A health worker giving a Covid test in Northland (Radio NZ)

The Bulletin: What happens next after Northland Covid-19 case

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Questions to be answered about case in the community, major companies flagrantly breaching wastewater consents, and Tenancy Tribunal decisions harming abuse survivors.

As of this morning, we’re still waiting on some crucial information about the situation in Northland, after a person travelled through the region before testing positive for Covid-19. The big one will be starting to see the results of a massive community testing push. Northern Advocate journalists reported that even with extra testing sites in place, the extreme high demand for tests was not met by health officials. Two test results that matter a great deal – the woman’s husband and a hairdresser who was a close contact – came back yesterday morning as negative. That means that at this stage, there is still no confirmation that any community transmission has taken place.

At yesterday’s 1pm press conference, a few policy changes were announced. Because genomic sequencing has linked the Northland case to the Pullman managed isolation facility, that’s where several changes have been focused. People scheduled for release from the facility have had their exits delayed, and will be required to test negative again before getting out. There’s also an interesting line of questioning happening at the moment about ventilation in managed isolation hotels, and whether it contributed to the virus spreading between quarantineers – Radio NZ’s Rowan Quinn has looked into that. As Stuff’s Josephine Franks reports, there are also questions about whether two weeks is really long enough in quarantine, given this particular case tested negative twice during her fortnight-long stay.

The woman is understood to have the South African strain of the virus – so-called because that’s where in the world it was identified. For more on the various strains going around, Dr Siouxsie Wiles wrote about why the differences between them matter. There isn’t as much data on this particular strain compared to (for example) the UK strain, but it is believed to be more infectious than the original Covid-19.

Meanwhile, Australia has suspended quarantine-free travel from New Zealand, popping their half of the trans-Tasman bubble (of which the other half was never inflated.) The restrictions will be in place for the next 72 hours – the ABC reports it is being done out of an “abundance of caution”, and travel links will be reinstated if it turns out that there hasn’t been an outbreak. Anyone who has arrived in Australia from New Zealand since January 14 is being told to self-isolate, pending a negative test, and several flights to Melbourne and Sydney out of Auckland this morning have been cancelled. As the NZ Herald’s Audrey Young writes, it’ll be another problem to add to the pile discussed at today’s Cabinet meeting – the first of the year. There will also be a press conference afterwards, at which we might get a better idea of what the rest of the week looks like.

A major investigation has found rampant dumping of contaminated wastewater by major companies, polluting freshwater all over the country. The original story from Radio NZ’s Anusha Bradley specifically named a vast range of companies who had breached their consents for water discharge, with the full scale of the problem unclear, because many councils either aren’t looking, or won’t say who is committing breaches. A follow up story talked about changes that could be made to the Local Government act so that companies could be properly held to account for it.

Tenancy tribunal decisions are going against survivors of domestic abuse, who are being forced to pay for damage done to properties by abusers. Stuff’s Kirsty Johnston has reported on new research, which found that survivors are penalised for not preventing the damage from taking place, including in situations in which they were subject to violence. One particularly chilling example jumps out – a woman who “was ordered to pay despite evidence her ex-partner had broken the locks and forced his way in to attack her.” For those women who lose tribunal cases, the subsequent impacts on their lives and ability to escape abusers can be severe.

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Keep an eye out on February 1 for the draft emissions budgets from the Climate Change Commission, released in line with the Zero Carbon act. Newsroom’s Marc Daalder has previewed what we’re likely to see, with far-reaching recommendations on what New Zealand needs to do to meet international obligations. We’re currently falling short on pretty much every metric that matters, and it’s basically impossible to see how solutions can be found that’ll be politically palatable to everyone. On the transformation needed in the economy, I’d also recommend reading this piece from Stuff’s Eloise Gibson and Olivia Wannan, which looks closely at the scale of what decarbonisation will involve.

Meanwhile, this is a must-read piece about the science of trees soaking up carbon, and how that ability could start to evaporate. Miriam Guesgen reports on a new study that shows the process of photosynthesis (in brief, turning carbon into oxygen) could be slowed and reversed as temperatures increase. In other words, the further we heat the world, the harder it becomes to walk it back – and that’s with a significant amount of heating unfortunately already locked in.

In possibly related news given transport emissions, what kinds of new cars are New Zealanders buying? As Interest reports, SUVs are being added to the nationwide fleet at greater numbers than other types of car – particularly faster than NEVs (new energy vehicles) which include hybrids and electrics. The New Zealand private car fleet is typically older than that of other countries, suggesting we’ll be stuck with the SUVs for a generation.

Wellington is once again covered in its own excrement, after yet another pipe rupture. Stuff reports this one was around Victoria St, and several roads will be closed for at least today, and possibly longer, as a result. As well as that, a huge swathe of the CBD has been asked to limit themselves to “essential flushing” only (if it’s yellow, let it mellow and all that) to ease pressure on the system, and prevent anything getting into the harbour.

The National party will shift their caucus meeting from Whāngarei to Wellington, because of concerns about the unfolding Covid situation. That meeting is taking place early next week, with many MPs likely to head to Waitangi afterwards – if that is in fact possible. Today, leader Judith Collins will be giving her first big speech of the year, her State of the Nation address in Auckland.

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

Image: Tina Tiller

Right now on The Spinoff: Duncan Greive writes about just how much faster house prices and rents have risen compared to wages over the last twenty years. Catherine Woulfe speaks to poet and doctor Glenn Colquhoun about writing for young people. Michael Andrew looks at some of the consumer goods New Zealanders are currently buying at wild volumes. Sherry Zhang writes about life with irritable bowel syndrome. Leonie Hayden writes about the new home at Auckland Zoo for the orangutans. Catherine McGregor visits the Warehouse precinct in Dunedin to check out the startup culture developing there. José Barbosa checks out the extremely speedy internet at the Chorus Fibre Lab.

For a feature today, a really interesting look at a dry new financial product on the US stock exchange, and what it says about the value of resources. Radio NZ have published an analysis by local democracy reporter Marcus Anselm, who has bounced off the NASDAQ offering water contracts on five drought-prone California districts. It’s a move which reflects the changing nature of valuing water – but public health advocates are concerned about whether it will leave people priced out. Here’s an excerpt:

In December, for the first time, water futures for California districts were also being traded on the floor of the world’s second biggest market. The concept had been mooted for decades.

Tim McCourt, a specialist at the CME Group behind the scheme, said the company was using its “proven 175-year track record” to help “end users and other market participants manage risk in essential commodity markets”.

“With nearly two-thirds of the world’s population expected to face water shortages by 2025, water scarcity presents a growing risk for businesses and communities around the world, and particularly for the $1.1 billion California water market.”

Will the Tokyo Olympics go ahead? A report released over the weekend indicated the answer to that was no, with Japanese government officials said to be privately in despair at the prospects of the rescheduled games being held. But that doesn’t appear to have filtered down to national sports organisations and athletes, who at the moment basically have no choice but to prepare like it’s still happening. The NZ Herald reports the NZOC hosed down speculation, saying organisers were still committed to the July event. Part of the problem for Japan is that they’ve sunk massive sums into hosting, with little chance of seeing any returns on that at this stage. A state of emergency is currently in place in Tokyo to deal with a surge in infections, and public support for hosting has reportedly crashed.

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