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BusinessAugust 21, 2021

Live updates, August 21: School bus driver tests positive; outbreak grows to 51 cases

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Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for August 21, day four of level four lockdown across Aotearoa. Toby Manhire is on duty today; get in touch at toby@thespinoff.co.nz  


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5.40pm: School bus driver is Covid positive

The driver of a bus which serves Royal Oak Intermediate School has tested positive for Covid-19, according to a post on the school’s Facebook page. The driver of Bus 003 may have been infectious while driving students home from school on Friday 13, Monday 16 and Tuesday 17  August. All students on the bus are considered close contacts, according to the Auckland public health service.

4.30pm: Statewide lockdown in Victoria as NSW posts record case count

New South Wales has recorded the highest 24-hour new case number for any Australian state today, with 825 cases, as well as three deaths. Only 149 of the new cases were linked to known clusters, while 59 were infectious in the community. Meanwhile, Victoria’s lockdown now covers the entire state after it recorded 61 new cases.

In both states, police have had to shut down anti-lockdown protests today. A demonstration in Melbourne, where numbers reportedly went into the thousands, turned violent with police making numerous arrests. Hundreds of police were deployed to deal with the demonstration, the route of which reportedly went past people queuing for Covid testing. “It’s just ridiculous to think that people would be so selfish and come and do this,” said state police commissioner Shane Patton. “I have over 700 police, on top of the police you’re already seeing in the community, another 700 who are specifically tasked with this demonstration.”

Thousands gathered in Melbourne’s CBD to protect lockdown restrictions on August 21. Photo: Getty

3.55pm: University of Auckland student attended hall ball while potentially infectious

A University of Auckland student who later tested positive to Covid-19 attended a ball for their student hall of residence as well as lectures at the university’s largest lecture theatre while potentially still infectious, vice chancellor Dawn Freshwater has revealed in an email to staff. The Auckland Regional Public Health Service would be contacting anyone identified as a close contact based on the locations imminently, she said.

The provisional list of locations of interest includes:

  • University accommodation in Grafton, August 13-19 (residents are already isolating).
  • The F&PAA lecture theatre, Owen G Glenn Business School building, Friday August 13, 1pm-2pm; and Tuesday August 17, 1pm-2pm.
  • The Waipārūrū Ball, Aotea Centre, evening of Saturday August 14.

Freshwater added: “If you do not receive the letter, you are not considered a ‘close contact’ and are deemed to be at low risk of contracting Covid-19 … I need to stress that these have not yet been designated as formal ‘locations of interest’, although it is possible that some or all of them will be.”

It’s worth making it very clear: the student’s activity all took place before any outbreak was reported; there is no suggestion they did anything wrong.

2.45pm: Drive-through vaccination site opens tomorrow in Auckland

Auckland’s first drive-through vaccination centre opens tomorrow at the airport Park and Ride park, but be warned, it’s “invitation only”. Officials hope to be able to vaccinate up to 2,000 people a day. It’s bubble friendly. “It can work particularly well for families as they can come together and get vaccinated in the familiar environment of their own family vehicle,” said Matt Hannant of the Northern Region Health Coordination Centre in a statement.

Top of the list for invitations are essential workers and those who were unable to attend their appointments during the move to level four and have not yet rebooked. “The drive-through centre will be by appointment only, so we ask that people who haven’t received an invitation yet stay at home and follow the alert level guidelines.”

Sorry, but “the drive-through is not suitable for motorbikes or trucks or people on foot”.

2.00pm: The superspread risk

Asked if there were any locations that are being looked at as relating to potential superspreader events, Ardern said officials were currently asking, “are there certain sites that might be more worrisome?” Contact tracers were “working through those events where it appears that there may have been more infections among those who may not necessarily have identified themselves as being close contacts but were at the same event. That will enable us to home in on whether there have been superspreader events.”

Meanwhile one of those who was at the Spark Arena for the Bayley’s bash on Friday night was former deputy prime minister and now real estate strategist Paula Bennett.

She’s now been tested, the Spinoff has confirmed, and has returned home to isolate awaiting results. “All is good in the hood,” she said. What was she watching in the queue? The neo-western drama Yellowstone. “Only while on park!”

1.50pm: Second flight of interest, other locations listed

The flight on which a positive person travelled has now been listed: It’s NZ443 Auckland to Wellington on Thursday August 19, departing 4.30pm. Already listed was Air NZ Flight 445 from Auckland to Wellington on Sunday August 15, departing at 5pm.

There are a number of other new locations to note, including central North Island sites visited when one person drove from Auckland to Wellington, takeaways and a bowling lane in south Auckland, and supermarkets in Wellington. Harkanwal has updated his incredibly helpful map.

1.45pm: Ardern defends pace of location listing and testing

Responding to criticisms around slow posting of locations of interest, Jacinda Ardern stressed the complexity of information coming in and the risk of over-hastily sharing incorrect details. Officials needed “enough information we believe we can verify before we put it into the public domain”, she said.

