Live updates, August 17: Nine new community Covid cases; election delayed

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for August 17, bringing you the latest on New Zealand news and Covid-19 as it returns to the community. Auckland is now in alert level three and the rest of NZ level two. More details here. Official information here. Contact me at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

7pm: The day in sum

There are nine new cases of Covid-19 in the community. The total number of active cases is now 78, of which 58 are connected to the community cluster.

The 2020 election has been postponed and will now be held on October 17.

Businesses will receive more support from the government with Finance Minister Grant Robertson announcing details of the wage subsidy extension.

Watercare’s CEO has resigned after coming under fire for his $775,000 salary as Auckland faces the most severe drought in its history.

4.20pm: ‘This is a serious system failure’ – Shane Reti

National’s health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti has criticised the government’s lack of testing for border-facing staff, calling on the Ministry of Health to release any information it’s received around the issue.

“Either the health ministry isn’t delivering the information or the health minister isn’t reading it – either way it’s not good enough,” said Reti. “This is a serious system failure that needs to be addressed if we are to keep Covid-19 out of New Zealand.

“Instead of playing the blame game, the health minister should be upfront about what has gone wrong and provide an assurance that it will not happen again.”

Despite assurances that all managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) staff would be regularly tested for the virus, it’s now been revealed that just 60% of Jet Park hotel staff – the country’s main Covid-19 quarantine centre – were being tested at least once a week.

Top stories:

3.15pm: Three more police checkpoints announced

Police have confirmed a further three checkpoints have been established in South Auckland, as part of dealing with the move to alert level three.

The new checkpoints are at Pinnacle Hill/Medhurst Road, Buckville Rd/Harrisville Rd and Mill Rd/Razorback Rd. The total number of checkpoints is now 13.

North Auckland checkpoints:

  • SH1/Mangawhai Road
  • Mangawhai Rd/North of Coal Hill Rd
  • Mangawhai Rd/Ryan Rd
  • Mangawhai Rd/Cames Rd
  • Black Swamp, West of Rako Rd

South Auckland checkpoints:

  • SH1/Bombay
  • Mill Rd/Razorback Rd
  • Pinnacle Hill Rd/Medhurst Rd
  • Tuakau Rd/Buckland Rd
  • Buckville Rd/Harrisville Rd
  • Kawakawa/Orere Rd.
  • Orere/Matingarahi Rd.
  • Mangatawhiri Rd/Lyons Rd

3.00pm: Details of further wage subsidy extension confirmed

Read more: Here’s how the wage subsidy extension works

With Auckland moving into alert level three, and the rest of New Zealand into level two, the finance minister last week confirmed a further extension to the wage subsidy scheme. Today, Grant Robertson is providing further details around what that entails.

Robertson said 930,000 jobs will be supported by the new wage subsidy and existing extension.

“The new wage subsidy will help support cashflow and confidence. Along with the existing wage subsidy extension – which is open until September 1 for eligible businesses – the Treasury estimates that about 930,000 jobs will be covered by the two schemes,” Robertson said. The new wage subsidy is forecast to cost about $510 million.

The criteria for the new wage subsidy are similar to the current extension: In particular, a business must have had, or is predicting to have, a revenue drop due to Covid-19 of at least 40%. For this new scheme, the revenue drop applies for any consecutive period of at least 14 days within August 12 and September 14 compared to last year.

“We know in New Zealand that the best economic response is a strong health response. We’ve seen the benefits to the economy by going hard and early to get on top of the virus, with activity in June and July running above levels seen last year as the economy reopened after lockdown and business got going again,” Robertson said.

Responding to a question from The Spinoff’s Justin Giovannetti about recent figures showing 90% of recent job losses have been women, Grant Robertson said there’s nothing in this announcement specifically targeting that imbalance.

“We are very conscious of [the imbalance] and we are monitoring those numbers close. You could argue that this extension supports some of those sectors which are the reason for that high job loss,” he said.

There’s also been changes to the Covid-19 leave support scheme: the revenue-drop and ‘negatively impacted’ tests have been dropped. Robertson said this will mean businesses with workers who have been told by health officials or their medical practitioner to self-isolate will receive the equivalent of the wage subsidy to help cover that person’s wages for the time they cannot be at work.

“Our focus is on doing everything we can to support our strong public health response. That means removing barriers to a person getting tested, including fears that a positive result would put their employment at risk or that they wouldn’t receive income while they couldn’t work because they had used up their sick leave.”

The mortgage deferral scheme is also being extended from its current end-date of September 27, to March 31, 2021.

