For all The Spinoff’s latest coverage of Covid-19 see here. Read Siouxsie Wiles’s work here. New Zealand is currently in alert level one – read about what that means here. For official government advice, see here.
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8.20pm: Govt confirms Covid pair got lost, had ‘limited physical contact’ with two friends who guided them
As evidence emerged to back up MP Michael Woodhouse’s claim that the two women who tested positive for Covid-19 after being allowed out of isolation shared a “kiss and cuddle” with someone who helped them when they got lost trying to leave Auckland, the Ministry of Health has issued a press release.
Sent just after 8pm, the release confirms the women, who had recently arrived from Britain and were granted compassionate leave from mandatory isolation to visit a dying relative in Wellington, had contact with not one but two people who helped them navigate Auckland’s motorway system.
“Upon leaving the Novotel [Ellerslie] in a private vehicle provided by friends, the women got lost on the Auckland motorway system,” says the press release.
“On realising this they phoned the same friends who supplied the vehicle, who met and guided them to the correct motorway so they could go in the right direction. As part of this the pair were in limited physical contact with the two friends for approximately five minutes.”
“These two people have been contacted by local health authorities for a health check. Both had already had a test for Covid-19 once they heard of the positive results and are in self isolation.”
The release says “the information was gathered as part of a second interview conducted by the local public health unit on Tuesday evening and subsequent interviews on Wednesday”, and passed on to the Ministry of Health only this afternoon. The women had originally told authorities they had contact with no one on the journey from Auckland to Wellington, and only one family member in Wellington.
This afternoon, when health minister David Clark was asked about the claim by Woodhouse in parliament, Clark said, “I have been assured that there was no contact on their journey to the place where they visited their relative in the Wellington region.” (See 3pm update.)
The press release is careful not to lay blame, saying “it is important to remember that the two women were distressed at the time by the sudden death of their family member. It is not uncommon for information and details to evolve, including details being missed during case interviews and contact tracing where there is heightened emotion, intense grief and stress.”
The release also says that health officials have learned of “contactless deliveries of food or care packages to the women while they have been in self-isolation in recent days”. As the deliveries were contactless, there is no risk to the community from these interactions, says the release.
Meanwhile, earlier this evening the Herald reported that the person – or one of them, as it has now emerged – who had contact with the pair attended a gym class in the following days. According to a Facebook post, the person attended a “hands-on” training session at the Lioness Gym for Women in the Auckland suburb of Highland Park yesterday morning, before she knew her friends had tested positive.
7.20pm: Mike Bush claims six absconded from leave to attend Hamilton funeral, two yet to be ’rounded up’
Six people absconded after being granted an compassionate exemption from managed isolation to attend a Hamilton funeral, former police commissioner Mike Bush has told Newstalk ZB. Two of them, aged eight and 18, were yet to be “rounded up”, he said in an interview with Heather du Plessis-Allan this evening.
“I understand that authorities are working on the last two, to get them back into managed isolation, but the important thing is that they tested negative,” Bush said.
Yesterday director general of health Ashley Bloomfield told media that just two teenagers had run away after being allowed to go to the funeral, and that they had both been located.
12.20: Bauer Media confirms sale to private equity firm
Bauer Media has confirmed the sale of its Australian and New Zealand titles to private equity firm Mercury Capital, as reported earlier today by media (see 10.40am update). In a press release sent at 12.10pm, Bauer says, “Mercury Capital will acquire all of Bauer Media Australia’s print and digital assets which cover Women’s Entertainment & Lifestyle; Fashion, Beauty & Health; Homes; Food; Motoring & Trader lifestyle categories. The agreement also includes those brands recently acquired by Bauer from Pacific Magazines and Bauer’s New Zealand mastheads.”
There is little mention of the New Zealand titles that were closed down in March. The press release quotes Bauer Media COO Veit Dengler as saying, “Bauer Media remains committed to magazine publishing. This decision supports our strategy to invest in our market leading brands where we believe we are best placed to do so.
“We have been proud to be the custodian of these iconic brands in Australia. I would like to thank our talented teams for their commitment and the contribution they have made to Bauer Media. I wish them well for the future.”
The sale is subject to relevant regulatory approvals, with completion expected by the end of July, says the press release.
