Live UpdatesJan 19 2022

Auckland airport worker tests positive for Covid-19; 24 community cases and 56 at the border

  • An Auckland airport worker has tested positive for Covid, and is being managed as an omicron case until genome sequencing results come back later today.
  • There are 24 new cases in the community and 56 at the border.
  • Cabinet is meeting this afternoon to assess the country’s settings under the Covid-19 Protection Framework, with an announcement set for tomorrow.
  • The Tongan government has confirmed three deaths in the aftermath of Saturday’s eruption and tsunami, and says all houses on Mango have been destroyed.
  • MIQ bookings have been paused as omicron puts “extreme pressure” on the system, says Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins.

Auckland airport worker tests positive for Covid-19; 24 community cases and 56 at the border

  • An Auckland airport worker has tested positive for Covid, and is being managed as an omicron case until genome sequencing results come back later today.
  • There are 24 new cases in the community and 56 at the border.
  • Cabinet is meeting this afternoon to assess the country’s settings under the Covid-19 Protection Framework, with an announcement set for tomorrow.
  • The Tongan government has confirmed three deaths in the aftermath of Saturday’s eruption and tsunami, and says all houses on Mango have been destroyed.
  • MIQ bookings have been paused as omicron puts “extreme pressure” on the system, says Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins.
Jan 19 2022

Protect Pūtiki hīkoi heads to High Court ahead of Waiheke marina injunction hearing

Protect Pūtiki activists have been occupying Pūtiki Bay on Waiheke Island since last year in protest against Kennedy Bay Marina, a planned private marina development.

At 10am this morning, Protect Pūtiki supporters set out on a hīkoi from Queens Wharf in central Auckland. The hīkoi took place ahead of Protect Pūtiki’s court challenge against injunctions issued last August by marina developers that stopped 32 members of the group from taking direct action against the development.

Protect Pūtiki organiser Emily Maia Weiss said she was “feeling disgusted” about the injunction. “We will not be pushed out of one of our most sacred bays,” said Weiss.

Accompanied by Māori wardens, the hīkoi of more than 60 people walked up Queen Street and arrived at the High Court at 11am. Along the way the group were met with supportive car horns and confused-looking retail workers peeking out from stores.

Because the occupation of the bay has taken place on Waiheke, accessibility has been a barrier for many supporters of the cause who don’t live on the island – a return ferry trip is $35 – so the hīkoi today was a way for many to tautoko who otherwise haven’t been able to in person.

One supporter, Nga-Atawhainga (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hine), who took part in the hīkoi, is in this boat. “It’s my way of contributing because I don’t have the means to go to Waiheke,” she said. She’d travelled into the city from west Auckland with her daughter to show her support. “Being here ā-tinana is my way of supporting.”

Outside the High Court this morning, speakers expressed concerns about the broader impact of the court injunction, which they say undermines the future of protest, whakapapa, te taiao and mātauranga. They called on Auckland Council, the police, the marina developers, prime minister Jacinda Ardern, conservation minister Kiritapu Allen and environment minister David Parker to put a stop to the development. “They have the responsibility to address this,” said a speaker.

“This is where you can continue to tautoko from,” Weiss said, encouraging those who can’t make it to the island to instead spread the word to whānau and friends, in workplaces and cafes. “The marina can still be stopped,” she said. “We’re still here.”

The Protect Pūtiki hīkoi heads to the High Court in Auckland (Photo: Charlotte Muru-Lanning)

Hipkins on MIQ bookings closure; Black Caps postpone Australia tour

New Zealand’s border facilities are already under strain from daily arrivals of omicron-infected travellers and rooms in MIQ can’t yet be made available in March and April, Covid-19 minister Chris Hipkins said today.

Any new bookings at the border were postponed last night, with no date set on when people overseas will be able to get spots in MIQ. One victim of the move is the Black Caps, who announced today that they’ve cancelled a planned tour of Australia because of the lack of clarity on whether the players would be able to return.

No changes have yet been made to a planned reopening of the border starting next month, Hipkins said at a press conference in New Plymouth this afternoon, with the country still moving towards a “self-isolation model” to largely replace MIQ. However, despite the assurance, the minister said cabinet will be discussing the omicron situation and how the country will respond. “Everything can change,” he said.

Mahuta gives update on situation in Tonga; Hipkins speaking on MIQ bookings pause

Foreign affairs minister Nanaia Mahuta has just given an update from the Labour caucus gathering in New Plymouth on the situation in Tonga following Saturday’s eruption and tsunami.

A government update sent to media shortly after 2.30pm says power has been restored in Tonga, and clean-up and damage assessments are going. Relief supplies are being distributed by Tongan authorities and work to clear the airport runway is expected to be complete today.

No further fatalities beyond the three confirmed earlier today have been reported.

