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2.10pm: Housing minister announces plans for border and isolation measures
Housing minister Megan Woods, who now has joint oversight of isolation and quarantine facilities, introduced Air Commodore Darryn ‘Digby’ Webb this afternoon in a live media update.
Webb’s new role will make him responsible for testing in isolation, management of supply chains (including PPE), standing up of new facilities, and coordination of repatriation flights.
From October 1, the overall responsibility for quarantine and self-isolation would move from the Ministry of Health to MBIE. Woods has been given ministerial responsibility for the process as a whole.
“The reality is we’re living in a world where we’ve seen over eight million cases, and 440,000 deaths,” said Woods. “It is clear that the virus will continue circulating for some time to come.”
Woods said recent revelations around holes in the isolation system were unacceptable, they “did not meet our expectations and did not meet the expectations of New Zealanders”.
The changes would see “a single point of accountability, and that person is Darryn”. Woods added that those staying in the facilities had “obligations and responsibilities” of their own.
“What I will guarantee is that we will have robust systems in place and there will be consequences for people who break the rules.”
Webb began by crediting the Ministry of Health staff that have stood on the frontline in protecting the border from Covid-19.
“However as recent events have shown we have not been 100% successful in oiur management of our isolation facilities. There have been a number of situations that have highlighted this,” he said.
Webb said he had commissioned an end-to-end review of the isolation and quarantine process. That review will be conducted in coming days and a report presented to him next week, led by Commodore Tony Miller from the Royal New Zealand Navy. He said that yesterday he had ordered a doubling of defence force staff, from 36 to 72, to be involved in operating and monitoring the facilities, many of whom are already onsite. Police presence at isolation facilities will also increase.
1.50pm: Police confirm an officer has died
Police commissioner Andrew Coster has confirmed that a police officer was fatally shot in an incident this morning in Massey, west Auckland.
“At around 10.30am the officer concerned performed a routine traffic stop on Reynella Drive in Massey. The attending officers were shot, and a member of the public was hit by the vehicle,” Coster told media, speaking from the Wellington airport police station.
“From the information we have this was a routine traffic stop, the kind of work our officers undertake every day to keep the public safe.” he said.There were two people in the fleeing vehicle.
The second officer and a member of the public hit by a car are in hospital. The second officer has serious injuries, understood to be injuries to the leg, and the bystander’s injuries are considered minor.
Officers in Auckland are currently armed, said Coster. “There’s a heavy police presence in west Auckland at the moment. We have closed some school as a precaution and we have Armed Defenders Squad present, supporting an investigation team as we search for the offender.”
“It’s far too early to speak to what would have made a difference to this situation, if anything,” said Coster. He said did not believe the current situation was relevant to the question of armed response teams. A controversial pilot on armed response teams came to end recently and Coster has said it would not be repeated.
“This is a shocking situation. It is the worst news that police and police officers’ families can ever receive,” said Coster.
No details about the officer will be released until family have been notified.
1.15pm: No new cases of Covid-19
There are no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand today, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield has just announced.
Yesterday 6,223 tests were processed, “the biggest number for some time”, bringing the total to 327,460. Given the scale of testing “it is very reassuring that we have no new cases”, said Bloomfield.
Two more significant clusters have closed, said Bloomfield – the Bluff wedding and the Rosewood wedding clusters. Only the St Margaret’s rest home cluster in Auckland remains open.
Yesterday 1,061 tests were completed across managed isolation facilities. A further 700 were scheduled for today.
“We are undertaking significant, what I would call very precautionary testing,” said Bloomfield. “I think the results of the testing to date have been very reassuring.”
Prior to last week, testing was only done on symptomatic people in isolation. Now, both symptomatic and asymptomatic people will be tested. Bloomfield reiterated that no one is leaving managed isolation without first returning a negative test result. People can refuse the test, but may be required to stay in isolation for another 14 days.
“Since April, anyone who is symptomatic when they come across the border, or who develops symptoms during those 14 days in isolation is then taken to the dedicated quarantine facility where they are tested and their symptoms managed. And since April, we’ve had 37 positive cases at the border, with just the three of those in the last few days.