Robertson also announced the final large project from the $3 billion “shovel ready” fund – up to $200 million for the construction of University of Auckland’s faculty of education and social work. “The project will provide significant employment opportunities over the next five years, with up to 750 construction jobs expected at its peak. It will also allow the university to complete the balance of its building programme in this area bringing the total construction value to $336 million,” Robertson said.

In a statement, National’s finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said his party backed the decision to extend the wage subsidy due to the return of Covid-19.

1.50pm: Our Covid data, tracked

1.00pm: Nine new community cases of Covid-19

Updated

There are nine new cases of Covid-19 today, all in the community. Seven of these cases have been linked to existing cases. The two other cases are believed to be linked, as are a further two cases under investigation. As of 6pm last night, 86 people linked to the cluster have been moved into the quarantine, comprising 36 people who tested positive and household contacts.

The total number of active cases is now 78, of which 58 are connected to the community cluster. Overall, there are now 1,280 confirmed cases in New Zealand.

Five people are receiving hospital care, two in Auckland City Hospital and three are in Middlemore. One of the new cases from today is a port worker, Bloomfield confirmed, who is linked to the existing cluster. “They don’t have a lot of interaction with people at the port,” he said.

Asked if the port worker could be a clue to the source of the outbreak or a link in the chain of transmission, he said “that worker was identified, as I understand it, through the close contact tracing. Their symptom onset was well after the first case of symptom onset in the cluster.”

Testing numbers surge; guinea pig show ‘location of interest’

Yesterday, 26,014 tests were processed, bringing the total to 597,956. Almost 100,000 have been completed in the last week or so, said Bloomfield.

A dedicated testing team with extended hours is operating at Ports of Auckland, and a new testing team has been set up at Tauranga port.

Bloomfield said the Covid tracer app is being used to contact people who have been at the same locations as confirmed cases. Some locations of interest, Bloomfield said, include the Botany mall on August 11 between 1-2pm, Buttabean Motivation fitness club between 5.15-6am on August 10, the Eden Junior Rugby Club at Gribblehurst Park in Sandringham between 5.30pm and 6.30pm on August 11, and a guinea pig show (!!) at the Auckland Cavy Club between 10am and 2pm on August 8.

“The risk from these locations is invariably very low, so don’t feel the need to avoid those locations,” said Bloomfield, indirectly encouraging people to seek our their nearest guinea pig show.

The results of the environmental testing that took place at the Mt Wellington Americold site over the weekend will take some time to process, said Bloomfield, and are expected during the week.

On the lack of testing of MIQ staff, which the prime minister earlier said did not live up to her expectations, Bloomfield denied anyone was misled. “There was testing happening at our managed isolation and quarantine facilities, it was rolling out and scaling up. There are 32 managed isolation facilities with a large number of staff. We were working out how to ensure all the staff there were tested.” When pushed on whether there had been a “failure”, Bloomfield said he did not accept that.

“I was checking every single day. There was clearly a dissonance between what the prime minister thought was happening and what was happening on the ground, it may have been in the way the information was communicated,” he said.

Level 1.5?

Bloomfield said he has been “working hard on trying to see into the future” and has contemplated a possible balance between level one and two.

“I think we should aim to get back to life as normal as possible, but the new normal will include I think perhaps a little more physical distancing, more frequent availability and use of hand gels, possibly even use of masks in some settings,” he said.

“What I sense is that all New Zealanders would prefer that we stayed in alert level one and would be prepared to perhaps modify what our behaviours are in alert level one…

“It may be that there’s somewhere between a one and two so we can maintain that really open economy and do as much as we’d like to in terms of attending large events and so on.”

12.45pm: Bloomfield to reveal new Covid-19 cases

The director general of health Ashley Bloomfield will be giving today’s 1pm health briefing.

Currently, New Zealand has 69 active cases of Covid-19. Just 20 of those have direct links to the border, with 49 linked to the community cluster that originated in South Auckland.

Watch below:

Watch now: Youth Wings episode one

In arguably the day’s biggest political news, The Spinoff’s new political documentary series Youth Wings launched this morning.

The first episode is about Young NZ First and its chairman Jay McLaren Harris, who was inspired to join the party after skipping school to see Winston Peters speak on the main street of Dargaville during the 2015 by-election.

Read more here and watch the episode below: 

12.15pm: UPDATED! Our bumper 2020 election calendar

The Spinoff’s essential election calendar has been updated to reflect the election being pushed back to October 17. As you’d expect, this and the Covid-19 restrictions that prompted it has affected many of the dates and debates listed. Check out everything you need to know here.