International mobile phone network provider Digicel has set up an interim system on Tongatapu using the University of South Pacific’s satellite dish, which may allow a 2G connection to be established today. This connection will be limited and patchy, covering about 10% of usual capacity and prioritising voice and SMS communications. US cable company SubCom advises it will take at least four weeks for Tonga’s cable connection to be repaired.

Tonga’s government has approved the arrival of HMNZS Wellington and HMNZS Aotearoa, which departed New Zealand yesterday, as well as a C130 Hercules once the airport runway is clear. The vessels are expected to arrive in Tonga by Friday, depending on weather conditions.

A second NZDF P3 Orion surveillance flight is being conducted today. This flight will include a survey of Fiji’s southern Lau Islands, at the request of the government of Fiji, to check for potential tsunami damage.

New Zealand is continuing to assess Tonga’s water transport logistics capabilities for the transport of water from HMNZS Aotearoa.

Chris Hipkins, Covid-19 response minister, is now speaking from New Plymouth about the pause that’s been placed on MIQ bookings.

Become the ‘I’ in Well_ngton: the capital city gets a new (misspelled) sign

An intentional spelling mistake in a new $130,000 sign for New Zealand’s capital city is aimed at encouraging people to put the “I” in “Well_ngton”, reports Stuff.

Designed to be photographed and shared on social media, the sculpture gets people to stand on the second “L” letter and form the “I” in the place name’s spelling. Josh Gardiner, general manager of regional economic development organisation WellingtonNZ, said the sign was engineered to evoke “curiosity and engagement” and its message was, “You belong in Wellington, so become the ‘I’ in Wellington – an inviting, friendly, open-armed place.”

Artist Pete Baker of The Glue Society, a global art and directing collective known for working on ANZ Bank’s “GAYTM” campaign, hoped people were intrigued to explore the sculpture. The sign could adopt new colour palettes and motifs to reflect different occasions.

Mayor Andy Foster said the decision by WellingtonNZ, of which the council owns 80%, to spend $130,000 was justified. “In Wellington, we do quirky. That’s part of who we are and that speaks to us with this sign. This is a physical manifestation of something which hopefully people feel good about and enjoy.”

Some are less than impressed, however, with National deputy leader Nicola Willis tweeting that the sign was “a sad symbol of Wellington’s inability to get the basics right”.

Big Gay Out cancelled amid fears of omicron outbreak

In what is surely not to be the last cancellation due to omicron, the New Zealand Aids Foundation (NZAF) announced today that Auckland’s Ending HIV Big Gay Out would not go ahead. The annual event is one of Auckland Pride Festival’s biggest, and between 15,000 and 20,000 people were expected to attend on February 13.

Equity and safety were the reasons behind the decision. Jason Myers, chief executive of NZAF, said, “It has simply become untenable to reconcile delivery of the event with Aotearoa on the precipice of what experts predict to be, a very difficult time for New Zealanders and our public health system.

“This event attracts families with small children and a concerted effort had been made this year to ensure Māori and Pasefika communities feel this event is their space too. There was little room to justify proceeding when we placed equity at the heart of this decision,” Myers said.

Auckland Pride has not yet made any decisions around other events in the 2022 Pride Festival, but has said the festival as a whole would not proceed if there is an omicron outbreak in the community. “We have always been transparent about the values that have underpinned our ability to deliver festivals amidst a global pandemic,” says Auckland Pride Festival director Max Tweedie.

“We cannot safely or responsibly operate the 2022 Auckland Pride Festival during an omicron outbreak – and we know from experiences overseas that doing so regardless would result in significant disruption to the festival, as well as infecting hundreds of our community.”

Auckland airport worker tests positive for Covid-19; 24 community cases and 56 at the border

An Auckland airport worker tested positive for Covid-19 yesterday, the Ministry of Health has announced. Whole genome sequencing for this case will be returned today, said the ministry, “however from an abundance of caution, the case is currently being managed as an omicron case”.

This person, who is double vaccinated and has had a booster dose, was infectious from January 15, but were not at work while infectious. The case has one household contact who has returned an initial negative test result.

The first of the locations of interest associated with this case are being published on the Ministry of Health website.

Update on the MIQ worker in Auckland

The border worker’s household contact who returned a positive test yesterday is isolating at home. Two other household contacts are symptomatic but returned negative tests yesterday.

The border worker’s co-worker who is symptomatic remains in MIQ and has returned a further negative test.

A further 15 contacts among the Stamford Plaza managed isolation staff are currently isolating at home as contacts of the border case and their co-worker. As the ministry reported on Sunday when the case was confirmed as omicron, whole genome sequencing links them to a person who arrived in New Zealand on a flight from India that landed on January 8, who tested positive on day three of their stay at the Stamford Plaza.

As of this morning, a total of 84 contacts have been identified in relation to the MIQ border worker. At this stage, 79 have returned negative test results and one household contact has returned a positive result, who was reported yesterday. “The number of contacts can fluctuate as further investigation rules them out,” said the ministry.

