Live updates, February 5: One new Covid-19 case in MIQ; probe into controversial tourism rescue funding launched

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for February 5. Reach me at aliceneville@thespinoff.co.nz. Keep The Spinoff ticking by donating here.

4.00pm: NZ First launches reviews into what went wrong at election

New Zealand First has set up two sub-committees to take a “warts and all” look at the party’s downfall, reports Jo Moir of Newsroom. One is reviewing the entire election campaign, while the other is taking a wider look at the party’s constitution, and both reviews will be tabled at a party convention in Auckland on June 19-20.

According to the report, the full membership will be invited and the “plaster will be ripped off’’.

Former NZ First MP Shane Jones hosted his annual Waitangi party in Kerikeri last night, reports Newsroom, which was attended by the party’s old caucus, including Tracey Martin and Jenny Marcroft, who recently quit.

2.40pm: Greens announce Māori priorities; PM wants law banning conversion therapy by end of year

Speaking at Waitangi today, Greens co-leader Marama Davidson announced the party’s priorities for Māori in the coming term.

Flanked by fellow Greens Māori caucus MPs Teanau Tuiono and Dr Elizabeth Kerekere, Davidson laid out the following priorities, also sent to supporters via email:

  1. An iwi-led response to homelessness and family and sexual violence
  2. Ensuring iwi, whānau and hapū have a say in decisions that affect them
  3. Protecting the rights of takatāpui; in particular trans, intersex, and non-binary people
  4. Kaitiakitanga of whenua, awa and moana
  5. Ensuring a government response to the Matike Mai Report, and
  6. Creating an independent Māori health authority

Kerekere, who holds the party’s rainbow portfolio, said there was “no excuse” for delays in passing legislation banning conversion therapy, reports Stuff. “We’ve seen over Covid that decisions can be made fast in parliament if that’s the political will. Conversion therapy is a form of torture, it uses people’s religion and faith against them.”

She said she did not know why something that had such a high priority during the election campaign, which was hoped to draw rainbow votes, “is suddenly off the table”.

Around the same time, however, the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, was telling reporters she wanted to see legislation in the house by the end of the year.

This morning, National MP Simon Bridges said he was concerned a conversion therapy ban would impinge on freedom of speech and be a step towards “cancel culture” (see 11am update).

1.00pm: One new Covid-19 case at the border

One new case of Covid-19 has been detected in a managed isolation facility, said the Ministry of Health in a statement. There are no new cases in the community.

The new case arrived from India via the United Arab Emirates on January 28 and tested positive around day seven of their stay – they were a contact of a previous case.

The total number of active cases in New Zealand is 62 and our total number of confirmed cases is 1,959.

The total number of tests processed by laboratories to date is 1,551,707. Yesterday, 4,875 tests were processed. The seven-day rolling average up to yesterday is 4,710 tests processed.

The new community case announced yesterday, known as Case D, was moved into quarantine yesterday. Case D has no close contacts to follow up due to being in self-isolation and therefore the public health risk is considered to be low,” said the ministry.

Reminder to scan in over Waitangi weekend

“If you’re out and about over Waitangi weekend it’s more important than ever that you keep a record of where you’ve been,” said director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield in a statement.

“We continue to strongly encourage people to continue to scan using the NZ Covid Tracer app and turn on bluetooth. The more we all scan, the safer we’ll all be. Scanning helps our contact tracers to quickly find and alert any potential close and casual contacts of people who have tested positive for Covid-19.”

Update 2.55pm: The Ministry of Health has issued a correction after earlier saying one active case had recovered, bringing the number active cases down to 61. In fact no further cases have recovered and the number of active cases remains at 62.

12.40pm Inquiry into government’s funding of tourism businesses launched

The auditor general, John Ryan, will carry out an inquiry into aspects of the government’s controversial strategic tourism assets protection programme, under which industry heavyweights like AJ Hackett Bungy, Discover Waitomo and Whale Watch Kaikōura received multimillion-dollar payouts.

The $290 million strategic assets protection programme (Stapp), announced in last May’s budget as part of a $400m tourism rescue package, was criticised by many in the industry, as the aforementioned companies got in ahead of the formal selection process and scooped up much of the funding, as Stuff reports.

