blog june 23

Covid-19June 23, 2021

Live updates, June 23: Wellington shifting to alert level two – all you need to know

blog june 23

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for June 23, bringing you the latest news updated throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

We’re doing our utmost to keep you updated on all the Covid-19 coverage. We can’t do it without the generous support of our members. If you want to help out our news team with this and other big stories, please sign up here.

Top stories

3.40pm: You probably just got the emergency alert

If you’re in the greater Wellington region, your phone probably just went crazy with the Covid-19 emergency alert. If you’ve ended up here and need more information about the new case and the move up to alert level two, that’s available here.

3.15pm: It’s never too late to remember…

3.00pm: Parliament sits under level two conditions

The move up to alert level two has not stopped politics from politicking. Parliament is sitting this afternoon, but with social distancing enforced.

Here are some pics, kindly nabbed from Stuff.

2.15pm: Brand new National MP accused of buying furniture with public funds

A brief diversion from Covid-19 news for a breaking story from within the National Party.

Newly sworn in MP Harete Hipango is facing allegations of misusing taxpayer money during the last term of parliament.

Hipango only formally returned to parliament yesterday as a replacement for Nick Smith, but had previously been an MP until she lost her spot in last September’s election.

According to the Herald, a former staff member of Hipango accused the MP of using public money to buy furniture, including a TV, that ended up being kept in her own home.

It has also been reported that the cost of a sofa the MP bought for her office was questioned, and the MP was told to return it.

Despite only being sworn in yesterday, Hipango has reportedly gone to ground and won’t front to media. She hasn’t, apparently, gone totally offline; she yesterday commented on her own Facebook page to self-congratulate herself for returning to parliament.

(Image / FB)

1.45pm: Covid-19 in Wellington – what you need to know

  • Wellington (including the Wairarapa, Kāpiti Coast and Ōtaki) will move to alert level two from 6pm tonight. This will be reviewed on Sunday and is currently set to end at 11.59pm Sunday night.
  • All other parts of the country will remain at alert level one.
  • There are no known cases of Covid-19 in the community. So far, there are four close contacts of the confirmed case (who has returned to Sydney). Two of the contacts have tested negative at this stage.
  • A number of locations of interest have been identified around the city.
  • Testing locations include a community testing station at 200 Taranaki Street, the Hutt Valley, and Haitaitai Park. The Kilbirnie Sports Centre will not be a testing site, despite reports.
  • Parliament will sit (under level two rules) and MPs will be required to abide by gathering restrictions wherever they are in the country. The Dawn Raids apology will be postponed.

1.25pm: A brief refresher of the alert level two rules

As detailed below, Wellington will be shifting to alert level two from 6pm tonight.

Here is a reminder of the rules for level two that will apply throughout the Wellington region, through into the Wairarapa and Kāpiti Coast.

  • Keep physical distancing when outside the home;
  • Wear a face mask where physical distancing is not possible;
  • Travel is permitted (but bring your alert level with you);
  • No more than 100 people at social gatherings, including weddings, birthdays, funerals and tangihanga;
  • Businesses can open, but they legally must follow public health rules;
  • As always: If you’re sick, stay home. Do not go to work or school. Do not socialise;
  • Scan, scan, SCAN!

1.00pm: Wellington to shift to alert level two from 6pm

Wellington will move to alert level two from 6pm tonight, until 11.59pm on Sunday. The rest of the country will stay at level one.

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said the move up alert levels was “out of an abundance of caution” and the decision will be reviewed again on Sunday. At this stage, there are no community cases of the coronavirus in the Wellington community.

The level two rules will extend beyond just Wellington city and will incorporate the Wairarapa, Kāpiti Coast and Ōtaki.

The alert level shift has been sparked by a visit to Wellington from a Covid-positive traveller, who arrived from Sydney on Saturday morning. There is a strong epidemiological link between the person with Covid and a known outbreak in Sydney, at a healthcare facility near Bondi Junction.

A number of locations of interest have now been identified around Wellington, including Te Papa and several bars and cafes around the Cuba Street area.