Of the contacts identified in relation to the two bus journeys, there are four contacts yet to be reached. Two of these contacts have returned a negative test from following advice on the locations of interest web page or advice from a mobile phone notification. “While these exposure events are a low public health risk, further efforts to reach all outstanding contacts are being made,” said the ministry.

24 community cases

There are 24 new community cases of Covid-19 today, one in Northland, 14 for Auckland, one in Waikato, five in Rotorua, one in Tauranga, one in Hawke’s Bay (plus another that was notified after the reporting deadline and will be formally added to the tally tomorrow), and one in the Hutt Valley. There is also a new case in Canterbury that is linked to a previously reported case and was already isolating at home when they tested positive. It will be added to the tally tomorrow.

The two Hawke’s Bay cases are linked to a location of interest previously reported at Tu Step Fitness Class at the Ascende Global Church in Hastings. The cases were already isolating when they tested positive, with health and welfare support.

56 cases detected at the border; 370 omicron cases since December 1

Fifty-six Covid-19 cases have been detected at the border today, many of whom tested positive on day zero or one.

To date, there have been 370 omicron Covid-19 cases detected at the border since December 1, and 32 cases of the delta variant, said the Ministry of Health.

There are also 203 Covid-19 cases caught at the border that are still undergoing whole genome sequencing. “The expectation is that the vast majority will be the omicron variant,” said the ministry.

Boosters and child vaccine update

Yesterday, 13,028 child vaccine first doses were administered to five to 11-year-olds throughout New Zealand, meaning nearly 30,000 children in this age group have been vaccinated since the rollout began on Monday.

On the booster front, 38,606 were administered yesterday, bringing the total to 828,215, which is 51% of those who are now due their booster.

Bookings on hold as omicron puts ‘extreme pressure’ on MIQ

Following last night’s announcement that MIQ bookings were being paused, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins has issued a statement.

“Pausing the next MIQ lobby is a temporary position while MIQ is under extreme pressure from New Zealanders returning with omicron,” said Hipkins. “It recognises how easily omicron spreads, despite the extra layers of protection put in place in MIQs, and will help protect New Zealanders.”

He said no decisions had been made on the “date, sequence and conditions for the border reopening”, and cabinet would consider options “within the next couple of weeks”.

“Until then, we are not in a position to release more MIQ rooms,” he said. “There are no easy calls when managing Covid-19 and the government recognises that while this is temporary, it will be disruptive and stressful for a number of people.”

Protect Pūtiki hīkoi heading to Auckland’s High Court

A hīkoi of around 60 people is just about to head up Auckland’s Queen Street to the High Court from Queens Wharf. The group is protesting injunctions issued last August stopping 32 members of the Protect Pūtiki group from taking direct action against a marina development being built at Waiheke’s Pūtiki Bay.

Charlotte Muru-Lanning is with the hīkoi and will report back later in the day.

Members of the Protect Pūtiki hīkoi about to head to the High Court (Photo: Charlotte Muru-Lanning)

Tongan government confirms three deaths, all houses on Mango destroyed

In its first official statement to media since Saturday’s devastating undersea eruption and tsunami, Tonga’s government has confirmed three people have died in the disaster. Released late last night, the statement described the events as “an unprecedented disaster”, saying all houses were destroyed on Mango island, with only two remaining on Fonoifua, and there was extensive damage on Nomuka, reports RNZ.

The government also said there were multiple injuries, and that water supplies in Tonga were seriously affected. Mango, Atata and Fonoifua islands were being evacuated, as were parts of the western side of Tongatapu, including Kanokupolu, after dozens of houses were damaged.

With communications in the South Pacific island nation still down, the true extent of casualties is still not clear. Tonga’s deputy head of mission in Australia, Curtis Tu’ihalangingie, told Reuters there may be more deaths. “We just pray that is not the case.”

Cabinet meets today to assess traffic light settings

The first cabinet meeting of the year is taking place this afternoon, with ministers set to discuss potential changes to the traffic light settings, the planned border reopening and testing requirements, reports RNZ.

Northland is the only region to remain in the red setting under the Covid-19 Protection Framework, with the rest of the country at orange. There are just five active cases of Covid-19 in Te Tai Tokerau currently, but vaccination rates remain lower than the general population, with 86% of the eligible Northland population double vaccinated compared to 93% nationwide.

The broader parameters of the traffic light system are also expected to be on the agenda, following director general of health Ashley Bloomfield yesterday telling media the system may need to be strengthened in the face of omicron. On Monday, the prime minister said an omicron outbreak was a matter of “when, not if”, and that details of the preparation being done for the variant’s arrival in the community would be shared publicly in the coming weeks.

The outcome of today’s meeting will be announced tomorrow as the Labour caucus meets for a new-year get-together in New Plymouth.