Live updates, February 12: Victoria re-enters lockdown; vaccination in NZ to begin in eight days

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for February 12. Get me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz. You can help keep us ticking by donating here.

4.15pm: Panel appointed to review response to Dunedin lead contamination

Dr Heather Uwins-England and Dr Jill McKenzie will conduct a rapid review into the health sector response to elevated lead in Dunedin’s Waikouaiti drinking-water supply, the Ministry of Health has announced.

The Karitane and Waikouaiti communities were advised to stop drinking water from the supply on February 2, 2021, despite the contamination first being detected six months prior.

“Dr Uwins-England, who will lead the review, and Dr McKenzie both have extensive knowledge of drinking water regulation and public health and will be able to look at the health response from an independent point of view,” said director general of health Ashley Bloomfield.

The review will include analysis of the water testing results, actions taken in response to the lead readings, when and what information was passed on to relevant organisations and/or authorities, and the appropriateness and timeliness of how the relevant information was disseminated. It is expected to be completed in March.

3.25pm: Victoria enters snap lockdown amid growing Covid cluster

The Australian state of Victoria will enter a stage four lockdown from tonight until 11.59pm next Wednesday, amid a growing cluster of Covid-19 cases.

As Newshub explained, the move back into lockdown follows a cluster of coronavirus cases linked to Melbourne’s Airport Holiday Inn growing to 13 cases. Hundreds have been identified as close contacts and all cases are infected with the UK strain of the virus.

“I am sad to have to report, it is the advice to me that we must assume that there are further cases in the community than we have positive results for, and that it is moving at a velocity that has not been seen anywhere in our country,” premier Daniel Andrews told media. “Because it is so infectious, and moving so fast, we need a circuit breaker.”

According to 9News, the latest five cases linked to the Holiday Inn cluster include a hotel worker and spouses of other hotel workers.

Melbourne is currently hosting the Australian Open tennis tournament. It’s not yet known what impact this new lockdown will have on the tournament overall.

2.40pm: All the world’s Covid-19 could fit inside a Coke can

An English university lecturer has determined that while millions of people have contracted Covid-19, all of the world’s coronavirus would fit within just a Coke can.

“My wife suggested it would be the size of an Olympic swimming pool. ‘Either that or a teaspoon,’ she said. ‘It’s usually one or the other with these sorts of questions.’,” wrote Christian Yates for The Conversation.

“When you add up all the contributions to the viral load of each of the 3 million people who became infected on each of the previous days (assuming this 3 million rate is roughly constant) then we find that there are roughly two hundred quadrillion (2×10¹⁷ or two hundred million billion) virus particles in the world at any one time.”

Yates explained that while that number might sound immense, the Covid-19 virus itself is very small. “Estimates of the diameter range from 80 to 120 nanometres,” he said. “Assuming a 50 nanometre radius (at the centre of the estimated range) of SARS-CoV-2 for the value of r, the volume of a single virus particle works out to be 523,000 nanometres³.

“Multiplying this very small volume by the very large number of particles we calculated earlier, and converting into meaningful units gives us a total volume of about 120 millilitres (ml). If we wanted to put all these virus particles together in one place, then we’d need to remember that spheres don’t pack together perfectly.”

Overall, Yates concluded that the total gathered volume of SARS-CoV-2 particles in the entire world equated to about 160ml.

Read the full, rather complex, explanation here

1.40pm: An official verdict on Anna Lorck’s parliament speech on collagen and bee pollen

National’s leader of the house Chris Bishop has been pulled up by parliament’s speaker Trevor Mallard, over an edited video of Labour MP Anna Lorck speaking on the Food (Continuation of Dietary Supplements Regulations) Amendment Bill in parliament.

Bishop has been referred to the privileges committee, which can choose to censure him on the grounds that politicians aren’t allowed to re-edit parliamentary footage for political ads.

We made Alex Braae suffer through a watch of Anna Lorck’s speech. His thoughts are below:

I decided to assess the speech on a couple of points, to determine whether or not the edited video was fair enough or a hatchet job.

Did the speech from Lorck actually address the bill?

Not really, no. It mentioned the bill, but didn’t at any stage go into any detail about the relationship between what was in the legislation and Lorck’s great grandfather’s skincare regime.

Was it selectively edited?

Not really, no. The edited version made it look like Lorck was on an infomercial, and she didn’t literally advertise the products being discussed, but that’s about all that was taken out of context.

Should Chris Bishop be punished for the edited video?

That’s beyond my knowledge of the rules, though I would simply note that the relationship between him and the speaker is at an all-time low right now.

Was the speech funny?

