The director general of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield speaks to media during a press conference at the Beehive (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
The director general of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield speaks to media during a press conference at the Beehive (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The BulletinJune 17, 2020

The Bulletin: Two new Covid-19 cases, serious questions about border

The director general of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield speaks to media during a press conference at the Beehive (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
The director general of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield speaks to media during a press conference at the Beehive (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Failings around Covid-positive visitors who were allowed to travel, massive new report on health reform unveiled, and police executive redesign proposed.

There are two new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, breaking a long streak of zero days. Our live updates page from yesterday has the details of what happened: basically, both people arrived in New Zealand from the UK on June 7, and had been in managed isolation, before being granted an exemption to drive from Auckland to Wellington to be with a dying relative. They say they didn’t use any public facilities on that trip, and adhered to the rules. But particular questions are being raised about the exemption as one of the people had symptoms, which they put down to a pre-existing condition, and why they weren’t tested before hitting the road. Contact tracing efforts are now underway, and hotel staff who came into contact with them or their room have been temporarily stood down.

It has led to immediate changes, with compassionate exemptions for border arrivals suspended indefinitely, reports StuffSimply put, this isn’t the first time the quarantine system has looked decidedly leaky. There was a story run by One News last week about guests at a quarantine hotel mixing with new arrivals, and comment from epidemiologist Michael Baker who said the problem wasn’t the protocols – it was whether or not they were actually being applied properly. A case was also revealed yesterday in which two teenagers ran away after being granted an exemption for a funeral, before being located again, reports the NZ Herald.

Should we be panicking about new cases? It’s definitely not good of course, but we should also keep it in perspective. This article on The Conversation gives useful context – to the best of our knowledge, we haven’t had any community transmission for a long time now, and that’s a much more important question compared to whether cases turn up at the border.

And yet, in this instance it is theoretically possible for community transmission to have taken place, which is a huge failing. Justin Giovannetti, who has first hand experience of how quarantine works if done properly, writes that “it came as a surprise on Tuesday afternoon when director-general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, said one of New Zealand’s now two active cases of Covid-19 left managed-isolation despite mild symptoms, and without being tested.” The NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Derek Cheng has looked at the political angles of this, writing that it is hugely embarrassing from the government and health officials, and that the PM “should be livid” about the failings.

Just quickly, a message from The Spinoff’s managing editor Duncan Greive: 

“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%. The loss of some key commercial clients meant that change has to be permanent. If you’re already a member, please know that all at The Spinoff are incredibly grateful for your help. If you’re not, and can afford to contribute, please consider doing so – it really is critically important to our ability to cover the next phase of the crisis, in all its complexity.”

A massive doorstopper of a report into the health system was delivered yesterday, after being commissioned two years ago. Here’s a cheat sheet on what is being proposed, and Josie Adams has reported on what those in the field say about the proposals. In short, among the big changes being mooted is an end to DHB elections along with a reduction in the number of DHBs, the creation of both a new crown entity called Health NZ to oversee DHBs and a Māori Health Authority, changes to the way health budgets move with population growth, and an overall shift to put a greater emphasis on population health and reducing fragmentation.

One reaction out of it all is a sense of positivity around the potential for greater equity across a system that currently delivers very unequal outcomes. That comes through from this explainer by Stuff’s Cate Broughton, who writes that “the review authors are confident the experience of health services would improve across the board, but particularly for Māori and disabled people.”

But what will actually be delivered? Right now, health minister David Clark is only making supportive noises, rather than giving his full backing to implementing recommendations – to quote, “Cabinet has accepted the case for reform, and the direction of travel outlined in the review” and to follow that up, “that means we are committing to an ongoing programme of reform”. As anyone who reads a lot of government press releases knows, this is absolutely not the same as a promise to implement all the recommendations – even if they have been delivered to be politically manageable, as Politik reports. Stuff’s Henry Cooke has made this point, noting that this government has strong form when it comes to commissioning massive reports, and then not actually doing much with them. Very little is likely to happen before the election – we’ll see if anything comes of it afterwards.

