BusinessAugust 29, 2021

Live updates, August 29: 83 new community cases, taking total to 511


All the latest news lines as New Zealand enters its second delta lockdown weekend. Send your thoughts, tips and pics to Our coverage of the Covid-19 story is funded by Spinoff Members. Your support makes a real difference. 

What you need to know

  • Today 83 new cases in the community were reported, bringing the total to 511.
  • 77,965 vaccination doses were received yesterday.
  • All of the country bar Auckland and Northland will be moving to alert level three on Wednesday.
  • Cabinet will be reviewing Auckland’s alert level settings tomorrow (but the prime minister has indicated a further fortnight at level four is likely)

4.00pm: Record-high cases in NSW; Victoria extends lockdown

New South Wales has record 1,218 new cases of Covid-19, the largest number ever recorded by an Australian jurisdiction in a 24-hour period, and six people have died with the virus.

Victoria, meanwhile, has extended its lockdown as 92 new cases are recorded – the highest total in the state this year. Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed Victoria’s sixth lockdown would be extended past Thursday, but told a media briefing it was too early to say which settings would be in place and how long the restrictions would last.

3.00pm: Rawiri Waititi launches petition for no more MIQ in Rotorua

Rawiri Waititi, MP for Waiariki and leader of Te Pāti Māori, has today launched a petition to stop the establishment of more MIQ facilities in Rotorua.

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins this week confirmed Rotorua was being considered for another MIQ facility (it already has one). In a press release today, Waititi said the city was being unfairly targeted.

“Forty percent of the Rotorua population is Māori,” said Waititi. “The negative impact of these government decisions is significantly higher for Rotorua just because our people are at greater risk of falling through all of the gaps.

“The Lakes DHB have made it clear that another MIQ facility in Rotorua will put too much pressure on their capacity to deliver healthcare because it will negatively impact hospital facilities and staff and it will come at a cost to Rotorua locals who will miss out.

“Another MIQ hotel also means that Rotorua will take longer to rebuild their economic capacity in the tourism sector and it will increase the health and safety risks to the local communities.”

National MP for Rotorua Todd McLay and Labour MP Tāmati Coffey, who lost his Waiariki seat to Waititi at last year’s election, have both supported the call for no more MIQ facilities in Rotorua.

2.20pm: Charting the outbreak

Our head of data, Harkanwal Singh, has updated a couple of charts following the 1pm update. This one shows the trajectory of cases:

And this one shows the cases by age – 310 of the 511 cases, or 60%, are under 30.

1.00pm: 83 new Covid-19 cases in the community, taking total to 511

There are 83 new cases in the community today, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield has announced. Eighty-two of the new cases are in Auckland and one in Wellington – a close contact of an existing case, who has been in isolation. There are now 15 cases in Wellington, with the remainder in Auckland.

Of the 511 total cases, 453 have been epidemiologically linked to the existing outbreak, with the remaining 58 links yet to be established, said Bloomfield.

There are now seven sub-clusters, with the two largest the Birkdale social network and the Māngere church group, with 68 and 237 confirmed cases respectively. The remaining clusters have fewer than 20 people.

There are now 34 community cases in hospital, 32 of whom are stable on a ward, and two of whom are stable in ICU. Three of the 34 cases are at North Shore hospital, 18 are at Middlemore, 13 are at Auckland hospital and one is in Wellington hospital.

Bloomfield said 32,771 contacts have now been formally identified, with 26,473 – around 80% – followed up formally.

There were 23,139 tests processed yesterday, and 9,700 swabs were taken yesterday in Auckland. There has been a decrease in testing but a number of people are approaching their day-12 test, said Bloomfield.

There have been no unexpected wastewater results, with Christchurch returning negative results after a positive result earlier in the week. Warkworth returned another positive result on Friday, consistent with there being positive cases (a rest home worker tested positive in Warkworth last week). The 13 rest home residents being cared for by the worker have now tested negative. No locations of interest have been listed in Warkworth because there were only easily traceable locations.

Transmission has occurred at 21 locations of interest, and at four workplaces since lockdown; 25 potentially infectious in community 

More than three quarters of yesterday's cases were contacts of known cases, and more than half were household contacts, said Ardern. Two were considered to be infectious before level four restrictions came into place. A total of 25 people had exposure events outside the household. Most of these were thought to be at workplaces that were not public facing, and most are not being listed as locations of interest. Ardern said she was seeking more information on whether "public health protocols for those businesses that are operating are fit for purpose".

Of the 470+ locations of interest currently listed by the Ministry of Health, transmission has occurred at 21 of them, said Ardern. In addition to the Assembly of God church in Māngere, AUT university has been a big site of transmission.

