The NZ government uses a “Delta variant” chimera in its war against democracy

The NZ government uses a “Delta variant” chimera in its war against democracy

New Zealand had 26 deaths with covid-19 that date back over a year and there have been no reports of serious illness that do not relate to vaccines. Just “cases” that relate to PCR testing.

Ministry of Health considering mandatory mask use, QR code scanning

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says the ministry continues to adapt its response.

Ashley Bloomfield with a mask.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Photo: RNZ

Bloomfield told Morning Report there were no new cases of Covid-19 to report overnight.

“That doesn’t mean they haven’t been processing a lot of tests. There were many hundreds if not into the thousands taken yesterday – a great response from Wellingtonians.”

Bloomfield said the ministry would be watching closely at results today and tomorrow.

He said the Sydney lab processing the genomic data is behind in its workload due to staff being off sick. Hence the variant of the virus is not yet confirmed.

However, going by the person’s epidemiological link to the New South Wales cluster, Bloomfield said it was most likely the Delta variant.

He said the person worked at a health facility in Sydney, and someone linked to the cluster had visited it.

“There’s a clear epidemiological link and our colleagues in New South Wales are very confident about that.”

An expert is calling on Kiwis to up their use of the COVID Tracer app, saying it will reduce the risk of shifting into lockdown if people test positive amid New Zealand’s latest COVID-19 scare. 

So far no locals have tested positive for the virus after an infected Australian tourist spent time in the city last weekend. It’s assumed he has the highly infectious Delta variant.

The region is at alert level 2, which restricts gathering sizes to reduce the risk of a super-spreader event. It’s estimated around 80 percent of all transmission comes from about 10 percent of cases. 

“The Delta variant we know is actually about twice as infectious as the variant we were dealing with last year,” University of Canterbury professor Michael Plank told Newshub. 

“We’ve seen examples in Sydney, caught on CCTV footage, that the virus has actually spread from one person to another just as a result of them walking past each other in a mall. It can be spread in these really fleeting contacts.”

Dr Plank is also a principal investigator at Te Pūnaha Matatini, whose work on modelling COVID-19 outbreaks has informed the Government’s zero-tolerance response. He backed the move to level 2 for the capital, despite the short-term impact it’s having on some businesses.

“The move to alert level 2 is definitely warranted. It’s important to understand it’s not really a lockdown – level 3 you might call a lockdown, but under level 2 most things still can be open, subject to those restrictions. 

“It’s a sort of middle ground that allows a lot of activity to continue, but it limits the potential for further spread – particularly by limiting gathering sizes, it reduces the risk of having superspreading events that could really allow the virus to spread very quickly.”

If contact tracers can figure out who might have been exposed to the virus and get them tested and into isolation, the need for a tougher lockdown is reduced. However, tracers have to work backwards – and while tracking movements after an outbreak is important, it’s vital for contact tracers that people have been scanning in beforehand so an outbreak can be nipped in the bud.

A week ago, just one in 15 adults were regularly scanning in, data showed. Scans typically pick up after a community case is reported – and that’s happened again. Nearly twice as many scans were recorded on Wednesday – 894,288 – than on Monday. 

“Making sure you scan in everywhere you go will give our contact tracers the best chance of catching up with this virus and getting ahead of it, and hopefully being able to control it without needing to go to a higher alert level,” said Dr Plank. 

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins and Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield are due to give the latest update at 1pm. 

There have been changes to the locations of interest.

Those who were at 4 Kings Bar at Jack Hacketts, 5 Inglewood Place, on 19 June between 8.45pm and 12am are asked to isolate for 14 days, test on day five and 12 since last exposure, and call Healthline.

Those who were at Jack Hackett’s bar are asked to get a test on day 5 since last exposure and stay at home until a negative test result. They must also watch out for Covid-19 symptoms for 14 days.

Bloomfield said the person was in one of the bars for a long time.

“Places where there’s close contact, crowded in a confined space, that’s the higher risk.”

The men’s toilets at the southern end of the domestic concourse at Wellington Airport have been added as a location of interest. Anyone who used the toilets between 9.15am and 9.30am on Monday should stay home until a negative test result is received, and then monitor symptoms for a further 14 days.

As for wastewater testing, he said samples were being taken every day.

The last test on 21 June came back negative. The next results are expected later today.

“That’s quite an important bit of information in terms of building that picture. The wastewater testing now is very sensitive.

“It’s routinely positive up in Auckland from the western interceptor which … Jet Park, the quarantine facility flows into. We’ve had a one-off positive result in Christchurch when there have been positive cases in the quarantine facility there.

