Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Health Minister David Clark (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The Bulletin: An avalanche of incompetence in quarantine system

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Repeated blunders shake faith in quarantine system, report finds ministry was unprepared on PPE, and trade negotiations with Britain begin. 

New measures will be taken around the border quarantine system after a series of idiotic failings. Our live blog has the details, including the news that the health ministry will be relieved of some of their duties and replaced with the military, after two people who subsequently tested positive for Covid-19 were allowed an exemption to leave early. The PM described it as an “unacceptable failure of the system” in an unusually angry press conference, while National leader Todd Muller called for the health minister David Clark to be sacked over his ministry’s blunder, reports Stuff. That was the afternoon – then in the evening, a whole lot of things fell apart very quickly.

It turns out ten people were allowed exemptions to leave quarantine in Christchurch on Tuesday, reports Newshub’s Michael Morrah. They were going to a funeral, even though it came nine days after such exemptions were ruled to be no longer permitted. Meanwhile, the NZ Herald’s Isaac Davidson reports claims from attendees at a wake in Auckland were joined by a woman who had arrived from the US just a day earlier, and who was yet to be tested for Covid-19. Even though the woman reportedly wore a mask and gloves, and kept her distance at all times, the US currently has a number of outbreaks across the country that are escalating out of control. And former police commissioner Mike Bush (now in charge of the Covid operation command centre) told Newstalk ZB that a youth who had attended a funeral in Hamilton from quarantine had since absconded, and (at the time of writing) was yet to be found. That young person was one of six people who absconded from that funeral, by the way, not two people as was originally reported.

There’s more. The chief ombudsman, whose office has taken on the responsibility of inspecting quarantine facilities, says his staff were potentially exposed, and had to cancel a prison inspection as a result, reports One News. Because of the way the international arrivals were managed at a hotel, his staff crossed paths with them without realising it. But hey, maybe they didn’t even need to go into a hotel to be exposed, because as One News’ Kristin Hall reports, multiple people have been leaving their managed isolation facilities without first returning a negative Covid-19 test. People were told tests were optional, or not available. And in another astonishing episode, a birthday gathering was held with kids from a number of different flights – the birthday girl blew out the candles, and then a ministry of health worker (wearing gloves for safety, of course) handed out pieces of cake.

And remember those two Covid cases at the start? It turns out they may not actually have been so strict about self-isolation on their journey down country. The NZ Herald managed to stand up why there were concerns that they “kissed and cuddled” someone, as was alleged in parliament by National’s Michael Woodhouse. It appears that person had lent them their car to take down to Wellington, but had to meet up with them to give directions before they left Auckland. The person went to a gym session the next day for a “hands on” class – for obvious reasons, the operator of the gym has now temporarily shut it down. The health ministry put out a press release late last night effectively confirming the story.

It is staggering to see so many stories come out all at once, and many people will feel an uncomfortable sense of deja vu. I realise a lot has happened between then and now, but all of these stories feel deeply reminiscent of the incompetence shown at the border before lockdown started. Systems were theoretically in place, but weren’t being enforced with any sort of rigour or discipline, and it took media reports for those who were meant to be in charge to take notice. Readers might also remember that those blunders were arguably what necessitated lockdown in the first place. It’s not bloody good enough at all.


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.”


In thematically related news, an auditor-general’s report has found the health ministry was deeply unprepared around PPE for a pandemic, reports the NZ Herald’s Amelia Wade. There was also criticism of mixed-messaging given by Dr Ashley Bloomfield, which then led to a rush in demand. There was supposed to be a fully stocked reserve of supplies – instituted after the avian flu pandemic of 2005 – but there had been no stocktake undertaken since 2016, which meant that when DHBs had to know what they had, it took a full five weeks to get all the information.


Quite a lot of other news happened yesterday too, including the announcement that free trade negotiations have formally been launched between NZ and the UK. As the Guardian reports, Australia has done the same. The government particularly wants to see tariffs come down on namechecked products like kiwifruit and manuka honey, and the negotiations will also include provisions around removing non-tariff barriers streamlined customs. We’re also still waiting to see whether the UK can wrap up its own post-Brexit trade deal with the EU. This particular moment gives New Zealand negotiators a lot more leverage than they would otherwise have, and Politik reports they’re willing to play not particularly nicely in order to get better agriculture access.