“Our contact tracers are currently working at pace and they have been since… last night,” said Hipkins. The positive case was likely to have been infected before travelling to New Zealand, and is connected to the Sydney cluster.

The person frequently used the Covid Tracer App during their Wellington trip. Bloomfield said they’re confident most locations of interest have been found and are publicly available. There are 14 in total, along with the return flights to Sydney.

CCTV footage from Wellington Airport is being reviewed and further detail about specific places within the airport will be released later today.

At this stage, Bloomfield said an additional four close contacts have been identified: two in Palmerston North and two in Tauranga. All have been isolating since last night and the two Palmerston North cases have returned negative tests. 58 passengers are being contacted who arrived on the flight from Sydney. Hipkins said the list of locations of interest were released as soon as possible and acknowledged “time is of the essence” in regards to letting the public know about Covid exposure settings as soon as possible.

It wasn’t fair, Hipkins said, to characterise the release of locations of interest as “sluggish”. The first wave of locations was released at about 9am this morning despite health officials knowing of the case last night. Bloomfield added the case was Australian, and the Australian team contacted the Ministry of Health late yesterday evening. “The first thing our teams did here was identify the four close contacts,” he said. The New Zealand team spoke to the case in the early hours of the morning. “There is a process that needs to be gone through by our experts,” he said.

Bloomfield said extra capacity has been brought in to bolster the testing in the central Wellington testing station. The community testing station at 200 Taranaki Street is open. There is also a testing site in Hutt Valley, and from today there will be a further community testing centre at the ASB indoor stadium in Kilbirnie.

Hipkins said cabinet has also decided that no government members or MPs will be partaking in gatherings over 100 people during this time, but parliament will continue under level two restrictions. This included, Hipkins confirmed, the Dawn Raids apology over the weekend which will be rescheduled.

At this stage, the pause to quarantine-free travel with New South Wales will be reviewed on Sunday. Forty of the 65 days since the bubble commenced have seen it closed from one Australian state.

12.45pm: Cabinet holding emergency meeting before 1pm update

Cabinet is understood to be meeting ahead of the 1pm Covid-19 update from Chris Hipkins and Ashley Bloomfield.

While it’s too soon to know what that means, an alert level change for Wellington could only be authorised by a decision from cabinet.

We’ll have a livestream for you shortly.

Meanwhile, a brief refresher on the rules for alert level two should a move be confirmed:

  • Keep physical distancing when outside the home;
  • Wear a face mask where physical distancing is not possible;
  • Travel is permitted (but bring your alert level with you);
  • No more than 100 people at social gatherings, including weddings, birthdays, funerals and tangihanga.

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11.55am: Further confirmed locations of interest in Wellington

Updated

The Ministry of Health has announced several new locations of interest linked to a confirmed case of Covid-19 in Wellington.

The new locations are a mix of cafes, shops and tourist destinations including Highwater Eatery on Cuba Street, the Weta Cave in Miramar and Unity Books. A Countdown supermarket on Lambton Quay is also included in the list.

The latest confirmed locations
The latest confirmed locations (Image / MOH)

The full list of locations can be found here

11.35am: Government aware of new Covid case last night – Hipkins

The government sat on information about the Covid-positive traveller from Sydney overnight.

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins told media he spoke with Ashley Bloomfield about the case at 7.30pm last night, but confirmation that the case had been in the community was not released by our health authorities until 6am this morning.

Last night it was announced quarantine-free travel with New South Wales would be paused for 72 hours and, shortly before midnight, health authorities in New South Wales confirmed the flights to and from Wellington were locations of interest.

Despite the delay in locations of interest being posted to the ministry’s website, Hipkins confirmed the case had been using the the Covid Tracer App during their time in Wellington.

11.20am: Covid-positive traveller had one dose of vaccine – Hipkins

The Covid-positive traveller who visited Wellington over the weekend had received one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, minister Chris Hipkins has announced.

Like the Pfizer jab being used in New Zealand, two doses of the AstraZeneca shot are required for people to be protected from Covid-19.

Speaking to media, Hipkins said it was still “too soon” to know if Wellington would move into lockdown and urged people to use the Covid Tracer App.

