Collage of Ashley Bloomfield, Chris Hipkins and sign for a Covid testing station

Live updates, August 16: 13 new cases, Winston Peters urges election delay

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for August 16, bringing you the latest on New Zealand news and Covid-19 as it returns to the community. Auckland is now in alert level three and the rest of NZ level two. More details here. Official information here. Contact us at info@thespinoff.co.nz.

7.00pm: The day in sum

There were 13 new cases of Covid-19, 12 in the community and one in managed isolation.

An AUT student who attended its Auckland City Campus has tested positive, the university confirmed.

Health minister Chris Hipkins warned the public not to share the “completely untrue” rumours about the origin of the new cluster.

National leader Judith Collins called the lack of testing in the Jet Park facility a “massive failure” by the government.

Winston Peters called for the election to be delayed, arguing that a free and fair election would be impossible on September 19.

The prime minister’s office responded that Ardern had already “proactively sought” the views of the leaders of every political party on a potential postponement.

5.25pm: PM ‘proactively sought’ party leader views on election date

Following Winston Peters’ show-stopping release of a letter to the prime minister earlier today (see 3.05pm), and his pointed alert to the governor general that he fancies a delayed election, Jacinda Ardern’s spokesperson has issued a short statement.

It reads: “The prime minister has proactively sought the views of the leaders of every political party represented in parliament this afternoon about the election date. A range of views have been expressed that the prime minister has taken on board. The prime minister will provide an update tomorrow morning once she has also reviewed the most up to date health information on the situation in Auckland.”

Her announcement is expected at 10am.

4.20pm: Will the election be postponed, and if so until when?

In January, Spinoff editor Toby Manhire correctly predicted that the government would announce September 19 as the 2020 election date. Now, with speculation at a fever pitch that the election will be delayed, has he just done it again?

Tomorrow morning the prime minister will announce her decision on the date, and it seems all but certain she’ll plump for a postponement, Manhire says. But until when? Click here for his prediction – and tune in to our live blog tomorrow for rolling coverage of the announcement.

3.05pm: Winston Peters calls for election delay

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has called for the election to be postponed, arguing that a free and fair election will be impossible if it is held on September 19.

“If September 19 is confirmed, political parties will have only six days to campaign before overseas voting begins on September 2 and nine days before advance voting begins,” said Peters, referring to calculations based on August 26, when the next alert level decision will be made by cabinet.

Even if Auckland is at alert level two on the day, concerns about the effect on turnout will remain, Peters said. “The psychology of Auckland voters, as well as the wider voting community, is highly likely to lead to a reduced turnout given legitimately held health fears; by how much is the real concern.

“Voters need to be able to hear from all political parties about their Covid response and other policies. That is fair. But until Auckland’s alert level comes down the playing field is hopelessly compromised.”

In a letter to the prime minister on Friday, Peters suggested October 17 and November 21 as possible alternative dates.

2.50pm: Today’s Covid-19 data, visualised

2.20pm: Stuff CEO hits back at government over social media warning

Responding to minister Chris Hipkins’ statement on a pernicious rumour that has spread on social media (see 1pm update), Stuff CEO Sinead Boucher has called on the government to put its money where its mouth is and stop buying ads on platforms that “facilitate fake news”. The government spends millions of dollars a year on online advertising, including on Google, Facebook and other social media platforms.

Stuff has not advertised on Facebook since the Christchurch shootings, with Boucher later explaining that the news organisation “did not want to contribute financially to a platform that profits of publishing hate speech and violence”. Last month, she upped the ante, announcing that Stuff – the biggest news site in New Zealand, and the country’s fifth biggest site overall – would entirely quit Facebook and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, “until further notice”.

1.55pm: AUT student tests positive

A student at AUT in Auckland has tested positive for the coronavirus, the university has confirmed. The student has a connection to the existing cluster and began experiencing symptoms yesterday. In a media release, AUT said the student’s movements and physical interactions were limited to the MBA programme and specific areas of the City Campus.

