AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - MARCH 26: The supermarket the a Covid-19 positive guest of a managed isolation facility went into (Photo by Bradley White/Getty Images)

The Bulletin: Changes coming in managed isolation after 2nd escape

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Changes coming in managed isolation after 2nd escape, Hamish Walker’s political career over, and expert advice released ahead of cannabis referendum.

Changes are being made to the way managed isolation facilities are run, after it emerged that a resident went for a wander around Auckland – and then tested positive for Covid-19. Justin Giovannetti has an outline of where the 32 year old man went, and how he got out. Basically, he just wandered away while new fences were being installed around the facility, and went to a busy supermarket – the Countdown on Victoria St West. Some of the time he was out and about is still unaccounted for.

Naturally, he will now face charges, and will appear in court when recovered from the virus. It follows an earlier escape over the weekend in which a woman scaled a pair of fences – she too has also been charged. New health minister Chris Hipkins was furious about the second breach, saying “it is completely unacceptable that we have now had two people leave everyone else down by breaking the rules, leaving facilities and putting New Zealanders at risk. These are acts of selfishness that we intend to use the full weight of the law to stop.” It highlights the tricky legal position of managed isolation facilities, which to be clear are not prisons, nor are the people in them treated as such, because the vast majority have done nothing wrong. Regardless, security systems are being reviewed, reports the NZ Herald. As Radio NZ reports, minister Megan Woods is deeply concerned that the attitude of some in the facilities has become too relaxed, and some aren’t considering the fact that their actions could have wider consequences.

It all brings home how quickly the hard work of the whole country could be undone. The supermarket is closed for a deep clean, and all staff will be offered Covid tests. A Countdown spokesperson told Radio NZ that the affair had taken an emotional toll on staff, 18 of whom will now have to self-isolate for a fortnight. The risk is considered low – for example, that is what Newshub’s Patrick Gower was told when he was informed that as he used the same checkout terminal, he should also self-isolate. But low risk is not no risk.

And most of us have probably become deeply complacent on the basics to prevent the spread of viruses. That’s pretty understandable – unlike the rest of the world, we’ve basically been living normal life for weeks now. But use of the official Covid-19 contact tracing app has dropped off a cliff,reports the NZ Herald’s Amelia Wade. Just 0.2% of the population are regularly using it, which has sparked fears of difficulties in tracing if there’s another outbreak. Almost 600,000 people have downloaded the app at least, so that’s something. Keep washing those hands, just in case.


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“The arrival of Covid-19 and lockdown changed The Spinoff, transforming our editorial to focus on the biggest story of our lives, taking a small team and making it a seven day a week news operation. But it also fundamentally changed us as a business, too. Prior to the crisis, around 20% of our editorial costs were funded by our Members. Now, that figure is north of 50%. If you’re already a member, please know that all at The Spinoff are incredibly grateful for your help. If you’re not, and would like to contribute, please consider doing so – support is important to our ability to cover the next phase of the crisis, in all its complexity.”


Hamish Walker’s political career appears to be over, after he announced that he would relinquish the National nomination for Southland. On the way out, he apologised to his party and electorate for attempting to leak confidential Covid-19 patient data, and probably saved the National board the hassle of formally firing him. As this timeline of events shows, it appears he basically wanted to get the information out there to back up a press release he sent out last week, which many people described as racist for the way it discussed returning New Zealanders. As for his electorate, this is an excellent piece by Stuff’s Michael Fallow which goes into how varied the communities are, and how tricky it can be to find a truly representative candidate.

And as for former president Michelle Boag, she has been stripped of all roles within the National Party. Boag also revealed how she came to be in possession of the data – the NZ Herald reports that it was sent to her by the health ministry, as many other bits of information had previously been, because of her role as acting CEO of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust. In her statement, she said she had been given access to data and updates that she no longer needed after community transmission had finished. Perhaps the ministry didn’t take her off the distribution list on the assumption that she was a trustworthy person – more fool them if that was the case. It’s another event in the long history of Boag making headlines, which Sam Brooks has collected in a remarkable retrospective.

Meanwhile, Todd Muller announced that if elected National would upgrade the motorway between Christchurch and Ashburton, at a cost of $1.5bn. There was almost no interest in that at the press conference, and at one point Muller asked the assembled journalists if they’d like to ask him any questions about the road. It about sums up the week he’s had so far.


The PM’s chief science advisor has released a package of expert advice on what would happen if cannabis legalisation wins the referendum. A comprehensive report on it has been put together by the NZ Herald’s Derek Cheng, but in short: Many of the harms directly caused by the current illegality could be significantly improved by reforming the law and bringing the existing cannabis industry under control, but it is still too soon to draw conclusions from the experiences of countries that have legalised it. For those wanting to really dive into the topic, you can read the full PMCSA report here.