12.10pm: Collins on election delay

Judith Collins has responded to the election postponement in a less-than-effusive press statement.

“We acknowledge the new date,” said the National leader. “It was always National’s view that to have a fair, democratic election we needed to deal with this second wave of Covid-19 so politicians from all parties had a reasonable chance to present their policies, and the public felt comfortable engaging with the campaign without putting their health at risk.

She added: “Recalling parliament is the right move at this time with our largest city in lockdown and the recent system failure that saw testing among border staff fall well short of what it should have been. The country is in a difficult situation and the political decisions we make to get us through this should be scrutinised by elected representatives. All voices must be heard if we are to move forward as a united team.”

11.55am: Watercare CEO resigns

Raveen Jaduram, the chief executive of Watercare, the Auckland Council organisation that provides water to the region, has resigned, the Herald is reporting. Jaduram had come under fire in recent weeks for his $775,000 salary as Auckland faces the most severe drought in its history.

11.40am: Peters pleased with new election date

Winston Peters said he’s happy with the new election date of October 17.

The deputy prime minister and NZ First leader has been a vocal opponent of holding the election in September, following the return of Covid-19 to the community.

Appearing on RNZ, Peters said the new election date will allow for a proper campaign period. “We’re a country the size of the UK and for a campaign to be run proper it has to be fair, and the public’s got to know that there’s no limitation on them being part of the campaign.”

Peters wouldn’t answer questions on whether the election might be delayed again. “We’re trying to deal with the here and now,” he said.

10.40am: PM addresses whether she was ‘misled’ on testing

The prime minister has been questioned on the testing of those working in managed isolation and quarantine facilities, during this morning’s press conference on the election date.

Asked who provided the incorrect information that weekly testing of Jet Park quarantine hotel staff was occurring, Jacinda Ardern said, “I’d have to go back and look at who was compiling that information at the time… this is something we’re still looking into but what it appears was happening is there was testing on a weekly basis but at this stage I cannot confirm that every single staff member on a weekly rota was being picked up by that weekly testing.”

She said the news a number of staff members at the Jet Park facility had not been tested did not meet her expectations. “We had as a cabinet required regular testing at those facilities both at the border, very regular at Jet Park as our primary place of quarantine, and regular testing at other facilities,” she said.

“Obviously we have seen from some of the data that’s come out that it has not met our expectations. When we ask as a cabinet for something to happen, we expect it to happen. And so of course that has not met our expectations. No one said to us at any point, that I recall, that what we ask for was not happening.”

10.00am: Election delayed to October 17; parliament to reconvene

Updated

The 2020 general election has been delayed by four weeks to October 17, the prime minister has revealed.

A number of factors were considered, Jacinda Ardern said, when considering whether or not the election should be delayed. This included the participation of voters, the fairness of the election, and the need for the election to be held in a timely way. Yesterday, Ardern reached out to all parties with seats in parliament to seek their view. “Complete consensus is unlikely,” she said.

However, she said there were a number of areas that were agreed to by all parties. Technically, the decision of the election date is the prime minister’s to make – but Ardern said under these circumstances she wanted to seek advice from across parliament.

“My view is that in normal circumstances the prime minister has the privilege of choosing the election date. The decision to move the election date is something entirely different,” said Ardern.

Asked if her preference was to stick with the original election date, Ardern said, “The date I’ve chosen is my view. Even if I had not picked up the phone and contacted anyone, I believe this is still the outcome I would have arrived at.”

The return of the virus at the start of the election campaign had been cause for concern, Ardern said. “Our resurgence plan is in full swing,” she said. The government’s priority was getting Covid-19 under control.

“Ultimately, the 17th of October in approximately nine weeks’ time provides sufficient time for parties to plan for the range of circumstances we could be campaigning under, for the electoral commission to prepare and for voters to be sure of a safe,  accessible and credible election,” Ardern said.

The prime minister also proposed that parliament reconvene tomorrow.

When questioned on whether the election could be delayed again, considering the possibility Covid-19 could remain in the community, Ardern said: “I do not intend to change the election date again.”

“It’s a balanced decision, but I do think it’s a decision that has to stick.”

Ardern said that once parliament dissolves, the electoral commission has the power to move the date. If there were another outbreak and it was truly unsafe to vote, this would be considered, she said. According to Ardern, the Electoral Commission is anticipating 60% of the voting population will advance vote. “It is unusual to hold advance voting over a school holiday period,” she said. “My hope is that will create the opportunity for potentially additional venues, venues with much larger capacity.”

