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The Bulletin: Jacinda Ardern already knows if Auckland’s moving to level one

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Aucklanders are waiting to learn if the city will shift to alert level one, Ashley Bloomfield has apologised for taking free cricket tickets, and high-risk pregnant women from Queenstown are being rejected from hospitals.

The question on all Aucklanders’ minds today: will the city move back down to alert level one in time for the weekend? Cabinet met yesterday to make its decision, with prime minister Jacinda Ardern set to make the announcement at 11.30 this morning in Auckland.

As I said in yesterday’s live updates, it feels a bit weird that the announcement was delayed overnight. I expect there is some kind of contingency plan in place in case Covid comes back this morning, but why not just make the announcement on the same day of the decision? Just asking questions…

I’m not the only one to have that thought. Auckland Business Chamber chief executive Michael Barnett said the government should have announced its decision last night. “Every day counts and the sooner we know the plan, the sooner we can get back to business,” he said in a statement.

Judith Collins isn’t happy about it either. The National Party leader tweeted to say it’s just not good enough. “We are not allowed to know what the decision is… to fit into the PM’s scheduled press conference,” Collins wrote. “Kiwis deserve more respect,” she later said.

You’d have to think there’s a pretty good chance of Auckland moving down alerts, even as soon as tonight. As reported in the Herald, the last community case of Covid-19 was February 28. A week ago, Jacinda Ardern said: “Cabinet will review this decision [alert level] at the end of next week… with a view to moving Auckland to level one at the start of the weekend, if we are in a position to do so.”

Researchers are calling on the Ministry of Health to speed up the delivery of Covid-19 vaccines to at-risk workers. A report on Scimex by Chris Walls, Siobhan Gavaghan, Des Gorman and David McBride expresses concern that a lot of those on the frontline of our Covid-19 response won’t be vaccinated until the second quarter of the year.

In the report, the authors argue for “an accelerated vaccination schedule” for exposed workers in managed isolation and quarantine facilities. They say that, without a faster vaccination roll-out for these workers, employers are unable to fulfil their obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act to take “reasonable steps” to ensure the safety of employees.

Earlier this week, the government revealed the full extent of its vaccine roll-out. There’s a handy explainer about it on The Spinoff, ICYMI. According to the government, vaccination of MIQ workers started in February and is ongoing; the “vast bulk” are expected to have had at least the first dose by the end of this month.

An official remembrance service for victims of the March 15 terror attacks will take place in Christchurch tomorrow. Ahead of the that, ministers Andrew Little and Priyanca Radhakrishnan have released the first details from a series of 33 hui with Muslim, pan-ethnic and multi-faith communities across New Zealand.

One significant finding from the hui is that communities remain concerned over the Royal Commission’s finding that no individual or specific government agency was at fault for the terrorist attack. Some questioned how effective change could occur if the leadership of agencies remained the same. There was also backing for legislative change to stop hate speech, something that the government is exploring.

In another development, the government has revealed a $1 million fund that will help support the government’s response to the Royal Commission. That money will be available over three years and will prioritise funding for groups most directly affected by the attack. The fund can be used to support individual initiatives, as well as building long-term capability within communities, said Andrew Little.

Ashley Bloomfield has apologised after taking free tickets to watch the Black Caps play over the weekend. As Newshub reported, the director general of health said he believed he had accepted the tickets in a personal capacity – but later realised he is in his job all the time. “I recognise that the invitation was extended to me because I am in that position,” he said in a statement.

The prime minister was quick to defend Bloomfield. Jacinda Ardern told reporters: “I don’t think anyone in New Zealand would want to deny Dr Bloomfield the chance to watch some cricket.” Bloomfield, being the man he is, donated the cost of the tickets to the City Mission.

The Māori Party is calling for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into racial profiling by police. As RNZ reported, this comes off the back of one its own investigations that found some innocent Māori youth – some as young as 14 – were stopped by police in order to be photographed.

Rawiri Waititi, the party’s co-leader, said action is needed. “Our people do not stand a chance against the might of the Crown when they are being intentionally targeted just because they are brown and they definitely don’t stand a chance when the ministry continues to turn a blind eye to systemic racism that is happening right under their nose,” he said.

Staffing shortages at Invercargill and Dunedin hospitals mean high-risk pregnant women from Queenstown are being turned away, reports Isobel Ewing of Crux. According to the report, women often need to transfer from Queenstown due to a lack of adequate services to deal with obstetric and pregnancy emergencies in the Southern Lakes region.

It’s leaving midwives terrified that a tragedy is imminent. Queenstown midwife Keri Mapperson said that by January 3 there had been at least five instances where a midwife in the region had a patient turned away. She complained to the Southern DHB at the time – but doesn’t believe that complaint has been addressed.

Just two weeks ago, it happened again. “I had someone in premature labour who didn’t even plan to birth in this area, she planned to birth in Invercargill,” Mapperson told Crux. “She needed urgent obstetric care outside of what we have [in Queenstown]. “When I called Invercargill they said, ‘we don’t have enough staff to accept you’.”

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In news from across the ditch: Australia’s home affairs minister is copping flack for saying Australia was “taking out the trash” by deporting New Zealand citizens. Peter Dutton made the comments on a 9 News report, where a reporter also hounded a deportee as she was boarding a flight to New Zealand.

Dutton’s comments have been met with angry responses from our own MPs. As the Herald reported, foreign affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta said Dutton’s comments “only serve to trash his own reputation”. While Jacinda Ardern wouldn’t be drawn on the word “trash”, she repeated her view that Australia’s policy of deportation is something she strongly disagrees with.

While also condemning Dutton’s comment, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins found himself briefly embroiled in his own scandal. He told reporters: “this is Australia exporting its garbage to New Zealand”. However, he later admitted he misspoke when he used the word garbage. “I didn’t mean to suggest that, that is Dutton’s way of describing it,” he said.

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

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Right now on The Spinoff: I write about my experience of pushing back against picky property managers. Justin Latif ranks the teams of the NRL (and reveals some scandal). There’s a new episode of Business is Boring, talking to Bex Rempel of ZeroJet. Guest writer Erica Wilkinson from DoC writes about sea lions. And Justin Latif talks to South Auckland community leaders about the vaccine roll-out plan.

In sport: it’s all about the America’s Cup. As Michael Burgess explains (paywalled) for the NZ Herald, getting “first blood” off the start will continue to be the vital factor in today’s races.

Under alert level two restrictions, racing is isolated to courses A and E in order to discourage large gatherings on the shore. That means the allocation of port entry for the pre-start is vital; the boat that enters on port only needs to do one gybe and then head back, with a timed run to the line.

Races three and four between Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa kick off today at 4.15pm. Fingers crossed we’ll be back to alert level one not long after that.

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