AUT has been closed since the city moved into alert level three on Wednesday, and the university said it was awaiting word from public health authorities whether AUT campuses must be fully shut down. “If so, there will be no staff or students on campus whatsoever.”

1.10pm: 13 new cases of Covid-19

There are 13 new confirmed cases of Covid-19, general director of health Ashley Bloomfield has announced.

Twelve of the new cases are linked to the existing Auckland cluster, and one is in managed isolation.

The latter is a child that arrived in Auckland on August 3, who tested negative on day three and positive around day 12. They have been moved to a quarantine facility.

Of the 12 cases in the community, all are Auckland-based and none have travelled outside of the area. Two are linked to the case that remains under investigation.

Three are receiving hospital care, Bloomfield said, two in Auckland hospital and one in Middlemore. All are on wards.

66 people linked to the cluster have been moved into a quarantine facility, said Bloomfield, including 29 of whom have tested positive. The new cases bring New Zealand’s total number of confirmed cases to 1,271, of which 69 are active – 49 in the community, and 20 cases at the border.

Unverified social media rumours

Health minister Chris Hipkins gave a warning about information spread on social media: “Please treat the information that you are receiving on social media as a rumour.

“One piece of information in particular has spread like wildfire and it has created extreme distress for the family that is at the centre of it.”

Referring to a post that claimed a member of the family contracted the virus after sneaking into a quarantine facility, Hipkins said: “Not only was it harmful and dangerous, it was totally and utterly wrong. I want to say this again: it did not happen. It was fully investigated and that investigation concluded that it was completely false.”

He begged New Zealanders to think twice before sharing unverified information, and thanked journalists for testing claims before reporting stories.

Testing and travel

Regarding testing numbers, Hipkins said that 23,682 tests were processed yesterday; 63,231 over the previous three days. This brings the total of tests conducted to 571,942.

“The system is working at top speed,” said Hipkins. That did mean that there were delays in reporting results, but positive tests would be notified first, he said.

He reminded the public that travel into and out of Auckland was restricted to those with exemptions. As at 4pm on Saturday, he reported that the total number of vehicles stopped at the Auckland checkpoints was 50,468, and the number of vehicles asked to turn around was 676.

Tokoroa cases

It has been confirmed that one of the positive cases from Tokoroa visited the Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology campus. “There have not been any further positive cases in Tokoroa,” said Bloomfield, but health officials are following up with any potential contacts.

Ethnic data

Bloomfield confirmed that ethnicity and age characteristics of cases will continue to be reported. On whether that would encourage more of the racist comments circulating online about the family at the centre of the Auckland cluster, Hipkins reaffirmed that “people are not the problem, the virus is the problem. People are the solution. There should be no shame and no blame in catching the virus.”

Bloomfield explained that Māori and Pacific communities were least affected in the last outbreak, but tested in higher numbers than other demographics, and were continuing to do so. “There’s nothing in the description of this outbreak that suggests there’s anything about this community that is a problem and in fact, they’ve been incredibly cooperative and incredibly supportive and we should all be thanking and supporting them.”

Watch the 1pm update here

11.15am: Writ Day written off

The Electoral Commission has announced that today will not be the day party and candidate advertising on television and radio can commence, as previously scheduled. Writ Day is the day on which the governor general issues the formal direction to the Electoral Commission to hold the general election. It marks the beginning of the 50 day election period, during which the election must take place and the results be returned (barring a judicial recount).

Radio and television ‘election programmes’ are only allowed to be broadcast in the period from Writ Day until the day before the election, in accordance with the Broadcasting Act 1989. Online, print and outdoor advertising are still allowed.

An update on when the new date will be is yet to be announced.

10.00am: Collins calls government’s border protection ‘massive failure’

A tense exchange between National leader Judith Collins and Q+A’s Jack Tame this morning saw Tame grilling the opposition leader on what she would do differently in protecting the border if she were in the PM’s chair.

