The Kākā by Bernard Hickey
The Kākā by Bernard Hickey
Dawn Chorus: Two more months of lockdowns

Dawn Chorus: Two more months of lockdowns

Bloomfield indicates up to eight weeks for Auckland to get properly vaccinated; Auckland's level three-with-tweaks set without KPIs or deadlines; No sign of vaccination mandates or passports

TLDR & TLDL: The Government essentially extended Auckland’s level-three lockdown indefinitely yesterday and gave no deadlines or thresholds for exit. That extends the social and economic pain until at least mid-December, but this time without the hope elimination could reinstate pre-lockdown normality after it was not-so-quietly abandoned.

The only details able to be pinned down were that Auckland remains in level three with level four borders for the foreseeable future, albeit with two families able to picnic together and early childhood centres opening, until either all or the most vulnerable Aucklanders are more than 90% single or double vaccinated. Ashley Bloomfield sees that taking up to 10 weeks.

A vaccinator points out a vaccine centre to young construction workers - we still have no certainty around whether the Government will wait to exit lockdown until vaccination rates for young Auckland Maori and Pasifika get above 90% double-vaxxed, given they are currently 17% and 24% double-vaxxed respectively. Photo: Lynn Grieveson/ The Kaka

Elsewhere overnight and this morning, global stocks fell as much as 2% as concerns about energy inflation drove fears about interest rate hikes. The Brent crude oil price rose 3.1% to a three-year high of US$81.74/bbl after Opec+ decided not to increase output, and as pressure from gas and coal shortages in the UK, EU and China increase demand for oil-powered electricity heading into the northern hemisphere winter.

Coming up, we’ll watch out for more detail from the Government about vaccination certificates and vaccination mandates, at least in healthcare and education. Also, the Reserve Bank of Australia is scheduled to release its latest monetary policy decision early this evening, although little change is expected. But it will be closely watched on the eve of what is expected to be New Zealand’s first rate hike in seven years tomorrow at 2pm.

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Only two-family picnics to Christmas

It was one of the more frustrating hours of news conference in the Beehive Theatrette. (You can hear the non-answers to my questions to the PM, and the key comments from Bloomfield in the podcast above.)

It was only as a KPI-free hour of news conference was wrapping up yesterday that Ministry of Health Director General Ashley Bloomfield gave any indication of a potential end to Auckland’s purgatory, and by extension the rest of Aotearoa-NZ.

He was asked at the 57:30 min mark if it would take 4-8 weeks for Auckland to be in a position to remove most of its restrictions around shops and cafes opening, and relaxing the internal boundaries stopping Aucklanders from travelling elsewhere.

“That is the time frame for us to achieve our ambition around vaccination being higher than 90% double vaccinated and then of course another couple of weeks when people then have that full protection, full immunity, so this is the period of time really.

“We want to do that and I'm sure, like everybody, particularly in Auckland, we are looking forward to a summer where we can enjoy freedoms and our ticket that is vaccinations, so the next 4 to 8 weeks into early December is critical to get our vaccination rates up.” Ashley Bloomfield in the 4pm post-cabinet news conference.

Earlier, the PM acknowledged the end of the elimination strategy, without ever formally calling its time of death. She also did not answer questions about what the vaccination thresholds might be for releasing restrictions in Auckland, in particular around whether the Government would wait for vaccination rates for young Auckland Maori and Pasifika to get above 90% double-vaxxed, given they are currently 17% and 24% double-vaxxed respectively. They are 50% and 61% single-vaxxed respectively.

There are still 260,000 Aucklanders who are still not vaccinated at all and immunologists have warned Auckland’s hospitals are likely to be overwhelmed when the virus spreads into these communities, which is now inevitable without vaccination. Ardern again ruled out a move back up to level four restrictions yesterday.

‘No help and no details’

Business leaders and the Opposition were either disappointed or outraged by the lack of guidance and the prospect for restrictions-without-an-early end. Auckland’s business leaders accused the Government of not listening to business needs, not giving extra financial support and not helping through vaccination mandates and the use of vaccination ‘passports’. The Greens lamented the end of elimination and accused the Government of putting the most vulnerable at risk.

Here’s a selection from their reaction (bolding mine):

"The Government's scrambling to know what to do, and while it's great to know that 10 people can have a picnic, we'd like to know when 10 people who are fully vaccinated can go back to work.”

