Dawn Chorus: PM doubles down on elimination

Ardern pushes back at Hipkins' suggestion 'reconnecting to the world' strategy for 2022 is in doubt; But PM but also says she 'hates the idea of one preventable death' and wants 'everyone vaccinated'


TLDR & TLDL: Morena! The lockdowns in Auckland are far from over and the rest of Aotearoa-NZ looks set to stay at the tougher Delta Level Two restrictions until the ‘mystery cases’ stop turning up at Middlemore hospital unannounced, as another one did late yesterday.

Meanwhile, confusion reigns over the Government’s overall strategy for reopening, after PM Jacinda Ardern doubled down on the elimination strategy with exceptionally high vaccination rates, but also said that was compatible with ‘reconnecting to the world’ next year. Earlier this week Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins indicated that would be difficult, given MIQ restraints, breakthrough infections and the risk of more incursions.

My view: Ardern and Hipkins can’t both be right and yet the PM is continuing to push ahead with the sort of magical thinking I pointed to yesterday. Expecting to vaccinate absolutely everybody and also open up next year without more hard, long and wide lockdowns is just not possible, particularly when the PM says she doesn’t want a single preventable death.

Something’s gotta give, especially when businesses outside Auckland face many more months of level two restrictions they can’t work in and MIQ remains shut to all but the most extreme humanitarian cases for the foreseeable future. The closure of all Wellington’s Mojo cafes and Prefab yesterday, along with WOW’s cancellations has shocked a few in the capital.

Leave a comment

The news this morning

The Ministry of Health confirmed late last night that another Covid-positive case turned up unannounced at Middlemore hospital yesterday for an unrelated condition, was tested, then discharged themselves and was later told of the positive result and is now isolating at home. (RNZ)

It is one more of the ‘mystery’ cases yet to be identified, along with 29 others and three more reported yesterday. Ministry of Health DG Ashley Bloomfield has said he wants a run of zero mystery case days before being confident about lowering alert levels.

Meanwhile, Stuff reported this morning experts saying the rest of the country will have to stay at the Level two delta until Auckland can move down from level four, and may have to stay at the heightened level of restrictions until dedicated MIQ facilities are built at Ohakea or Burnham, which may not be until well into next year.

The pain of the new limits of 50 people indoors, two metre gaps between tables and 100 people outdoors is taking a huge toll on hospitality and events businesses. Wellington’s World of Wearable Arts (WOW) festival formally cancelled its already-postponed 2021 event yesterday (Stuff), while Mojo shut all 24 of its Wellington cafes early yesterday after what it said were “disastrous” takings early in Delta Level two. (Stuff) Also, renowned Wellington eatery Prefab shut down yesterday and gave redundancy notices to all its staff (NewstalkZB).

Meanwhile, PM Jacinda Ardern doubled down on the elimination strategy and hermetically sealed borders for longer yesterday, pushing back at suggestions from Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins earlier in the week that the ‘reconnecting to the world’ strategy was in doubt. Also, renowned Otago University Epidemiologist Michael Baker said yesterday morning the delta outbreak had delayed any reopening for months (RNZ)

"The most obvious one is exactly what we've been talking about, that our capacity to launch new initiatives is limited.

"It's a finite capacity, and so much of it is now being taken up with this … battle against this outbreak, so that has occupied probably a couple of months of effort by the time it's finished, so that will inevitably push out any complex plans for reconnecting with other countries to a greater extent.

"That will involve, you know a trial of quarantine-free travel, which itself will be reasonably complex, but the other big change of course, is I think all the countries we're going to be connecting more with now have the Delta variant - it's absolutely dominant.

"It's taken over the world, essentially, so that just makes it that much tougher to do this." Michael Baker on RNZ’s Morning Report.

Ardern pushed back at the views of Baker and Hipkins in the 1pm presser, again committing to the hardest elimination strategy and an unidentified but very high vaccination threshold, along with reopening next year.