“From June 9 to June 16 a total of 55 people were granted leave from managed isolation on compassionate grounds, the vast majority have been tested and returned a negative result.”
A number of those, he said, were on a “short leave pass” for only a few hours.
From June 16, leave on compassionate grounds has been suspended. Bloomfield said 401 people were now being “followed up” in connection to the two women who tested positive for Covid-19 earlier in the week, but emphasised the only person considered a close contact remains the women’s father.
The 401 people comprise four air crew, 97 hotel and health staff from the Novotel facility, 71 hotel guests, and more than 250 current guests of the Novotel. So far 174 of those have returned negative results, and the others are pending.
When asked about culpability in letting two cases slip through the net, Bloomfield said he had apologised to the prime minister. “I’ve taken responsibility for the fact that not everything was in place. As the prime minister said, it was a system issue, and I’ve taken responsibility for sorting that out.”
“I think that the progress made in the last few days shows I’m taking it seriously,” he added.
More to follow…
1.10pm: Police commissioner to give statement on Massey shooting
From the RNZ live update: “Police Commissioner Andrew Coster will speak to media today at 1:45pm at the Wellington Airport Police Station concerning the critical incident in Massey.”
12.35pm: Reports that a police officer has died
The NZ Herald and TVNZ are reporting that one of the police officers shot in an incident in Massey has died from their injuries. A police spokesperson has told RNZ they are unable to confirm the media reports.
12.05pm: More details on police shooting
Two officers have been shot in Massey, west Auckland, and a member of the public has been hit by the vehicle of the suspected shooter, who remains at large.
It began with “a routine traffic stop” on Reynella Drive at about 10.30am, said NZ Police.
Shots were fired at police officers, leaving two “seriously injured”. A member of the public was “hit by the vehicle and has been injured”.
Police have advised the offender has “fled the scene in a vehicle and police have a large presence actively searching for the offender. Cordons are in place and schools in the immediate area have been advised to lockdown.
Public are urged to avoid the Massey area, particularly around Don Buck Road, Waimumu Road, Hewlitt Road and Triangle Road.
11.55am: Bloomfield, Digby Webb, Woods to speak to media
The director general of health will be back in front of media this lunchtime, at the slightly later time of 1.15pm. His stand-up will be followed by an appearance by Air Commodore Digby Webb and housing minister Megan Woods, who now have joint oversight of the isolation and quarantine facilities. We’ll have coverage of both conferences as they happen.
11.40am: Shooting in Auckland
A police operation is under way in the suburb of Massey, in north-west Auckland, with reports of gun shots and a helicopter, numerous police cars and ambulances being dispatched. Police are describing it as a “critical incident”. The NZ Herald is reporting that a police officer has been injured in a shooting, and the Armed Offenders Squad is involved. Massey High School and Don Buck primary school have been locked down, but the incident is not reported to be related to them.
Police are responding to an incident in the Massey area.
This incident has occurred within the last hour and details are still being confirmed.
This is very much an unfolding matter and we will be releasing confirmed information as soon as it becomes available. pic.twitter.com/FmwqDMk4Ty
— New Zealand Police (@nzpolice) June 18, 2020
11.30am: Housing minister Megan Woods to oversee isolation, quarantine
Oversight of the isolation and quarantine facilities at the border is being given to housing minister Megan Woods. Air Commodore Digby Webb, put in charge of the facilities earlier this week, will work alongside the minister. The shakeup follows the revelation earlier this week that two women left the facilities under compassionate leave only to later test positive for Covid-19. The oversight role is new and sees Woods, along with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, take over a responsibility that had rested with the government’s emergency response since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis. The plan, according to a government spokesperson, is to prepare the border for the long-term operation of the facilities.