In my personal view, this quote from Dr Juliet Gerrard is a deeply important one: “Instinctively when people hear the word harm, they think about the medical harm. Less well documented is the social harm – people getting kicked out of school for a drug offence, a drug conviction on a record which could affect employment prospects and cascade into a series of social harms.” Some degree of medical harm is probably inevitable, because decades of prohibition policy has done absolutely nothing to stop use. But the social harms are not inevitable, and can be changed.


Major reforms will be coming for how water gets delivered across the country, but the hundreds of millions in new funding will come with a catch. Newsroomhas a good report on what is being proposed by the government, in the context of water supply being a huge issue for a lot of cash-strapped local authorities. $761 million has been made available for drinking water, waste water, and stormwater infrastructure and upgrades. It’s not yet entirely clear what sort of reform programme the authorities would have to buy into, but it’s likely to involve some form of amalgamation, akin to an organisation like Watercare.


NZ First have got one for the road over the Greens, in their long-running and bitter battles within government. Stuff’s Thomas Coughlan reports that the second part of the plan to get more electric vehicles into the country’s fleet has been put on hold – according to Green associate transport minister Julie Anne Genter, it was blocked by NZ First. The first part was also blocked by NZ First, in case you’re keeping score at home. Genter issued some furious comments about the blocking, saying NZ First “haven’t put forward a credible alternative solution. If we hold off reducing transport emissions that just creates pressure to plant even more trees to soak up emissions, or to make cuts in other sectors like agriculture.”


The coup at the Otago Regional Council has succeeded, even if it wasn’t necessarily clean. Crux reports that Marian Hobbs has been removed from the chair role, but has vowed to fight on fighting for national policies on freshwater quality to be implemented. Michael Laws, the deputy who led the charge against her, has always insisted that the replacement isn’t a matter of policy but personality. Hobbs’ replacement as chair is farmer Andrew Noone, who in 2018 was fined by the ORC for letting his sheep trample in a stream.


It would appear Aucklanders aren’t so keen on local service cuts, according to a survey on rates conducted by the Council. Radio NZ reports that some form of rates rise was far more popular in their survey than a rates freeze, by a margin of more than two to one. Out of the two options presented, a 3.5% rise (which would result in fewer service cuts) was on about the same popularity as a 2.5% rise. A decision will be made next week, but there has already been a report from Stuff’s Todd Niall which suggests hundreds more jobs could be about to go.


Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

Simon Bridges and a baby yak, as posted on Instagram.

Right now on The Spinoff: We’re republished a letter sent by race relations commissioner Meng Foon to the leaders of all political parties heading into the election. Leonie Hayden has a thoughtful take on the statue debate, suggesting now would be a great time to think of who we’d want to honour with new statues. Simon Brown writes about how Covid-19 revealed the dangers of financial illiteracy. A collective of VUW tutors plead with the university to not take an austerity approach to their funding crisis. Toby Manhire has written about the happiest man in politics right now – former leader of the opposition Simon Bridges. And there’s a brand new episode of politics podcast Gone By Lunchtime – hilariously, it was recorded on Monday literally hours before Walkergate exploded, but it’s still good.


A lot of people probably never think about the Falkland Islands outside of the war in the 80s. But it’s a place with a fascinating history both before and after that moment, and has changed dramatically over the years since. So for a feature today, an excellent long read from the New Yorker about how a previously impoverished place came to be wealthy and modern within the space of a generation. Here’s an excerpt:

The turning point that changed everything was Britain’s decision, in 1986, to permit the Falklands to claim fishing rights to the waters for a hundred and fifty miles offshore, which it had not allowed before for fear of antagonising Argentina. The waters surrounding the islands lay on the yearly swimming routes of toothfish—Chilean sea bass—and two species of squid much valued in Asia and southern Europe. For decades, the islanders had watched Russian and Taiwanese fishing boats fill their nets—working by night, shining bright lights into the water to attract the squid to the surface—without being able to do a thing about it. Sales of fishing licenses to foreign fleets multiplied the islands’ collective income threefold, virtually overnight.

Suddenly, all sorts of things that people had been longing for were actually possible. Since the late nineteenth century, islanders had wanted a swimming pool because the sea was too cold to swim in, so nobody knew how, and, when boats capsized, people would drown. Now there would be a pool. A new secondary school was built, and a hospital. The changes that had begun before the war accelerated: the old farms were subdivided, the government lent people money to buy the new ones, and soon nearly all the land in the Falklands was owned by the islanders who farmed it.


One of the most tremendous feuds in sport right now is between Australian tennis rebel Nick Kyrgios and Novak Djokovic and his mates. Kyrgios is of course way behind Djokovic in the rankings, but his forthright and scientifically literate comments on Covid-19 have pushed him a long way ahead in my estimation. Stuff has an updated article on the stoush – basically, it all started when Djokovic decided to organise a tournament in the middle of a pandemic, with the entirely predictable result that a bunch of people caught Covid-19.


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