A media release from the auditor general’s office this morning said, “Concerns about the programme have been raised in the media and with our office. Tourism businesses have questioned the clarity and transparency of the programme’s criteria and whether they were applied consistently. Because of the concerns we have heard, the amount of public funding involved, and the importance of robust processes to ensure public trust and confidence is not eroded, we have decided to carry out an inquiry.”

12.20pm: Inflation for beneficiaries three times higher

Annual inflation for beneficiaries was almost three times higher than for all households last year, partly driven by higher rents, according to Stats NZ.

As measured in the household living-costs price indexes, in the year to December 2020 inflation for beneficiary households increased by 1.9%, compared to an overall annual inflation increase of 0.7% for all households.

The rise was driven by a 3.6% increase to actual rentals for housing, which was 3.2% for all households.

11.00am: Banning conversion therapy could be attack on free speech, says Bridges

Simon Bridges, the ex-National Party leader and current spokesperson for justice, has concerns about the proposed Labour bill to ban the controversial practice of gay conversion therapy.

Appearing on The AM Show this morning, Bridges said he agreed that coercion was “absolutely wrong” and people had a right to “decide who they are”, but added, “I personally do have a wider concern here and it’s freedom of speech. It’s a thought that in a liberal society, in a tolerant society, we have been very tolerant of different views.

“We are, with this and the hate speech laws coming, moving down a track to a situation where it is actually cancel culture.

“If we don’t like it we are going to criminalise it and I do worry about that.”

During National’s caucus retreat in Wellington this week, National leader Judith Collins said the party had no position on conversion therapy.

10.00am: Commerce Commission issues public holiday surcharge warning

Businesses must be clear and upfront with public holiday surcharges this Waitangi long weekend, the Commerce Commission says.

This year, Waitangi Day falls on a Saturday (tomorrow), so the public holiday has been “Mondayised”.

“Some businesses may face additional costs on Saturday 6 February, others on Monday 8 February and some may face additional costs on both days (for example, if they have some staff who usually work on Saturday and some who usually work on Monday),” says the Commerce Commission in a media release.

“Working out which day is a public holiday can be confusing, which is why the Commission is reminding businesses that they must be upfront about surcharges and check that they are applying them on the right days.

“It is likely to be misleading and a breach of the Fair Trading Act for businesses to charge a public holiday surcharge on days when they do not actually incur additional costs.”

Consumers who think the’ve been misled about the reason for a surcharge, or the amount of a surcharge, or who believe that the surcharge has not been adequately disclosed, can make a complaint to the Commerce Commission.

9.40am: PM meets with Iwi Chairs Forum

The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, deputy prime minister Grant Robertson and a group of senior Labour ministers are currently meeting with the National Iwi Chairs Forum over video conference at the Te Puni Kōkiri office in Whangārei.

The meeting, usually held at Waitangi, is being held online due to Covid-19 concerns. Ardern will speak to reporters after the meeting ends, at about 10am, reports Stuff.

8.00am: Aviation sector-funded border relaxation plan too risky, experts say

New research funded by New Zealand’s aviation sector proposes selectively relaxing our border restrictions depending on each country’s Covid-19 risk level, suggesting we could offer quarantine-free travel or shorter stays in quarantine to arrivals from some less Covid-afflicted areas.

The study, published today in the New Zealand Medical Journal, is funded by Auckland Airport, Wellington Airport, Christchurch Airport and Air New Zealand. Its authors include Air New Zealand chief medical officer Ben Johnston and controversial “Plan B” spokesperson Simon Thornley.

“We need to be planning long term for a future where our staff and terminal infrastructure are responding to new requirements and protections to reduce the risk of virus transmission,” said Auckland Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood in a media release. “Gaining a science-based understanding of the border risks and mitigations is key to this future planning.”

In a statement, Shaun Hendy, who leads Te Pūnaha Matatini’s Covid-19 modelling programme, said the methodology used in the research was broadly sound, but the practicality of using reported fatalities to categorise traveller risk was questionable due to the lag time between infection and death. He also said the global situation had changed considerably since the research was undertaken, and implementing the scheme “would increase the frequency of MIQ failures, the chances of a larger outbreak and the chances of another regional lockdown by something like 20-50%”.

Professor Michael Plank of Te Pūnaha Matatini and University of Canterbury said that implementing a risk-based border system made sense, but now was not the time to do it. “We will need a framework of this type to relax border restrictions once the world begins to emerge from the pandemic. However, Covid-19 is more prevalent now that at almost any point in the past. At the moment, we need to do everything we can to reduce the risk of importing Covid-19 into the community, not taking on additional risk.”

