Live updates, December 15: ‘Slip, slop, slap and scan’: Covid-19 summer resurgence plan revealed

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for December 15. Reach me at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

8.00pm: The day in sum

The government unveiled its Covid-19 summer resurgence plan, including an instruction for New Zealanders to isolate in their holiday bubble and not return home, should Covid suddenly return.

A Covid-19 vaccine would be ‘unlikely to replace all public health controls’, the new minister of health was told, according to a collection of post-election briefings to incoming ministers released today.

The same document release revealed plans for a second gun buyback in 2021.

ANZ, the country’s largest bank, will require a 40% deposit from residential property investors from today in a bid to curb skyrocketing house prices.

The prime minister revealed she had a “lovely” chat with the Queen this week over the phone.

Joe Biden officially secured the US presidency, with the electoral college delivering him the victory against Donald Trump projected in the days after the November election. Meanwhile attorney general Bill Barr announced he was stepping down before Christmas.

3.50pm: Negligent gas fitter ordered to pay $212,000

A gas fitter whose negligent conduct led to a devastating house explosion in Christchurch has been ordered to pay out over $200,000.

As the Herald reports, Gregory John Smith must pay $130,000 in compensation along with an $82,500 fine, after failing to tell a homeowner not to use their gas while halfway through a repair job.

3.00pm: Covid-19 summer resurgence plan announced

New Zealanders will be asked to isolate in their bubble wherever they are in the country, if Covid-19 returns to the community with no known cause over the summer break.

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield and Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins have revealed the government’s Covid-19 summer resurgence plan this afternoon.

There are a range of scenarios the government is preparing for, ranging from a contained border case to a full-on national response. The latter would be triggered if, for example, someone returned home from a musical festival and tested positive for Covid-19.

“In a worst-case scenario, if it became clear there was a high risk of widespread transmission, you’d need to stay where you are and in your bubble until you get official advice. We don’t want people rushing home and possibly taking the virus with them,” Hipkins said.

Ashley Bloomfield said this will be our first summer with Covid-19 and we need to be prepared. “People will be attending festivals… where the risk of Covid-19 is higher.”

The government and Ministry of Health have been rehearsing three key scenarios, Bloomfield said.

In the least serious of the three, a border worker tests positive for Covid-19. This would be similar to the cases over recent weeks and could mean the country remained at alert level one, if all close contacts are identified.

In the second scenario, someone at a campsite tests positive for the virus. This would involve a localised response and it’s possible that the government would introduce targeted restrictions. Up to 25,000 tests per day can now be processed, the ministry said.

In the third scenario, someone tests positive after returning from a large music festival in a different region leading to possibly hundreds of infections. If the investigation finds no obvious link to the border, then nationwide alert level escalation is possible and New Zealanders may be asked to remain in place, in their bubble, while officials determine next steps.

Asked what the message to New Zealander’s over this summer would be, Hipkins said: “Slip, slop, slap – and scan”.

2.30pm: Premier House would not have met healthy homes standards

The prime minister’s Wellington residence would not have met the government’s own healthy homes standards, were it not for recent upgrades.

The Ministerial Services briefing has revealed more work is needed, with Jacinda Ardern told the property is “dated and basic”.

“We will seek to work with you [Ardern] on options and priorities for addressing necessary repairs at the properties, and restore their condition and functionality as residences and, for Premier House, as a venue for public and official functions.”

More updates on briefings to ministers available in the 10.30am update.

2.00pm: Biden speaks after securing electoral college victory

President-elect Joe Biden has delivered his first remarks after officially securing the White House (see 11.50am update).

It means that Donald Trump’s claims of a “stolen” election become even more unlikely to be proven accurate, with Biden set to take control of the oval office in about five weeks’ time.

Speaking after the electoral college announcement, Biden said “democracy prevailed” in the recent election.

“We the people voted. Faith in our institutions held. The integrity of our elections remains intact. And so, now it is time to turn the page. To unite. To heal.”

11.50am: Biden wins electoral college vote; attorney-general quits

Joe Biden has officially secured the US presidency, with the electoral college delivering him the victory against Donald Trump projected in the days after the November election.

At this stage, Biden is tracking for 306 votes to Trump’s 232. Just 270 are required to win, meaning that Biden has won in a landslide (based on Trump’s analysis of his own victory in 2016, that is).

Meanwhile, attorney-general Bill Barr has revealed he won’t see out the remaining five week’s of Trump’s presidency, opting to stand down in time for Christmas.

11.10am: Jacinda Ardern reveals ‘lovely’ phone call with Queen

The prime minister has revealed she had a “lovely” chat with the Queen this week over the phone.

In a post on Instagram, seemingly Ardern’s preferred method for disclosing phone calls with world leaders, the PM said Her Majesty was “kind enough to check in to see how New Zealanders have been doing as we finish off the year”.

The Queen wished “everyone a wonderful break” and “shared a few memories from her time her during the holiday season”.

 

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A post shared by Jacinda Ardern (@jacindaardern)

10.30am: Briefings to incoming ministers released

Updated

The government has released a series of documents given to new ministers after the October election, outlining their goals and priorities for the coming term.

“The release of BIMs [the briefings] in one place provides the public with a full picture of the challenges the government faces,” the beehive website said.

You can see all the briefings here and I’ll try comb through and pick out some interesting points 

Vaccine ‘unlikely to replace all public health controls’, minister informed

The incoming minister of health (subsequently replaced with a specific Covid-19 response minister) was told that any Covid-19 vaccine is unlikely to replace all public health controls already in place.

“Progressing immunisation will not mean that we can immediately open the border,” the minister was told. “It is unknown whether the vaccines currently in development will provide sterilising immunity.”