Climate change is going to be hellishly expensive for the New Zealand economy, according to new research covered by Newsroom’s Marc Daalder. The findings come from studying a pair of recent droughts, which had heavy impacts on the farming sector, and were themselves seriously exacerbated by climate change. It also concluded that until now, the economic cost of climate change has been largely underestimated.


Startup businesses are struggling to make crowdfunding work for them in the aftermath of Covid-19, reports Stuff’s Anuja Nadkarni. There are currently just two equity-raising campaigns live on PledgeMe, and both are a long way away from where they need to be to succeed. While that equity area is seeing a significant squeeze, the same isn’t necessarily true for charitable causes, with Givealittle seeing a slight uptick at the moment.


Private equity company Mercury Capital has bought the magazine operations of Bauer in both Australia and New Zealand, reports the NZ Herald’s Damien Venuto. Mercury also has an investment in a printing company in NZ, which suggests they’ll be keen to relaunch at least some of the titles. I can imagine that would be very welcome for New Zealand readers – after all, they’re currently being duped by an Australian version of Woman’s Day which has been repackaged for this market. One big question for the titles explored by Venuto is whether they’ll be able to lure laid off staffers back – Metro for example saw a number of highly talented people get picked up almost immediately by other organisations.


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

‘Young handsome man enjoying talking on the phone at home’ (Photo: filadendron/Getty Images)

Right now on The Spinoff: David Farrier falls down a typically deep rabbit hole searching for his stock photo doppelganger. Elodie Bertha meets a former refugee who fled Syria and became an essential worker in Dunedin. Claire Blood looks at flexibility and productivity, and whether society at large should go back to pre-Covid ways of working. Āneta Rāwiri writes about the guiding principles of iwi in Whanganui, based on the sacred river running through the region. Ron Hansen looks at the Covid-19 response in Taiwan, and asks why the country has been overlooked amid all the back-patting. We’ve republished a speech given by police commissioner Andrew Coster about examining attitudes of racial bias within the organisation. Jean Teng looks at where to eat around the new Commercial Bay mall in Auckland. Jamie Wall reviews the new show about rugby battlers 2nd Chance Charlie, and what it reveals about the flaws in professionalisation.

And in a piece that I can only describe as a pure statement of Donnellism, Hayden Donnell has investigated the mystery of an upside down tino rangatiratanga flag on the wall behind National leader Todd Muller, during his speech at the Te Puna Rugby Club.


For a feature today, a well told story about the end of a local institution in Levin. The Horowhenua Chronicle reports that the last remaining members of the RSA Bowling Club have voted to wind it up, with dwindling membership and the corresponding loss of financial security. The story is also illustrated with pictures from the first days of the club. Here’s an excerpt:

The club has a rich history. It was formed in 1945 to foster the social side of the RSA and the first Diggers Day tournament was held at the Central and Levin Bowling clubs’ greens in March of that year. The popular tournament had been held ever since.

Land for the bowling green was gifted to the RSA by the late Maude Lett (formerly Mrs Clark) in 1947 for returned servicemen to establish their own greens and clubrooms. It was named the Clark Memorial Green and an Avenue of Remembrance, dedicated to the memory of RSA members, leads to the green from the Salisbury St entrance.

The green and buildings were developed by the returned servicemen who initially formed the bowling club and then by the many hundreds of members up to the present day. The club’s survival has only been possible because of the hard work of many volunteers over the decades, Mr Kaye said.


In sport today, a look at some of the technicalities that make it more difficult to have Sunday afternoon rugby in Auckland. The NZ Herald’s Alex Chapman has reported on Eden Park’s need to make resource consent applications for night-time activities, because with a 3.35pm kickoff the games just slip over past sundown. The application for Sunday’s game ended up costing $10,000. In the end, it will have been worth it for the stadium given it sold out, but there are concerns that the cost of future applications will weigh heavily.


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