Health minister Chris Hipkins leaving a press conference at parliament (Getty Images)
Health minister Chris Hipkins leaving a press conference at parliament (Getty Images)

The BulletinAugust 19, 2020

The Bulletin: Testing questions as parliament resumes

Health minister Chris Hipkins leaving a press conference at parliament (Getty Images)
Health minister Chris Hipkins leaving a press conference at parliament (Getty Images)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Government under real pressure over testing system, thousands currently behind on mortgages, and a remarkable interview about that vile managed isolation rumour.

The question of testing dominated exchanges in parliament yesterday, with the government under pressure to account for the managed isolation systems. As the NZ Herald reports, neither the PM Jacinda Ardern nor health minister Chris Hipkins gave a full defence of what had happened – Ardern said it wasn’t good enough, and Hipkins said it was “disappointing and frustrating” that testing hadn’t been happening to the degree he thought it had been. After attempts at justifying the discrepancy between all staff being tested and the actual numbers, National leader Judith Collins accused the PM of performing “verbal gymnastics”.

Who is supposed to be responsible for this, at a ministerial or accountability level? That was something Newshub attempted to pin down, and the results were not exactly edifying for the government. It could theoretically be health minister Hipkins, managed isolation minister Megan Woods, director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, or head of managed isolation and quarantine Air Commodore Darryn Webb – or some combination of all of them. Deputy PM Winston Peters is calling for heads to roll over the failures. And as Politik reports, there is an undercurrent of friction between Hipkins and Bloomfield, with Hipkins making an “admission which amounted to an accusation that his Ministry had lied to him” in parliament.

On the wider question of testing as a result of the outbreak, the results have been much more positive. Our live blog reported that more than 100,000 have been processed in the last five days, which is a staggering figure, and shows that when push comes to shove the system can work effectively. However, as Radio NZ reports, there was also a backtracking on a previous plan to test all port workers in Auckland and Tauranga, and rein it in to just cover those in higher risk areas.

Meanwhile, there was a break yesterday in attempts to use genome sequencing to figure this outbreak out. But it doesn’t necessarily simplify things. As Newsroom’s Marc Daalder reports, we now have a case of a Rydges Hotel worker picking up the virus, which genome sequencing shows arrived with a person from the US at the end of July. However, it’s not at all clear how it passed from one to the other, because they never had contact. As Justin Giovannetti writes, that incident also highlights a weakness of the system, because the worker came in to work after developing systems, but was waved through his regular health check on the grounds that it was thought to be a pre-existing condition.

Thousands of people are currently behind on their mortgages, reports Stuff’s Rob Stock. It is an indication of wider economic pressure, and the numbers at the moment are far higher than they normally would be. In terms of mortgage deferrals more generally, the piece also includes a regional breakdown of where has been hardest hit – Queenstown and Rotorua feature right up the top, while Wellington is significantly less impacted than the rest of the country.

A remarkable interview about the genesis of that vile rumour about how the outbreak happened: Dylan Reeve and David Farrier tracked down the person who first put the accusations in a Reddit post, which was subsequently edited and effectively weaponised through a Facebook group. The guy who wrote the original told Reeve that he felt terrible about what had happened, and was desperate to atone for it, even if that meant facing charges under the Harmful Digital Communications Act. The whole piece is an insightful look into the swiftness of how online rumours can move. Also on that topic and worth reading: Duncan Greive outlines how the spread of those rumours took place largely on Facebook-owned platforms – a company the government continues to generously support with advertising.

National has moved away from a previous suggestion that international students could isolate in student accommodation, reports Stuff. The policy had been to have universities manage the living arrangements, with the ministry of health providing oversight in the form of auditing. However, under Judith Collins that appears to have been scrapped. The party is expected to release their wider border policy at some stage this week.

If you’ve been following the saga at the Canterbury DHB, this is a useful piece to wrap it all. The Detail has spoken to a reporter who knows the problems inside and out, and in particular how the legacy of the 2011 earthquakes is still being felt. For those keeping score, five resignations from the executive team took place in the space of just a month.

In world news, an attempted coup appears to be underway in the West African country of Mali. As Al-Jazeera’s live updates reports, the President has apparently been arrested by mutinying soldiers, after a prolonged period of political unrest and protest. Other countries in the region have urged the soldiers to return to their barracks.

A new and openly Christian political party has been touring the country over recent weeks, trying to rally believers to their cause. I say openly Christian, because as my report on the One Party outlines, that is how they describe themselves, in contrast to other parties and politicians who have defined themselves more along the line of having ‘Christian values’. It’s quite long, but the piece also looks at the various currents taking place in political Christianity right now, gives an activist’s view account of the failure of National MP Alfred Ngaro to launch a Christian party last year, and reveals an electoral arrangement between the One Party and Hannah Tamaki’s Vision NZ.

Meanwhile, on a more meta level: That piece was made possible by Jucy and Z Energy, who have been helping me get around the country over the last two weeks to cover the election campaign outside the major centres. But for now, that project is on hold, because the campaign as a whole basically is too. I really appreciate the support of both companies so far, and hope to get back out there again next month. Personally, I’ll be heading back to Auckland today, and because it’s quite a long drive Toby Manhire will be covering tomorrow’s Bulletin.

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Right now on The Spinoff: Josie Adams speaks to a Grey Lynn GP who has gone viral (wait for it) with videos showing how to manage the symptoms of Covid-19. Stewart Sowman-Lund looks at Google data and what it indicates about how locked down Aucklanders are behaving. Catherine Woulfe writes about Midnight Sun, a new book in the wider Twilight saga.

And two things that’d be well worth watching: We’ve got Young Labour’s episode of Youth Wings, in which the chair of the Princes Street branch outlines his “almost aggressively practical and realistic” approach to politics. And Alice Snedden returns with the latest episode of Bad News, discussing racial bias and inequality in the health system.

For a feature today, a deep look inside the concerning prevalence of far-right activity in German police forces. Der Spiegel International has conducted an investigation into why an increasing number of incidents are occuring, and whether it is really being taken seriously enough. Here’s an excerpt:

There have simply been too many disturbing reports in recent months from Germany’s security apparatus. It has led to growing concerns that the incidents that have been publicized may just be the tip of the iceberg. Stephan Kramer, president of the State Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Thuringia, is one of those harboring such concerns. “When special forces units in the military and police call the state into question and perhaps even establish right-wing networks, that should make us extremely worried,” he says.

An attack on the state perpetrated by those trained to defend it – security personnel trained in the use of weapons – would be a nightmare scenario for Germany.

In a confidential report, an expert commission later pieced together that Marko G., the former SEK member from Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, began drawing concern many years ago. Other police officers were put off by the slogans uttered by Marko G. during a training event just east of Schwerin in 2009. A memo to his commander noted that he was conspicuously interested in National Socialism and especially in the SS, “without exhibiting the necessary distance.” But the memo went nowhere.

For the second week in a row, golfer Lydia Ko has suffered a final day slump in a tournament she was doing well in. Stuff reports the latest fade in a tournament put her down into a tie for 12th, having started the round in a tie for 4th, and with a real shot to claim a win. Clearly something is going right for her, given that she’s now back among the top of the field, but at the same time you’d hate to think it was becoming a pattern.

Keep going!