Morning Briefing April 22: Hard work begins as health system gets biggest shake-up in decades

The devil will be in the detail as the Government scraps DHBs, Fiji moves to contain its Covid outbreak, and Derek Chauvin's guilty verdict is heard around the world.

Hospital corridor - stock image. Source:

The Government has revealed the biggest change to the country’s health system in decades, choosing to scrap the current system of 20 district health boards and set up a single national agency called Health New Zealand.

The new agency will run hospitals and look after primary and community health services through four regional divisions, while a new Māori Health Authority will also be established. You can find full documents about the reforms here

The plan goes further than the recommendations in the Health and Disability System Review, which suggested reducing the number of DHBs, and has been criticised by the Opposition, who say small communities will be stripped of their voice under the proposals.

National leader Judith Collins is promising to reverse the health restructure if elected to power, however 1 NEWS political reporter Maiki Sherman says this leaves the party in a bind because many consider the “bold” changes necessary.

Act is more supportive of the Government’s plan to merge all DHBs, but says it’s undermined by the proposed separate Māori Health Authority.

Health spokesperson Brooke van Velden says all races should be catered for by one system.

However, Associate Māori Health Minister Peeni Henare says Māori health has "suffered for too long", which is “why we must transform our Māori health system”. 

As some in the health sector have pointed out, the devil will be in the detail as the Government looks to move forward with the reforms from July next year.

Authorities must now determine how it will allocate the funding that has previously been split between 20 DHBs, including how much of it will go towards the Māori Health Authority.

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Fiji moves to contain outbreak

Tough new restrictions kick in today for Fiji’s largest island as Covid-19 spreads in the community there.

From midday, nobody will be allowed to leave the island of Viti Levu, while lockdowns continue in Nadi and Lautoka.

The move comes after a woman tested positive for the virus after attending a two-day funeral, now described as a super-spreader event. More cases are expected in the island nation over the next few days. 

Meanwhile, more details have emerged about New Zealand’s latest border worker Covid case.

Authorities say the fully vaccinated employee likely picked up the virus while cleaning a “red zone” plane. The cleaner also worked on “green zone” planes flying to Australia before testing positive.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says there’s “minimal risk” of spreading the virus between the zones, however he adds protocols will change if needed.

The NZ Herald reports more frequent border testing and a stand-down period before cleaners can board a plane after landing have been suggested. 

Hipkins also used yesterday’s press conference to blast anti-mask misinformation being distributed to Wellington commuters.

He says the flyers by Billy Te Kahika's group The Freedom Alliance are “factually wrong and potentially dangerous” and advises anyone receiving them to put them straight in the bin

The verdict heard around the world

A federal investigation has been launched into Minneapolis police practices after former officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty for the murder of George Floyd yesterday.

Those who gathered at the intersection where Floyd was killed erupted in cheers as the verdict was revealed, as did members of his family.

The BBC reports the case is a significant victory for those who have pushed for policing reform in the US, however Minnesota’s Star Tribune notes the fight for change isn’t over

Floyd’s family members have now joined President Joe Biden in calling on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which is yet to clear the Senate.

In the meantime, Chauvin is due to be sentenced in eight weeks. The New York Times has looked at why he received three guilty verdicts for the same crime yesterday and what that will likely mean for his sentencing

Teenager Darnella Frazier was also being celebrated yesterday for filming the almost 10-minute long video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck last year.

The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan says the video clip, now viewed millions of times, is “a powerful, irrefutable act of bearing witness” – and just may go on to change the world.

New Trans-Tasman talks begin

Australia's Foreign Minister has touched down on New Zealand soil for the first face-to-face meeting with her New Zealand counterpart since the pandemic began.

Marise Payne will be welcomed by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta, marking the first ministerial travel under the new trans-Tasman bubble. 

The meeting comes after Mahuta raised a few eyebrows this week when she spoke to reporters about the Five Eyes alliance, saying New Zealand didn’t want to use it as a first point of contact when sending messages about China.  

Climate change on global agenda

US President Joe Biden is set to convene a two-day virtual climate summit with 40 world leaders and is reportedly pledging to cut US greenhouse gas emissions at least in half by 2030.

More than 100 Nobel Prize winners have released an open letter ahead of the summit, calling on world leaders to end the expanded extraction and use of fossil fuels. 

The summit also comes as Helen Clark offers a New Zealand perspective on the warming planet through editing a new book, Climate Aotearoa.

The book lays out what everyone can do to mitigate climate change – and slates the “slow” and “inadequate” action currently being taken by governments around the world, including New Zealand’s. 

Other news of note this morning:

- Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has delivered a reading at a memorial service for Prince Philip in Wellington. You can watch the full video of yesterday afternoon’s service here. The Queen has also expressed her thanks for all the “support and kindness” shown since her husband’s death.

- Nearly two weeks after their election, Samoans still don't know if their leader of 22 years is about to be ousted.

- Australia is moving towards manufacturing its own mRNA coronavirus vaccines.

- Controversial plans to turn Wānaka's community airport into one narrow body jet airplanes could use have been dealt a major blow in the High Court.

- Stats NZ has updated its guidelines for data collection on gender, sex and variations of sex characteristics.

- Plans for the breakaway European Super League look to be over after all six English clubs removed themselves from the competition.

- And arise Sir Dave - New Zealand music icon Dave Dobbyn has officially been knighted at Government House.

And finally...

The Big Bird costume was found next to an electricity box on Port Road at Thebarton. Source: SA Police

Thieves who stole a Sesame Street costume from a circus in Australia have grown a conscience and returned their stolen loot, along with a letter of apology.

The crooks stole a Big Bird costume worth AU$160,000 earlier this week (I triple checked and that amount isn’t a typo) but returned it undamaged early yesterday.

They left a letter in Big Bird’s mouth, writing that they didn’t mean to cause trouble in stealing the costume and had only been “trying to cheer ourselves up”.  

An investigation into the theft and the Big Bird Bandits continues.