Morning Briefing May 13: Covid pandemic 'entirely preventable'

A panel co-chaired by Helen Clark finds the global health system "clearly unfit" to prevent another pandemic, and Rawiri Waititi is booted from Parliament after performing a haka in the House.

A nurse is seen at a hospital in India. Source: Associated Press

The Covid-19 pandemic was entirely preventable, according to an expert panel.

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, co-chaired by Helen Clark, blames the current global situation on a “myriad of failures, gaps, and delays in response".

Their report, released late last night, is calling on the global community to end the pandemic by immediately implementing a raft of recommendations, largely focused on vaccines.

The panel has also concluded the global health system is still “clearly unfit” to prevent another highly infectious pathogen turning into a pandemic and has called for other reforms to rectify that. You can find their full report here.

The panel’s recommendations come as an international NGO warns most people in many Pacific Islands won’t be vaccinated until 2023 if the Covid vaccine rollout continues at its current pace.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has been warning of distribution inequality since Covid vaccines were created last year. They say most jabs are still going to high-income countries.

But there has been some good vaccine news overnight – the EU’s drug watchdog says vaccines that use mRNA technology (like Pfizer and Moderna) appear able to “neutralise” the variant of Covid-19 detected in India.

It comes as the World Health Organization designates that new version of the virus a “variant of concern”

Sign up to get the Morning Briefing delivered direct to your inbox – here.

Borders to stay closed for some time

New Zealand is “unlikely” to see significant volumes of international travel beyond safe zones this year and possibly early into next year.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says a wider opening of the borders "won't just be a sudden flick of the switch moment".

His comments follow predictions in Australia that their own borders won’t open until the second half of 2022. 

However, Hipkins is urging Kiwis abroad to come home.

With the trans-Tasman bubble freeing up space in managed isolation, the days of hopeful returnees having to wait months for a spot in quarantine are over.

With around 20,000 rooms available over the next three months, Hipkins says Kiwis should take the opportunity to come back now. 

Those comments come as officials on both sides of the Tasman continue to monitor a community Covid case that emerged in Victoria this week.

The AFL has contacted more than 50,000 fans who attended a Richmond-Geelong match in Melbourne, amid fears hundreds may have been exposed to Covid-19 on public transport.

However, our Ministry of Health says the public health risk to New Zealand remains low. 

Waititi booted after haka

National leader Judith Collins is denying Māori bashing in Parliament.

Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi was kicked out of the House yesterday after he did a haka in protest of what he described as racist questions from the National camp.

Waititi pointed to two weeks of “racist propaganda and rhetoric towards tangata whenua” that he says “insults the mana of this House”.

But Collins says she's just doing her job, questioning Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern over the incoming Māori Health Authority.

As RNZ reports, the incident has raised the question of whether MPs can call each other racist in the House.

Speaker Trevor Mallard has ruled MPs can describe policies and views as racist – but the term cannot be directly used against another member. 

Warnings over "full-scale war"

The United Nations fears the deadly exchange of fire between Palestinian militants and the Israeli military could escalate into a “full-scale war”.

Israel says Hamas militants have launched more than 1000 rockets, while Israeli forces have carried out hundreds of air strikes.

The fighting has escalated already heightened tensions throughout the region. Guardian correspondent Oliver Holmes has explained what’s causing Jerusalem’s worst violence in years here.

Budget boost for ECE

The Government has earmarked $170 million for improving the pay of qualified early childhood education (ECE) teachers, helping the sector "take another leap towards pay parity" with kindergarten teachers.

The move could see some teachers’ pay go up by 17 per cent. 

The Government has also announced extra funding for ECE centres that agree to pay teachers the first six salary bands in the kindergarten collective agreement – but it's unclear how many providers will take this up.

Long way to go on EV fleet

Hundreds of new electric vehicles are on the way for the Government fleet, with many of those going to the Department of Conservation.

More than $13 million is being stumped up for the 422 EVs and charging infrastructure.

Currently, only one per cent of the Government’s fleet is electric, with yesterday’s announcement pulling it up to four per cent – and even Climate Change Minister James Shaw admits it will be a struggle to meet the promise of a zero-emission fleet by 2025. 

Other news of note this morning:

- Fiji’s central division, including the capital Suva, is to go into a hard lockdown from tomorrow night.

- Workers at the Dunedin Countdown which was the scene of a stabbing attack on Monday have returned to the store.

- Prince William has paid tribute to Kiwi-born police officer Matiu Ratana who was shot and killed in the line of duty in London.

- Bank fees for credit and debit card payments are set to be capped, reducing the amount businesses pay to use the service. 

- One of the country’s most dangerous roads will finally be made safer, with the announcement of a $933 million project.  

- A new feature being trialled on Facebook hopes to encourage people to actually read articles before sharing them.

- A Whanganui writer has taken home the top prize at the Ockham Book Awards. 

- And do you have a dog who gets a bit grumpy? Chances are they’re a more intelligent pooch than most...

And finally...

Ellen DeGeneres. Source: Getty

Ellen DeGeneres is to end her long-running US talk show in 2022 after 19 years on the air.

The announcement comes just months after the show faced accusations it was a toxic place to work, but she told the Hollywood Reporter the allegations have not been a factor in her decision to pull the plug.

Instead, she says the show just isn’t a challenge anymore.  

"It's going to be really hard on the last day, but I also know it's time," she says. "I'm a creative person, and when you're a creative person you constantly need to be challenged."