On testing, where queues extending many hours have been reported in recent days, she said: “The number we have had processed since our last report is extraordinary, so you can see just why we’ve seen people having to wait … But we don’t want people waiting long periods of time or having contacts turn back because of the time they’ve waited.” She said capacity was being ramped up but they were also introducing testing sites that would not be listed publicly, but provided directly to people who are contacts so they could avoid the lengthy queues.

1.30pm: Outbreak grows to 51 – ‘We expect cases to continue to rise through to next week’

There are 21 new cases of Covid-19 detected in the community. That brings the count in the current outbreak to 51. Eighteen of the new cases are in Auckland and three in Wellington. “Based on the experience of overseas, we do expect cases to continue to rise through to next week before they start coming away,” said Jacinda Ardern at the 1pm update.

Of the sources, director of public health Carolyn McElnay said: “21 cases of the 51 are now confirmed as part of the Auckland cluster, with investigations still under way to confirm the specific linkage, but initial assessment shows in the vast majority of cases there is a link.”

Sequencing is completed for 29 cases. All are genomically linked.

As of 10am today, 5,065 individual contacts had been identified. “This number will increase throughout the day … We expect to have another 5,000 contacts by the end of the day,” said McElnay.

A wastewater sample collected in Warkworth on Tuesday had returned positive for Covid-19, she said. Forty-one sites are testing wastewater around the country. More sites are being added. Samples from Thursday in Waitakere, North Shore and eastern Auckland had also returned positive.

As of 6.30am, 829 Waitematā DHB staff had been tested. All but the 208 still pending have returned negative. Of 137 staff identified as potential contacts of the positive patient at North Shore Hospital, 84 have returned a negative result. All patients who may have come into contact have returned negative tests.

Yesterday saw the highest number of vaccinations yet: 56,843. It was a record too for testing, with more than 41,000 processed. More than 72% of New Zealanders over 40 have had at least one dose or booked for vaccination, said Ardern.

Compliance had been “outstanding”, said Ardern, with a similar reduction in traffic and movement since the last level four lockdown in 2020. There had been 17 people charged for infringing the rules.

Watch the 1pm update in full here:

12.40pm: Maps updated; Ardern and McElnay to appear at 1pm

Ashley Bloomfield has a day off today, or at least from taking the stage. The prime minister will appear at 1pm alongside director of public health Caroline McElnay with the latest information.

Meanwhile, Harkanwal Singh has updated his invaluable maps that show the locations of interest with the handful added today so far. You can also sort the views so you see just those added today, or just those added yesterday, or the full caboodle. They’re here.

11.55am: A second case at AUT

A second student at AUT University has tested positive for Covid-19. “The initial information is that the student was in several locations on the City Campus, during their infectious period [on August 11 and 12],” said vice chancellor Derek McCormack in an email to students. He said that Auckland public health officials had informed the university that it was a second student, and that he had now been moved to a quarantine facility.

The locations and dates of interest for AUT as listed by the Ministry of Health are now as follows:

  • City campus August 11: 9.30 am – 8.30 pm
  • City campus August 17: 11.30 am – 1.00 pm (especially “those in or around lecture theatre WG403 or the level 4 foyer outside the lecture theatre).

11.10am: More on the Spark Arena events

One of the people who has tested positive in the current outbreak was working at the bar for events at the downtown Auckland Spark Arena last week. The first, on Thursday August 12, was a Mitre 10 corporate awards dinner. Attendees, including MC Hilary Barry, have been asked to  isolate. “We have been informed by Uno Loco, organiser of the Mitre 10 awards dinner, that one of the bar staff working at the event last Thursday 12 August has tested positive for Covid-19. As an attendee at the event you are deemed a close contact,” reads the alert message, seen by The Spinoff.

The same information has gone out to those at the venue the following night, on Friday August 13, a Bayley’s dinner to cap the real estate company’s annual conference. The dinner, hosted by Jeremy Corbett, who is similarly self-isolating, was “a beautiful evening of extravagance and fun”, according to one who was there. John Key spoke at the conference but his participation, he’s confirmed to The Spinoff, was at the daytime conference event and not the evening bash at Spark Arena.

We don’t know at this point whether the staff member at the events was symptomatic. But one of the reasons they are a focus is that large numbers of people flew in from around the country to attend.

Below left is the Mitre 10 event; on the right, the Bayley’s dinner. I’m certain the lighting rig was intentionally designed to look like an evil corona-UFO.

Meanwhile in sad but inevitable news, the Word Christchurch festival has been postponed.

10am: ‘Things get worse before they get better’ – Robertson

Grant Robertson has appeared for the government on Newshub Nation on Three. He had no new case information to report ahead of the 1pm briefing but confirmed “we will see more cases”, adding: “The number of locations of interest and people involved indicated that we’re doing a good job around contact tracing but we just have to accept that things get worse before they get better.”

The deputy prime minister said the link drawn between the man who returned from Sydney and tested positive while at the Crowne Plaza and the current outbreak was highly likely, in “the high-90-percents”. The focus was now finding the epidemiological link.