“So it is very sensitive and it will help us with the picture and if those results are coming back negative [in Wellington] that also helps reassure us that we haven’t got any Covid out in the community.”

Health experts say they are mystified over the government’s reluctance to enforce mandatory mask wearing and QR code scanning under alert level 2.

He said the ministry would continue to adapt its response as the pandemic progresses.

It is working to provide more advice to Cabinet on the wider use of masks and mandatory scanning of QR codes.

“It’ll be up to Cabinet to decide that. I know the minister will keep people informed about that.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Morning Report mandatory QR scanning had never been off the table but there were enforcement logistics to work through. She said expanding the guidelines for mandatory mask would be too prescriptive.

Delta strain of Covid-19 could spread twice as fast – expert

The possibility of the Delta variant of Covid-19 spreading in New Zealand is concerning, because it is 50 to 100 percent more infectious, says University of Otago evolutionary virologist Jemma Geoghegan.

University of Otago virologist Jemma Geoghegan.

University of Otago evolutionary virologist Jemma Geoghegan says Covid-19 needs to be tackled globally to overcome its rapid adaptations. Photo: University of Otago

Health officials are working under the assumption that a Sydney man with Covid-19 who visited Wellington last weekend has the Delta variant.

“The recent report from Public Health England… really underscores the Delta variant’s adaptability to be able to spread more than even the Alpha variant, which was highly contagious and first noticed at the end of last year,” Geoghegan said.

“We’re getting estimates of between 50 to 100 percent more transmission even compared to the Alpha variant – which is pretty concerning.”

New public health measures might be needed to combat the more contagious strain, she said.

“Our measures were set up in a hurry and also over a year ago when the picture looked quite different.

“With the emergence of more transmissible variants and potentially ones that could evade some effect of the vaccine, it’s likely that we need to have a look at the measures and I’m sure epidemiologists are actually doing that.”

UK data suggested the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines offered the same level of protection against the Delta variant as other strains, she said. People who have received two doses of the vaccines continue to be protected against hospitalisation and serious illness if they contract the Delta strain.

However, those who have not been vaccinated are at risk of more serious effects from the new strain.

“The data suggests that for those who have not been vaccinated, people might be up to twice as likely to be hospitalised if they’ve been infected with the Delta variant, compared to the other variants.”

Geoghegan said some different and more severe symptoms had been reported from the Delta strain.

It was important that Covid-19 vaccinations were available worldwide, to keep the coronavirus from proliferating and adapting in ways that made vaccines less effective, she said.

“There’s not much point vaccinating ourselves but letting it spread uncontrolled elsewhere, rendering our vaccines potentially not very effective.

“As long as the virus can replicate and infect new cells and then spread to a new host, it’s going to be able to change.

“It’s adapting, it’s better able to spread between humans and also to escape any human response we have from either being infected or from vaccination.”

The virus was evolving quickly, she said.

“What we’re seeing is these subtle changes in the proteins of the virus, change in shape and ability to infect our cells and replicate – that’s why people are becoming more contagious … and that’s why it’s increasing in frequency around the world.”

Live Covid-19 updates: Wellington region enters second day at alert

level 2

The possibility of the Delta variant of Covid-19 spreading in NZ is concerning, because it is 50 to 100 percent more infectious, says University of Otago evolutionary virologist Jemma Geoghegan.

Health officials are working under the assumption that a Sydney man with Covid-19 who visited Wellington last weekend has the Delta variant.

“The recent report from Public Health England … really underscores the Delta variant’s adaptability to be able to spread more than even the Alpha variant, which was highly contagious and first noticed at the end of last year,” Geoghegan said.

“We’re getting estimates of between 50 to 100 percent more transmission even compared to the Alpha variant – which is pretty concerning.”

New public health measures might be needed to combat the more contagious strain, she said.

What we know so far:
  • Wellington is in alert level 2 until 11.59pm on 27 June. The rest of NZ stays at level 1.
  • A visitor from Australia to Wellington at the weekend tested positive to Covid-19 on his return to Sydney.
  • The man travelled to Wellington with his partner from Saturday 19 June to Monday 21 June.
  • Quarantine-free travel has been paused from New South Wales to New Zealand.
  • Those who have been at a location of interest at the relevant time should immediately isolate at their home or accommodation and call Healthline on 0800 358 5453 for advice on testing

You can follow RNZ’s live coverage HERE

Ultimately everything can be traced back to this- another chimera.

Hate speech: Govt plans new law, tougher penalties

Hate speech will become a criminal offence and anyone convicted could face harsher punishment, under proposed legislative changes.