8.30am: Ron Mark defends Digby Webb double appointment
After a number of high-profile mistakes at the border, the prime minister announced on Wednesday that the military would be taking charge of New Zealand’s border control, and isolation and quarantine facilities. A report on RNZ’s Checkpoint revealed last night that Air Commodore Darryl ‘Digby’ Webb, the military official leading the unit, had in fact already been in the role for a month. Checkpoint reported that he was in charge when the decision was made to grant a compassionate exemption to two sisters with Covid-19 who were released from managed isolation, although it was ultimately decided by the Ministry of Health.
Minister of defence Ron Mark appeared on RNZ this morning and defended Webb’s recent appointment as a “new role”.
“Primarily he was involved in repatriation. He has never been involved in testing or the decision around compassionate exemption or any other aspect of the health response.”
“He’s been given total charge and responsibility now.”
Webb is expected to hold a news conference later today.
7.50am: No tsunami threat from quake
A 7.4 magnitude earthquake recorded off New Zealand’s east coast last night was felt widely in Gisborne and the Hawke’s Bay, but there is no tsunami threat, says Civil Defence. There is still a chance of strong currents or unusual tides throughout the day on the east coast.
Geonet scientists report the activity was picked up by seismometers as far south as Rakiura/Stewart Island.
There is no tsunami threat to New Zealand following the M7.4 SOUTH OF THE KERMADEC ISLANDS earthquake. Based on current information, the initial assessment is that the earthquake is unlikely to have caused a tsunami that will pose a threat to New Zealand.
— National Emergency Management Agency (@NZcivildefence) June 18, 2020
No #tsunami threat. This 7.4 magnitude #earthquake from the Kermadec was detected across all our @geonet seismic monitoring network, as far south as Rakiura / Stewart Island on our seismometers (red = shaking saturating our sensor). #sensitive #wiggle https://t.co/HN9RChjGBL pic.twitter.com/A2ssEtCLX9
— Nico Fournier (@nicovolc) June 18, 2020
7.35am: Updates from today’s Bulletin
It was another difficult day for the government yesterday, with new developments and assurances that problems would be fixed. Our political editor filed a report to our live blog yesterday outlining the comments from PM Jacinda Ardern, who said that she shared the disappointment of the country at gaps in testing of those in quarantine. “To find out that was not happening of course was hugely disappointing for all of us, we’ve all been let down and our job is to fix it,” she said. The ministry of health’s Dr Ashley Bloomfield also fronted a press conference to apologise for the failings, adding “I want to reiterate, I’ve taken responsibility to make sure the system is sorted and we’re getting on and doing that.”
Among the biggest questions – who’s in charge right now? There was a was a detail-heavy story around military involvement, in which Checkpoint reported that Air Commodore Digby Webb – the military officer that Ardern said was taking over facilities at a press conference on Wednesday – was actually already in charge of the unit that granted an exemption to the two sisters who later tested positive. Interest’s Jenée Tibshraeny had a similar version of the story with slight differences – in this one, it was noted that Ardern had failed to mention that Webb had already been involved, though clarified that it was more a case of a promotion to oversee the health side of isolation/quarantine, rather than just managing the operations and logistics. And Politik got right into the details of what would change, but here was a key line from their piece: “In essence, the military has taken over the management and running of the isolation and quarantine facilities at the expense of the Ministry of Health who have now been confined to an advisory role.”
Further stories have also emerged which show all was not working as it should have. One News‘ Kristin Hall reported that several people in quarantine were flown down to Christchurch from Auckland on a public flight, without first being tested. And Newshub‘s Patrick Gower reported that a wedding took place in the ballroom of a quarantine hotel, which had also been used as an exercise facility for quarantining guests. The guests at the wedding weren’t aware of this.
There was also a curious story of a homeless man getting a fortnight of free meals and a bed in a quarantine hotel – the NZ Herald had a report on that, after an allegation was made by National MP Michael Woodhouse. The point of this isn’t that a homeless guy managed to beat the system – good on him, quite frankly. The point is that it shows whoever was holding the clipboard at the front door didn’t know who was on the list and who wasn’t, which is a worry when you’re talking about a facility for quarantining people who might have a highly infectious disease.