She said there were a total of four workplaces operating at level four that have seen transmission among staff. She said this may be because of activity before or after shifts or at break times. "If we need to tighten up our restrictions further, we will."

Yesterday 77,965 vaccines were administered; 55,779 were first doses and 22,177 second doses. A total of 3.28 million doses have now been received, with 1.14 million fully vaccinated.

Level four is 'absolutely' working – Bloomfield

Asked if the current outbreak is looking as bad as New Zealand's first Covid-19 outbreak in March 2020, Ardern and Bloomfield said many cases during that time went undetected, as testing was at lower levels. "It’s quite clear we didn’t pick up all the infections then," said Bloomfield. 

Bloomfield said the current lockdown was "absolutely working", as according to the latest data, the R rate (the number of people each Covid case was infecting) was just below one, but "we need to get it lower".

He later clarified that it was "about an R of 0.8". That reproduction number would mean, on average 10 people with Covid-19 would pass it on to eight others.

"The only way we'll continue to get that trajectory now to start turning and coming down is if people keep doing, as they did last year, what they need to do in level four," said Bloomfield.

Asked whether level four restrictions needed tightening, Ardern said if there was evidence that suggested they should be, the government would do so. She said of the four workplaces where transmission had occurred at level four, there was no suggestion they were anything other than essential food and service providers.

Asked about the risk of New Zealand's vaccine supplies being exhausted given the current volumes of receipt, Ardern said: "It's not a matter of running out, it's a matter of whether we are in a position of needing a little less demand than we have at the moment."

Bluetooth contact tracing questioned; parliament to resume in person 

The Ministry of Health has failed to answer The Spinoff's questions on bluetooth tracing, and Ardern and Bloomfield didn't provide much information when asked by a reporter today if it was correct that fewer than 10 alerts were sent out as a result of bluetooth functionality of the NZ Covid Tracer app.

Bloomfield said he would have to check if that number was correct, but did say many of the current cases didn't have bluetooth switched on in the app. On Friday, David Skegg said bluetooth had been of very little value during this outbreak.

Parliament will resume in person, Ardern has confirmed, after National and Act rejected the proposal of meeting online. "I'm disappointed. I am, however, not willing, without the consensus of parties, to individually suspend parliament again. So I will participate, despite the fact I totally disagree with the position they've taken."

12.50pm: Watch live – Ardern and Bloomfield with latest case numbers

12.45pm: Travel register open for workers who need to cross alert level boundaries

As of Wednesday Aotearoa will be divided by alert level, with Auckland and Northland staying locked down at four and everyone further south enjoying a wonderful world of takeaway flat whites and McDonald's at alert level three. There'll be no criss-crossing between alert levels unless you've got a good reason, such as you're a worker for an eligible business who needs to cross over, or you have an exemption.

Businesses can apply for travel documents here if they meet the criteria – workers should keep the documents on them while travelling.

12.00pm: Auckland testing centres busy with day 12 tests for contacts

There are reports that some Covid-19 testing centres in Auckland have been busier than usual this morning, as today marks day 12 of isolation for those who were potentially exposed to the virus on the day before the lockdown began.

Tuesday, August 17 was the final day schools, tertiary institutions and non-essential workplaces were open before alert level four began, meaning the last possible date of exposure for those who may have come into contact with Covid-19 cases in those places. Those people were instructed to isolate for 14 days from that date and be tested on days five and 12. Today marks day 12.

11.45am: National calls for release of more outbreak data

National's Covid-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop is calling for the government to release more comprehensive data on the current delta outbreak in the community.

"Journalists shouldn’t have to negotiate and request with the Ministry of Health daily for basic information that helps the public understand the current outbreak," said Bishop in a press release.

“Raw numbers each day are no longer adequate. The ministry must release more sophisticated information like other jurisdictions do. New Zealanders are entitled to know what is going on."

Bishop is calling for five key pieces of information to be added to the government's daily releases:

1.     A further breakdown of the raw number of total contacts, specifically listing how many of the high risk “close plus” contacts have been tested and what the test results show.

2.     Much more detail about the number of cases each day, including if they are household contacts, if they contracted Covid-19 from or at a location of interest, an essential workplace, or if the source is presently unknown.

3.     How many essential workers have tested positive and how many were infectious in the community.

4.     Whether there has been community transmission of Covid-19 outside of a household bubble since the lockdown.

5.     What the current estimated effective “R” is.

As Toby Manhire reported yesterday, the ministry hasn't been detailing how many of the new cases each day have been infectious in the community since the lockdown began. Also yesterday, Siouxsie Wiles called for the government to release details of how new cases are linked. Expect questions to be asked of Bloomfield and Ardern at today's 1pm update.

