The Bulletin: How did we end up back in lockdown?

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Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: How did we end up back in lockdown, employers accused of not offering wage-subsidy pay to staff, and disgust at Uyghur impersonation at Chinese New Year festivities.

If you haven’t checked the news, or got the phone alert, or talked to another living soul in the last 24 hours, you might not have heard that the alert levels have changed again. Auckland went to level three on Sunday morning, with the rest of the country back to level two, just a fortnight after the last such move. At this stage, it will last seven days – here are the rules for Auckland, and an updated list of locations of interest. So, what went wrong?

The government is casting this as a case of people not following the rules, with severe consequences. Radio NZ reports PM Jacinda Ardern noted people went to work when they shouldn’t have done so, and called on employers to ensure staff who should be self-isolating shouldn’t come in. She also asked people not to be aggressive with each other as a result of these cases – our live updates quoted her as saying “I want to acknowledge the frustration I’ve seen and I’ve heard overnight, particularly coming, rightly so, from many Aucklanders. No one wants Covid in our community. But we won’t beat it by turning on each other.” Particular social media frustration has been directed at a man who went to the gym after getting a Covid test, which later came back positive.

Covid-19 minister Chris Hipkins also weighed in on that, in an interview with Stuff that defended the decision to move the country back to level one so recently. “This potentially was avoidable if everybody had done exactly what they are asking to do at the different alert levels and in their different circumstances, but it’s clear that a number of people weren’t.” He also argued that the information in front of the government at the start of the week made a move to level one the best approach – a decision which in hindsight has played out badly, as decisions with an element of risk made with imperfect information sometimes do.

How badly? Many including Ardern have made the point that lockdowns themselves aren’t as big a problem as bouncing in and out of them at short notice. Parents and schools are now facing at least another week of disrupted learning. Businesses are now having to upend plans all over again. Events are being cancelled all over the place. Thousands of people faced hours in queues getting in and out of Auckland yesterday, with huge jams at regional borders. These outcomes and the uncertainty that comes with them are all direct consequences of the government’s decisions over the last fortnight, and have to be owned as such, even if the government can demonstrate that the decisions are justified.

Should those people who had been in the community while they should have been self-isolating face consequences? I’m personally deeply uneasy about that, and I’ll set out my thinking why. Firstly, the people going to work may have had no other economic choice. A Covid-19 Short-Term Absence Payment exists for affected businesses, but to the best of my knowledge it’s not clear if any direct financial support was offered to those who worked while they should have been self-isolating. Newsroom’s Marc Daalder put it well. If the government wants people to stay home, it should straight up pay them to do so, because under current settings going to work is the rational economic decision. In my view, the government was foolish and naive to not implement something like this in advance.

Moreover, harsh consequences after the fact could deter people from being honest about their movements with contact tracers, which could dramatically limit the effectiveness of the operation. Journalist Dylan Reeve put it well, with a tweet saying “any action that gives people in general an incentive to be dishonest with contact tracers risks far more harm than any one individual’s poor decisions.” Councillor Efeso Collins, who represents South Auckland, told Justin Latif that talk of tough crackdowns will backfire among a population that has already done more than any other in the country to fight Covid.

So where to now? Yesterday afternoon Ardern said it was “highly likely” that there would be more community cases – by 6.00pm a new case in the cluster was announced, though they were already in quarantine. Modeller Shaun Hendy told Toby Manhire that we’ll have a clearer picture by the middle of the week about what case numbers are doing, and whether that suggests there’s been transmission between total strangers rather than spread within a network of contacts.

Two major retail employers have been snapped for offering pay well below wage subsidy levels during lockdown, reports One News. First Union has fingered glasses shop OPSM, and major clothing chain H&M offering staff 25% and 60% of normal pay respectively. Other retailers have gone on the record to declare they’ll be offering their workers full pay.

Criticism has been raised of how Chinese New Year celebrations treated Uyghur culture, reports Laura Walters for Newsroom. The state-sponsored China Cultural Centre in Wellington put on an event that included New Zealand Han Chinese people performing as Uyghurs, which if you’ve been following the Xinjiang situation has some pretty bad connotations. It isn’t a question of cultural appropriation, so much as what critics are calling an attempt to downplay human rights abuses.

We’ve been doing our utmost to bring you all the coverage you need of the Covid-19 outbreaks and lockdowns. And we can’t do it without the generous support of our members. If you want to help out our news team with this and other big stories, please sign up here.

A couple of really interesting pieces on the financial downfall of the Moa beer company, which has just been sold for way below previous valuations. Michael Andrew has written about how the advertising and branding of the company put it in something of a commercial no-man’s land, figuratively speaking. And this article from beer blog The Bottleneck does a really good job of situating Moa within the wider craft beer scene, and how it managed to alienate the people who could have been major advocates in a competitive market.

Something a bit unusual is going on with the Invercargill City Council, and their policy on councillors talking to media. Stuff’s Logan Savory reports that the new policy asks councillors to only speak to certain topics, rather than discussing “the actions or decisions of other elected members or staff”. Some important context for this is criticism raised of mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt over the term, who some councillors have said isn’t up to the job any more. Former Wellington mayor Justin Lester commented on the story, saying the policy went too far, even if he thought councillors should speak about each other with respect.

Hundreds of immigration staff based around the world will lose their jobs, with offices closing amid a massive drop in visa applications, reports Newshub’s Matt Burrows. Offices in Pretoria, Manila, Mumbai and Beijing will permanently close this year, while more visa processing will be brought back to New Zealand. Those offices have effectively been closed since March 2020, and the move is part of a wider reorganisation at INZ.

Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

Tony Astle. Photo by Simon Day for The Spinoff.

Right now on The Spinoff: We’ve republished a day by day timeline of Covid-19’s first year in New Zealand. Mark Graham writes about some of the truly long term effects of concussion, a year after he got his. Michelle Langstone has a remarkable profile of Tony Astle, the chef behind Auckland institution Antoine’s, which is closing its doors forever. Toby Manhire reports on a major speech made by Grant Robertson about the state of the economy, and plans to take on the housing crisis at long last. Rebecca Wadey writes about how Covid-19 helped QAnon and white supremacy infiltrate the wellbeing industry. And Linda Burgess writes about the high financial cost of loving a pet.

For a feature today, a documentary that is a long time out of date, but gives some incredible insights into the sporting culture of yesteryear. I recently came across In a Different League, an early Ric Salizzo production that followed Matthew Ridge as he made his way across the Tasman to take up a pro contract with Manly, at a time in which rugby union was amateur. You can watch the whole thing on NZ On Screen. Some aspects, like the language used at times, has not aged particularly well – not like that should have necessarily been expected. But what’s so amazing about the doco are the almost anthropological, fly on the wall scenes that are deeply revealing about sporting culture of the time.

The White Ferns have finally clicked with a brilliant performance, to pick up a much-needed ODI win against England. With the series gone, the bowlers stood up to restrict England to a manageable total, before Amy Satterthwaite and Amelia Kerr brought the game home with a brilliant partnership – Satterthwaite scoring an unbeaten century. It snaps a long ODI losing streak for the Ferns, who have now proven they’re good enough to compete against one of the best teams in the world. Meanwhile, sporting schedules have been a bit munted by the latest Covid lockdown – the NZ Herald has a wrap of the changes.

That’s it for The Bulletin. If you want to support the work we do at The Spinoff, please check out our membership programme






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