blog dec 16

Live UpdatesDec 16 2021

First omicron case detected in MIQ

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for December 16. Want to get in touch? Reach me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


Note to readers: The Spinoff team is today celebrating the end of 2021 so the live updates will be slightly stripped back. We’ll still have all the most important breaking news across the day. Tomorrow will be the final regular live updates for the year.

blog dec 16

First omicron case detected in MIQ

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for December 16. Want to get in touch? Reach me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


Note to readers: The Spinoff team is today celebrating the end of 2021 so the live updates will be slightly stripped back. We’ll still have all the most important breaking news across the day. Tomorrow will be the final regular live updates for the year.

Dec 16 2021

Omicron case arrived on flight from Germany via Dubai

New Zealand’s first omicron case arrived on a flight from Germany via Dubai, the director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, has told media. After arrival in Auckland on Friday, December 10, the person was transported to Christchurch on a MIQ charter flight.

The person had been double vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine. They were tested on day one of their stay at the Crowne Plaza managed isolation facility and after the positive result was returned on day two, they were moved to the quarantine wing of the Sudima Christchurch Airport facility.

As a precautionary measure, everyone who was on the international flight and on the same floor of the hotel is considered a close contact and will spend the full 10 days in managed isolation, Bloomfield said, rather than spending the final three days in self-isolation.

“We are very well prepared” for the arrival of omicron, Bloomfield said. While MIQ protocols for those in contact with the case have been strengthened, there is “very little risk” to other people in the managed isolation hotel where the case was detected, he said.

Tomorrow Bloomfield will discuss with ministers whether to change the current recommendations on the interval for the booster dose, in light of the arrival of omicron.

New Zealand’s first case of omicron found in MIQ

The country’s first case of the new omicron variant of Covid-19 has been found at a managed isolation facility in Christchurch.

The omicron variant, first reported in South Africa in late November, is believed to be significantly more infectious than other variants of the virus. It is not yet clear whether it causes more severe illness or death, nor how well our current vaccines protect against it.

The director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, will speak to the media about the case at 4.20pm today.

For more on what we know so far about omicron, read our explainer by Siouxsie Wiles here.

91 new cases of Covid-19 in the community

There are 91 new community cases of Covid-19 today across Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Lakes, Bay of Plenty, and Taranaki. The case number total includes the 15 cases in Eltham, Taranaki, that were announced yesterday, plus one more case that was identified overnight.

Fifty-eight people with Covid-19 are in hospital, with four in intensive care.

Yesterday was the first day that rapid antigen tests were available from pharmacies across the country. The Ministry of Health says that 82,000 rapid antigen tests have been dispatched to 531 pharmacies to date.

“Recent severe weather has disrupted deliveries to some pharmacies. We are working with our courier services to ensure deliveries can be made as soon as possible, with orders being prioritised for city centres, travel junctions and vacation hot spots.

“As of this morning, 256 of these pharmacies have received their tests and a significant number of those remaining are expected to receive their tests by the end of today.”

Regional updates

Northland

There are two new cases to report in Ruakākā today.

The cases are known contacts of a previously reported case and were already isolating when they tested positive.

Auckland

Today, there are 55 new cases being reported in Auckland. Health and welfare providers are now supporting 1,970 people to isolate at home, including 504 cases.

Waikato

There are seven cases to report in Waikato today – five are in Hamilton, one is in Te Kūiti and one case will be reported as in Waihi.

This person was tested outside of Waihi and will be isolating at home from today. At this stage there are no locations of interest to report in the town because any exposure events occurred outside of Waihi.

Four have been linked to previous cases and two are under investigation.

Public health, primary care and manaaki providers in the region are supporting 68 cases to isolate at home.

Bay of Plenty

There are 11 cases to report in Bay of Plenty today. Of these cases, eight are in the Tauranga area, and three are in the wider western Bay of Plenty.

Today’s cases are still being investigated for potential links to previously reported cases.

Lakes

Today’s one case is in Rotorua and is a contact of a previously reported case. They were already in managed accommodation when they tested positive.

Taranaki

The Ministry of Health has included 16 cases in Eltham, Taranaki, in today’s total. Fifteen of these cases were announced yesterday and are being officially added to the case tally today.

Public health officials are conducting interviews with the latest confirmed case to identify, isolate, and test any close contacts and determine any further locations of interest. Though initial investigations have confirmed this case is linked to previously reported cases in the area.

Earlier interviews with cases have already determined a range of locations of interest, which have been added to the Ministry’s website, with further locations expected. People in Taranaki are asked to monitor the Ministry webpage, which is updated regularly.