11.15am: Busy morning for Auckland vaccination centres

The live updates were running a little late this morning as I was getting my first Pfizer Covid-19 jab at the Highbury shopping centre in Auckland's Birkenhead. I arrived a few minutes before my 8am appointment and was a little concerned to see a lengthy queue to enter, but once the clock struck eight it moved fairly swiftly and staff were the picture of friendly efficiency. I was jabbed at 8.31 (practically painless!), then out of there 15 minutes later and I'm feeling tops. You don't get a little card any more (contamination risk), but you do get a sticker.

Elsewhere in the city, Stuff news director Anna Loren tried out the drive-in vaccination centre near Auckland airport this morning, and was jabbed 50 minutes after joining the queue – not a bad turnaround – and the Herald is reporting a 700m queue for the drive-in centre in Henderson.

11.00am: New locations of interest added

A handful of new locations of interest dropped on the Ministry of Health's page at 10am – multiple times for an Auckland CBD apartment building, plus an updated time for the AUT class first added yesterday. Various different floors of The Mount Terrace Apartments are now locations of interest for various times from Monday August 16 to Thursday August 19 – check out the details here.

You can see all the locations of interest on an interactive NZ map, sorted by exposure time and date of listing, here.

10.30am: Will case numbers continue to rise?

Yesterday's 82 new Covid-19 cases, the highest total since the outbreak began, is no reason to panic, according to experts. Speaking on Newstalk ZB this morning, the University of Auckland's Des Gorman said yesterday's rise was "entirely predictable".

"My suspicion is that level four is working very well and that cases have already peaked but we may see a delay in reporting [the numbers]," he said.

Epidemiologist Michael Baker told RNZ we should expect more than 1,000 cases of Covid-19 in the community, saying it's likely as many as 100 people were already infected before the lockdown.

Mathematical modeller Michael Plank, meanwhile, told RNZ that while daily case numbers do appear to be levelling off, it could be the end of the coming week before we see an actual decline. That's because delta is infecting more household contacts than were seen in earlier outbreaks, meaning numbers will continue to be high.

9.45: Government may 'swap' vaccines with other countries – report

In a bid to continue ramping up the vaccine rollout as Aotearoa battles a community delta outbreak, the government is working on ways to get more jabs. According to a report by the Herald's Thomas Coughlan, swapping vaccines with other countries and requesting early shipments from Pfizer are two options on the cards.

The strong preference is for any jabs "swapped" from other countries to be of the Pfizer brand, according to the report, but different makes might be considered.

The rollout has ramped up significantly since the latest outbreak began, with close to 90,000 doses administered on Friday. Yesterday's total will be announced at today's 1pm update. But the speed of vaccinations may come under pressure in coming weeks, the government has said, as high demand puts pressure on supplies.

Anyone aged 30 and above can now book their jab, along with those in groups one, two and three.

9.00am: MIQ worker tests positive for Covid-19

A staff member from the Four Points Sheraton managed isolation facility has tested positive for Covid-19, but it's not clear whether this case is connected to the community delta outbreak, reports Stuff. Genome sequencing is under way, and the Ministry of Health will provide an update today.

8.45am: New locations of interest

Somewhat reassuringly, new locations of interest have been few. Overnight, they dropped from 495 to 471, as the earliest locations have been removed, apparently no longer deemed to pose a public health risk. New ones added yesterday afternoon and evening include Northcote College on Tuesday August 17 – the Auckland high school had previously been listed only for Wednesday, August 18 – and a "strategic dynamics class" in WH125 at AUT's city campus. There were also bus routes, the NZ School of Tourism and earlier in the day, a Manurewa childcare centre.

A new feature added to the Ministry of Health's locations of interest page yesterday afternoon is the ability to record your visit to a location of interest.

8.30am: Where we're at

Ata mārie and welcome. On Friday afternoon the prime minister announced that most of the country will move from the strictest, alert level four lockdown to level three as of Wednesday. Most means everywhere south of the Auckland region (see map below). Tomorrow, cabinet will be deciding when Auckland's alert level settings will be next be reviewed, with Jacinda Ardern making an announcement at tomorrow afternoon's post-cabinet press conference. On Friday she indicated Tāmaki Makaurau would likely need at least another fortnight – the sum of two full transmission cycles – at level four.

Yesterday, there was confirmation of 82 new cases of Covid-19, the highest daily total yet. That has brought the total in the delta community outbreak to 429. All are in Auckland, apart from 14 in Wellington. Vaccination rates are ticking along, with a new record of more than 90,000 doses on Friday.

Today's new cases will be revealed at a 1pm press conference fronted by Ardern and director general of health Ashley Bloomfield. Fingers crossed for the longed for "plateauing" of case numbers.

Below, three charts that give a good sense of the state of things, from our head of data Harkanwal Singh.




And that map:

Keep going!