New police commissioner Andrew Coster has proposed a redesign of the organisation’s executive levels, reports Radio NZ. The details include a reduction in the number of members on the executive leadership board, the establishment of a new role within that, and has the aim of increasing the coordination between local and national levels of policing. But that’s all from the official press release – some real tea was spilled by the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Jared Savage last week, who analysed the various moves at the top from the lens of personality clashes and differences in policing philosophy, while hinting that a redesign would soon be announced.

Facebook has announced that only New Zealanders will be able to post political ads to the platform in the runup to the election. Justin Giovannetti has reported on the range of measures that have been unveiled, with the intention of limiting the spread of misinformation. Facebook has also contracted fact checking services from wire service Australian Associated Press, who have a small staff of journalists in New Zealand.

Like it or not, we’re heading towards a world of increasing protectionism in trade. Interest’s Guy Trafford has analysed the events of last week around the European Union free trade agreement negotiations, with government ministers calling out the Europeans for bringing a paltry offer to the table. But then again, it’s the general direction many countries are travelling in, and European governments also have strong protest movements against trade liberalisation to contend with.

The pay of ministers is in the spotlight after it was revealed that the self-imposed Covid-19 pay cuts still haven’t gone through. The NZ Herald reported that PM Ardern is frustrated by the delay, which appears to have been caused by a “complicated and lengthy” bureaucratic process. I’m not sure on the actual numbers, but it seems fair to assume that if the process does get completely followed through, the pay cuts could end up costing the taxpayer more money in public servant hours than they end up saving in MP salaries. Just get all the ministers to make a charitable donation and call the rest of it off, honestly.

Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at

(Photo: Getty Images)

Right now on The Spinoff: Andrew Geddis gives a complex and thoughtful analysis of the government’s ‘Unite for the Recovery’ ad campaign, and the opposition’s opprobrium about it. Elodie Berthe meets a real Kiwi legend – an emergency nurse and cancer survivor who came here first as a refugee from Afghanistan. Michael Andrew has a comprehensive guide to where small and medium businesses can find out about financial support from the government. And Catherine Woulfe reviews the calming loveliness of Wendyl Nissen’s new book A Natural Year.

For a feature today, a thoughtful re-reading of the work of Katherine Mansfield, in light of living through a global pandemic. Writing on the Pantograph Punch, Monica Macansantos has explored themes around the stillness of lockdown life being interspersed with the terror and uncertainty of a spreading disease. Here’s an excerpt:

Katherine Mansfield was diagnosed with tuberculosis near the end of World War 1. Her doctor advised her to give up her writing so that she could live a longer life, thinking it was best for her to reserve her bodily strength for fighting the disease. Her writing took up much of her energy, but it was something she was unwilling to surrender in order to live. Giving death full control over her life was a kind of death in itself, and it wasn’t the kind of life she wanted.

In her earlier work, death hovers at the corner of one’s eye, a constant yet peripheral presence in the lives of her characters, who have grown indifferent to its shadows despite its occasional and brief intimations. Most of the time, the brightness of life is an overwhelming presence in itself, especially for the children in her stories, who are just beginning to come into cognisance of the world in which they live. Death is a part of this world, but life, in its infinite brightness, simply outshines it.

By the way, the Pantograph Punch website was recently redesigned by my wonderful partner and her team, and I don’t think it’s crossing too many personal/professional lines to say I think it looks excellent.

It shouldn’t be overly surprising, but Cricket Australia is starting to warn that the T20 World Cup scheduled for October is unlikely to go ahead, reports the NZ Herald. 16 teams are meant to be taking part, and getting them all into Australia without also bringing a bit of Covid-19 with them is considered to be “unrealistic”. A decision on cancellation or alternative plans is likely to come next month.

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

Keep going!