“I hate the idea of even one preventable death. If everyone who can be vaccinated is vaccinated, you will be saving the life of someone who can't be.” Jacinda Ardern

Here’s her comments from the presser in response to questions about any suspension of reconnecting and whether a home isolation trial was still going ahead this year. The bolding is mine.

"I think what we've always said is within this risk framework we've always got to be willing and able to adapt to the variants of concern. I think there's been an assumption that somehow our reopening plans have dramatically changed, I'd say that is not the case. We just have to build in, as I say, the impact of Delta in the way that we risk profile but we've always kept room for that.

"I've seen extra briefings come through for extra decisions to be made on that so it (the home isloation trial) is continuing ... it will call on our health resources in order to be able to deliver it successfully, and we're just mindful in a level 3 environment there's a bit more constraint there, so we'll be thinking about that as we continue to make those final decisions on timing.

"On the overall (reconnecting) timeframe no, no there isn't [any reason to delay], and in fact we're seeing our vaccination programme really speed up and the quicker we can move through that the more flexibility it does give." Jacinda Ardern at the 1pm briefing (RNZ).

In some good news, Ardern also announced the arrival this morning of 250k new Pfizer jabs bought from Spain to help build up supplies through September until big new batches arrive from Pfizer in October. She said another bigger ‘top-up’ deal would be announced within a week or so, which would allow the higher than expected vaccination bookings to proceed.

“With this supply we will be able to continue our rollout at record levels.” Ardern.

Briefly, in other Covid news this morning;

Smaller businesses around the country are calling for weekly resurgence support payments, along with wage subsidies (TVNZ)

Epidemiologists are telling overseas Kiwis desperate to come home they’ll have to wait longer and the risks of them returning before reaching ‘very high’ vaccination rates is too high (RNZ)

"In the short-to-medium-term, it's hard to see there being more options for bringing more people across the border. Unfortunately, [New Zealanders abroad] are going to have to be patient." Michael Baker on RNZ

US President Joe Biden is expected to announce at 9am NZ time today a tougher new mandatory vaccination policy for at least 2m federal employees and contractors (Reuters)

Building product manufacturers in Auckland are saying the limit of 100 staff members able to work during level four was too restrictive and would mean supply shortages continue elsewhere in the country (RNZ)

New South Wales released a ‘roadmap to freedom day’ yesterday that would see shops, cafes, restaurants, gyms and public venues reopen completely to vaccinated people as soon as the state reaches the 70% threshold, which is expected on October 18 (ABC Australia)

In the global political economy and business this morning

No ‘taper’ - The European Central Bank said early this morning it would slow its money printing and bond buying to a “moderately lower pace” later this year, but ECB president Christine Lagarde was quick to calm fears about any quick withdrawal of central bank support, saying “the lady isn’t tapering.” Margaret Thatcher would be proud.

No tantrum - European bond investors were reassured by the downplaying of talk of an outright tapering of bond buying and the ECB’s reassurance inflation would dip to 1.4% next year. The US Federal Reserve is also expected to start slowing its bond buying towards the end of the year. It is still printing US$120b a month, while the ECB is printing €80bn a month. The German 10 year bund yield fell 4 basis points to minus 0.37% and stock markets were unphased. (Reuters)

Microsoft announced it had abandoned plans to have all staff back in their US offices by October 4 because of various delta outbreaks

EasyJet rejected a US$2b takeover bid from Wizz Air (Reuters)

US jobless claims were lower than expected last week (CNBC)

Useful longer reads

A LinkedIn survey of 1,000 staff in Britain found over half of young staff (18-25) thought working from home had made it harder to make conversation at work and 84% felt ‘out of practice’ with work life. (HR News)

The melting of the ice sheets called by global warming could trigger tsunamis similar to those that swept northern England and Scandinavia 8,200 years ago with waves up to 20 metres high. (FT-$$$)

Some fun things

Ka kite ano

Have a great day