A supermarket shopper wearing a mask in Auckland (Getty Images)
A supermarket shopper wearing a mask in Auckland (Getty Images)

The BulletinMarch 2, 2021

The Bulletin: Self-isolation system under heavy scrutiny

A supermarket shopper wearing a mask in Auckland (Getty Images)
A supermarket shopper wearing a mask in Auckland (Getty Images)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Self-isolation system under heavy scrutiny, first home deposit requirements rising rapidly, and should South Auckland get vaccine first?

The government’s leave support scheme for those supposed to self-isolate has paid out only a small portion of the available budget to date, reports Stuff’s Henry Cooke. The money paid out goes to employers on the assumption that it is paid out to employees, and at a rate less than minimum wage. That is sparking calls from the trade unions for changes in the amount paid out, and for consideration around whether it should go directly to employees in the first instance. As Business Desk (paywalled) reports, economist Shamubeel Eaqub is adding his voice to the calls, suggesting the self-isolation payments should be linked to income.

In response to questions, PM Jacinda Ardern defended the sick leave provisions in place, reports the NZ Herald. She said they were never meant to be a full entitlement, and that employers should be accessing what they’re eligible for in order to continue supporting their workers. There are currently no plans to increase the payments, or make them direct.

Questions are also being raised about the messaging being given to those self-isolating, and whether it is accurate. Newshub’s Michael Morrah has revealed Case L – a KFC worker – received advice in the form of a text saying she did not need to self isolate, and that the information received by her sister was in fact the “complete opposite” of what officials have claimed. Seeing the text in the story, it isn’t clear who exactly sent it, but it’s easy to see how it would have been taken as official by the recipient. The person said letters and phone calls did not reach them, and wants Ardern to apologise for saying she broke the rules – something that Ardern declined to do yesterday.

On that point, I want to hear from you. If you’ve got a test recently, can you please email me (thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz) to tell me what advice you were given about the need to self-isolate? That especially applies if you’ve got any connection to the Papatoetoe cluster. If you can include pictures of any documentation so we can verify it, that would be great – basically we’re trying to assess whether the advice going out is clear and consistent. Anecdotal evidence from around our office would suggest it currently isn’t.

Meanwhile, the PM is calling on people to speak to their friends and neighbours if they’re not following alert level rules, reports Justin Giovannetti. It’s a step up in rhetoric around the compliance the government is seeking, but Ardern clarified at her post-cabinet press conference that she wasn’t asking for people to dob others in to police. She also said that questions around punishment for rulebreakers wasn’t for politicians to answer, leaving that as an operational matter for police. We’ve also published a piece by professor Andrew Geddis, exploring the legal and moral concerns around an enforcement crackdown.

The relative cost of coming up with a housing deposit for a first home is rising much faster than wages, according to data analysed by Greg Ninness at Interest. While it dropped slightly in January for the low end of the market, that didn’t come close to offsetting the large rise over the twelve months to date. “That makes it likely that even those saving hard out for a deposit would have gone backwards over the last 12 months, with the extraordinary rise in prices pushing their dream of home ownership even further out of reach,” wrote Ninness.

Should Auckland, and South Auckland in particular, be prioritised for the vaccine rollout? Josie Adams has explored that question, with increasing calls being made in support of it. Mayor Phil Goff previously made a call for Auckland to get vaccinated first, on account of being the epicentre of the last three lockdowns. National leader Judith Collins agrees, saying South Aucklanders are more likely to be on the frontlines, where vaccines are most needed. But it may be a trickier question to answer than it first appears, and there are a couple of counterpoints. The first is that elderly people are more vulnerable wherever they are. And the second is that some conspiracy-minded people might see such a move, and spread a (false) message that an experiment is being conducted on a less wealthy area.

Meanwhile, this is a good piece on the brunt borne by South Auckland, especially this latest lockdown. Justin Latif has spoken to Counties Manukau District Health Board chair Vui Mark Gosche, who says the sterling work of the region’s border workforce and healthcare staff in keeping the pandemic contained shouldn’t be overlooked. “You watch who’s doing the vaccinating and who’s doing the testing, and it’s almost always our Māori and Pacific workforce, right at the front lines. We owe a lot to them, as they do the jobs that others might baulk at, but there’s been no reluctance to get in and do that real frontline stuff that’s keeping us all safe.”

