Good morning and welcome to the first regular season Bulletin of 2021. In today’s edition: High alert as woman in Northland tests Covid-positive, house price inflation races ahead unabated, and schools grappling with new year after last year’s disruptions.
Ministers and health officials were keeping their options open yesterday afternoon after a new case in the community was announced. The phrasing there – case in the community – is because the person who tested positive also went through managed isolation, and returned negative tests there. Covid minister Chris Hipkins said it was still too soon to speculate on whether there will now be another change in alert levels, for what would be the first time since they last moved in October 2020. More of yesterday’s press conference can be found in our emergency convened live updates.
The big concern is that the positive case – a 56 year old woman – has been travelling across Northland with her husband. She scanned everywhere she went (and had bluetooth on, which makes things easier) so now the process of contacting those who were also there at the time is underway. Details are being added to the locations of interest page, with that list being updated in real time – there was a bit of a delay yesterday afternoon so affected businesses could be contacted. The pair really made the most of their trip around the North, and about 30 places were visited.
Genome testing is underway to identify the strain, which could give some indication as to how serious the situation is. For a reminder of what genome sequencing is (if you’re struggling to remember all the terminology from last time) read this. The current working assumption is that it is one of the more highly transmissible strains – the thinking being that it’s better to overreact than otherwise. As professor Michael Baker said on RNZ this morning, that meant the response would need to be stepped up in urgency, with everything happening faster than previous efforts. She travelled through both London and Singapore.
Mass testing is being called for by experts. And it’ll be happening across Northland – Radio NZ’s news bulletin this morning reported that locations would be opening across the region, as well as in Auckland. For those who might need one, the Northland DHB has details of where and when they’ll be open, and Auckland locations can be found here.
Regardless of what the alert level does, scanning in everywhere will help a lot from here. If there are further cases of community transmission announced, then it will give contact tracers much more data to work with. And everything else – testing and self-isolating if you’re sick, masks on, washing hands – is all stuff that everyone has done before. For those who have been in Northland over the last ten days, take extra care. If you’ve got a bit slack on it all, now would be a good time to start again. Welcome back to the news for 2021, picking up right from where it left off.
A social housing announcement was made last week, of a sort. As Radio NZ’s headline put it, the announcement was really more about setting out a timeline as to when future announcements would take place. The locations of the social housing being built was also released – Stuff’s story outlines how Auckland gets a bit over a quarter, where the waiting list is most severe.
On the subject of house prices generally, here’s two pieces to read. Taking a wide view, Interest’s Jenée Tibshraeny looks at what would happen if there was a fall in line with the sorts of rises over the last year, and how that would shake down through the wider economy. And on a local level, I went to Kawerau last week, the district with the sharpest percentage rise in the country over the last decade, and the impact that is having on renters.
And in Dunedin, the city council will this week consider proposed changes to the district plan, which could allow both more housing and more density. The ODT reports decisions will be made on whether the proposals should go out to public consultations. The city is considered to be short of housing generally, but especially short of social housing.
A significant issue for schools to grapple with this year will be the effect of last year’s disruptions. And according to One News, many schools are concerned that their students won’t necessarily be able to catch up. The data comes from a Education Review Office report, which evaluates schools on behalf of the ministry. Targeted support for students who have fallen behind is being urged, but in many cases it will be too late, as plenty of kids simply didn’t continue with their schooling after last year’s disruptions.
A framework for assessing Māori claims to land with a strong cultural connection is being discussed as a precedent setter. Stuff’s Troels Sommerville reports on the impact of an Environment Court decision around Pūkaki Peninsula, near Auckland Airport, and the recognition of ties to Te Ākitai Waiohua. It potentially gives other iwi the ability to make similar claims, though iwi spokesperson Karen Wilson said they “have to have the goods to go with it”.
Embattled Oranga Tamariki boss Grainne Moss has resigned. Radio NZ published a useful timeline of how it unfolded over her four year tenure, and as pressure escalated in recent months. As Justin Giovannetti writes, the organisation now faces big questions over how it moves forward from here, and what organisational reform might take place.
A bit about the year we’ve just come out of for The Spinoff: It was pretty serious, pretty heavy a lot of the time, and we had to work harder than at any other time in this place’s history. Thanks to the support of our members, we reckon we accomplished a lot. Duncan Greive and Ezra Whittaker have put together a piece that outlines it all, with both small details and big numbers.
If you read this and want to help The Spinoff do more with whatever 2021 has to throw at us, please feel free to forward it to friends and whānau who might become members and want to contribute. Every dollar our members contribute is ring-fenced to editorial, and goes so far to helping us do our best work.
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Right now on The Spinoff: A whole lot of good stuff was published last week, so I’ll save a bit for future days. But in the meantime:
Oliver Lewis writes about a Christchurch mystery, about holy relics buried beneath a basilica. Jai Breitnauer writes from Britain about the current state of Brexit, and how many promises were broken along the way. Russell Brown analyses the decision by police to ground the annual helicopter cannabis hunt, and what it means about the state of drug laws. Simon Day meets a banker changing the way Kiwibank thinks about Māori. Louise Fisher writes about Waiwera Hot Pools, and how it went from a wildly popular holiday spot to the current state of abandoned decay. I write about why it’s hard to find lemons right now, beyond seasonal issues.
And in culture: Duncan Greive and Leonie Hayden write about the new Dawn Raid documentary, and how it fits with their memories of the time. Michelle Langstone asks politely for people to please turn their music off at the beach, especially if their taste sucks. Sam Brooks asks whether Drag Race is now at saturation point. And Hayden Donnell conducts an all time great, world exclusive investigation into whether or not the staff at a Havelock cafe really clapped singer Amanda Palmer on Inauguration Day.
There’s been plenty of news about social media platforms and what can and can’t be said on them in the last few weeks. So for a feature today, a story that you might have missed that provides an interesting example. Rest of World has looked at disenchantment in China at increasing crackdowns on the platform Weibo, which is one of the country’s primary social platforms. Here’s an excerpt:
Most crucially, ordinary Chinese people, unable to gather physically to air their grievances, had found a digital town square. On the platform, they protested factory pollution, called out gender discrimination, roasted political officials, and invented a whole compendium of memes to evade censors (the most famous being “grass-mud-horse,” a phrase which means, with its tones switched around, “fuck your mother.”) When a tragic high-speed rail crash in Wenzhou in 2011 sparked a torrent of outrage, Weibo users shared information, exposed malfeasance, and called for justice. Domestically and abroad, observers anticipated the arrival of a free speech revolution. “Blogs Erode China Censorship,” read one headline. “Weibo Watershed” read another.
But then, the enchantment waned, and the golden age of Weibo quickly came to a close. As with any breakup, it is hard to pinpoint when exactly things began to sour. Nonetheless, there were turning points. The eruption of the Arab Spring in late 2010 and Edward Snowden’s revelations about U.S. government spying practices in the summer of 2013 alerted Chinese authorities to the security threats posed by the internet. When Xi Jinping entered office in 2013, he tightened the reins by implementing a sophisticated system of censorship and control. Conventional wisdom shifted: instead of allowing the internet to open China to the world, China would learn to control the internet and create a world of its own.
The Waka Ama nationals have been underway recently, with big fields of entrants and supporters. Sun Live has a brief story on the Lake Karāpiro event, starting with the kids races. It all got a bit more competitive afterwards, and Te Ao News reports the appropriately named King family were right in the thick of it again, with Tupuria and Nyree winning golds, and several other family members picking up medals.
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The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.