The government has this morning released for public consultation its long-awaited plan for the laws governing hate speech.

The plan is part of the government’s work to strengthen social cohesion, in response to the Royal Commission of inquiry into the Christchurch terror attack.

Justice Minister Kris Faafoi said abusive or threatening speech that incites can divide communities.

“Building social cohesion, inclusion and valuing diversity can also be a powerful means of countering the actions of those who seek to spread or entrench discrimination and hatred.”

Protecting free speech and protecting people from hate speech will require careful consideration and a wide range of input, Faafoi said.

Minister for Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media Kris Faafoi speaks during a media conference at Parliament on 23 April 2020

Kris Faafoi says the challenge is to protect people from hate speech while also safeguarding the right to free speech. Photo: 2020 Getty Images

Punishment may increase

The government is considering creating a new, clearer hate speech offence in the Crimes Act, removing it from the Human Rights Act.

That would mean anyone who “intentionally stirs up, maintains or normalises hatred against a protected group” by being “threatening, abusive or insulting, including by inciting violence” would break the law.

The punishment for hate speech offences could also increase – from up to three months’ imprisonment or a fine of up to $7000, to up to three years’ imprisonment or a fine of up to $50,000.

The groups protected from hate speech could also grow – the government is considering changing the language and widening the incitement provisions in the Human Rights Act.

It has not yet decided which groups will be added. That is expected to happen following public consultation.

It is currently only an offence to use speech that will “excite hostility” or “bring into contempt” a person or group on the grounds of their colour, race or ethnicity. Gender identity, sexual orientation, religion or disability aren’t protected grounds.

The government is proposing several changes to the civil provision of the Human Rights Act, including making it illegal to incite others to discriminate against a protected group.

It also wants to amend the Human Rights Act to ensure trans, gender-diverse and intersex people are protected from discrimination.

The proposed changes were recommended by the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch terror attack, which found hate crime and hate speech are not adequately dealt with.

“The current laws do not appropriately recognise the culpability of hate-motivated offending, nor do they provide a workable mechanism to deal with hate speech.”

The Ministry of Social Development will simultaneously consult with the public about what can be done to make New Zealand more socially cohesive.

Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment Priyanca Radhakrishnan, who is leading the social cohesion programme, told a media conference this morning government wanted to build from existing Māori-Crown values.

Priyanca Radhakrishnan

Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

“We are not starting from scratch,” she said. “We are generally regarded as a country with a high level of social cohesion and we’ve seen that as our team of 5 million has largely come together to rally around both in the aftermath of March 15 and also during the Covid-19 lockdown.”

However, she said there were underlying vulnerabilities that New Zealand needed to address as the country grew in diversity and that this effort would be grounded in the values of the Treaty of Waitangi and the Māori-Crown relationship.

She said the government had accepted in principle all 44 recommendations of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch mosque attacks and had made progress on implementing those. Subsequent hui with ethnic groups had fed into the government’s response, she added.

“We’ve set up an ethnic communities graduate programme to provide a pathway into the public service for skilled graduates from ethic communities and also as one way to injected that broader cultural competence into government agencies, including the intelligence agencies.

“And the new Ministry for Ethnic Communities will come into effect next week and will take the place of the Office for Ethnic Communities.”

Radhakrishnan said the programme had a broader reach than ethnicity and that others who feel marginalised were being included.

She said the government wanted input from the public on how the programme can be forwarded.

Public submissions open today and close on 6 August. The government’s discussion document includes steps on how to submissions.


“No place for anti-vaccination messages – Medical Council”

Medical Council cannot reveal what action taken against anti-Pfizer vaccine doctors

The Medical Council cannot reveal what action is being taken against a group of doctors who signed an open letter criticising the Pfizer vaccine.

Topic picture - vaccination with the Comirnaty mRNA vaccine from BionTech Pfizer. Vaccine doses with vaccine for injection with a cannula. Close up.

Photo: AFP

The council earlier this week warned that any doctor spreading misinformation about the virus and vaccines could lose their job and the right to practice medicine.

About 40 health professionals, mostly doctors, signed an open letter in April opposing the vaccine over safety concerns. The letter names the doctors and provides their Medical Council registration numbers.

RNZ has attempted to contact the doctors who signed the open letter.

Medical Council chair Dr Curtis Walker said a small number of doctors were peddling conspiracies.

The council said on Monday, 13 notifications – or complaints from the public – have been referred to an independent professional conduct committee for further investigation.

It said an unspecified number of complaints do relate to the open letter and some include instances of multiple complaints about the same doctor.

But whether those notifications now mean the committee is set to review all of the medical staff who signed the letter remains unclear.

