Morning Briefing April 9: Unprecedented action taken as NZ marks one year of MIQ

The Government takes unprecedented action in halting flights from India and Australia's Covid vaccination plans are thrown into disarray over AstraZeneca jab concerns.

Passengers at airport in Kolkata, India (file photo). Source: Getty

As New Zealand marks one year since managed isolation became mandatory for travellers arriving into the country, the Government has taken further unprecedented action to bolster the borders by suspending travel from India for two weeks.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the move following a spike in returnees arriving with Covid-19. She says people are likely contracting the virus while travelling to the airport to leave India, with the country reporting record daily surges in new coronavirus cases this week.

Ardern has acknowledged the halt in travel will be difficult for some but says the call was made out of a sense of “responsibility”. 

The New Zealand Government is now looking at how it manages high risk points of departure generally, a move that pleases leading epidemiologist Michael Baker.

He’s argued for months that New Zealand needs to “limit or suspend travel ... from high-risk red zone countries where the pandemic is poorly controlled”.

He says the tough call to suspend flights from India is “absolutely the right thing to do” to protect the country from further outbreaks of Covid-19. 

However, the move has angered many in New Zealand’s Indian community, with newspaper editor Sandeep Singh describing it as “unconscious bias” with an “element of racism”.

He says the Government didn’t carry out “punitive measures” in previous instances where travellers were arriving from countries with spiking Covid case numbers. 

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Border case missed vaccinations

It's understood a border worker who tested positive for Covid-19 this week missed his scheduled vaccination appointments due to personal reasons.

The security guard at the Grand Millennium MIQ facility in Auckland returned a positive result during routine testing on Tuesday but his case is considered a low risk to the wider community.

A fully vaccinated colleague who drove the guard to and from work has tested negative for the virus. 

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says testing frequency for other staff at the Grand Millennium is being increased to weekly for the next fortnight, with a spot infection control audit also undertaken at the facility.

Vaccine setback in Australia

While New Zealand may be opting to use Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine, countries rolling out the AstraZeneca jab are facing faltering confidence.

Australian officials announced last night they’re recommending against people under 50 receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine after a link was confirmed between the jab and rare blood clots.

The change will mean a complete overhaul for Australia’s current vaccine rollout plans. 

It’s worth noting no blood clotting incidents have been linked to the Pfizer vaccine, which continues to be administered throughout New Zealand.

The country’s first marae vaccination centre opened yesterday, with South Auckland community leaders and kaumatua converging on Manurewa Marae to receive their first jabs. 

Students set to march

Thousands of high school students are expected to march in the second School Strike for Climate across Aotearoa today.

The last strike was in 2019, which saw 170,000 people turn out around the country. This year, students are calling for more action over the climate crisis, saying Covid-19 provides a unique opportunity for change. 

The strike action comes as the Government moves to ban all new coal generators, while spending $23 million to help businesses transition away from them. It’s proposing phasing out coal boilers altogether by 2037.

Bubble could stretch building industry

Tourism operators may be rejoicing over the upcoming trans-Tasman travel bubble, but the local construction industry is concerned opening the borders to Australia could cost them valuable workers.

Australia’s building sector is experiencing a skills shortage like New Zealand’s and it’s thought Kiwi construction workers may cross the Tasman to take advantage of the better pay on offer.

The Employers and Manufacturers Association is calling for more “shovel ready” projects in New Zealand to keep local talent here.

Meanwhile, RNZ reports doctors at Auckland Hospital have been told they can’t fly to Australia for business or education purposes when the travel bubble opens.

Auckland DHB has advised staff it won’t approve business travel, except in critical cases, and is strongly discouraging holidays across the Tasman, due to concerns over potential isolation in the event of an outbreak of Covid-19.

Sunscreen law a step closer

National MP Todd Muller's proposal to regulate sunscreen has passed its first reading in Parliament with support from across the House.

Muller described the bill as ensuring sunscreen in New Zealand “has greater efficacy and that consumers have greater protection”.

He says while sunscreen standards are mandatory in Australia, compliance is currently voluntary in New Zealand. 

The bill comes as a Consumer NZ survey yesterday found two more sunscreens failed to meet the claims on their labels. 

Other news of note this morning:

- US President Joe Biden is advancing half a dozen executive actions on gun control – but CNN reports they fall far short of his ambitious goals on the issue.

- Pike River families want the Government to reconsider its decision to stop funding any further re-entry efforts at the mine. 

- Figures show the Government is currently spending close to $1 billion every three months on housing support. 

- Auckland's water reservoirs are half empty again and nearing record lows, while the NZ Herald reports soil in the east of the country is rapidly drying out.

- Seven out of 10 Kiwis are questioning if they're "getting a real deal" out of supermarket "specials", according to a new survey.

- Bee colony deaths in New Zealand have increased for the sixth year in a row with nearly 100,000 colonies estimated to be lost.

- Police have arrested the reigning Mrs World for allegedly injuring the winner of a Mrs Sri Lanka beauty pageant while pulling the crown off her head

- And AA Insurance has released a list of its quirkiest car, home and contents claims.

And finally...

Andrew Saville sweats alongside members of the Black Sticks hockey team. Source: 1 NEWS

The pandemic may still be looming over the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, but several Kiwi teams and athletes are pushing on with their preparations – including replicating the stifling heat that’s expected in Japan at the end of July.

1 NEWS sports presenter Andrew Saville spoke to Black Sticks team members and spent four minutes inside a special bunker that recreates 40-degree heat and 75 per cent humidity conditions this week – and realised pretty quickly he was probably in the wrong attire for the situation...