Do you mean laugh with, or laugh at? Because Lorck was certainly having a good laugh.

Did I come away with a greater knowledge of skin-friendly supplements?

Absolutely. Bee pollen! Deer velvet! Collagen! Berocca in the morning! Some combination of all of those and you’ll be glowing.

Was all of this a good use of parliamentary time?

It’ll probably get New Zealand’s parliament on John Oliver’s show again, so on those grounds, maybe.

Official verdict?

I need a berocca after watching that, or perhaps magnesium to drift into an eternal sleep.

Watch the full (hilarious) speech here.  

1.05pm: Two new cases of Covid-19 in managed isolation

There are two new cases of Covid-19 in managed isolation, the Ministry of Health has confirmed. There are no new cases in the community.

Twelve previously reported cases have now recovered, taking the total number of active cases in New Zealand to 44.

Our total number of confirmed cases is 1,970. The total number of tests processed by laboratories to date is 1,578,782, with 5,089 tests processed yesterday.

Since January 1, there have been 28 historical cases, out of a total of 160 cases. These historical cases have all been previously reported.

12.45pm: Quick take – what’s the big deal with the new journalism fund?

The Spinoff’s managing editor and The Fold host Duncan Greive analyses today’s announcement:

Broadcasting minister Kris Faafoi today announced a three year, $55m public interest journalism fund at the offices of the Otago Daily Times in Dunedin. The fund will be administered by NZ on Air, and any New Zealand-based media entity is eligible to apply, said Faafoi, including startups not yet in existence. The key elements, analysed:

  • The scale of the fund (split goes $10m for 2020/21 financial year, $25m in 2021/22, and $20 million in 2022/23) is substantial enough to make a real difference to the type and quantity of journalism created in New Zealand.
  • NZ on Air is the ideal entity to administer the fund, with a proven record of working with both established and startup media entities (disclosure: The Spinoff’s sister organisation company, Hex Work productions, receives NZ on Air funding for work which runs both on The Spinoff and elsewhere). It already funds journalism for the likes of Newsroom, Three and TVNZ, and has good relationships throughout the news media.
  • Faafoi essentially admitted that it would have happened sooner had NZ First not blocked it, saying that there were “issues in the last parliament with getting this funding out”. Expect to hear that refrain a number of times this year.
  • When asked about the perception that the government was attempting to “buy favour” with private media organisations which are meant to hold it to account, Faafoi admitted that might be a perception, but that it was outweighed by the need to stem the bleeding from local media, without which “democracy doesn’t work”, said Faafoi.
  • RNZ, TVNZ and other crown-owned entities were mentioned as being eligible to apply for new work, which caused some questioning around well-funded entities “double dipping”.
  • The two state broadcasters will likely be more consumed by Faafoi’s reaffirming his statement of late last year the government remains committed to assessing the business case for a merged entity.

The final analysis: then broadcasting minister Clare Curran made bold claims in 2017 about the government’s intention to help the ailing New Zealand media market. Four years and many false starts later, this is the first announcement which feels both in design and in scale ready to meet the complex challenges of funding journalism in an era dominated by big tech and the digital transition.

12.00pm: Public interest journalism fund launched, $55m over three years

The government has revealed the next phase in its pledge to support public interest journalism, investing $55 million over the next three years via a contestable fund.

The fund, administered by NZ on Air, will be open to all media entities and help fund projects that media outlets are able to show fill a public interest service and would otherwise be at risk or not produced.

“The fund will ensure this sort of journalism continues to play its vital role in sharing the stories that keep New Zealanders informed and engaged as well as supporting a healthy democracy by holding voices of influence to account,” said broadcasting minister Kris Faafoi.

The money will be available over three years, with $10 million available in the current 2020/21 financial year, $25 million in 2021/22, and $20 million in 2022/23.

“The key concepts of the fund have been developed alongside independent media experts and work is underway to gain further feedback from across the sector. These insights will help inform the detailed design and delivery of the fund,” Faafoi added.

Further details on delivery and design should be available in late March. Applications will open around the end of April.

11.25am: Richard Branson backs tie-less parliament

Business magnate Richard Branson has thrown his support behind New Zealand’s tie-less parliament, saying everyone should be able to wear whatever they are most comfortable in.

In a blog post, Branson said: “I have shared my own hatred of ties many times. A hangover from 17th century British military clothing, they are constricting, uncomfortable and lead to a dull uniformity that could be replaced by the colour and joy of more expressive choices.”

Branson’s Twitter bio now reads “Tie-loathing adventurer”.

(Image : Twitter)

We’re throwing a party – and you’re invited!

