A barber in Auckland wearing a face mask while working at alert level two (Getty Images)

The Bulletin: Is Auckland ready for level two?

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Auckland drops down to alert level two, poor government communications create huge queues for testing, and eyebrows raised at US ambassador dodging quarantine facilities.

Ready or not, the country’s largest city is as of this morning at alert level two. It’s fair enough to ask whether it is the right call – though of course the complexity of such a decision also needs to be carefully considered, because while it might be the right call on some measures, it might be the wrong call on others.

First of all – what helped the government make the decision last time the country went from alert level three to two? According to the original alert level setting, “limited community transmission” wouldn’t necessarily stop us being at level two, nor would active clusters. It’s fair to say that those two criteria can be applied to the current situation, even if it is open to interpretation. But even so, the NZ Herald reports some experts say the move is premature, including the likes of Shaun Hendy and Michael Baker, who have been instrumental in the response to date. As PM Jacinda Ardern put it, the city is really moving more towards alert level 2.5,reports Radio NZ. That means those who can work from home are encouraged to do so, in particular. It will also mean that gatherings (apart from funerals and tangihanga) will be restricted to 10 people.

It’s worth noting that testing volumes and contact tracing systems have improved markedly since the last time such a move was made. That at least is one conclusion of a report led by a team around Sir Brian Roche, and covered by Radio NZ’s Rowan Quinn. But academic Michael Plank, in commenting on improvements in the contact tracing system, noted that it had performed well under the much more manageable conditions of level three – there is still a risk that such a system could become overwhelmed at level two.

There’s also the question of social license for continued lockdowns. Now, according to polling conducted by The Spinoff and Stickybeak last week, a clear majority of people still say they’re entirely complying with lockdown conditions – but that figure is down compared to when the same question was asked in April. Recent polling has also reconfirmed deep and wide support for an elimination strategy, which really requires lockdowns to take place. But a lot of businesses have really struggled this time around – arguably more so than last time – and we’re seeing a small but extremely vocal protest movement against lockdowns spring up. We shouldn’t necessarily be all that interested in their theories about Covid-19 being a UN plot for world subjugation, but we should probably take notice of the frustration.

Coming out of alert level three also means that Aucklanders will once again be able to travel. Dr Hendy was also quoted in this Stuff story which addressed the question of whether we could now see outbreaks in other parts of the country – in short, it’s a real risk that people with previously unseen cases could take it on tour.

So with all that in mind, the original question – is Auckland ready for the move? The answer is basically yes, but it’s risky – so that yes is contingent on people actually doing the right thing. Those who have any symptoms at all must both stay home, and get tested in a safe manner. You must wear a mask on public transport. Maintain social distancing, wash your hands, and keep track of where you go in case you need to be contact traced. None of that stuff is very hard at all either! It’s certainly easier than going back into lockdown.


Some alarmingly poor health communication went out over the weekend, leading to a furious response from the PM. The all-of-government Unite for Covid-19 group basically wrongly told everyone in South and West Auckland to get a test, even if they didn’t have symptoms, in a message that stayed online for a full day. Radio NZ reports the PM said she was “incredibly angry” at the call, because it cut against the (otherwise fairly strong) clarity of messaging that is needed. As the NZ Herald reports, there were some consequences of the mistake – huge lines formed at testing centres on Sunday, which could potentially harm capacity for those who really did need to get a test. Anyway, if you were one of those who did go out to get a test despite not having symptoms, thanks for doing what you understood to be the right thing.


Eyebrows have been raised at US ambassador Scott Brown dodging a stint in managed isolation on returning to the country, reports Stuff’s Andrea Vance. He tested negative for Covid-19 before returning, and says he and his wife have been wearing masks and observing strict self-isolation. But it is understood that staff at the embassy, along with diplomats at MFAT, were upset at the refusal to follow the same procedures as everyone else. Diplomats are among the few groups of people that cannot be required to do their fortnight of isolation in approved government facilities.


You’ll have to watch this story rather than read it, but it’s a worthwhile look into a bubbling local government issue. Q+A’s Whena Owen reports mayors around the country are nervous about the upcoming Three Waters reforms, which (crude description) aim to trade cash to redevelop creaky infrastructure, in exchange for central government taking more control of local water systems. That in turn is leading to concerns – or hopes, depending on who is speaking – that it’s part of a wider trend towards amalgamations between councils, and a more general push to centralise how the country is governed, at the expense of local government.