We’ve been doing our utmost to bring you all the coverage you need of the Covid-19 outbreaks and lockdowns – you may notice how many pieces about Covid in today’s Bulletin were published on The Spinoff. And we can’t do it without the generous support of our members. If you want to help out our news team with this and other big stories, please sign up here.

A group of mayors have called for an inquiry into regional bank closures, and the impact it has on smaller communities, reports Radio NZ. Kiwibank has become the latest to announce it will be closing branches, shutting seven over the next year, despite a recent rise in net profit. In all more than 30 mayors signed the letter. I wrote about one of the measures being rolled out to address the crisis in rural banking last year – the regional banking hub smart ATMs which are being trialled right now – and whether they really match up to the service provided by a branch.

Facebook advertising has been caught out claiming to reach thousands more user accounts in a demographic band than actually existing people in the country, reports Damien Venuto for the (paywalled) NZ Herald. It isn’t the first time the social media platform has been accused of juicing their reach stats – though after previous incidents that dented the company’s credibility it is much less surprising. The numbers have been defended by Facebook on the grounds that they may be influenced by people having multiple accounts, or being temporary visitors.

A correspondent yesterday suggested I was a bit vague with explaining what was happening in the Chinese province of Xinjiang, and why it mattered. So, for those who haven’t heard about the issue, here is a concise BBC explainer on the treatment of the Uyghur population, particularly the reports of mass incarceration, forced labour and other human rights abuses.

From our partners: The secret to bringing down the road toll will involve both better drivers, and better technology in all sorts of vehicles. I spoke to the people on the front line of road safety about the plan to turn the dire stats around.

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

Which of these dudes will our Lexie choose? (Image: Tina Tiller)

Right now on The Spinoff: Nadine Anne Hura goes exploring the whakapapa of previous climate negotiations, to see where we are now. Alice Peacock meets five locked down New Zealanders in London who are producing traditional Kiwi pies. Alie Benge reviews the weird and wonderful new book of essays by Danyl McLauchlan. Nicky Andrews reviews E Oho, a new side-scrolling adventure game takes you, the atua Pūhaorangi, through the celestial realms to find your son Ohomairangi. Jane Yee and Tara Ward do an emergency recap of the Bachelor finale.

And we’re hiring: The Spinoff is after a brand new social media specialist, to apply a social strategy and sometimes create content. You’d be working for both us, and our sister studio Daylight Creative. If you’re interested, apply by March 12.

For a feature today, a strong scientific piece on the current treatment of rivers, and what we could or should be doing differently. Published on The Conversation, a group of academics have written about current thinking on rivers, and how it treats the bodies of water as static and unchanging – often with dangerous consequences. Here’s an excerpt:

There are always trade-offs. For example, planting introduced willows along river banks is a cost-effective way of trying to control the river in the short term. But willows spread aggressively and choke the river, diminishing habitat diversity and reducing the river’s capacity to transport flood waters and gravel. This exacerbates risk in the medium to long term.

In scientific terms, effective approaches to river management look after the geomorphology of river systems — the interactions that shape the changing mosaic of river habitats — alongside concerns for water quality and aquatic ecology. This requires analysis of flows and sediment deposition to assess how a river uses its energy.

When a river has space to move, it dissipates its energy. This builds its capacity to recover from disturbances and maintain a dynamic but stable state. Constraining a river’s flow into a restricted space concentrates flow energy, increases flood magnitude and accentuates problems downstream.

In sport today, a piece that does really well to capture how bizarre the big boxing match on Saturday night was. The NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Dylan Cleaver has written about the Parker-Fa bout, in particular dwelling on the shift in mood when the shift in alert levels was revealed. He also goes into detail about how this was basically a make or break fight for Parker, who will now once again be in a position to start looking up the rankings at future opponents, rather than down.

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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