Medsafe approves Pfizer vaccine for kids

Medsafe has granted provisional approval for the Pfizer vaccine to be given to children aged 5 to 11.

The vaccine for this age group is an adapted version of the vaccine used for people aged 12 and older. The provisional approval is for two doses of the paediatric Pfizer vaccine, given at least 21 days apart.

The next stage in the process is for the paediatric vaaccine to be approved by Cabinet. Once full approval is given, rollout to children is expected to start in New Zealand no later than the end of January 2022.

Officials in the US and Australia have also granted provisional approval or emergency use authorisation for the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine to be given to 5 to 11 year olds. The vaccine is currently being rolled out in the US to this age group.

Latest Covid numbers due at 1pm

Today’s Covid-19 numbers will land, as usual, around 1pm. But starting from today, the Ministry of Health will not be sending them out via email but instead publishing them on their website and social media. Nevertheless, we’ll still have all the details you need when they arrive.

New Zealand hits 90% vaccination milestone

A full 90% of the eligible population have received both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, the Ministry of Health has announced.

The news came via a statement by Covid response minister Chris Hipkins.

“We’ve now reached 90% fully vaccinated across the country – that means 3,788,151 New Zealanders have rolled up their sleeves to protect themselves, their whānau, friends and communities,” he said.

“This result also comes hot on the heels of the three DHBs in the Auckland metropolitan area having now hit the 90% fully vaccinated milestone. That means seven DHBs in total have now nailed this mark, with a number of others about to reach it in the coming days.”

New Zealand’s first Pfizer vaccine was administered on February 19, to a group of vaccinators. The official public rollout of the country’s vaccination programme began the next day.

Australian Covid cases spike after restrictions ease

A surge of new Covid-19 cases in Australia has led to predictions New South Wales could reach 25,000 daily cases by the end of January.

The state recorded 1360 cases yesterday, reported The Guardian, after mask requirements and bans for unvaccinated people dropped. Victoria, meanwhile, saw just over 1400 cases. South Australia registered just 26 new infections – but that was still the state’s highest daily total since April.

Western Australia has now classified both New South Wales and Victoria as “extreme risks”, imposing new travel restrictions to try curb spread of the virus.

Meanwhile, the rise of omicron in the UK has seen the country record its highest number of new infections since the pandemic began: 78,610 in a single day.

Anti-vaccine protest heads to empty parliament

As many as 2,000 people are preparing to march to parliament today over vaccines and mandates.

The rally, taking place the day after parliament wrapped for the year (and therefore a day no politicians will be present), is being organised by Brian Tamaki’s Freedom and Rights Coalition. That’s the same group responsible for the recurring protests in Auckland Domain.

The crowd has currently gathered in Wellington’s Civic Square before it snakes through the city to the Beehive.

Despite Tamaki’s involvement, it’s unlikely he will make an appearance. He’s facing his final legal warning after twice breaching bail for attending similar Covid-related protests. He has been barred from speaking or attending any further events.

According to the Herald, mask use among the crowd is currently at a minimum. People can be seen with pro-freedom placards, while one person is selling Donald Trump merch.

Stuff is reporting that attendees have travelled from around the country to attend the event, which is intended to be peaceful.

Last month’s protest, which attracted as many as 4,000 people, caused widespread disruption throughout Wellington.

Taranaki school Covid cluster could grow

There are now 16 cases of delta in the Taranaki town of Eltham – 15 of which were confirmed yesterday. All but one case has now been linked to the Eltham Primary School, with 11 cases in one class.

The quick rise in case numbers has been put down to the fact the school was allowed to reopen after a confirmed case of Covid was detected in a student.

Mark Bellringer, from the South Taranaki District Council, told RNZ he couldn’t understand why. “They should’ve closed the school as a precautionary measure and because there were only two days left of the term why the heck didn’t they take it as a precautionary measure just to look after the community,” he said.

“You know, they’ve just said it’s Eltham and we’re not going to worry about it and I think it’s pretty terrible.”

Hundreds of people from the small Taranaki community have since been tested but there are concerns the cluster will keep growing.

Taranaki medical officer of health Dr Jonathan Jarman said, however, that closing the school would have been going against the “usual process” for when a Covid case is discovered. “At times you might look at classroom settings, but in this situation it looks like there was some kind of transmission event that occurred last week, so closing the school on Monday wouldn’t have made any difference,” he said.

As usual, today’s Covid numbers will be confirmed around 1pm.

Can Christopher Luxon win over woman voters?