Ardern said she had not moved the election date on the whims of any particular party. “For me, it would not have been appropriate to make a decision based solely on the views of individual political parties,” she said. “The last thing you want is for it to be seen to favour any political parties. That would be wrong.”

‘Common sense has prevailed’ – Peters welcomes delayed election

NZ First leader Winston Peters is pleased with the decision to delay the election until October 17.

In a statement, Peters said he was concerned with the impact Covid-19 would have had on an election if it was held in a month’s time.

“We were concerned that the Covid outbreak had the effect of limiting campaigns to an unacceptably short period until overseas and advance voting begin if the General Election was held on September 19.

“As I said yesterday, voters are sovereign. Holding an election during a Covid outbreak has the risk of serious interference in our democracy. Voters would be expected to exercise their electoral rights with a dearth of information and that is unacceptable.”

Peters said the decision to push back the election shows “common sense has prevailed”.

“With a delay, parties can now prepare to begin campaigning again, confident that they have the time and resources to engage in a free and fair election.

“New Zealand First will now be looking at our campaign strategy to ensure that we can to get back out on the campaign trail as soon as safely possible.”


‘Incredibly disappointed’ in other parties – Greens

The Green Party has accepted the change in the election date, saying it achieves the balance between “democracy and collective health”.

Co-leader James Shaw has, however, taken a swipe at National, NZ First and Act. “We have been incredibly disappointed to see National and other small parties continue to use the weekend to bang on about what would suit them best politically when it comes to the Election Day date,” he said in a statement.

Co-leader Marama Davidson added: “We support the prime minister’s decision to move the date to October 17. Those additional four weeks should provide time for the public health response to get on top of the current outbreak. We would encourage all politicians to accept the new date and to stop undermining the public’s faith in the democratic process.”

Earlier this morning, Shaw said parties calling for a delayed election were “electioneering”.

“There are some political parties clearly prioritising their electoral fortunes over the health of our communities and the strength of our democracy,” he said.

The new timetable:

  • The dissolution of parliament will be scheduled for Sunday, September 6.
  • Writ day will be Sunday, September 13.
  • Nominations will close at noon on Friday, September 18.
  • Advance voting will start on Saturday, October 3.
  • Election day is Saturday, October 17.
  • The last day for the return of the writ will be Thursday, November 12.

Watch below:

9.30am: Where the parties sit on shifting the election

At 10am this morning, Jacinda Ardern will be revealing whether or not next month’s election will go ahead. It’s a captain’s call, meaning it’s effectively up to her entirely. However, Ardern has been scoping out what the consensus is across parliament.

Here’s what we know so far:

  • Labour: With the decision on the election date being Jacinda Ardern’s to make, her own party have been fairly coy on whether the date should shift. Chris Hipkins told media this morning that no option available is “risk-free”.
  • National: Judith Collins has said she wants the election delayed. She’s even gone as far as to say National would back a 2021 election. However her preferred date is November 21.
  • NZ First: For the first time in recent memory, Winston Peters and the National Party have something to agree on. Peters is also backing a delay to the election, preferring the same date as Collins: November 21.
  • Green Party: James Shaw said this morning that calls to delay election are “100% electioneering”. His party backs keeping the election on September 19.
  • Act: Leader David Seymour was one of the first to come out in support of delaying the election, after the return of Covid-19 to the community last week. He said there should be at least four weeks of campaigning under level 1 before an election could be held.

9.15am: Border exemption for billionaire’s golf course designer and ‘shapers’

A golf course designer and three “shapers” have been approved entry to New Zealand, according to a BusinessDesk report. The four were granted exemptions by Immigration NZ as “critical workers” for US billionaire Ric Kayne’s coastal Te Arai Links courses north of Auckland.

The exemptions were approved on July 14, to allow the four into the country to work on one of the two 18-hole “championship level” courses planned for Kayne’s development.

Managing partner of Te Arai Links, Jim Rohrstaff, told BusinessDesk the golf course “architect” and the shapers would work hands-on to develop the course.

He said without those key staff, work on Te Arai Links cannot proceed.

Read the full report here (behind the paywall)

8.20am: Majority want election delayed – new poll

A new Herald poll’s revealed 60% of people want the September election delayed.

A thousand people were surveyed over the four days after Jacinda Ardern’s announcement that Auckland was moving into alert level three, and the rest of the country into level two. The poll’s revealed that while 40% back next month’s election date staying put, the majority want it delayed. However, there is no consensus among those wanting a delay as to when the election should be held.