11.00am: Chief ombudsman to inspect Covid-19 isolation facilities
New Zealand’s chief ombudsman will next month begin inspecting the Covid-19 isolation and quarantine facilities at the border to ensure arrivals are being “treated humanely”. Speaking to a parliamentary committee this morning, Peter Boshier said the government-run hotels are designated as detention facilities and his office will inspect them going forward.
Thousands of people have completed isolation in the hotels are thousands more are expected to over the coming months.
“I am setting up a new inspection programme to independently monitor and report on them. The public needs to be assured that people who are being isolated for health reasons are being treated fairly and their basic human rights are being respected,” said Boshier.
While the inspections will be conducted under the UN’s convention against torture, the ombudsman said his office will also look at specific Covid-19 criteria. Inspectors will ensure that people in the facilities have access to fresh air, exercise and whether they can keep physical distancing from members of the public.
10.50am: Cheap, widely available drug touted as Covid breakthrough
The world’s biggest trial testing existing treatments to see if they also work for coronavirus has found that the low-dose steroid treatment dexamethasone can help save lives, reports RNZ.
UK researchers say it’s a major breakthrough in the fight against Covid-19, cutting the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators, and by a fifth for those on oxygen. In the trial, led by a team from Oxford University, about 2,000 hospital patients were given dexamethasone and compared with more than 4,000 who were not.
Had the drug had been used to treat patients in the UK from the start of the pandemic, up to 5,000 lives could have been saved, researchers say, and it could be of huge benefit in poorer countries with high numbers of Covid-19 patients.
The UK government has 200,000 courses of the drug in its stockpile and says the NHS will make dexamethasone available to patients.
10.40am: Bauer magazines reportedly sold to private equity firm
The Australian Financial Review is reporting that Bauer Media’s New Zealand and Australian operations have been sold to private equity firm Mercury Capital. The German-owned magazine company abruptly shut down its New Zealand titles, including the likes of The Listener, North & South, Metro, New Zealand Woman’s Weekly and Woman’s Day, in March, blaming the Covid-19 crisis. More than 200 people lost their jobs.
The AFR reports that the deal was finally signed on Tuesday night after months of talks. The Herald reports that Mercury is headed by New Zealand-born Clark Perkins, a former Goldman Sachs deal maker, and includes high-profile New Zealand directors such as Sky TV founder Craig Heatley, Tom Sturgess and Geoff Ricketts. Mercury has made about a dozen investments in Australia and New Zealand, reports the Herald, including printing company Blue Star, which runs Webstar NZ, previously one of Bauer’s bigger clients.
Whether the Mercury deal means that all the publications will return to the local market is yet to be seen, says the Herald, pointing out that many former staff members have already moved on, such as former Home editor Simon Farrell-Green, who has launched a new magazine.
10.25am: $380m subsidy for employers to train apprentices announced
The government has today announced a $380m scheme to keep apprentices in training and encourage businesses to invest in new ones. From August, Apprenticeship Boost will provide up to $16,000 per eligible employer over a 20-month period to help subsidise the cost of training.
Education minister Chris Hipkins said up to 18,000 employers would be able to apply for up to $12,000 per apprentice in their first 12 months of training, and up to $6,000 in their second 12 months. He said this would help maintain the domestic supply of skilled workers for when the economy began to recover.
“Without support of this kind after the global financial crisis, apprentices were let go and when the economy picked up, New Zealand struggled with huge skills shortages and had to pay more to find skilled people from overseas,” said Hipkins.
Apprenticeship Boost would apply to apprenticeships in all fields, unlike the free trades training scheme announced in the May budget, which focuses on skills most relevant to the Covid-19 economic recovery.
9.05am: Police minister says ‘ineptitude’ that led to Covid cases leaving isolation ‘unforgivable’
Stuart Nash, the police minister, has used language far stronger than either the prime minister or health minister has in condemning the mistakes that led to two women who had Covid-19 being let out of managed isolation on compassionate grounds.
“I cannot repeat the words on your show that I said when I heard what had happened,” Nash told Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB this morning. “Someone does need to be held to account. We need to have a review of what’s happening in quarantine because it’s totally unacceptable, when five million Kiwis do it real tough,” he said.
