An update on the government’s response to the Tongan disaster and news about its response to the spread of Omicron have dominated the flow – or rather, the trickle – of Beehive announcements since our previous report on what our ministers are doing.
New Zealand is giving an additional $2 million in humanitarian funding for Tonga as the country recovers from a volcanic eruption and tsunami last weekend, Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta and Defence Minister Peeni Henare said on Friday (they haven’t reported on developments since then).
That brought New Zealand’s contribution to $3 million.
But the announcement with a much more profound impact on the wellbeing of many more people – much closer to home, too – came from the PM.
The headline, New Zealand to move to Red from 11.59pm today, was not a reference to the state of the government’s finances (they look likely to go much deeper into the red).
No, the PM was saying all of New Zealand would move to the Red setting of the Covid Protection Framework (CPF) at 11:59pm last night “because Omicron is potentially now transmitting in the community”.
Nine COVID-19 cases (it transpires) had been reported the previous day in the Nelson/Marlborough region and confirmed as Omicron. A further case from the same household had been confirmed a day earlier.
“These cases are in a single family that flew to Auckland to attend a wedding and other events on the weekend of January 15th and 16th.
“We don’t yet have a clear lead on the index case that links this family to the border, as we have with our other Omicron cases to date. That means Omicron is circulating in Auckland and possibly the Nelson Marlborough region if not elsewhere.”
The government’s plan for managing Omicron cases in the early stage remains the same as Delta whereby it will rapidly test, contact trace and isolate cases and contacts in order to slow the spread.
“But as we have seen elsewhere in the world Omicron is significantly more infectious and in due course we know we will see far more cases than we have in the two years of the pandemic to date. But the difference to previous outbreaks is that we are vaccinated and we are even better prepared.”
Limiting the threat of Omicron would take “a team effort, like we have done before”, the PM said
This was a reference to The Team of Five Million and the concept of national togetherness which she has invoked eloquently and repeatedly over the past year or so.
On other occasions she seems determined to split the team on racial lines to promote policies in the name of The Treaty.
In an article published in October last year, commentator Bruce Cotterill acknowledged the pitch to The Team of Five Million is a very clever line.
“Brilliant in fact. When we first heard it, it was uplifting, and over the past 18 months it has served a purpose of encouraging co-operation with our Covid response across the country.
“It is unusual, therefore, that the Prime Minister who has made that galvanising and unifying phrase her own, has on her agenda a series of planned legislative changes that are the opposite. In fact, they are quite possibly the most divisive policies considered for the country in our lifetimes.
“I refer to the policies that are advancing under the Three Waters initiative and those that now appear likely to advance as a result of the He Puapua report.”
But when cracking down on Covid-19 in its various guises, Ardern puts aside the racial separatism implicit in talk of co-governance and the treaty partnership.
Now she is urging New Zealanders to get boosted as soon as possible.
“And for those of you with children aged 5 to 11, all children aged 5 to 11 can now be vaccinated and I encourage parents and caregivers to seek out information to help you make that important decision,” Jacinda Arden said.
Every region in New Zealand moved into the Red setting at midnight, regardless of whether they have Omicron, because
“… the evidence from overseas is that it will soon. We know it is already in both the North and South Islands and that cases have been on a number of flights.
“Our goal at Red is to slow the spread of the virus. Again the evidence from overseas is that those places that were slow to act have had more severe outbreaks.”
At Red life is supposed to carry on pretty much as it did previously, but with more mask wearing and distancing precautions and reduced gathering limits to lower the risk of picking up the virus and super spreader events.
“Red is not lockdown. At Red businesses stay open and you can do most of things that you normally do, including visiting family and friends and travelling around the country.
“But Red will make a difference, because it focuses in on those events that we know are high risk.”
Hospitality businesses – for example – can open, but are capped at 100 people indoors and customers must be seated and separated.
Events and gatherings for vaccinated people are reduced to 100. If people at an event are not vaccinated, that reduces further to 25.
In retail and public places like libraries and museums there will be limits on those in a space based on the ability to maintain physical distancing.
Businesses and workplaces remain open but where a workplace deems it appropriate, they may choose to have employees work from home.
Education centres stay open, but with extra public health measures including mask wearing for everyone from year four and up. It is our intention for schools to return as planned. Over the summer, our education team has been working on additional measures to help support this safe return, including supporting the assessment of ventilation in our schools.
And so on …
Latest from the Beehive
All of New Zealand will move to the Red setting of the Covid Protection Framework (CPF) at 11:59pm today as Omicron is potentially now transmitting in the community, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.
More than 5,785 (82%) border workers eligible for a booster vaccination at 6 months have received it so far, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says.
Omicron is circulating in Auckland and possibly the Nelson Marlborough region if not elsewhere. On that basis as we have previously signaled the whole of New Zealand will move into the Red setting of the traffic light system at 11.59pm tonight.
Aotearoa New Zealand is giving an additional $2 million in humanitarian funding for Tonga as the country recovers from a volcanic eruption and tsunami last weekend.