrow, but rising Covid-19 cases overseas meant borders would stay closed and significant economic opportunities would not be available for some time.

“We have a challenging couple of quarters ahead of us, no one will deny that, but what we are pleased about is the fact that the fiscal response we’ve made, monetary policy response that’s been made are cushioning the blow for New Zealanders and are seeing us with slightly better projections.”

Kiwibank chief economist Jarrod Kerr said the post-lockdown bounce-back is a “sugar rush” and the worst was still to come. He said the Reserve Bank’s Large Scale Asset Purchasing programme would need to be doubled from $60b to $120b in order help the economy recover.

While he said New Zealand’s image as a safe haven was spreading throughout the world, there was little chance to fully capitalise on it until the borders could be reopened. “We look fantastic compared to most countries, but we’ve got a lot of damage here that we have to work our way through.”

11.30am: ‘I’m proud I said seig heil’ – Tamihere

Godwin’s law continues its incursion into in New Zealand politics today, with Māori Party co-leader John Tamihere doubling down on the widely condemned comments he directed at Auckland Mayor Phil Goff during last year’s local elections. It follows National MP Nick Smith’s outburst, on being ejected from parliament last week, that it was a “Nazi establishment”.

Speaking on Radio Waatea, Tamihere said he stood by his comments from last year, in which he attacked Goff for refusing to allow Stefan Molyneux – the alt-right propagandist who, incidentally, has just been banned by YouTube – from booking council venues. “I’m proud I said ‘seig heil’ to Goff,” Tamihere told the station. “The Jewish Society comes out to try to beat me up. Everybody else. Do they come out after the white boy Nick Smith? No, they don’t. For two reasons: one, he made the comments to a brown deputy speaker, and, two, he’s one of them, so he gets away with it.”

11.00am: Winston Peters denounces ‘clickbait’

In what appears to be a pre-emptive strike against (and publicity boost for) a Newshub story destined for the 6pm bulletin, Winston Peters has launched a tirade in a press release. “As the fisheries minister Stuart Nash will attest, New Zealand First raised legitimate concerns about cameras on boats, namely their cost and who would be able to access the data. It is vital that sound policy has sound implementation – we are not going to be putting fishing boats, crew and families out of business because of thoughtless bureaucracy,” said Peters in the release. “Mr Nash and the Cabinet acknowledged these concerns and have been working hard to address them, seeking to engage with the fishing industry to work through an enduring policy solution.”

New Zealand First is currently the focus of reporting about the role of the New Zealand First Foundation, which is also the subject of a Serious Fraud Office investigation. In the release, Peters took aim  at reporter Michael Morrah, describing his upcoming story as “clickbait” and “the worst form of unethical tabloid journalism.” Most mysteriously, Peters defended his “reaction”, writing: “I delayed my travel an hour to accommodate Mr Morrah and my reward was to be ambushed with an allegation about New Zealand First stopping cameras on boats. I reacted as any would when so rudely mislead by a supposed journalist.”

Read more about the strange story of the cameras on boats, the government and NZ First in Justin Giovannetti’s report here.

9.00am: Victoria considers mandatory mask-wearing

The Australian state of Victoria is currently considering mandatory mask-wearing on public transport and at other hotspots, reports the Melbourne Age.

It comes amid a second surge of the virus in the state, including a worrying and rapid growth in community transmission. There are more than 2,500 close contacts of confirmed cases who are now in isolation.

Leading epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakely supported the possibility of mask-wearing, saying “we’re on the edge right now in Victoria and we need to be doing everything we can to turn things around.”

8.30am: New virus with pandemic potential found in pigs

Good news if you’re bored of reading about Covid-19 – there might soon be a brand new virus to terrify us.

The BBC reports scientists have discovered a new strain of swine flu, which “could mutate further so that it can spread easily from person to person, and trigger a global outbreak.”

The new strain was discovered in China’s pork industry, and has some similar characteristics to the strain that caused the 2009 outbreak.

However, before we all panic, there is one bright spot. The 2009 strain is now included in the mix for annual flu vaccines, which could potentially be adapted further to also account for this new one if an outbreak happened.

8.10am: Was the Team NZ spy actually a whistleblower?

A strange sports story has blown up around the alleged leaking of confidential data by a former Emirates Team New Zealand worker. Syndicate boss Grant Dalton went on Radio NZ this morning to talk about the spy, and how they had breached the trust of the team.

However, about halfway through, it started to turn, and a very different line of questioning emerged. Interviewer Corin Dann brought up the alleged financial improprieties that are now being investigated, and suggested that perhaps the spy was in fact a whistleblower.

Dalton dismissed that, and said that in his view, the person would have no protections under whistleblower laws. But it does raise the interesting question of whether ETNZ going big on this last night was an attempt to get ahead of the story.

7.35am: European Union puts NZ on safe travel list

A 14 country list of countries that are exempt from travel bans into Europe has been drawn up. Radio NZ reports New Zealand is on the list, along with Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay. All are countries that have managed to keep a lid on Covid-19 outbreaks. In any case, it’s a somewhat moot point for New Zealanders, because anyone who went to Europe would still have to do a fortnight of quarantine to get back into the country.

7.35am: Updates from today’s edition of The Bulletin

There’s disagreement over whether an interview with the March 15 mosque shooter should be made public. Radio NZ’s Conor Young has been reporting on the interview, which was carried out as part of the Royal Commission into the attacks. There are fairly strong arguments on both sides – both that it would be dangerous to show it to the wider public, and that it would potentially impede the public’s right to assess what went wrong not to show it. The Royal Commission is expected to report back in late July.

An exceptionally good result for a New Zealand company that has benefited heavily from Covid-19: Business Desk (paywalled) reports that Fisher and Paykel Healthcare has seen a massive boost in profit in the last six months, in part because of heavy sales of machines that assist breathing. In some cases demand for their hospital hardware tripled. It has seen the share price soar, and allowed the company to hire about 500 new manufacturing staff in New Zealand.

The opening gambit has been made in the negotiations over whether Auckland can take more water from the Waikato River. The NZ Herald’s Bernard Orsman reports the Waikato River Authority has set an initial price of 10c per litre – which could be up to $20 million a day. That’s probably unrealistic for a city currently slashing costs in other areas. Even so, a single day at that rate would dwarf the contributions Watercare has made so far to keeping the river clean and healthy. A weekend of heavy rain means storage dams are now above half full again – but still way below the level they’d normally be at for the season.

A small, invasive and gross looking pest has been discovered in New Zealand for the first time, reports Radio NZ’s Maja Burry. The ‘tomato red spider mite’ has been spotted in two locations in Auckland near the airport. It is so-called because it can primarily damage tomato plants, along with a range of other important food crops. It isn’t considered likely to have a major impact on the value of horticultural exports, but it’s still a problem that growers just don’t need right now.

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

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”.

Read yesterday’s live updates here

Keep going!