Just 24% believe it should be held in November, 15 per cent want it delayed by one month to October – and 21 per cent said it should wait until next year.

November is the latest the election can be held without having to recall parliament to vote to extend the three-year parliamentary term.

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern will be revealing her decision on the election date at 10am. We’ll have all the latest for you here.

You can read the full results of the poll here

7.50am: Election delay decision coming at 10am

The prime minister will be revealing her decision on whether to delay the election at 10am this morning. It follows calls from the opposition and Labour’s coalition partner New Zealand First to shift next month’s election due to the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19.

Speaking on RNZ this morning, health minister Chris Hipkins rejected concerns around fairness for the opposition by going ahead with the election. National has claimed it would be unfair for the election to go ahead without them having sufficient time to campaign. “We can also go the other way: we can have governments deferring elections because they don’t feel like the environment is going to assist their reelection chances,” Hipkins said. The prime minister, he said, will be thinking about an election delay from a “logistical” perspective, rather than deciding it based on fairness.

“From a constitutional standpoint the key criteria has to be making sure everybody can vote,” Hipkins said.

Calls to delay election “100% electioneering” – Shaw

The Greens’ co-leader James Shaw wants “certainty” on the election date. “I hope the prime minister makes her choice based on the good advice of our health officials and the electoral commission,” he said.

Shaw told RNZ the prime minister has asked for his view on the matter, and he told her the election should go ahead on September 19 “unless the advice coming back from the Electoral Commission and health officials is that… we won’t be able to hold a proper election at that time.”

The calls by National and NZ First to delay the election were, Shaw said: “100% electioneering.”

“What we’ve seen is that there are some political parties clearly prioritising their electoral fortunes over the health of our communities and the strength of our democracy.”

7.40am: More confirmed cases of Covid-19

Auckland’s ANZ Centre is the latest site to be connected to a case of Covid-19. In an email seen by The Spinoff, the centre’s operators Precinct Properties say they’ve been advised an occupant of level 33 of the ANZ Centre in downtown Auckland has tested positive for Covid-19. They reportedly tested positive yesterday after being in the building on Monday and Tuesday last week, while asymptomatic.

Meanwhile, the White Cross medical centre in Auckland’s New Lynn has been temporarily closed after a patient tested positive for Covid-19 over the weekend. Staff who were working when the man visited the clinic on Saturday are now being tested and the clinic is closed for a deep clean, reports the Herald. 

The health minister told media this morning the details of more community cases will be revealed during today’s 1pm health briefing.

7.35am: Top stories from The Bulletin

The first point to note about managed isolation facilities – we don’t necessarily know that was where this latest outbreak came from. Alternative theories are still being pursued, and one of them may turn out to be the correct one. Genome sequencing is currently being used to figure that out, reports One News. However, that doesn’t stop serious questions being asked about the country’s most important line of defence against Covid-19.

The particular concern here started with a story about testing, in which it was revealed that many staff working in and around these facilities had never been tested, Newshub’s Michael Morrah reported. That was followed up with another story in which some workers who had been face to face with arrivals say they either hadn’t been tested, or hadn’t even been offered tests. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is not what the public had been promised was happening.

Health minister Chris Hipkins said he too had been misled about the state of testing by health officials, reports the NZ Herald. He has also assured the public that such testing will now definitely happen, and that there were health checks going on for workers throughout the period – which while it isn’t a formal test isn’t nothing. Hipkins also said he “absolutely accepts responsibility” for those tests not taking place – it is unclear what exactly taking responsibility means in this situation, but he’s taking it, and presumably if these issues aren’t fixed immediately there will be resignations. Speaking on Newstalk ZB’s Weekend Collective yesterday afternoon, finance minister Grant Robertson also took pains to stress that tens of thousands of people had been through managed isolation – including some who were Covid-positive – without it getting out.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

There were 13 new cases of Covid-19, 12 in the community and one in managed isolation.

An AUT student who attended its Auckland City Campus has tested positive, the university confirmed.

Health minister Chris Hipkins warned the public not to share the “completely untrue” rumours about the origin of the new cluster.

National leader Judith Collins called the lack of testing in the Jet Park facility a “massive failure” by the government.

Winston Peters called for the election to be delayed, arguing that a free and fair election would be impossible on September 19.

The prime minister’s office responded that Ardern had already “proactively sought” the views of the leaders of every political party on a potential postponement.

Read all the key stories in yesterday’s live updates




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