"What we've seen over the last 72 hours is that businesses are getting increasingly desperate. While it's nice to hear that the wage subsidy and the resurgence payment are extended, we all know that there are many businesses that don't qualify for those. We've been hearing for seven weeks that there might be some specific assistance for Auckland businesses, but there's nothing." Employers and Manufacturers Association Northern CEO Brett O’Riley in NZ Herald.

Auckland Chamber of Commerce CEO Michael Barnett called in particular for help with vaccination mandates.

“Government’s phased, 3-stage transition plan to slowly lift restrictions, leaves business desperate for revenue, burdened with debt, shortchanged in the financial support being offered.

I’m disappointed and frustrated that policymakers and politicians are not listening to business to develop a fairer, more balanced approach to secure commercial, employment and economic outcomes for the good of all, not just responding to health risks. Extension of the wage subsidy for employees and the resurgence payment for employers to only partially offset weekly overheads does not cut it.

If vaccination is the way out of restrictions, then government needs to enable businesses to implement the no jab no job regime, get access to saliva testing and do the right thing as the country’s biggest employer and get all your staff vaccinated at once.” Auckland Business Chamber CEO Michael Barnett in a statement.

Political consensus breaks completely

Opposition leaders were even more scathing, including the Greens, who were unusually critical of the Government.

Signs o’ the times news

What happened in the last 24 hours

Facebook and its Instgram and WhatsApp websites went down this morning. Productivity went up.

Auckland International Airport appointed Air NZ chief operating officer Carrie Hurihanganui as its CEO to replace Adrian Littlewood, who is leaving on Nov 12 after being CEO for nine years.

Wellington-based fintech FNZ agreed to buy share trading platform Hatch from Kiwibank’s Kiwi Wealth for an undisclosed sum and plans to fund growth plans globally.

Comment of the day in The Kaka community

“Those promulgating misinformation should face up to the cost of the damage they are causing. It's no longer about the right to free speech, our economy and our health system are in jeopardy because of their actions. They are convincing the uneducated and vulnerable with tactics such as fear, that are questionable. Because the government and police won't crack down on them, there are the thousands of personal stories that will emerge of families affected by treading lightly people's right to ignore the advice of Government and science experts.” Beverley Short in this article.

Chart of the day

There is some reasonable news though on the spending front. BNZ Chief Economist Paul Conway released research yesterday from BNZ card spending data showing spending fell 49% in the first week of lockdown in August, but has improved since and was only 5% below pre-lockdown levels in the week to Tuesday the 28th of September. 

Numbers of the day

9% - The percentage of home occupants who agreed to be tested for Covid during door to door surveillance testing last week in the suburb of Clover Park. 91% refused to be tested. (NZ Herald)

2.018m - The number of people fully vaccinated as of yesterday. This is 48% of people over 12. There have been 3.328m vaccinated with one dose, or 79% of the eligible population.

$140m - Dividend being paid by the Reserve Bank to the Government in the 2020/21 financial year, as revealed in the bank’s annual report released yesterday.

11,891 - The total numbers of new cars registered in September, up 7.0% from September 2020 and the most ever recorded in a single month, despite the motu being in various states of lockdown throughout the month. There were a record-high 1,640 electric vehicles registered in September.

1.5% - The level financial markets currently expect the Official Cash Rate will rise to by the end of next year. Currently at 0.25%, the Reserve Bank is expected by financial markets to raise it twice this year, including by 0.25% tomorrow and by a further 0.25% on November 24 with the bank’s final full Monetary Policy Statement of the year.

85% - The chance of a 25 bps rate hike tomorrow, as measured by BNZ Economist Stephen Toplis in his weekly note, and down from 100% last week before cases emerged in the Waikato.

607 - The number of people who died of suspected suicide in the year to June 30, 2021, according to statistics released yesterday by the Office of the Chief Coroner and the Ministry of Health, along with a new interactive statistics tool to analyse the figures. This was down from 628 the previous year. The overall death rate from suicide fell to 11.8 from 11.6 the previous year, but the death rate for Maori is over 20 and double the non-Maori rate.

Quote of the day

“We also outlined our working definition of sustainable house prices. We are in the process of refining a suite of metrics to indicate stretched prices. We will consider these metrics on a regular basis and will review financial policy settings accordingly, potentially adjusting settings to steer prices toward a more sustainable level.The Reserve Bank commenting on house price sustainability in its Statement of Corporate of Intent for 2021-24 (holding mine)

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