When asked what steps it was taking against the letter signers, Walker said in a statement privacy legislation prevented it from commenting on any matters under investigation.

He said the council was taking the matter “very seriously’ and it did not need to wait for a single complaint to take action.

“It is open to Council to review a doctor’s compliance with its standards whenever it has reason to consider a doctor is failing to do so,” he said.

No place for anti-vaccination messages – Medical Council

The Medical Council said the expert medical advice and scientific evidence strongly supported that the Covid-19 vaccination was safe, effective and necessary to overcome the global pandemic.

Dr Walker said doctors have a professional duty to provide advice based on evidence.

“There’s a mountain of evidence out there of how effective and safe the Covid vaccine is.

“And we’ve already seen the alternative of unvaccinated populations where millions have died.”

The Medical Council said as a regulator it respected an individual’s right to have their own opinions.

But it said there was no place for anti-vaccination messages in professional health practice, nor any promotion of anti-vaccination claims including on social media and advertising by health practitioners.

Royal College of General Practitioners president Dr Samantha Murton said while people could choose not to get vaccinated there were serious consequences if the virus breached the borders.

The independent body would decide if charges should be laid with the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal.

People with concerns about their doctor can contact the Medical Council; and general Covid-19 misinformation or scams can be reported to CERT NZ’s website.

RNZ made multiple attempts to contact the doctors who signed the open letter asking them if they have been contacted by the Medical Council, and if they were worried they could lose their jobs.

Dr Mike Godfrey said he retired 13 years ago so was not at risk of losing his licence to practice, and had not been contacted by the Medical Council.

Other than Godfrey, only a small number of the other doctors responded, none answered RNZ’s questions or wanted to be named or interviewed.

Covid 19 coronavirus: New Zealanders first to trial Chinese-developed vaccine

A group of New Zealanders will be the first humans to trial a new second generation covid vaccine out of China.

About 25 young people have this week started being jabbed with the ReCov vaccine as a part of a clinical study.

The trial is being run in partnership with vaccine developer Jiangsu Rec-Biotechnology in China and New Zealand Clinical Research, which has centres in Auckland and Christchurch.

NZCR is running the trial which will see 100 people vaccinated with ReCov by September.

If successful, a larger trial involving thousands of participants would likely also be carried out in New Zealand.

The vaccine will be tested on both a younger population and an older 55 plus population.

NZCR medical director Dr Chris Wynne said they have already started administering a low dose of the vaccine to 25 younger participants.

Once their data was reviewed, the older group would be given the lower dose at the same the younger group got the higher dose. Lastly the higher dose would then be put into the older group.

“We go reasonably slowly. So we dose some people and assess the response and so far there have been no particular issues and we don’t expect any, but we are extremely cautious in how we do this according to the protocol.”

Wynne said New Zealand was seen as a good place to run a clinical trial because it had a good health system, had a compliant population and could produce high quality research data for the pharmaceutical industry. It was also considered low risk as there was no Covid in the community and there was still a large population who had not been immunised.

He said there was some incredible research coming out of China and the ReCov vaccine and could potentially be better than the current Pfizer vaccine favoured by the NZ Government.

Unlike the Pfizer vaccine, ReCov immunises against two parts of the immune system.

“So theoretically if there’s a mutation in one part of the virus some vaccines will no longer work – the virus may escape the vaccine, but if you’ve immunised against its two parts you have a much greater chance that the virus will not escape from the immune system.”

While the Pfizer vaccine was wonderful and provided immunity to 90 per cent of those who were vaccinated, he said there was a need to be prepared for coronavirus long term and develop more safe and effective vaccines.

Once the current trial showed that it could generate immunity and the vaccine was safe, a much larger second trial would be carried out and it was possible the expanded study could be carried out in New Zealand.

“I would expect that from the animal data, this is likely to be a successful vaccine. So here we will have 100 people who will be successfully immunised.”

Other Chinese vaccine makers have conducted human trials in Austria, but this is the first time a Chinese vaccine had been tested in New Zealand.

An American and Asian based company were also in talks with NZCR about running their Covid vaccine studies.

However, the trials need to be carried out swiftly while the majority of New Zealanders still had not had the Pfizer vaccine, Wynne said.

NZCR is still recruiting participants for the ReCov study and offers just over $3000 in compensation. A large number of participants tended to be students or younger workers.

ReCov has been assessed by a panel of international experts and reviewed by both the New Zealand Health and Disability Ethics Committee and MedSafe.

“I wouldn’t do a study that was not in my opinion safe enough for my kids to go in,” Wynne said. “There’s no higher bar than that.”

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