Parliamentarians ended up drawing a lot of the focus over the day. The NZ Herald reported on the episode that made that happen – it turns out National MP Chris Bishop advocated on behalf of a compassionate exemption for the two people who later tested positive for Covid-19. Bishop responded by saying he didn’t expect they would be let out without being tested first, and that for the government to bring it up was a “desperate smear.”
If it seems like everything has fallen apart – that’s not the case at all. Another case emerged yesterday, the man with Covid-19 was spotted at the border, and is now in a quarantine facility. He wore a mask on the flight, and close contacts are also in quarantine. The system can work really effectively – we know this by the fact that the country had several weeks of no new Covid-19 cases at all. But the thing about a system like this working – those running it have got to get it right every time, or it can all go wrong.
New GDP figures are out, and they show a big drop over the first quarter of 2020 – down 1.6%, which is the biggest fall in decades. As Radio NZ reports, the figures only go up to the end of March, and the next quarter is going to be much worse, because that’s when most of the level four lockdown took place. It’s probably also worth noting though that the economic damage of Covid-19 didn’t exactly begin on the first day of lockdown – there had already been serious consequences through February for the tourism, international education and rock lobster industries. We’re also yet to see detailed numbers on where unemployment is right now, which will be a very important number to watch – we do know for sure that tens of thousands of people have joined the Jobseeker benefit since February.
ACC has been pouring millions of dollars every year into funding acupuncture treatments, despite their being little hard proof of efficacy. The Spinoff has published a new investigation by Jonathon Harper and Daniel Ryan, which has dived deeply into the scientific literature, and questioned why such funding is taking place here. What’s the potential harm of ACC funding acupuncture treatments? On top of the potential for public money to be wasted, some patients may end up getting that treatment instead of something proven to work.
A second round of gun law reforms has passed through a final reading in parliament, reports Stuff. This one will create a firearms registry, along with a warning system to determine whether someone is a ‘fit and proper’ person to own a gun licence. There will also be changes to allow farmers to own prohibited firearms for pest control purposes. The law was delayed after heavy wrangling between Labour and NZ First – the latter say one thing they ended up negotiating is a post-enactment review, so expect that wrangling to continue afresh after the election.
The number of people being denied benefits because of their relationship status has skyrocketed, reports Radio NZ. The rules say that if Work and Income determine someone is in a relationship, and that their partner’s income meets a certain threshold, then their Jobseeker benefit can be cut to nothing. Campaigners – and the government’s own Welfare Expert Advisory Group for that matter – say those rules are stupid and dangerous and should be changed.
A hilariously silly political story to end the week on: The NZ Herald’s (paywalled) David Fisher reports that Todd Muller’s team brought in a safecracker after taking over National, so they could get access to documents hidden in a safe in the leader of the opposition’s office. The funniest part about it – a member of outgoing leader Simon Bridges’ team had already sent through the combination – it just hadn’t reached who it needed to. As it happens, the safe had been almost entirely cleared out by Bridges’ team on their way out the door.
7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories
There was one new case of Covid-19 discovered at New Zealand’s border, a man in his 60s who arrived from Pakistan last week.
Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield apologised for the series of lapses in the country’s border quarantine system which led to two women being released from managed isolation who later returned positive for Covid-19.
It was later revealed in parliament that National MP Chris Bishop had written a letter lobbying for the early release of the two women. In a statement, Bishop said the revelation was a “desperate smear” by the government.
A homeless man spent two weeks in managed isolation at a five-star Auckland hotel after pretending to be a recently-returned overseas passenger, National MP Michael Woodhouse claimed.
The military official whom the PM announced as a new appointment to oversee the quarantine and border controls system was in fact in the role when the two women were granted compassionate leave, RNZ reported.
Leading epidemiologist Sir David Skegg slammed the border system as “totally slack” and warned there could be unidentified clusters emerging around the country as a result.
Deputy prime minister Winston Peters remained adamant the border failures would not set back the opening of a trans-Tasman bubble.
New Zealand’s economy shrank by 1.6% in the first three months of the year, new figures revealed. This represents the largest decline in GDP in 29 years.
Read yesterday’s live updates here
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