Auckland is different today
The city’s lockdown is easing and retail is reopening, with the prime minister set to visit after 85 days of restrictions
Mōrena and welcome to The Bulletin for Wednesday, November 10, by Justin Giovannetti. Presented in partnership with Z Energy.
In today’s edition: Fifth arrest in Christchurch killing; disinformation spreading faster in NZ; Wairarapa considers climate costs; but first, Auckland’s big day.
Jacinda Ardern at a building site in Auckland last year. (Hannah Peters/Getty Images)
Lockdown eases as Jacinda Ardern heads to Auckland. The prime minister was last in Auckland on August 17, 85 days ago. Hours after she left, a case of the delta variant was detected in the city and the country was in lockdown by midnight. Ardern is back in the city this morning, with some visits planned. A lot has changed in the past 85 days. More than 90% of Aucklanders have now had one dose of the vaccine, the country’s keystone elimination strategy has been abandoned and a new traffic light system looms, with cabinet all but committed to Freedom Day for the city around November 29.
The first stores have already opened under level three, step two. Aucklanders began queuing outside of malls yesterday morning, more than 12 hours before the alert level shift. As Stuff reports, some stores opened a minute after midnight and were offering freebies to their first customers. After nearly three months of lockdown, retail is now open, along with libraries, museums and zoos. Newsroom has also spoken with retailers about the challenge of getting going again. Under the change, outdoor gatherings have now expanded to 25 people, from multiple groups. However, the official toilet rule hasn’t changed. While director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield seemed to indicate the need for some common sense earlier this week (you really don’t want 24 people using your backyard as a toilet), he was once again overruled by the prime minister. It’ll start feeling like the beginning of the end of lockdown for many in Auckland.
A day of protests before the prime minister’s visit. Ardern will likely travel with more security than usual, making this a cautious return to her home city. Two of the prime minister’s press conferences were cancelled last week after the appearance of anti-vaccine protests at planned events around the country. However, a large anti-government protest at parliament yesterday, with a crowd in the thousands, could mark a shift in the tone of the national debate (more about this in today’s longer read). While the vast majority of New Zealanders are following the rules and getting vaccinated, a small but loud minority are growing angrier and bolder. Parliament was under the tightest level of security in at least a half century, after days of death threats made against politicians. Some carried a noose to the forecourt of parliament. Josie Adams reported on the protest for The Spinoff. I was also at parliament and it marked the first time in my career I’ve seen a protest in the thousands focus its anger at the media at the instigation of speakers and label reporters as “terrorists” among other unprintable things.
However, most of the scorn was directed towards the prime minister, who could hear the protest from her office on the ninth floor of the Beehive. “What we saw today was not representative of the vast bulk of New Zealanders,” she said, while hundreds of the protesters were still outside parliament.
The unvaccinated now face a surge of restrictions within weeks. The government is already asking New Zealanders to create accounts on My Covid Record because vaccine certificates are imminent. Once the country moves over to the traffic light system, the use of the certificates will be widespread. If you want to enter a concert or many businesses, you’ll need to show one and have it scanned and verified against a central database. Dylan Reeve has written for IRL about how the system will work. As RNZ reports, experts are split over whether a move to the traffic light system is a good idea for Auckland. The government could end up going further. As this newsletter reported yesterday, cabinet is also considering moving the entire country over to the traffic light system next month to make life more difficult for the unvaccinated.
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Christchurch family has ‘closure’ after fifth person arrested in killing of teen. The parents of Connor Whitehead, 16, urged a suspect to turn himself in after the fatal shooting of their son. He’d been on the run for four days. An hour later, he was in police custody, according to The Press. The man has now been charged with murder. Police say the teenager was an innocent bystander in an argument between two men that turned violent, while three other people have been charged for trying to shelter the men from arrest.
The Covid numbers: There are 79 cases in hospital and 9 in ICU/HDU. There are now 2,794 active cases in New Zealand. 117 new community cases were reported in Auckland yesterday, 2 in Waikato and 6 in Northland. 21,192 people were vaccinated on Monday.
The Spinoff’s Covid data tracker has the latest figures.
Disinformation ‘is increasing, widening, and deepening every week’ in New Zealand. Stuff reports that there’s been a dramatic escalation in the volume of conspiracy theories being shared online since the delta outbreak began in August. Far more has spread in a few months than through the first year-and-a-half of the pandemic. Disinformation has also shifted from vaccine hesitancy to vaccine resistance, while researchers warn that there’s now a seed of hateful and dangerous speech in many of the groups they are studying.
The government is backing an insurance scheme for summer events. Up to 90% of costs for large events cancelled over the summer will now be paid out by government, RNZ reports. It should give organisers more certainty to put on shows and try to get the crowds out. It’s also gives New Zealanders something nice to look forward to, which we all need at the moment.
This week is Apec Leaders' Week, the final part of New Zealand's year as host. As part of Leaders' Week, the first ever virtual Apec CEO Summit will be broadcast from Auckland’s Aotea Centre. The Spinoff spoke to some of the local participants about their vision for the future. Read the story here—created in partnership with Mfat.
Far from Glasgow, Wairarapa looks at the mounting cost of climate change. The ocean is chewing into the region as the coasts erode faster, hammered by more frequent and severe floods. The Wairarapa Times-Age reports that once-in-a-century floods and weather events could soon happen every five years. Unusual weather will become usual within two or three decades, according to estimates, a tipping point into an uncertain climate future far closer than many expect. Local officials are already looking at what roads and coastal communities are in the most danger.
Lawyers representing more than 150 rugby players rejects comments from team doctor. After Carl Hayman announced that he’d joined a concussion class action against World Rugby, a former All Blacks team doctor said instead of long-term head injuries, alcohol and family history could be an issue with the former legend’s dementia diagnosis. As Stuff reports, lawyers say that brain injuries are “an epidemic” in the sport and a doctor shouldn’t focus on a single player.
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Right now on The Spinoff: Hannah Gibson explains why a new bill to expand the use of disability assist dogs is so important. George Driver investigates whether the government’s new money for struggling families will reduce child poverty. Justin Latif reports on South Auckland’s spiralling housing costs after a non-subdividable property in Māngere East sold for $2.3 million. Chris Schulz writes that Houston’s Astroworld tragedy is a warning to concert promoters here.
For a longer read today, the protest at parliament reveals a new, ugly, dangerous side to New Zealand. Our first inclination could be to minimise and downplay yesterday’s protest as an aberration. One newspaper already labelled it a “non-event”. As Toby Manhire writes in The Spinoff, that would be a mistake. While it wasn’t a replay of the Capitol riot, much of the same language was at play. After what we’ve seen in recent years, to dismiss the risk of violence would be naive. Here’s some of what he wrote:
“Post-Christchurch, post-Capitol-riot, no one can seriously argue that online attacks are some peripheral blur of keyboard hyperbole, something to be shrugged off or scoffed at as if it were a scene from The fast and the Furious. As recent history has evidenced around the world, often with tragic consequences, violent intimations online foment violent actions in real life.”
Aaron Smith called up for northern tour. The All Blacks halfback will join the team in Dublin this week and Paris next week as an injury cover, according to the NZ Herald. Brad Weber suffering a head injury and broken nose in last week’s game against Italy. Smith stopped playing with the national team earlier this year to be with his family. He and his wife welcomed baby Leo last week.
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