With the NZX going offline repeatedly last week because of cyber-attacks, will this week be any better? As this piece from Business Desk’s (paywalled) Paul McBeth notes, the GCSB has got involved to try and keep everything afloat today. A detail out of it all that may not have been clear – it wasn’t the exchange itself that was getting hacked as such, rather it was the website which was repeatedly taken down. This prevented market sensitive announcements from being published, “meaning it couldn’t allow trading in an environment where some investors were blind to important news.”


A sentence was handed down last week of a fortnight in prison for a mother who escaped from managed isolation with her kids. As Leonie Hayden explains in this searing opinion piece, that’s not necessarily anything to celebrate, and even in the context of New Zealand’s collective Covid response, could end up doing more harm than good. “Not only was this family denied compassionate exemption, they were also denied compassion. I won’t celebrate that,” writes Hayden.


Here’s a piece that might hit a bit close to home for many, for various reasons. Newsroom’s Dileepa Fonseka has written about the people who put themselves on the left who argue against housing density, and what motivates them to do so – along with the criticism that such objections lock many of those the left should be advocating for out of good affordable housing. The Spinoff’s coverage also cops a serve from former Auckland councillor Mike Lee. Most of all though, I just want to highlight this incredible intro line: “Labour Party Prime Minister Norman Kirk may have said all Kiwis wanted was somewhere to live, but he never said it had to be right next door to his place.”


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

Illustration: Tina Tiller

Right now on The Spinoff: We’ll split this up today into news and culture. Laura Rapira O’Connell writes about the underlying education system problem of giving a private school millions of dollars in ‘green’ funding. Ross Bell of the Drug Foundation calls for a yes vote on the cannabis referendum, in the tradition of previous world-leading progressive legislation. A group of writers examine the nature of community post-Covid, and the direction of energy communities have to put into making changes. Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris explain the ‘Covid triangle’ – or how the virus interacts with both people and the wider social environment. Michael Andrew writes about the big plans for the grand old Unitec building in the heart of Mt Albert. Duncan Greive looks at the returning New Zealander diaspora, and the potential economic benefits of it.

And in culture: Our writers have picked out 10 great TV shows that may have passed you by this year. Alie Benge has a wonderful essay about learning to get comfortable with what online dating can be, rather than the horror show it is often understood as. Mirjam Guesgen delves into the world of weed for pets. Jennifer Little writes about how contact with nature eased the pain of the loss of human touch this year. And Michelle Langstone speaks to writer Pip Hall about creative growth, and the way that music can help writers unlock their characters.


On one level, this is a story about dodgy dealings by a company in the burgeoning medicinal cannabis industry. But what really jumps out at me in this excellent feature by Stuff’s Tony Wall is the way that it elaborates on business practices that create little of genuine value – only the smokescreen of excitement for gullible investors to fall for. The story concerns the so-called ‘Wolf of Weed St’, entrepreneur Ross Henry Smith, who left a trail of bitterness in his wake. Here’s an excerpt for today’s feature:

Smith would later use that term in court, during a hearing to determine whether his shares in Medicann were void. He explained to the court how “pump and dump” was how he made his money.

“As an investment banker, we put together early stage companies,” he explained. “We put a management team around it, and then we list it on the stock exchange, and then we sit out our escrow period and then chisel that stock out of the market. That is how I make my money. I don’t work for a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year, all right. I make millions, all right, tax free.”

Smith tells Stuff he stood to make $10m from the plan – “what we call a 10 bagger in Australia” – and Ogilvy $5m. “I am painted as the bad guy because I want to make money. This is what investment bankers do. John Key – do you think he got wealthy working for a living?”


They’re still outside the top eight, but it’s turning into a season to be proud of for the Warriors. The team smashed the Newcastle Knights over the weekend, in a performance that started gutsy and finished beautifully, to keep their chances of making the playoffs alive. Just have a look at the highlights to see how classy some of the finishing was. To reiterate, the Warriors have spent the entire season away from home, dealing with extreme difficulties in keeping players on the park along with off-field management issues, and yet they’ve still come up with four wins from the last five games. Remarkable stuff for a team that by all rights should be scrapping to avoid the wooden spoon.


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



The Spinoff is made possible by the generous support of the following organisations.
Please help us by supporting them.