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Morning Briefing Feb 18: Govt's alert level decision greeted with some surprise

The decision to shift Covid alert levels is met with some surprise, there's concern over a "worsening" trans-Tasman relationship, and a famous face signs up to be NZ's next Bachelor.

Jacinda Ardern and Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Source: Getty

The Government’s decision to shift Auckland back to Alert Level 2 overnight has been met with some surprise, given it came shortly after the discovery of three new Covid cases linked to the Valentine’s Day outbreak.

Microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles is one of those taken aback by the news, saying she had expected restrictions to continue a little longer. But she says the fact the new cases were close contacts to existing ones and were already in isolation likely guided health officials in making their decision.

Other health experts were also optimistic about the move to Level 2, however epidemiologist Professor Nick Wilson told the NZ Herald it’s not cautious enough given “many test results are outstanding”.

RNZ reports local GPs dealing with the new outbreak are also wary about the shift.

While Auckland is now at Level 2 and the rest of the country is at Level 1 (albeit with a new mask requirement), Papatoetoe High School will remain closed until next week, a price the school says they’re willing to pay to enable the rest of the country to move to fewer restrictions.

Two of the school’s students were among yesterday’s new cases. The Ministry of Health has released an updated list of locations of interest, which includes a McDonald’s restaurant where one of the new cases works. 

And while New Zealand officials are confident about last night’s shift in alert levels, their Australian counterparts are taking a more cautious approach by extending their pause on quarantine-free flights for another 72 hours.

It comes as Victoria also ended its five-day “circuit breaker” lockdown overnight. Their latest Covid cluster has swelled to 19 cases, however officials are confident they’ve circled the outbreak.

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Tough decisions for events

The most recent uncertainty around alert levels has proven a headache for many event organisers around the country.

Napier’s Art Deco festival was the biggest casualty as organisers pulled pin on the event this week, however others have also had to change plans.

The popular Splore festival has been postponed for one month, while America’s Cup organisers and teams are in disagreement over when racing should resume in the Prada Cup final. 

But there was plenty of joy over yesterday’s announcement, too – including in Twizel where New Zealand’s rowing community celebrated the fact racing can now begin at their national champs.

Concern over trans-Tasman tussle

Kiwi international relations experts are shocked by this week’s trans-Tasman war of words, saying disagreement over a terror suspect is proof of a worsening relationship between New Zealand and Australia.

Otago University’s Robert Patman says recent trans-Tasman disputes show a personal clash of perspectives between the countries’ two leaders. He says Jacinda Ardern has a different world view to Scott Morrison. 

Ardern did strike a more conciliatory tone over the dual citizen currently being detained in Turkey with her two young children yesterday, saying she’d had a “constructive” call with Morrison about the issue.

She says both countries now acknowledge the woman’s case has legal complexities that they’re working through. 

The plight of the two children involved in the case has also been in the spotlight, with questions over how New Zealand will handle them given Australia has revoked their mother’s citizenship.

Claire Breen, a professor of law at the University of Waikato, says Australia’s move has potentially left the children in diplomatic limbo.

Milestone for Pike River team

Pike River recovery workers have reached a major milestone - the roof fall at the end of the mine’s drift access tunnel.

However, it’s as far as the team can go, which means the 29 men who died in the mine explosion 10 years ago will never be recovered.

A forensic examination of the mine has been carried out up to that point, including cutting through the hardened resin "Rocsil Plug". It’s hoped the forensic evidence may help identify what caused the blast.

Chief operating officer of the Pike River Recovery Agency Dinghy Pattinson says the team left a letter pinned to the Rocsil Plug, addressed to the Pike 29.

“We promised that work would continue on finding out what happened on 19 November 2010. And we said goodbye,” he says.

Paradise paused

After hearing about the Cook Islands’ plight after Covid-19 severed their tourism lifeline for the past year, 1 NEWS’ Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver has now seen the pandemic’s fallout first-hand.

In an exclusive report, Dreaver says the economic wounds in the Cook Islands are critically deep. She says most of the 115 hotels and motels are mothballed, with restaurants also falling victim to the closed borders. 

Tourism Industry Council President Liana Scott told Dreaver: “The reality is without an open border and new money coming in, I just don’t see how this island is going to get through it.”

Other news of note this morning:

- Prince Philip has been admitted to hospital overnight after feeling unwell for several days. 

- A major search is underway after a mayday call from a sinking yacht last night. 

- Prominent US conservative media personality Rush Limbaugh has died aged 70. 

- The Government says the NZ Defence Force will end its 20-year deployment to Afghanistan in the coming months.

- A new survey shows nearly a quarter of Kiwis are unlikely to get a Covid-19 vaccine.

- A Dunedin school has backed down in its dispute with a student over his hairstyle.

- Newstalk ZB broadcaster Marcus Lush has been elected to the Invercargill City Council.

- And a Taranaki man has shared his novel approach for getting on to the property ladder – which all starts with a very fetching tomato

And finally...

Moses Mackay. Source: 1 NEWS

The Government’s decision on Covid Alert Levels wasn’t the only big reveal yesterday. TVNZ has also unveiled the country’s next Bachelor - Sol3 Mio singer Moses Mackay.

It’s Mackay’s second foray into reality TV after starring in 2019’s reboot of Celebrity Treasure Island and, honestly, I don’t know which is more frightening – being stuck on a deserted island with few provisions or doling out roses in a very public search for love.

Mackay told 1 NEWS he originally said no to the Bachelor gig but was persuaded to take part when his demands for “a diverse cast” of Bachelorettes were met.

Will he find Ms Right and give New Zealand their new Art and Matilda? I couldn’t possibly say. Mostly because nobody will tell me. So, we’ll just have to find out when the show premieres next month on TVNZ 2.