The minister was also told that it is “unlikely” everyone in New Zealand will be able to get immunised initially, depending on when trials are completed and approvals are obtained for “particular population segments”.

Decisions around immigration settings ‘needed early in the next term of government’

The incoming Covid-19 response minister was told that decisions around our border, immigration and managed isolation would be needed “early” in this term of government.

“These decisions will include consideration of the current settings for critical workers and other exceptions as well as the possibility of allowing larger groups to enter,” the minister was told.

The briefing also said decisions would need to be made regarding the “ongoing supply” of managed isolation and quarantine facilities. “Ministers may wish to consider the current MIQF model, including the booking system and the overall costs. Portfolio ministers will receive advice about the quantum and timing of funding needed if the current settings continue.”

Government planning second gun buyback 

The briefing to new police minister has revealed plans for a second gun buyback in 2021.

“On 3 August 2020, cabinet agreed to the policy design for a buyback of items that were newly prohibited or restricted by the Arms Legislation Act 2020,” the briefing said.

“This enables regulations to be made in 2020 for a compensation scheme to commence in early 2021 and run for six months. Police will provide you with draft regulations in November 2020.”

9.45am: ANZ places tougher requirements on property investors

The country’s largest bank will require a 40% deposit from residential property investors from today in a bid to curb skyrocketing house prices.

There will be no change to the deposits required for first home buyers, the bank said, but the deposit for investors will go up from the current 30%.

“Escalating property prices are putting home ownership out of reach for many Kiwis. The current settings favour property investors particularly over first home buyers, potentially locking a generation of New Zealanders out of home ownership,” ANZ managing director of personal Ben Helleher said, according to 1 News.

“It’s in everyone’s interests for residential property prices to be sustainable long term, and for home ownership to be accessible to as many people as possible.

8.30am: New variant of Covid-19 spreading quickly in UK

Just a week after the first Covid-19 vaccine was given out in the UK, a new strand of the virus is beginning to spread quickly with a rush of new cases detected.

“Over the last few days, thanks to our world-class genomic capability in the UK, we have identified a new variant of coronavirus which may be associated with the faster spread in the south of England,” said Matt Hancock, the UK health secretary.

Over 1000 new cases of the new variant have been found, predominantly in the south of England. “Numbers are increasing rapidly,” Hancock said.

In response to the spike of new cases, London has been placed into a “tier three lockdown”.

7.45am: Former deputy speaker agreed to taxpayers paying Mallard’s bill

There’s a new development in the story of Trevor Mallard – the speaker of the house – and concerns over his costly legal battle.

It stemmed from comments Mallard made in which he wrongly claimed a rapist was working at parliament. Last week, it was revealed the subsequent legal costs topped $300,000, causing both National and Act to lose confidence in the speaker and call for his resignation.

Today, RNZ’s reported that Anne Tolley – the former deputy speaker and National MP – changed the rules last year so that speakers, including Mallard, would have access to the same legal financial support as ministers.

Mallard was “essentially the minister of Parliamentary Services, he’s responsible for the management of parliament,” Tolley told RNZ. “It didn’t seem right that there was not a similar protection for him.”

Tolley said she received Crown Law advice that indicated roughly how much the legal costs would be for the taxpayer. “I didn’t have an exact amount but I did have a range of costs,” she said. The actual cost revealed last week was within that range, she said.

“The decision I made was to put in place a process that gave the speaker of parliament the same protections as a cabinet minister,” said Tolley.

“At some stage National will be in government and they will have a speaker. We’re a much more litigious community these days, so it may well be that National’s speaker gets into trouble.”

The former MP would not comment on National’s decision to criticise the speaker and call for him to quit.

7.35am: Top stories from The Bulletin

There’s still some water to go under the air bridge, but a trans-Tasman travel bubble could become a reality early next year. At her post-cabinet press conference yesterday, PM Jacinda Ardern said cabinet had agreed in principle to launch one early next year, reports the NZ Herald. Travellers through that bubble would need to be segregated, and Covid minister Chris Hipkins will be visiting Auckland Airport to see how they plan to do this. However, the upshot of such a bubble opening would be that travellers wouldn’t need to quarantine for two weeks at each end, which would provide a serious boost for tourism, not to mention making the prospect of thousands of family reunions more likely.

So what are the potential sticking points? The other side of the bubble, for one. The ABC reports the Australian government has warmly welcomed the announcement, with health minister Greg Hunt describing it as a “first step on a return to international normalcy.” Much of Australia already allows people to come in from New Zealand without quarantine, but not all, and not on the way back into New Zealand. Any such bubble would also be contingent on Covid numbers staying very low in both countries. Australia has spent a decent period of time with low new case numbers, after an outbreak in Victoria earlier this year was squashed.

It also follows the announcement of progress on a travel bubble between New Zealand and the Cook Islands. The Cook Islands News reports that (all going to plan) that should be in place by the end of March 2021. However, there is a bit of skepticism from the tourism industry there about whether there was much new in the announcement, and questioned why there was still no firm timeline of steps for free movement to resume. Regardless, the NZ Herald reports travel inquiries to both the Cook Islands and Australia have been surging in the wake of the announcements.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

Quarantine-free travel with Australia is expected to be permitted in the first quarter of 2021. A commencement date for the travel bubble will be announced in the new year.

Jacinda Ardern refused to confirm if a deal had been reached at Ihumātao despite widespread media speculation.

Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard is expected to face questions in select committee over a costly legal dispute that arose after he wrongly claimed an accused rapist was working at parliament.

The University of Otago has decided to postpone all remaining ceremonies meaning there will be no graduations to end the year.

There were no new cases of Covid-19 announced.

Read all the key stories in yesterday’s live updates




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