7.45am: Top stories from The Bulletin

Our cousins over the ditch are having a tough time of it at the moment, with Covid-19 lockdowns coinciding with fire season. It’s particularly bad in Western Australia – millions of people are locked down right now in Perth, Peel and the Southwest, in conditions similar to alert level three. Perth Now reports that with four days of no new cases, that is on track to come to an end tomorrow. The short lockdown was ordered after a person who worked at the border tested positive with the UK strain. Conditions will be phased down, but the reaction reflects a willingness to act much harder against outbreaks, after the lessons of 2020 outbreaks in Sydney and Melbourne.

But that’s not the only emergency being dealt with right now. Fierce fires are burning to the northeast of Perth, and WA Today reports a total of 81 houses have been confirmed destroyed. Fresh fires have been breaking out constantly, putting extra pressure on an already fatigued workforce. The combined situation made international headlines, with CNN reporting that people in WA who were locked down have been told that if it comes down to it, evacuating out of the path of the fire should take a higher priority.

In general terms, new cases in the community in Australia are at very low levels. But like with the cancellation of Waitangi events, there are events in doubt. A series of warm-up events for the Australian Open tennis tournament have been cancelled after a similar case, though the tournament is at this stage still going ahead. The SMH reports that has resulted in a few measures being brought back in, along with the pausing of previous relaxations.

Meanwhile, progress on vaccines for Australia continues. The ABC reports ten million more doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been secured, and at this stage the rollout is planned to start at the end of this month. That’s ahead of when New Zealand is currently scheduled to receive the vaccine. There as here, there are also calls to shun ‘vaccine nationalism’, with this piece on Crikey arguing that the situation in Australia is sufficiently secure to wait a bit longer for the doses to arrive.

A controlled case of Covid-19 has been detected in the community. The case was a family member of a previously identified case, and she has been in isolation and tested repeatedly, with Tuesday’s test coming back positive. Our live updates has the details, and health authorities say all other close contacts are isolating, and they’re not specifically expecting further positive tests. Meanwhile, the NZ Herald reports a man who came to New Zealand as a seasonal worker has died in managed isolation – he did not have Covid-19.

Waikouaiti and Karitane residents have increasing concerns for the health of local children after the lead contamination issues, reports Radio NZ’s Eleisha Foon. It has been revealed that the level of lead in the water spiked at much higher levels than previously thought – rather than being four times the acceptable limit, it was actually 40 times higher in one sample. Residents quoted in the story have talked about either themselves or this kids having long-running and unexplainable illnesses over the last six months. Blood tests for lead levels will begin next week. A public meeting will be taking place tonight for affected residents.

There will be a public holiday for Matariki next year, with June 24 selected as the date. Te Ao News reports the decision for that was made by a Matariki Advisory Group, and the exact timing of it will shift each year. PM Jacinda Ardern said at Waitangi that it was “our first public holiday that recognises te ao Māori”. As Radio NZ reports, Ardern also said it would “break up the lag” between Queen’s Birthday and Labour Weekend – always a depressingly long period without a public holiday. Not to take too much of a victory lap, but I made an extremely confident prediction a few years ago that a Matariki public holiday would be put in place by now, and here it is.

The privacy commissioner is looking into information landlords are collecting and sharing around tenants, reports Stuff. There was a list and a facebook group of so-called bad tenants, which featured full names and locations. One fear is that people might unknowingly find themselves on blacklists, at a time when rentals are hard to find. John Edwards said there was some information landlords did have the right to collect, but often not around a tenant’s personal life.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.30am: Yesterday’s headlines

The first annual Matariki public holiday will be celebrated on Friday, June 24, 2022, Jacinda Ardern announced from Waitangi.

The mother of the young child who contracted Covid-19 in managed isolation in Auckland last month has now tested positive herself.

A person died from a non-Covid-related medical incident at the Crowne Plaza MIQ facility in Auckland.

New Covid-19 restrictions were reintroduced in Victoria after a worker at a quarantine facility tested positive for Covid-19.

A number of people had to be tested for Covid-19 twice during the recent Northland scare due to an “error in the system”, confirmed Ashley Bloomfield.

Read all the key stories in yesterday’s live updates




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