“To get this sort of ineptitude, man, it is unforgivable. As David said, he’s cancelled compassionate dispensation and there’s a review of the system. Let’s make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
9.00am: Proposed DHB overhaul raises concerns about political influence
A former Waikato DHB member who says he was appointed because of who he knew, not what he knew, has told RNZ getting rid of district health board elections could lead to boards being stuffed with “political flunkies”. The views of Dave Macpherson, who was speaking about a major review of the health and disability sector released yesterday, were shared by former Green Party health spokesperson Sue Kedgley, who now sits on the Capital and Coast DHB. “It would mean that all boards were comprised of politically appointed members who were there to carry out the instructions of the minister,” said Kedgley. “My concern is that there’d be less independence, less questioning and less challenging of the political ideology of the day.”
Asked on Morning Report whether “favourites and stooges of whatever flavour the government of the day is” would end up on boards, health minister David Clark said getting rid of elections was not a risk to democracy. “People want professional governance across the sector. We need people who have the skills to deliver change and be held to account.”
8.45am: Two new cases symbolise a failure of New Zealand’s defensive wall
On The Spinoff this morning, our political editor, Justin Giovannetti, who has first-hand experience of mandatory managed isolation in this country, says New Zealand’s main line of defence against Covid-19 failed when two women were allowed to leave isolation without proper checks.
Writing of his time in managed isolation after arriving from Canada last month, Giovannetti said, “Every day, generally around 9.30 am, a nurse phoned my room or knocked on the door. The conversation went like this: It’s time for your health check. Do you have a cough, a sore throat, a fever, a runny nose, shortness of breath, maybe a loss of smell, any aches or pains?… During my two-week stint in government care it was made clear to me on a daily basis that any runny nose or scratch in the throat was cause for concern.”
8.30am: Health minister grilled on contact tracing, managed isolation
Speaking to Morning Report’s Susie Ferguson on RNZ this morning, the health minister, David Clark, was unable to say how many people were being traced as potential contacts of the two women who tested positive for Covid-19 after being let out of managed isolation. “That is the job of those contact tracers,” he said. “I have confidence they have the best possible data.”
Yesterday, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said those who were on the same flight as the women from Brisbane to Auckland, as well as the other recent arrivals in managed isolation at the Novotel Ellerslie and staff at the facility, were being traced. Clark said reports that people in managed isolation facilities were “mixing and mingling” were unacceptable and he was seeking assurances this was no longer happening.
7.30am: PM says two new cases leaving isolation was ‘system failure’; Clark ‘frustrated and disappointed’
In a Facebook Live post last night in the wake of New Zealand’s first new Covid-19 cases in 25 days, the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, admitted health officials’ protocols failed to meet expectations. Yesterday afternoon it was revealed that two arrivals from the UK were allowed to leave a managed isolation facility on compassionate grounds without being tested; they drove to Wellington to visit a dying relative, where they tested positive for Covid-19.
In the Facebook Live post, Ardern said, “This case is clear – our expectations have not been met in this instance. The two cases that came in from overseas that were announced today were not announced under the circumstances that we would have expected at our border.”
Meanwhile, on Newstalk ZB this morning health minister David Clark told Mike Hosking he had believed anyone let out of managed isolation on compassionate grounds was being tested first. “I expected people to be tested negative and go through a thorough check before being allowed to leave the facility,” said Clark. “I am very frustrated and disappointed that we are where we are.”
Hosking called for director general of health Ashley Bloomfield’s head, saying, “Ashley’s in charge, Ashley let us down, Ashley needs to go”. Clark responded that he was not interested in a witch hunt. “I am interested in making the system work.” He said he had talked to Bloomfield last night, telling him “I wanted the suspension [of compassionate leave] immediately. It’s pretty clear I am unhappy with the situation and the director general is committed to fixing it.” Clark added “there will be consequences if it’s found people have failed in their duty”, saying he was “confident these people who have made the mistake will not be happening [sic] again”.
On RNZ’s Morning Report this morning, National leader Todd Muller said the handling of the cases was “clumsy and totally inappropriate. We can’t have such a lax approach at our border, overseen by an incompetent minister.” Epidemiologist Michael Baker, meanwhile, told Morning Report that letting the women out of isolation was a “serious error”, but he didn’t believe it posed the risk of an outbreak.