What are you doing next weekend? Want to come to a party? If you’re in Wellington February 20-21, consider yourself invited to The Garden Party, a brand new summer festival presented by Verb Wellington and The Spinoff. Held at Wellington Botanic Gardens ki Paekākā, The Garden Party is a two-day event full of interesting talks, delicious food and exciting live performances – full lineup here – and it’s almost entirely free (or by koha).

Want to know more? Check out 10 things we’re really looking forward to when the gates open at 10am on Saturday, February 20. 

9.45am: Vaccine announcement puts us ahead of Australia

This morning’s announcement of a vaccination schedule beginning in eight days is likely to lead to pressure across the Tasman on Scott Morrison. “We are still on track to commence later this month,” the Australian prime minister said last week. “That puts us in a very good position, particularly with our sovereign vaccine production capability, ahead of many countries, like New Zealand, which won’t commence until April.” Morrison is yet to specify a timetable.

Discussions are continuing about New Zealand’s support for vaccination in the Pacific, which this country is committed to. Ardern said the distribution needs of the Pfizer vaccines in particular presented challenges.

The vaccine rollout doesn’t necessarily change considerations around the trans-Tasman bubble, said Ardern. That is because research is continuing into the impact of vaccines on transmission of Covid-19.

9.20am: First batch of Pfizer vaccines arriving next week, rollout beginning Feb 20

Updated

Jacinda Ardern has announced “good news”, revealing that the first batch of the Pfizer vaccine is set to arrive in the country next week.

Speaking at an immunisation event in Auckland, Ardern said vaccination of border workers will begin on Saturday February 20 – in just eight days time. The arrival of the vaccine next week is “well within our scheduled timeframe, and ahead of previous expectations,” Ardern said.

The prime minister thanked Pfizer for delivering ahead of schedule, and thanked them for their communication with the government. “The vaccine is important for protecting our health, our freedoms.” she said.

“Our first priority is our border workers, our first line of defence,” said Ardern. Approximately 12,000 people would be vaccinated within several weeks, with their families to follow, she said. Next in line would be health workers.

Vaccination of the wider public is expected to begin in the second half of the year.

Ardern and ministers

(Photo : Alex Braae)

Ardern made the announcement flanked by transport minister Michael Wood, Covid-19 minister Chris Hipkins, health minister Andrew Little, and Dr Ashley Bloomfield.

Minister Hipkins said the first batch of vaccines would number “in the low tens of thousands” of doses.

“I think it’s 226,000 by the end of March,” said Hipkins. “Our Pfizer deliver schedule has us receiving 750,000 courses (two doses) over the first three quarters of the year. It will certainly cover all our border workers, and I’m hoping it will cover all their families in a timely fashion.”

On arrival, the vaccine must be independently tested for quality assurance, which is another important safety check. “The doses will then be formally released to start the first phase of the vaccination programme,” Hipkins said.

Ardern added: “The arrival of our first batch of doses is an important milestone in our fight against Covid-19. We now anticipate further deliveries through quarter one from Pfizer.”

The rollout is complicated by the need for freezers, to keep the vaccines intact. Most of the country’s storage freezers are in Auckland, with facilities in Christchurch as well. Family members of border workers will be asked to head to specific locations to get their vaccinations.

If border workers were unwilling to get vaccinated, it is possible that they would be moved out of frontline positions, said Ardern, but she denied that would mean they would lose their jobs.

On other brands of vaccines, Ardern said Medsafe was still undertaking the process of approval. The AstraZeneca vaccine is likely to be the next to hit our shores.

9.10am: Ardern teases ‘big day’, vaccine update expected

Jacinda Ardern has teased a “big day” on her Instagram account this morning, ahead of an announcement being made in Auckland this morning. It’s believed to be an update on the country’s Covid-19 vaccine strategy.

The prime minister will be joined by Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins, health minister Andrew Little and transport minister Michael Wood, along with director general of health Ashley Bloomfield.

It’s possible the PM could be unveiling the arrival of Pfizer vaccines ahead of the previously announced schedule of next month.

However, the presence of Wood may suggest a transport element (unless, of course, it’s actually Megan Woods – the minister of research, science and innovation.) A trans-Tasman bubble had previously been touted for the first quarter of this year, before the return of Covid-19 in Auckland and across the ditch.

We’ll have all the latest shortly and you can watch live below.

8.40am: MIQ cleaner speaks out over low pay, working conditions

A cleaner in a managed isolation facility has spoken out the low pay and tough working conditions involved with keeping Covid-19 out of the community.