In this morning’s edition of The Bulletin, our political editor Justin Giovannetti spoke to National deputy leader Nicola Willis. You can read the full interview here – but here’s a taster: 

Former leader Judith Collins had a detrimental impact on the female vote in the 2020 election. And now Luxon’s views on abortion have raised a different set of concerns. Andrea Vance wrote a column in the Sunday Star-Times on the weekend where she concluded that “Luxon’s views speak volumes about a disdainful attitude to women”. Willis read the column and disagrees with Vance’s opinion.

“I just think that she underestimates the ability of people to see matters of faith separately from matters of policy and it’s been my experience that women are quite able of seeing capability in a leader and to trust in the policies of a party while disagreeing with them on conscience issues like abortion. That was the case with Bill English, who was a very trusted finance minister and prime minister,” she says.

“I think the definitive statement that Chris Luxon has made, that is critically important, is that as prime minister he doesn’t intend to revisit New Zealand’s abortion laws. For me, that’s where it starts and ends,” Willis concludes.

This is part of The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s must-read daily news wrap. To sign up for free, simply enter your email address below

ICU spend-up too little, too late – National

National’s health spokesperson Shane Reti has criticised today’s multimillion dollar health spend-up as being too late.

The government today announced a $600 million hospital upgrade programme that will include a funding boost for intensive care units, with more beds being made available.

Reti said it should have come a lot sooner. “By his own admission Andrew Little didn’t build a single new resourced adult ICU bed in Auckland in the 18 months before delta arrived and the number of new build ICU beds in this announcement, across the whole country is only 31 new beds or roughly 10%,” he said.  

“This is a paltry figure when he was advised by specialists last year to triple the number of beds. If he hasn’t figured it out already, 355 negative pressure room ward beds are not 355 ICU beds.”

The failure to increase ICU capacity was one reason Auckland stayed in lockdown, claimed Reti.

“Many of the announcements today are not actually new builds but ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ by converting ward beds, administrative space and elective surgery beds into ICU beds,” he said. “The hope has to be that these beds will then serve a dual purpose otherwise the lost inpatient beds will eventually add to escalating waiting lists for people to see specialists and have cancelled procedures.”

Surveillance testing not on offer for vaccinated, asymptomatic Aucklanders

Vaccinated people with no Covid-19 symptoms will not be able to access rapid antigen tests now that Auckland’s border has opened.

The official rules require anyone leaving the city to have proof of vaccination or a valid negative Covid-19 test. However, some people – including Spinoff contributor Emily Writes – remain concerned about people visiting vulnerable relatives, even if the visitor has been vaccinated.

In a statement to The Spinoff, the Ministry of Health said surveillance testing was not being offered free of charge for asymptomatic people who are vaccinated.

 “Rapid antigen testing as a surveillance tool may play a role in our Covid-19 response in the future, however, at this stage, it is only available for asymptomatic, unvaccinated people who require a negative test result for travel,” a spokesperson said.  

“It’s important testing advice is followed correctly to help ensure test results continue to be returned in a timely way, and to ensure tests are available for those who need them.”

Auckland health officials yesterday told The Spinoff that vaccinated asymptomatic people should also avoid getting a PCR test so that “testing resources provided at community testing centres, GPs and urgent care could be preserved for symptomatic people”.

The ministry’s advice for anyone concerned about visiting a vulnerable relative was simply to get vaccinated. “People who are vaccinated, have shorter and less severe Covid-19 infections, meaning they are far less likely to spread Covid-19 to others,” said the spokesperson. 

Anyone with Covid symptoms should still get a PCR test and stay at home until they receive a negative rest.

$600m funding boost will see 36 hospitals upgraded, ICU increased

The government will spend over $600 million upgrading hospitals – and boosting ICU capacity – as it prepares for an influx of Covid-19 patients in the future.

36 hospitals have been chosen for the funding that will see new hospital beds and intensive care capacity grow in areas thought most vulnerable to outbreaks of the virus.

According to the Herald, work will get under way in the new year and some projects could be complete by March. “With high vaccination rates and better treatments and prevention methods, we are shifting to better support planned and routine care while also safely caring for Covid-19 patients,” Little said.

“Treating Covid patients can be disruptive to other treatment as additional precautions are taken for infection prevention and control. Today’s announcements are about minimising that disruption.”

In the past couple of weeks, the government yet again defended its decision not to dramatically upgrade intensive care wards in time for delta. Prime minister Jacinda Ardern said rather than paying for the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, Covid restrictions had kept people out of hospitals. However, today’s funding will add 75 inpatient beds, 23 intensive care unit and high dependency beds, eight temporary bed conversions to ICU, and 355 beds will converted to isolation or negative-pressure environments.

As of yesterday, 61 people were in hospital with four in intensive care.