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Morning Briefing Jan 26: Australia bursts bubble after latest community case

Australia temporarily closes its travel bubble with NZ, MIQ ventilation systems are under scrutiny, and Moderna says its vaccine appears to work against new Covid variants.

Source: istock.com

Kiwis’ trans-Tasman travel plans have fallen into sudden disarray after Australia decided to close its travel bubble with New Zealand for at least 72 hours late yesterday.

Several flights over the next few days have been cancelled with passengers now being asked to complete a 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Australia. Kiwis who have already arrived in the country since January 14 are also being asked to isolate and get tested for Covid-19.

Australian authorities made the decision following a Northland woman’s positive test for the South African variant of the virus at the weekend.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says her Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, informed her of the travel bubble decision late yesterday afternoon.

She says that while she has confidence in New Zealand’s processes, “it is Australia’s decision as to how they manage their borders”.

Meanwhile, some changes are coming for other passengers today with Air New Zealand announcing face masks will now be mandatory on all its international flights. This was previously only a requirement on some of its international routes. 

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More locations of interest revealed

The total number of locations visited by the Northland Covid case has grown to 31 with the Carpet Court and Farmers stores in Whangārei now added to that list.

Those who were at the locations at the same time are being asked to isolate at home and call Healthline about getting a Covid test.

Lengthy queues formed at several Northland testing stations yesterday as authorities revealed more details about the latest case.

The likely source of infection was another person isolating at Auckland’s Pullman Hotel. Returnees who isolated there from January 9-24 are being asked to isolate once again with the scheduled release of another 46 people from the facility also delayed yesterday.

While at least one recent arrival into New Zealand claims just-arrived groups have been able to mingle with soon-to-depart groups in managed isolation, ventilation systems at MIQ facilities are under scrutiny following this latest case.

Epidemiologist Michael Baker is also calling for other immediate changes to the MIQ system, including asking returnees to quarantine in their homes for another week after leaving managed isolation.

In more positive news, the latest Covid case has at least spurred more Kiwis into action around scanning.

The Ministry of Health says 200,000 people enabled the Bluetooth functionality on their Covid Tracer app on Sunday following news of a case in the community. 

Promising news on vaccine front

Moderna scientists say their Covid vaccine appears to still work against new variants of the virus.

Early tests suggest the antibodies triggered by their vaccine recognise the new variants found in the UK and South Africa.

It follows other results that suggest the Pfizer vaccine can also protect against the UK variant.

The news comes as Australia reveals it’s given provisional approval for the use of Pfizer’s vaccine with the country due to roll out its first doses late next month.

And as New Zealand looks ahead to its own vaccination programme, RNZ reports the Government has granted Pfizer and BioNTech indemnity from any claims that may arise from the use of that vaccine. 

Meanwhile, other countries already rolling out Covid vaccines are still struggling to contain the pandemic within their borders.

The UK is looking at introducing a New Zealand-style hotel quarantine system for arrivals into the country as Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces increasing pressure to strengthen border measures. 

The US health system is also still under immense strain with more than 40 per cent of Americans now living in areas running out of ICU space.

That revelation comes as leading US public health expert Dr Anthony Fauci told the New York Times former President Donald Trump repeatedly downplayed the pandemic and refused to accept facts he didn’t personally agree with during his time at the White House. 

Canterbury on high alert

Fire crews continued to battle a large fire in Canterbury overnight as the region prepares for more record-breaking temperatures.

The blaze ripped through 20 hectares of land in the Pines Beach area yesterday, threatening at least five homes. The fire is currently contained but not yet out.

Crews also fought a scrub fire in the suburb of Redcliffs yesterday afternoon.

Authorities are urging Cantabrians to remain vigilant with scorching temperatures of up to 36 degrees expected later today. 

Music industry under microscope

Scott Maclachlan, the record executive who managed Lorde for five years, has been fired from his Australian record label following a Stuff investigation into sexual harassment within the music industry.

Another high-profile music executive has also apologised for “crossing professional boundaries” following the Stuff story.

Paul McKessar, who manages pop star Benee, says he’s since handed back his Aotearoa Music Awards Manager of the Year 2020 award.

Other news of note this morning:

- US President Joe Biden has signed an order reversing a Trump-era policy that largely barred transgender individuals from serving in the military.

- New Zealand students are due to march at midday as part of the school strike for climate.

- Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has again warned New Zealanders not to share fake social media content about Covid-19 after rumours about a lockdown circulated online.

- The Government is being urged to amend laws so companies caught dumping contaminated wastewater down drains can be fined. RNZ yesterday revealed hundreds of companies have been breaching their trade waste consents.

- Speaking of wastewater, residents in Wellington's CBD are being asked to avoid flushing their toilets where possible as work continues to fix a major pipe that burst yesterday.

- More tremors are expected to rattle the Bay of Plenty after a series of earthquakes jolted the region yesterday morning.

- The Hawke's Bay Cricket Association has called an emergency meeting after a school cricket match was abandoned in Hastings due to an alleged racial abuse incident.

- And a stalwart of Canterbury touch rugby proves age is just a number after being selected for the upcoming nationals at the age of 74.

And finally...

A police officer facing off with an errant seal at a Lower Hutt cricket pitch. Source: NZ Police

Marine mammals aren’t generally known for their fielding skills, but one fur seal wasn’t letting that get in the way of enjoying a day on the cricket pitch in Wellington.

Police were called to Te Whiti Park after local cricketers discovered the fur seal/kekeno sunning itself on the field yesterday morning.

The errant seal was eventually tempted back to Waiwhetū Stream with some sausages, however DOC doesn’t advise such practices.

A spokesperson says kekeno have sharp teeth and can move quickly if they feel threatened.

So, if you enjoy having hands, best keep the sausages to yourself if you find any fur seals on your own cricket pitch this summer.