Morning Briefing March 26: Emergency departments driven to brink of collapse

Hospital staff warn their emergency departments are in peril, unvaccinated border workers could soon be removed from frontline jobs, and a Cook Islands travel bubble is on the table.

Patient in hospital bed - file photo. Source:

Emergency departments in New Zealand’s hospitals are in crisis as reports roll in of overwhelming workloads, bed shortages, and exhausted staff choosing to resign.

A code black was declared at Dunedin Hospital earlier this week as it reached full capacity, however similar issues are being experienced right around the country.

An employee at Middlemore Hospital says their emergency department can no longer cope with demand, with staff shortages now impacting patients’ treatment.

Australasian College for Emergency Medicine president Dr John Bonning and former chair of the College of Emergency Nurses Sandra Richardson both say emergency departments are in a perilous state. They’re warning patients may wind up stuck in ambulances through the busy winter period and say significant investment in both staff and infrastructure is urgently needed. 

Minister of Health Andrew Little says they have increased hospital staff, but he wants to investigate how they've been deployed by district health boards. 

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NZ marks lockdown anniversary 

This time last year, Kiwis were waking up to their first morning under a Level 4 lockdown.

Clinical physiologist Jacquie Maguire has spoken to 1 NEWS about that unprecedented move and says the speed in which the country was thrust into lockdown “was a huge shock to the nation”. And as Kiwis mark that lockdown anniversary, a new study has confirmed the virus was circulating in New Zealand before the first officially recorded case on February 28. 

Newsroom has taken a behind the scenes look at New Zealand’s journey to lockdown, which included secret teleconferences and Cabinet papers warning of mass casualties.

Stuff, meanwhile, has reminisced about the daily press conferences with Jacinda Ardern and Dr Ashley Bloomfield, which quickly became appointment viewing.

Despite the disruption of that nationwide lockdown and several dire economic predictions at the time, an ASB study has found New Zealanders are financially better off than they were a year ago, mostly due to reduced spending.

However, many are still doing it tough, with a third of people living pay cheque to pay cheque.

Border workers could be barred

RNZ reports border workers who refuse a Covid-19 vaccination will soon be removed from their frontline job.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says that while people can’t be forced to have the jab, it’s also not acceptable to have unvaccinated workers protecting New Zealand’s border against the virus.

Employment law advocate Ashleigh Fechney says the move is tricky legally as the Bill of Rights, under which a person can refuse a vaccine, is balanced against health and safety legislation.

She says border workers who refuse the vaccine are “absolutely being disadvantaged" but the question is "whether that's unjustified".

Inconsistent MIQ rules under fire

Two women with the same disease and same medical treatment plans say they can’t understand why one of them was granted an MIQ exemption while the other was declined.

Tauranga woman Karen Taylor is booked to undergo treatment for multiple sclerosis in Mexico soon and will be left very ill with no immune system. Her medical team has advised that she isolate at home upon her return to New Zealand, however her application for an MIQ exemption has been declined.

Taylor’s friend, Lee Merritt, underwent the same treatment last year but was granted the exemption

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) told 1 NEWS the cases have been treated differently because MIQ was “unable to meet” Taylor's needs at the time she applied.

Meanwhile, health authorities are ramping up investigations into whether there was transmission of Covid-19 at an Auckland hotel following a “Day 12” case at the MIQ facility.

Genome sequencing shows a link between two returnees at the Grand Mercure who arrived on separate flights and were staying on different floors of the hotel.

As a precaution, 250 returnees who have left the hotel since March 10 are being asked to get tested for Covid-19 and remain in isolation until they receive a negative result.

More than a dozen returnees who shared a bus with the Day 12 case are also now facing another fortnight in managed isolation. 

Train service gets lukewarm reception

Details of the much-lauded Te Huia train service between Hamilton and Auckland have been released to a mixed response.

There will be two return services each weekday morning and evening with one return service on Saturdays.

The journey from Hamilton to Auckland’s southern border takes roughly an hour and 40 minutes. Another train into the city from there is 50 minutes, making for a two-and-a-half-hour trip in total. 

1 NEWS has asked if the service is at risk of becoming “a ghost train” if it doesn’t prove popular, however Waikato Regional Council chair Russ Rimmington disputes that notion. He says Te Huia will usher in a “renaissance of rail” and will “grow from success to success”. 

Cook Islands travel bubble near?

A Cook Islands travel bubble is expected to be a hot topic of discussion today as Jacinda Ardern meets with the nation's Prime Minister in person.

Mark Brown is the first international leader to visit New Zealand since the borders closed last year, with bilateral discussions taking place early this afternoon.

The meeting comes after the Cook Islands upgraded its contact tracing app, which is now compatible with the New Zealand Covid tracer.

Other news of note this morning:

- A bedside court hearing will be held today for a man charged with the murder of Epsom couple Elizabeth and Herman Bangera. 

- The US is bracing for a record influx of migrants at its southern border, with the White House scrambling for solutions to the growing humanitarian crisis.

- Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison is feeling the pressure following more allegations of sexual misconduct among the country’s political elite. 

- The newest ambulances in St John’s fleet have been taken out of service due to a potential safety issue with their brakes.

- With Westpac considering selling off its NZ operation, questions are now turning to who might buy it – and why they want to sell it in the first place.

- National's Simeon Brown received an invitation to visit the Waikato Mongrel Mob Kingdom during a heated exchange at Parliament yesterday.

- And CCTV has captured the brazen theft of a newly arrived Porsche from an Auckland car dealer's yard.

And finally...

The Re: team's last days of pre-lockdown freedom. Source: 1 NEWS

Covid-19 was just a blip on most Kiwis’ radars at the beginning of last year – but that changed rapidly through March as the country moved through an alert level system to reach a nationwide lockdown.

Re: has been looking back at that lead-up and asked its team to scroll back through their camera roll and share what they were up to during those final days of pre-lockdown freedom. You can find those stories here. (And no, none of them involve panic buying flour and toilet paper.)