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Morning Briefing Feb 24: Next few days 'critical' as new cases emerge

The Ministry of Health releases new locations of interest as the Auckland February cluster grows, and there's concern over NZ's latest child poverty figures.

A sign at Papatoetoe High School. Source: 1 NEWS

The Auckland February cluster of Covid cases grew by two last night as siblings of an already confirmed case at Papatoetoe High School tested positive for the virus.

One of the cases is an infant and the other is an older sibling who has been working at Kmart Botany as recently as February 19 and 20.

More than 30 close contacts at the store are now isolating and being tested, with the Ministry of Health asking anyone who was at Kmart Botany at those times to do the same. The full list of locations of interest with times and dates can be found here

Papatoetoe High School has also closed its doors again with plans in place to begin retesting staff and students. Exhausted Covid-19 testers in South Auckland are now bracing for another big surge in demand.

Experts say yesterday’s new community cases are a concern.

Epidemiologist Michael Baker, who has been advocating for a new Covid alert level system to deal with such instances, told the NZ Herald the next few days will be critical in guiding how the Government responds.

Auckland University’s Dr Siouxsie Wiles told Stuff Auckland should be moved to Level 2. She says it places limits on gatherings which can help “stop super-spreaders” from infecting others. 

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Concern over poverty figures

The Children's Commissioner says New Zealand’s child poverty statistics are a national embarrassment.

New figures released yesterday show child poverty was declining in New Zealand before Covid-19 arrived on our shores, however 125,000 children are still living in material hardship.

The data also shows Māori and Pasifika children are more likely to be living in poverty, while Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft says the numbers are “profoundly bad news” for children with disabilities. Nearly one in five children with disabilities lives in material hardship. 

And while the child poverty figures show a 2.2 per cent drop overall, there’s a catch – the data is a year old, meaning it doesn’t include anything since the Covid-19 pandemic hit, which has proven a strain for many Kiwi families. 

Advocates take aim at Ministry

The Ministry of Health has been accused of “silencing” people who criticise New Zealand’s mental health system.

Advocate Jazz Thornton says she’s had her own struggles with the sector, saying the system doesn’t work because “there’s a lot of talk but not a lot of action”.

Thornton has accused the Ministry of Health of “flashy” announcements that give people hope “and then there’s no follow-through”. 1 NEWS has asked the ministry to respond to her claims.

Thornton’s comments come days after Mental Health Foundation boss Shaun Robinson accused a Ministry of Health official of trying to silence him after he criticised the Government's lack of work on mental health reforms.

Robinson told TVNZ’s Breakfast this week there was an “implication” that the charity would lose its ministry funding if it continued criticising the Government. 

Responding to that accusation, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: “He [Robinson] is absolutely entitled to make those comments and I do see them as part of his job. He should be able to and should speak freely.”

Health Minister Andrew Little will be talking to Breakfast about the issue around 7.20am today. 

Facebook friends with Australia again

Facebook is backing down on its ban on Australian news on the platform, after holding "constructive discussions" with government members.

The social media giant abruptly wiped the country’s news pages last week in response to Australia’s proposed media bargaining law.

Facebook and the Australian Government have announced the law has since been tweaked with Australian news due to be restored on the site “in the coming days”. 

Other news of note this morning:

- The Covid-19 death toll in the US has topped 500,000, all but matching the number of Americans killed in World War II, Korea and Vietnam combined.

- Buckingham Palace says Prince Philip has an infection and won't be leaving hospital for several days.

- New figures show $10 million worth of business support is on the way in the wake of last week's lockdown in Auckland. 

- The Māori Party's Rawiri Waititi has called for a ministerial inquiry into the treatment of prison inmates, saying New Zealand needs a "by-Māori, for-Māori, to-Māori approach to dealing with our whānau in prisons”. 

- Pharmac will today give evidence at a coronial inquiry into the anti-seizure drug Logem. Medsafe yesterday told the inquiry switching patients to a generic epilepsy drug was not without risk

- The results of a seismic mapping project on the bed of Lake Wānaka have raised concerns a lake tsunami could potentially one day impact the township.

- RNZ reports Cantabrians are being asked to consider a 24.5 per cent rates increase by their regional council next year.

- And All Blacks players have featured in an emotional ad for this year’s Super Rugby Aotearoa competition, opening up about what the sport means to them.

And finally...

Beauen reunited with his toy bunny, NuNu. Source: Seven Sharp

An update for those of you who’ve been following the story of Wink, a toy bunny found all alone at Hamilton Airport – he’s just been reunited with his young owner.

Wink (real name NuNu) made headlines last week when Jacinda Ardern met him at Hamilton Airport and put the callout via social media to find his owner. The move worked, with Wink’s buddy Beauen stepping forward.

Seven Sharp was there for the toy bunny’s big reunion, which featured a guard of honour farewell at Hamilton Airport and a special recorded message from the Prime Minister. 

Have we reached peak New Zealand with this story? You better believe it.