International arrivals at Auckland Airport, June 2020 (Photo: Radio NZ, Liu Chen)
International arrivals at Auckland Airport, June 2020 (Photo: Radio NZ, Liu Chen)

The BulletinJune 19, 2020

The Bulletin: Government scrambles to fix quarantine bungle fallout

International arrivals at Auckland Airport, June 2020 (Photo: Radio NZ, Liu Chen)
International arrivals at Auckland Airport, June 2020 (Photo: Radio NZ, Liu Chen)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Fallout continues from quarantine system failures, new GDP figures released show first quarter drop, and ACC pouring millions into acupuncture treatments.

It was another difficult day for the government yesterday, with new developments and assurances that problems would be fixed. Our political editor filed a report to our live blog yesterday outlining the comments from PM Jacinda Ardern, who said that she shared the disappointment of the country at gaps in testing of those in quarantine. “To find out that was not happening of course was hugely disappointing for all of us, we’ve all been let down and our job is to fix it,” she said. The ministry of health’s Dr Ashley Bloomfield also fronted a press conference to apologise for the failings, adding “I want to reiterate, I’ve taken responsibility to make sure the system is sorted and we’re getting on and doing that.”

Among the biggest questions – who’s in charge right now? There was a detail-heavy story around military involvement, in which Checkpoint reported that Air Commodore Digby Webb – the military officer that Ardern said was taking over facilities at a press conference on Wednesday – was actually already in charge of the unit that granted an exemption to the two sisters who later tested positive. Interest’s Jenée Tibshraeny had a similar version of the story with slight differences – in this one, it was noted that Ardern had failed to mention that Webb had already been involved, though clarified that it was more a case of a promotion to oversee the health side of isolation/quarantine, rather than just managing the operations and logistics. And Politik got right into the details of what would change, but here was a key line from their piece: “In essence, the military has taken over the management and running of the isolation and quarantine facilities at the expense of the Ministry of Health who have now been confined to an advisory role.”

Further stories have also emerged which show all was not working as it should have. One News’ Kristin Hall reported that several people in quarantine were flown down to Christchurch from Auckland on a charter flight, the concern being that they moved part way through their isolation without being tested, and were mixed with people from different hotels. And Newshub’s Patrick Gower reported that a wedding took place in the ballroom of a quarantine hotel, which had also been used as an exercise facility for quarantining guests. The guests at the wedding weren’t aware of this.

There was also a curious story of a homeless man getting a fortnight of free meals and a bed in a quarantine hotel – the NZ Herald had a report on that, after an allegation was made by National MP Michael Woodhouse. The point of this isn’t that a homeless guy managed to beat the system – good on him, quite frankly. The point is that it shows whoever was holding the clipboard at the front door didn’t know who was on the list and who wasn’t, which is a worry when you’re talking about a facility for quarantining people who might have a highly infectious disease.

Parliamentarians ended up drawing a lot of the focus over the day. The NZ Herald reported on the episode that made that happen – it turns out National MP Chris Bishop advocated on behalf of a compassionate exemption for the two people who later tested positive for Covid-19. Bishop responded by saying he didn’t expect they would be let out without being tested first, and that for the government to bring it up was a “desperate smear.”

If it seems like everything has fallen apart – that’s not the case at all. Another case emerged yesterday, the man with Covid-19 was spotted at the border, and is now in a quarantine facility. He wore a mask on the flight, and close contacts are also in quarantine. The system can work really effectively – we know this by the fact that the country had several weeks of no new Covid-19 cases at all. But the thing about a system like this working – those running it have got to get it right every time, or it can all go wrong.

*Note: A correction was made to the story about the flight to Christchurch – it was a charter flight, not a public flight.

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.”

New GDP figures are out, and they show a big drop over the first quarter of 2020 – down 1.6%, which is the biggest fall in decades. As Radio NZ reports, the figures only go up to the end of March, and the next quarter is going to be much worse, because that’s when most of the level four lockdown took place. It’s probably also worth noting though that the economic damage of Covid-19 didn’t exactly begin on the first day of lockdown – there had already been serious consequences through February for the tourism, international education and rock lobster industries. We’re also yet to see detailed numbers on where unemployment is right now, which will be a very important number to watch – we do know for sure that tens of thousands of people have joined the Jobseeker benefit since February.

ACC has been pouring millions of dollars every year into funding acupuncture treatments, despite their being little hard proof of efficacy. The Spinoff has published a new investigation by Jonathon Harper and Daniel Ryan, which has dived deeply into the scientific literature, and questioned why such funding is taking place here. What’s the potential harm of ACC funding acupuncture treatments? On top of the potential for public money to be wasted, some patients may end up getting that treatment instead of something proven to work.