11.10am: New Wellington location of interest revealed

An inner city Wellington cafe has been confirmed as a new location of interest linked to a Covid-positive traveller from Sydney.

In a post on Instagram, Floriditas on Cuba Street said they were visited by the individual on Saturday afternoon between 1pm and 3pm.

“Feeling shaky as I post this,” the post said. “We are closing the restaurant for a deep clean and fully complying with the guidelines set by the ministry.”

All staff who worked on Saturday are in isolation, said the cafe. “We apologise for the inconvenience, but it’s critically important for us, and for Wellington, and for NZ as a whole that everyone does their part.”

The Ministry of Health’s website does not currently list the cafe as a location of interest, but more locations are set to be added throughout the day.

(Instagram)

More to come.

10.50am: Scott Morrison behind Ardern in Australian political survey

Australians have more confidence in Jacinda Ardern than they do in their own prime minister.

The latest survey from the Lowy Institute has Scott Morrison in third position for the question: “How much confidence you have in each leader to do the right thing regarding world affairs?”

The poll showed 63% of respondents had “a lot of confidence” in Ardern, compared with Morrison on just 30%. However, 51% of Australians had “some confidence” in him.

After Ardern, US president Joe Biden is in second place.

A graph showing Ardern's popularity in Australia
(Lowy Institute)

10.25am: Ex-National leader Todd Muller to quit politics

Short-lived National Party leader Todd Muller has announced he’ll leave politics at the 2023 election.

The Bay of Plenty MP replaced Simon Bridges as leader in May last year, quitting in mid-July for personal reasons.

In a statement, Muller said leaving after nine years in politics was a tough decision to make. “Being a member of parliament is a huge privilege, but it does come at a cost,” he said. “I have decided that I need to prioritise my health and family and move onto the next chapter of my life.”

Following his decision to step down as leader of National, Muller revealed he had suffered severe panic attacks that started just five days into his stint in the top job.

“I was hit by a huge sense of deep anxiety. Not like, ‘Oh, I feel a bit unsure of myself’. This was heart-pounding. Just extraordinary,” he told Stuff’s Jehan Casinader earlier this year. “I told myself, ‘Just breathe. Come on!’ But as much as I tried, I could not get on top of it. It went on for 10 minutes.”

Muller said the decision to leave in 2023 and not now gave National “ample opportunity” to find a replacement candidate.

“The National Party needs to take the opportunity this term, to renew and refresh, with strong new candidates lining up for the next election,” he said.

Muller said he is “very proud” of the work he did with Green Party leader James Shaw to achieve cross-party support for the Zero Carbon Act, but the “highlight” of his time in politics was serving his local community. “I won’t stop advocating for mental health facilities, after hours A&E and roads for my remaining time as their MP,” he said.

10.00am: 1pm Covid update confirmed

We knew it was coming, but it’s now been confirmed by minister Chris Hipkins’ office that a 1pm press conference will be held today to provide an update on the situation in Wellington.

There’s no specific cause for concern: these press conferences are regularly scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. However, it will be the next opportunity for Hipkins and Ashley Bloomfield to answer questions on the capital’s Covid scare and reveal the latest information.

We’ll have a livestream for you shortly before 1pm.

8.55am: Confirmed Covid-19 case visited Te Papa, bar, during stay in Wellington

Updated

A Covid-positive individual, who arrived in Wellington from Sydney over the weekend, visited a number of locations around the city. At this stage, the Ministry of Health has only released the locations of interest for Saturday June 19 but the individual remained in the city for a further day before travelling back to Australia.

The most concerning locations of interest are the initial flight into Wellington, the surrealism exhibition at Te Papa and Jack Hackett’s Bar in central Wellington. All require close contacts to self-isolate for 14 days.

The list of known locations is in full below:

(MOH)

As an aside, I was in Wellington over the weekend (I avoided the above locations, thankfully) and Tracer App uptake appeared to be… low. Keep scanning in, people!

We’re expecting further locations to be released today and Ashley Bloomfield will front a press conference alongside Chris Hipkins, the Covid response minister, at 1pm. We’ll have everything you need to know as it happens.