It began as a question about why Collins believes the election should be delayed, with Collins replying that three-and-a-half weeks post-lockdown (less for early voters) wasn’t enough time for voters to get their heads around the parties’ respective policies. “I think it’s the right and fair thing to do. The democratic fairness is absolutely crucial.”

Collins said she has a list of 71 countries where voting has been delayed due to Covid-19, and had received legal advice from the Electoral Commission. “We would help the government if they wanted to push it out to next year.”

Collins later criticised the government’s lack of testing of frontline staff at the Jet Park hotel, calling their inability to prevent or trace the latest outbreak “massive failures”.

“We’d have a far more competent system.”

When pushed for details on how her party would do things differently, Collins stated: “We would not promise and fail to deliver.”

When Tame began to question National’s recent track record of trust, citing National MP Hamish Walker​’s leaking of confidential patient information to media, and deputy leader Gerry Brownlee’s comments last week implying that the government was withholding information about the outbreak, Collins defended Brownlee saying: “He was simply reflecting the level of anxiety of the public.”

Tame asked who Collins shared the information with once she was briefed about the recent alert level announcements, with Collins replying she had only told her deputy.

When Tame asked “No one else?” Collins demanded to know what he was implying and a heated exchange ensued.

“I’m just interested to know who you would tell, it’s an issue of trust, isn’t it?”

“I think you’re doing exactly what you’ve accused Gerry Brownlee of doing,” Collins replied

Tame ended the interview: “I’m just asking questions.”

Later Tame put the question to health minister Chris Hipkins, asking why frontline staff weren’t being tested compulsorily, even though the border remained our greatest vulnerability.

Hipkins was vague in his answer, except to say that they believed it wasn’t needed under level one.

Hipkins also said a strategy was in place for an election under alert level two and that the health and safety of voters was the priority for the government.

7.55am: Michelle Langstone on lockdown part two.

On The Spinoff now, essayist Michelle Langstone reckons with the familiar fugue of a lockdown announcement: “The empty bread baskets looked like the shells of insects who had moved on to better things. A bloke in a mask brushed past me, muttering: “Gone. It’s all gone. The bread is gone.””

Read The lockdown: redux here.

7.30am: Today’s live update

The Spinoff understands finance minister Grant Robertson is set to give today’s update on the latest Covid-19 cases at 1.00pm. Jacinda Ardern will front to media at 10am tomorrow to deliver a decision on the possible deferral of the upcoming general election and referenda.

7.15am: Auckland Council aren’t angry, they’re disappointed

A media release from Auckland Council’s Parks, Arts, Community and Events Committee chair councillor Alf Filipaina expressed disappointment at the number of Aucklanders out and about this weekend, saying they were putting themselves and their families at risk.

“While it’s OK to go for a walk at your local park or beach – that is, set out on foot from home or drive a short distance to a local site – it’s not OK to pack up the family and head to a spot on the other side of the region,” he said.”

Alert level three guidelines on the Ministry of Health website recommend you “go to you nearest beach or park, not your favourite one”. It says you should only exercise alone or with the people in your extended bubble. Activities such as horse riding, surfing, swimming and tramping are allowed if you have experience, otherwise low-risk activity is encouraged.

7.00am: Yesterday’s key stories

Seven new cases of Covid-19 in the community were announced. Six of the new cases are linked to the existing Auckland cluster and one remains under investigation.

There are now 56 active cases – 37 in the community and 19 at the border.

Testing of surfaces at the Americold cool store in Mt Wellington is being processed to establish if the virus could’ve been imported via freight.

The Cook Islands has closed its border to incoming flights. The move came as an Auckland-based Cook Islands GP and former Cook Islands PM, Dr Joe Williams, tested positive.

Jetstar will suspend all New Zealand flights from midnight Tuesday until at least August 26.

Home Learning TV – Papa Kāinga TV will be back on screens, according to the Ministry of Education and TVNZ.

Read all the key stories in yesterday’s live updates



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