Next up on the show was National leader Judith Collins. She said the extension of the nationwide lockdown till the end of Tuesday at least was inevitable and necessary, and focused her criticisms on the pace of the vaccination programme, particularly as related to border and frontline workers. It was revealed in recent days that less than half of the 10,000 police staff across the country have been vaccinated.

9.30am: Angry international commentators are still angry

What to do on a grey Saturday in locked down Aotearoa? Fortunately fresh material has arrived to play one of our favourite national sports: getting defensive and cross about people jn media overseas misrepresenting New Zealand.

Such as this, from Her Majesty’s Daily Telegraph:

“Poetic justice is beautiful,” writes the Adam Smith Institute’s Matthew Lesh of the news of an outbreak following the re-commitment to the elimination strategy. He adds: “New Zealand’s zero Covid strategy has had frightening consequences. A once-welcoming nation is turning into an isolated dystopia, where liberties are taken away in a heartbeat and outsiders are shunned. Living under the constant threat of disruptive and psychologically crushing lockdowns. Being closed off to the world, with citizens’ ability to travel curtailed and foreigners largely prevented from entering. So much for the open, welcoming liberal nation projected by Ms Ardern.”

The strategy, he claims, wrongly, is “lockdown first, foremost and forever”.

Known misinformation spreader and contrarian Toby Young is on a similar tip in the Daily Sceptic.

To be clear: there are very real criticisms to be made of the government, including for example Claire Trevett’s critique this morning in the Herald, in which she argues: “Ardern has repeatedly warned Delta could make it to New Zealand, despite best efforts. Yet despite warnings that it was almost inevitable, the response seems to have been caught on the hop.”

But most of the bloviators abroad misrepresent or fundamentally misunderstand the situation here. We haven’t been in lockdown for the last year, for example, to the best of my knowledge.

And while the rule must hold, don’t read the comments, every so often one soars above such prohibitions, such as this, the most upvoted thought on the Daily Sceptic story.

Makes you think.

8am: The day ahead

We’re expecting press conferences both today and Sunday from the Beehive with the latest case numbers and other developments. The usual time: 1pm, and we’ll update with the essential details here quicker than you can say assiduous.

Otherwise, well, the locations of interest reports will keep rolling in; and we’ll keep an interested eye on queue lengths at testing stations. Yesterday, they were long. Very long. Hopefully people who gave up yesterday will try again today. The good news is that testing volumes have been higher than ever.

Last night Auckland public health officials issued a statement, saying more than 52,000 swabs had been taken since Tuesday afternoon. Of those,  14,000 were at community testing centre, 30,000 at GPs and urgent care clinics and 8,000 by DHBs.

Northern Region Health Coordination Centre lead Margie Apa said: “This huge number of tests in such a short space of time highlights the hard work that our testing staff in the Northern Region, community and primary health care staff … I am incredibly proud of everyone involved.” She also acknowledged the queues. “The record demand has put enormous pressure on our testing centres and although we are working hard to get new testing centres stood up quickly. I know there has been long waits for testing and I want to thank the community for their patience and understanding.”

7.30am: Positive cases at Auckland University and two schools

Last night an email was sent to staff by University of Auckland vice chancellor Dawn Freshwater advising that a student had tested positive. ” We received confirmation this evening that a student at the University has tested positive for Covid-19. The student is a resident in the Whitaker Block, takes meals in Waipārūrū Hall, and has attended classes on campus on Monday 16 August and Tuesday 17 August,” she wrote.

The student since travelled to Wellington on Thursday 19 August to be with family, “and is currently isolating at home after receiving the positive test result today”.

There are reports this morning of further positive cases at both De la Salle College, which is across the road from Middlemore Hospital in Māngere East, and McAuley High School in Ōtāhuhu.

This means positive cases have now been identified at five secondary and two tertiary education providers. (The others are Avondale College, Lynfield College, Northcote College and AUT.)

Meanwhile at Victoria University of Wellington, “one of our staff members is a close contact of two of the confirmed Covid-19 cases in Wellington”, an email has advised staff. “The staff member has so far tested negative for Covid-19.”

A number of new locations of interest have been added by the Ministry of Health. They include Air NZ Flight 445 from Auckland to Wellington on Sunday August 15, departing at 5pm. We’ll be keeping any eye out for that flight from Thursday (assuming the student flew rather than going by road) to be added, too.

You can view locations of interest on our interactive map here.

One more worth mentioning: Mitre 10 has confirmed someone who later tested positive was working the bar its Awards dinner at Spark Arena on Thursday August 12. It’s not on the locations of interest because the ministry has contacted attendees, numbering in their hundreds, directly. The same worker was at an event the following night, a Bayleys real estate awards.

7am: Headlines from yesterday

  • Entire country to remain in level four lockdown until midnight Tuesday.
  • There are now 31 confirmed community cases of Covid-19.
  • Of these, 28 are in Auckland and three are in Wellington.
  • 12 cases cannot be definitively linked to the rest of the cluster and are “under investigation”.
  • Genomic testing has linked the community cases and an individual in managed isolation who stayed in the Crowne Plaza.
  • The Covid-positive Air NZ crew member has now been confirmed as an unrelated border-related case.

Read more here.

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