Morning Briefing Feb 19: NZ takes its biggest step in Covid battle

The biggest vaccine rollout in NZ's history begins a day early, the Government moves to tackle period poverty, and Facebook takes the nuclear option in its fight with Australia.

A tray of Pfizer vaccines. Source: Associated Press

New Zealand’s Covid-19 vaccination programme is beginning a day early with the first vaccines being administered this morning.

One hundred vaccinators will get the jab today before going on to vaccinate border workers from tomorrow.

It follows trial runs in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch this week as officials prepare as much as possible for the largest vaccine rollout in New Zealand’s history.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says the sheer scale of the operation means he’s expecting some challenges in logistics. Some of the details of those logistics have been kept under wraps with health officials citing fears of sabotage and theft.

Meanwhile, attention is also turning to increasing uptake of the vaccine within Māori and Pasifika communities. Ministry of Health research shows both communities are less likely to get the jab.

Government officials are rolling out several initiatives to address the hesitancy within those groups, but one South Auckland councillor warns not enough is being done to combat misinformation.

Today’s first vaccinations come as officials continue their close watch on Auckland’s latest outbreak of the virus with no new community cases reported yesterday.

The source of the infections is still under investigation with a “possible genomic similarity” between one of the cases and a December MIQ case. However, Dr Ashley Bloomfield says the most likely source still relates to the airport environment where one of the new cases works. 

And as those investigations and vaccinations take place, there may be a little light at the end of the pandemic tunnel with case numbers stabilising in Covid hot spots like the UK and the US.

Covid-19 modeller Rodney Jones told RNZ the speed of the decline in cases in both countries is remarkable, which should have flow-on effects for New Zealand.

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Facebook takes nuclear option

Facebook is under fire for banning its Australian users from seeing or sharing any news content.

The social media giant made the move early yesterday in response to an incoming Australian law that would make Facebook pay media outlets for hosting their content.

As the Guardian reports, the wide-ranging ban has also affected dozens of government, charity and community Facebook pages.

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has slammed Facebook for “unfriending Australia”, saying their actions “were as arrogant as they were disappointing”. He says the “bullying” won’t stop legislation for the new digital content code. 

Facebook’s move came as Google rushed to negotiate multi-million-dollar deals with three of Australia’s biggest media companies.

The two giant tech companies have been in a stoush with Australian officials for some time over this issue, which the BBC has outlined here.

Media commentator Hayden Donnell told RNZ yesterday Facebook’s Australian news ban was a big deal for other countries, too, given many were probably looking at implementing similar legislation.

He says Facebook’s ban on sharing news from reputable sources also means it’s going to become “even more of a hub for misinformation”.

Govt takes aim at period poverty

Dealing with periods at school is about to get easier for students, with all schools and kura able to provide free period products from June.

The issue of period poverty has concerned charity groups for years, with reports of students having to skip school due to being unable to afford period products.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says students "should not miss out on their education because of something that is a normal part of life for half the population" and adds that providing free products at school is one way the Government can make a positive impact on children’s wellbeing. 

The news is being celebrated by campaigners who are hoping the initiative will eventually extend to all Kiwis who need period products

Quake fallout still felt

Next week will mark 10 years since the deadly Christchurch earthquake that killed 185 people and still affects the day-to-day lives of some residents.

Many Christchurch locals are thought to be suffering what’s known as “quake brain” - ongoing cognitive and psychological effects.

Work is about to start on better understanding how to help those people, with the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation announcing more than $200,000 worth of funding for a new study into the condition.

Meanwhile, as Cantabrians prepare to mark next week’s quake anniversary, 1 NEWS reporter Joy Reid has written about her own struggles since that fateful day. She says she’s spent the past 10 years personally refusing to acknowledge the anniversary – but not anymore.  

Birth rate could see smaller population

A statistician says New Zealand's record low number of births is a sign of a growing trend and could lead to a population decrease.

New data from Stats NZ shows Kiwi women are averaging 1.6 births over their lifetime, well below the population replacement rate of 2.1.

Meanwhile, other data released by the Registrar-General of Births, Deaths and Marriages yesterday has revealed the most common surnames given to newborns last year.

They say the list reflects New Zealand’s growing diversity with the names Singh, Smith, Kaur, Patel and Williams featuring the most. 

Other news of note this morning:

- Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick says she is horrified to learn that her ANZ KiwiSaver is investing in companies fuelling the war in Yemen and has promptly dumped the provider.

- Unsafe lead levels have been detected in the blood of some east Otago residents after the recent contamination scare in the region.

- A new fault line has been unearthed near Hamilton and the risk it poses to residents is now being investigated.

- The TAB has apologised to its customers after a "human error" saw people’s personal information sent to other punters.

- A new departure tax is being suggested for anyone leaving New Zealand to help offset the environmental cost of their travel. 

- NASA’s rover Perseverance is due to land on Mars later this morning in what will easily be the most challenging part of its mission.

- Serena Williams has broken down in tears, not letting on if her Australian Open semi-final loss to Naomi Osaka will be her last appearance at Melbourne Park.

- And less than a year after his Black Caps debut, Kyle Jamieson has become the most expensive New Zealander ever bought in the Indian Premier League.

And finally...

Hal Critchley and Seven Sharp reporter Jordyn Rudd. Source: Seven Sharp

The folks at Seven Sharp love a quirky Trade Me auction – and their latest find will likely have Star Wars and Lego fans weak at the knees.

One man is selling what he believes is the biggest ever collection of Millennium Falcon Lego sets, so Jordyn Rudd went along to check out the auction wares (and get a Star Wars education).

You can find her report here, but there’s a warning for anyone keen to get their hands on the collection – you’ll need pockets nearly as deep as Kyle Jamieson's...