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The BulletinAugust 7, 2020

The Bulletin: Preparing for a possible return of the pandemic

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Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Preparing for a possible return of the pandemic, SFO prevents JLR document release, and stoush over National candidate selection deepens.

I say possible in the headline there, because we can’t know for sure that community transmission of Covid-19 absolutely will come back. But at the moment, a range of measures are being taken so that the country would be much more ready the second time around if it did.

Among those measures, the most straightforward is a call from health minister Chris Hipkins for people to have masks at home. The NZ Herald reports that these don’t have to be medical grade masks, and could be reusable. In fact, they could even be homemade, provided they’re worn correctly. The point of mass-masking would become a lot more relevant if we were to move up to level two or higher, because it would mean that a lot of activity could continue more safely. As the NZ Herald reported this morning, large businesses are also investing in worksite temperature testing kits, which would allow them to assess if someone is safe to be at work.

There will also be a trial of the Covid Card in Rotorua. Stuff reports this is basically a bluetooth device, worn like a lanyard around the neck, which sends and receives a signal to other cards. This isn’t the same as tracking, if you were wondering – it would be more about assessing close contacts. The card has been found to work under controlled conditions, but that needs to be stepped up before its viability can really be assessed, so about 250-300 people will take part in this trial. A decision on whether to roll it out further will be made later in the year. In the meantime, the Science Media Centre has compiled a useful list of expert views on this trial.

Testing will also be ramped up again, both in a targeted and more general community based way. An example of this came earlier this week in Queenstown, where there was heavy testing of people because of a person who had been in New Zealand later testing positive in South Korea. Radio NZ Tessa Brunton was down there, and reports thousands of people went through – none have as yet come back positive.

And yet, there are a few bits in all of this which might give some pause for thought. No system can ever probably be purely watertight, but the managed isolation facilities really need to come as close to perfect as possible. Stuff’s Thomas Manch has reported on a facility in Wellington which is described by a guard as “disorganised”, with little standard procedure, and protocols changing when new staffers took charge. That would seem to open up cracks that could make it all too easy for the virus to slip through.

An exciting development for The Spinoff: We’ve now got merch for sale! You can check out everything we’ve got on offer here, but among other things we’ve got tea towels, pens, coffee cups, and T-shirts for sale. You can also buy copies of The Spinoff Book, which we released at the end of last year, featuring dozens of the best pieces of writing to appear on the site over our first five years.

The Serious Fraud Office has prevented MP Jami-Lee Ross from releasing legally sensitive documents, reports the (paywalled) NZ Herald. For obvious legal reasons, there is a lot in the story that isn’t necessarily spelled out in black and white, but the documents are material that were “inadvertently exposed” to defendants in a case including Ross. He in turn argues that it is an attack on his free speech, and that publishing the documents would be in the public interest.

The stoush over National’s candidate selection in Auckland Central is dragging on, with legal action now being threatened by one over an alleged smear campaign. Newsroom’s Sam Sachdeva has covered the latest developments, with a pair of people sent letters “categorically denying” the allegations. In any case, it will make the selection an even more fraught process, which can only harm the party’s chances of holding on to Nikki Kaye’s old seat. A decision on who is going to run is expected next week.

New Zealand has been dragged into a dispute on fishing between mostly Chinese vessels and Ecuador, who own the Galapagos Islands. Our place in it all is basically that those vessels have been pretending to be in NZ waters, reports Stuff’s Andrea Vance, when in fact they’re fishing close to a marine reserve. The other curious thing about it all – it’s not exactly clear how the vessels are tricking their trackers to be able to do this. The fishing has caused tensions between China and Ecuador, and trade publication Seafood Source has a useful account of recent developments.

Hamilton will switch voting systems to Single Transferable Vote at the next local elections, reports Radio NZ. The current system is first past the post, which has some advantages, but STV is widely seen as being more fair. Candidates can also win with a relatively small share of the vote, as happened in Hamilton’s 2019 mayoral race – out of about 40,000 votes cast, Paula Southgate won with about 13,000 of them. She supports the changes, saying it is brave for councillors elected under an old system to back a new one.

It appears a cache of pipe bombs found around a Hamilton mall yesterday were an inept attempt to rob an ATM. The NZ Herald reports that most of the devices failed to go off, which was very lucky for shoppers. The would-be thieves were apparently also caught on camera.  I must say, there’s always a strange sense of relief when something like this turns out to look more like poorly executed petty crime, than something more sinister.

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Don’t cry mate, the law is still all on your side (image: Tina Tiller)

Right now on The Spinoff: Justin Giovannetti contrasts our still pretty poor tenancy laws with the comparatively stronger protections in Canada. Justin Latif looks at two Labour politicians in neighbouring South Auckland electorates, and their very different views on abortion policy. Alice Webb-Liddall looks at the significance of an RMA decision to transfer water quality monitoring in Taupō to iwi. On the Rag meets the Green Fairies, a group of women who ensure people in chronic pain have access to cannabis. Josie Adams looks at the rise in demand for mental health services during lockdown, and why that demand hasn’t gone away. Business is Boring speaks to an entrepreneur who has had a remarkable journey from being a refugee in Vietnam to founding a software company in New Zealand. And Catherine Woulfe reviews a memoir by Gore flyfisherman Dougal Rillstone chronicling his journey along the Mataura river.

I’ve been harping on a lot about how bad the pandemic is in the US right now, but that’s because it’s really really bad, in a fundamentally broken sort of way. So for a feature today, here’s another look at just how pandemics have generally spread throughout history, and what they reveal about the societies they spread in. Writing on The Baffler, Ann Neumann starts with the decades-long rolling cholera outbreak around the world, and ends in Washington DC. Here’s an excerpt:

There’s no profit in preparation. That’s another profound lesson of this pandemic. The administration—and let’s face it, most of us—thought it couldn’t happen here, that plagues had been “long ago relegated to history in the American imagination, or to other continents,” as Zadie Smith wrote in The New Yorker. 

When it did happen, all but those affected were in denial. Supplies were mismanaged or sold to the highest bidder. States were left to find sellers of PPE on their own, making clandestine meetings in parking lots. The scramble for ICU beds, ventilators, and swabs for test kits revealed the inability of the United States to live up to the old World War II-era story of coming together in a crisis. There was no will to stanch the deaths. But there was also no way to do so.

There’s mutual interest between the Auckland Tuatara and baseball legend Manny Ramirez, reports One News. Ramirez has twice won the World Series – the biggest prize in the sport – and even at the age of 48 is believed to still have a bit left in the tank. It would be a serious coup for the profile of the Tuatara and the wider ABL, which has already seen some decent growth in the last two seasons. Of course, any trans-Tasman sporting competition is difficult to foresee right now.

That’s it for The Bulletin. If you want to support the work we do at The Spinoff, please check out our membership programme

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