Morning Briefing July 28: NZ begins wider vaccine rollout

Vaccinating the general public against Covid-19 begins, Sydney braces for a lockdown extension, and an Olympic superstar abruptly withdraws from competition.

The Government will begin rolling out the Pfizer vaccine to the general population today, with anyone aged 60 or over first to be invited to book their jab.

This next phase of vaccinations coincides with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern receiving her second dose today.

It comes as the NZ Herald reports (paywalled) “highly uneven” vaccination rollouts across the country’s district health boards. They found Taranaki to be the worst performer per capita so far. 

The wider vaccination scheme also comes as New Zealand is urged to consider lengthening the time between administering each of the two Pfizer jabs following new research in the UK.

Oxford University Professor Susanna Dunachie told TVNZ’s Breakfast the study found higher immunity amongst those who had a 10-week gap between jabs compared to those with a three-week gap.

But Dunachie emphasised any two jabs are good, no matter the gap between them. 

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Sydney set for lockdown extension

Sydney’s lockdown will reportedly be extended by four more weeks after the city recorded another 172 cases of Covid-19 yesterday.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is expected to reveal that extension today as officials also discuss introducing rapid daily Covid tests for essential workers. 

Meanwhile, Victoria has begun the exit of its latest state-wide lockdown, with the stay-home orders and five-kilometre travel limits scrapped last night.

Some restrictions remain however, with masks compulsory indoors and outdoors and no crowds allowed at sports events or theatres.

And as Kiwis stuck in Australia continue to trickle back into the country this week, the Government has revealed the Wallabies rugby team have been given an economic exemption to travel to New Zealand and play for the Bledisloe Cup next weekend. The team will take a charter flight to Auckland on Friday morning. 

Jones misses out on medal

New Zealand canoe slalomist Luuka Jones has failed to podium in the final of the women's K1 at the Tokyo Olympics. The Rio silver medallist finished the event in sixth place last night, more than five seconds off the pace. 

But there was better news for other Kiwi athletes, with the All Blacks Sevens beating Canada to advance to the semi-finals. They’re joined by Argentina, who somehow defeated South Africa despite being a player down for most of the match.

New Zealand boxer David Nyika also got his Olympic campaign off to a winning start, although his victory was blighted somewhat when opponent Youness Baalla attempted to bite his ear

And one of the Games’ superstars, American gymnast Simone Biles, sensationally withdrew from the women’s team final last night, later citing mental health concerns. Her team went on to win silver, while ROC (also known as Russia) won gold. 

Shipping headaches for exporters

Exporters are starting to feel the pain of continued shipping delays, despite new records in the volume of goods New Zealand sends overseas.

While exports by sea increased by 17 per cent in the past year, ships are facing a long list of issues, including congested ports and skyrocketing costs for containers. 

Export NZ executive director Catherine Beard says exporters are “stressed” about the future, with those problems being felt all the way down the supply chain. Farmers parked their tractors at the Auckland City Mission’s distribution centre to donate fresh produce yesterday, because they “can't get it off the wharf”.

Economist Brad Olsen says the country stands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars if it can’t match its normal export volumes. 

Mother speaks of trial pain

The mother of Constable Matthew Hunt says it’s been harrowing sitting in court and listening to every detail about the day her son was shot dead.

She spoke following the trial of Eli Epiha, who killed Hunt and was yesterday also found guilty of attempting to kill his partner, Constable David Goldfinch.

Natalie Bracken, who drove Epiha away from the scene of the crime, was also found guilty yesterday. 

The pair are due to be sentenced in October.

Other news of note this morning:

- Fiji's main island of Viti Levu has been issued with new curfew hours amid the country’s spiralling Covid crisis.

- The first person to be tried under Hong Kong's sweeping national security law has been found guilty of secessionism and terrorism.

- New Plymouth’s wastewater will continue to be tested daily for the next week to check for any undetected cases of Covid-19. 

- Principals and teachers say training teachers to tackle racism and value Māori culture is essential for improving the school system.

- The New Zealand Transport Agency Waka Kotahi says it's looking to lessen the immediate impact of a rule that’s forced some motorhomes and horse trucks off the road.

- The Government has revealed more than $68 million in funding for new health research into cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

- Hutt Valley residents say not enough is being done to tackle deer, which are popping up in suburban gardens and destroying native bush.

- Britney Spears' new attorney has petitioned to oust the pop star's father from her conservatorship and replace him with a professional accountant.

- And a classic steak and cheese pie has taken out New Zealand’s supreme pie award. 

And finally...

The issue of wearing bikinis at the Olympics has come under intense scrutiny this week after a viral social media post misidentified a protesting beach handball team as playing beach volleyball.

Beach handball, which isn’t an Olympic sport, requires women to wear bikinis, but beach volleyball does not.

However, beach volleyball players still choose the bikini over more conservative attire in almost all competitions – and this article explains why.