7.50am: Bloomfield says ‘all options are on the table’ as Wellington faces Covid-19 scare

Updated

A lockdown in Wellington has not yet been considered by health officials, but it also can’t be ruled out. The director general of health Ashley Bloomfield has said this morning that “all options are on the table” as Wellington faces its first Covid-19 scare in months.

As detailed in this morning’s Bulletin, the threat of Covid spread has been sparked after a person who later tested positive for the coronavirus travelled to Wellington from Sydney over the weekend.

Speaking to RNZ, Bloomfield said the individual was in the country with their partner and four close contacts have now been identified. “They were contacted and are in isolation,” he said. “I expect they were friends that the [couple was] visiting.”

Meanwhile, health officials are scrambling to confirm any locations of interest in the capital. These are expected to be made public by 8.30am. Bloomfield said he expected the person would have visited tourist locations and restaurants during their time in Wellington, telling Newstalk ZB “quite a number of exposure sites” were likely.

It’s also too early to know just how assiduous they were with the app. Bloomfield so it “would be helpful” if the infected traveller had been scanning in, but considering the low levels of national app use that seems unlikely. Another unknown is whether or not the person has been vaccinated, Bloomfield told Newshub.

While the delta variant of Covid-19 has been spreading rapidly across Australia, Bloomfield said he did not yet know what variant this individual had acquired. “Whatever the variant the response is the same,” he said. Genome sequencing will be able to confirm what strain of Covid-19 the person has and, Bloomfield said, hopefully link them to the wider outbreak in New South Wales.

“They developed symptoms on Monday, while they were travelling back [to Australia] or soon after they arrived back,” he said. They were tested on Monday afternoon.”

At this stage, a lockdown in the capital had not explicitly been considered by the ministry but Bloomfield said they were looking at all options including possible restrictions on gatherings and widespread mask use.

Bloomfield will be speaking alongside the Covid-19 response minister at 1pm and we’ll all over this story throughout the day.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

A person who later tested positive for Covid-19 travelled to Wellington from Sydney over the weekend. As always in these situations, it’s a good idea to monitor the locations of interest list, which will be added to if and when tracing data comes in. The NZ Herald reports the health ministry in NZ has confirmed the person who since tested positive came through New Zealand, and that this is the first time this has happened since the opening of the travel bubble. And in Radio NZ’s news bulletins this morning, it was reported four close contacts have been identified and are isolating. Note – to date, there have been no community cases detected in New Zealand over the period. The key questions for the initial stages of the response will be:

  • What the individual got up to during trip
  • Whether the person was symptomatic
  • What stage of incubation they were at
  • And whether the person was tracking their movements

On the flights, everyone who flew on QF163 to Wellington, leaving Australia on June 18 and arriving just after midnight on June 19, and NZ247 to Sydney on June 21, is being required by Australian health authorities to isolate immediately for 14 days. A NSW Health alert, reported on by 7News, said that everyone on those flights is considered a close contact of a confirmed Covid case. In the meantime, a full list of NSW locations of interest can be found here. Genome sequencing is taking place in Australia to find out more about the case.

Meanwhile, the travel bubble with New South Wales has again been paused, due to cases in the community in Sydney. Our live updates from last night reports it will initially be in place for 72 hours, but also be under “constant review”. A release from Covid-19 minister Chris Hipkins said the government was taking a “precautionary approach”, and the risk to New Zealand was deemed low. By my count, this is the fifth time the bubble has been paused since it came into effect almost exactly two months ago.

And on it all, it’s worth noting that most of this next piece was written before this emerged. But as Toby Manhire wrote, we are at risk of a Sydney-style outbreak, and not initially being in a good position to trace it. Nor would any potential outbreak be halted by the vaccination campaign yet, which has still only reached a small proportion of the population. If the person who came to New Zealand had the delta strain, then it could be particularly serious because of the higher virulence. This ABC story gives an example – a  “scarily fleeting” encounter involving people at a Bondi Mall walking past each other now believed to be part of a chain of transmission.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

Mad Chapman, Editor
The Spinoff has covered the news that matters in 2021, most recently the delta outbreak. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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