Baker yesterday told the Science Media Centre the new cases served as a warning about how cautious New Zealand should be. “In most parts of the world it would be absolutely mandatory that you be wearing face masks on the flight, going through the border and arrivals area, in the quarantine facility, and certainly if you were allowed to leave before your quarantine was up,” said Baker.
7.15am: Updates from today’s edition of The Bulletin
There are two new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, breaking a long streak of zero days. Our live updates page from yesterday has the details of what happened: basically, both people arrived in New Zealand from the UK on June 7, and had been in managed isolation, before being granted an exemption to drive from Auckland to Wellington to be with a dying relative. They say they didn’t use any public facilities on that trip, and adhered to the rules. But particular questions are being raised about the exemption as one of the people had symptoms, which they put down to a pre-existing condition, and why they weren’t tested before hitting the road. Contact tracing efforts are now underway, and hotel staff who came into contact with them or their room have been temporarily stood down.
It has led to immediate changes, with compassionate exemptions for border arrivals suspended indefinitely, reports Stuff. Simply put, this isn’t the first time the quarantine system has looked decidedly leaky. There was a story run by One News last week about guests at a quarantine hotel mixing with new arrivals, and comment from epidemiologist Michael Baker who said the problem wasn’t the protocols – it was whether or not they were actually being applied properly. A case was also revealed yesterday in which two teenagers ran away after being granted an exemption for a funeral, before being located again, reports the NZ Herald.
Should we be panicking about new cases? It’s definitely not good, of course, but we should also keep it in perspective. This article on The Conversation gives useful context – to the best of our knowledge, we haven’t had any community transmission for a long time now, and that’s a much more important question compared to whether cases turn up at the border.
And yet, in this instance it is theoretically possible for community transmission to have taken place, which is a huge failing. Justin Giovannetti, who has first-hand experience of how quarantine works if done properly, writes that “it came as a surprise on Tuesday afternoon when director-general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, said one of New Zealand’s now two active cases of Covid-19 left managed-isolation despite mild symptoms, and without being tested.” The NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Derek Cheng has looked at the political angles of this, writing that it is hugely embarrassing from the government and health officials, and that the PM “should be livid” about the failings.
One reaction out of it all is a sense of positivity around the potential for greater equity across a system that currently delivers very unequal outcomes. That comes through from this explainer by Stuff’s Cate Broughton, who writes that “the review authors are confident the experience of health services would improve across the board, but particularly for Māori and disabled people”.
But what will actually be delivered? Right now, health minister David Clark is only making supportive noises, rather than giving his full backing to implementing recommendations – to quote, “Cabinet has accepted the case for reform, and the direction of travel outlined in the review” and to follow that up, “that means we are committing to an ongoing programme of reform”. As anyone who reads a lot of government press releases knows, this is absolutely not the same as a promise to implement all the recommendations – even if they have been delivered to be politically manageable, as Politik reports. Stuff’s Henry Cooke has made this point, noting that this government has strong form when it comes to commissioning massive reports, and then not actually doing much with them. Very little is likely to happen before the election – we’ll see if anything comes of it afterwards.
7.00am: Yesterday’s key stories
Two new cases of Covid-19 were announced, breaking the country’s 24-day Covid-free streak. The cases are two women who travelled from Britain were allowed to leave managed isolation on compassionate grounds to drive to Wellington.
Health minister David Clark later said that compassionate exemptions to our border arrival rules would be suspended indefinitely.
Two teenagers granted an exemption from isolation to attend a funeral in Hamilton late last week ran away afterwards, it was confirmed. The pair have since been located.
In other exemption news, farmers have won the right to apply for an exemption to the new rifle ban as long as they can prove they need otherwise prohibited firearms to control pest populations.
An end to DHB elections, a reduction in DHB numbers and a greater focus on population health are among the proposals made in the Simpson health system review, which was released yesterday.
The March 15 terrorist was wrongly granted a firearms licence, according to the Christchurch Press. Among other errors, police failed to interview a family member as required, instead relying on two men who met the terrorist through an internet chatroom, the paper reported.