A second round of gun law reforms has passed through a final reading in parliament, reports Stuff. This one will create a firearms registry, along with a warning system to determine whether someone is a ‘fit and proper’ person to own a gun licence. There will also be changes to allow farmers to own prohibited firearms for pest control purposes. The law was delayed after heavy wrangling between Labour and NZ First – the latter say one thing they ended up negotiating is a post-enactment review, so expect that wrangling to continue afresh after the election.

The number of people being denied benefits because of their relationship status has skyrocketed, reports Radio NZ. The rules say that if Work and Income determine someone is in a relationship, and that their partner’s income meets a certain threshold, then their Jobseeker benefit can be cut to nothing. Campaigners – and the government’s own Welfare Expert Advisory Group for that matter – say those rules are stupid and dangerous and should be changed.

There is no risk of a tsunami after a big earthquake off the coast last night. The NZ Herald reports a 7.4 magnitude quake hit about 700kms off the east coast of the North Island a bit after midnight – judging by social media it woke a lot of people up too. NEMA later confirmed that there was no tsunami threat, but warned that “coastal areas may experience strong and unusual currents and unpredictable surges at the shore.”

A hilariously silly political story to end the week on: The NZ Herald’s (paywalled) David Fisher reports that Todd Muller’s team brought in a safecracker after taking over National, so they could get access to documents hidden in a safe in the leader of the opposition’s office. The funniest part about it – a member of outgoing leader Simon Bridges’ team had already sent through the combination – it just hadn’t reached who it needed to. As it happens, the safe had been almost entirely cleared out by Bridges’ team on their way out the door.

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Producer Annabelle Lee-Mather and host Mihingarangi Forbes of The Hui. (Image: supplied)

Right now on The Spinoff: Leonie Hayden talks to three young leaders of New Zealand’s Black Lives Matter movement about why anti-Black racism isn’t just ‘an American problem’. Laura O’Connell Rapira writes about gathering and campaigning, and why it can help bring about a more just future. Mihingarangi Forbes heavily criticises a proposal to combine all Māori news services into one entity, saying it will marginalise voices. Elodie Berthe continues the wonderful series of articles about people from refugee backgrounds, meeting a husband and wife from Myanmar who have become a bus driver and caregiver respectively – absolute legends, in my opinion. Alice Webb-Liddall writes about the Callaghan Innovation C-Prize finalists who got a crash course in startup life during lockdown. Gina Dao-McLay, turning 18 after the election, writes about why the age should be lowered so the voice of young people can be heard. And we’ve taken an excerpt from Golriz Ghahraman’s memoirs, about arriving in New Zealand as a kid and having to figure out a new world and culture.

For a feature today, a story about stockmarket shenanigans that will cause a lot of naive people to lose a lot of money. Vanity Fair has looked at the strange case of Hertz, the bankrupt car hire company which saw a bizarre bounce in their share price, based on speculators and gamblers buying it up at low prices. As this excerpt shows, some of the slower ones will be left holding a very empty bag.

That’s what is going to happen to Hertz, too, and I know that because the Hertz bonds are trading at a severe discount. As of June 10, according to the Wall Street Journal, Hertz’s nearly $3 billion of unsecured bonds were trading at around 40 cents on the dollar. That means—at the moment, anyway —smart investors do not believe Hertz’s creditors will get their money back. (If they did, the bonds would be trading at 100 cents on the dollar, as they were in February before the lockdowns destroyed Hertz’s business.)

If creditors don’t get their money back, there is no way shareholders are going to get any of the remaining crumbs when the restructuring gets agreed upon. It’s just not going to happen. If it were going to happen, there is no way Icahn would have sold his stake in Hertz for an average of 72 cents a share.

The A-League is facing a possible broadcasting crisis, reports the Daily Telegraph in Australia. Negotiations are taking place today over whether Fox will continue to broadcast the competition over the rest of the season, and their parent company Foxtel are looking decidedly uninterested. If they were to walk away, it’s unclear whether the competition could continue. Those Aussies will do anything to prevent the Wellington Phoenix finally lifting the trophy, honestly.

And there’s a huge board of live sport on this weekend to get into. Between now and Sunday there’ll be three games of ANZ Premiership netball in Auckland, Super Rugby games in Hamilton on Saturday and Wellington on Sunday, and in the NRL the Warriors play the Rabbitohs on the telly tonight.

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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