The woman told RNZ that while her job has changed dramatically since the pandemic took hold, her pay has not – earning just over $19 an hour (slightly above minimum wage).

“It has had an impact on my whole life, it’s changed my routines and the way I go about things and how I interact with people,” the cleaner said. “I want to start going to the gym but I’m really afraid of bringing the virus outside of the gym and into the community.”

If a guest at the MIQ facilitiy tested positive for the coronavirus, cleaners were required to stay in the room until every surface was cleaned – and often missing breaks, she claimed.

Unite union’s national hotel organiser Shanna Reeder told RNZ it’s “just not fair”.

“These people are on the front line. They’re actually the ones that are protecting everyone, the whole country, from catching Covid by their really intense, stringent daily practices, and they’re just treated like any old other worker.”

8.00am: Magic Talk host shouts out anti-vax group

It’s not been long since Magic Talk’s Sean Plunket left the network and fill in host John Banks was dropped in a cloud of controversy. Now, morning host Peter Williams has been directing his listeners to the website of a group accused of sharing anti-vaccine and anti-mask information.

As Newsroom reported, Williams told his listeners the group – Voices for Freedom – were “asking questions similar to mine here yesterday, except they appear to know far more about the science”.

He said: “[Voices for Freedom] referred me to their website. And again, that’s asking questions similar to mine here yesterday, except they appear to know far more about the science, especially about something known as molecular mimicry. Anyway, if you want to find out more, they’re at voicesforfreedom.”

A MediaWorks spokesperson told Newsroom they weren’t concerned by Williams’ topic of conversation. “The show on Tuesday did cover discussions around Covid-19 vaccination. As mentioned on air yesterday morning, Peter hadn’t heard of the group before. He did not intend his comments to be a ‘shout-out’ to this particular group – he was purely sharing listener feedback. Peter would like to be clear he is not anti-vaccination.”

Voices for Freedom posted on their Facebook page, thanking Williams for the “shout out” and “championing these important topics.”

Read the full story here

7.45am: Top stories from The Bulletin

Last week we got a sense of the overall economic picture for the country, and today it’s worth taking a closer look at one particular place. Queenstown is something of a microcosm of the rough side of Covid-19’s economic effects. It was a hotspot of international tourism before all this, with almost a million people coming through each year, and the long term closure of the border is creating real fear for the future.

Two reports bouncing off concerns from the mayor hit the headlines this week. The ODT discussed how mayor Jim Boult fears that by the time the borders do reopen, Queenstown’s business scene won’t exist any more. “If things carry on the way they are going, we are going to have boarded-up shops, closed restaurants and inactive tourism businesses, and when tourists do finally come back, we are not going to have anything to sell them,” he said. Boult followed up with comments to Stuff, about specific businesses closing their doors. His message is to the government – that Queenstown contributed a lot to the country’s economy during the boom years, and now needs additional support to survive the bust.

But perhaps what Queenstown is going through isn’t so much a death, as a transition from one economic model to another. That comes from this fascinating report on Crux by journalist Isobel Ewing, who has covered the areas of the economy that are thriving. Among them – co-working spaces for entrepreneurs are booming, and companies that are well set up for remote working are seeing staff move there. Some tourism businesses are also getting through by recognising that their potential market has changed.A skydiving business cut their prices when the pandemic first hit, in a bid to entice domestic tourists. They’ve kept the prices down ever since, but the key point is that no staff have been laid off.

This paraphrase (not a direct quote) from the chair of the council’s recovery group gives an indication of where things might be heading – “like the region’s early gold mining sector, tourism could also be viewed as extractive, and a sustainable future relies on a move to a lower carbon economy and supporting regenerative initiatives.” It’s no secret that many people living in Queenstown came to feel tourism had gone too far – not to mention the whopping cost of living. The town may come out of Covid with a better quality of life than it had going in. But even if that better tomorrow comes, getting there will be incredibly difficult. The ODT reported this week on a survey that showed demand for mental health services has increased significantly in the region, which has been attributed in part to the economic hit.

7.30am: Yesterday’s headlines

Parliament entered a new era, with ties no longer mandatory for male MPs

There were no new cases of Covid-19 in the community or MIQ, but one new historical case was recorded.

The government announced a “significant expansion” of its flexi-wage, promising to help up to 40,000 New Zealanders into work.

New rental rules aimed at giving tenants better protection officially came into effect.

Civil Defence issued and then later cancelled a tsunami warning following a severe earthquake off the coast of New Caledonia.

On day two of Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, the US Senate watched graphic and unsettling security footage showing how close to calamity the Capitol came on January 6.

Read all the key stories in yesterday’s live updates




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