Live updates, September 2: Covid-positive person escapes from MIQ; 49 new community cases

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for September 2, with Stewart Sowman-Lund. Send any tips, thoughts or dog pics to stewart@thespinoff.co.nz. Want to help me keep you informed on Covid-19? Click here to learn how you can back The Spinoff today.

Today’s numbers

6.55pm Sophie Pascoe wins 16th Paralympic medal

And she did it in dramatic style. Pascoe, New Zealand’s most decorated Olympic athlete, claimed her fourth straight gold in the 200m individual medley (SM9) in Tokyo, but only just. After leading comfortably for the first three strokes, Pascoe appeared to hit a metaphorical wall, as Hungarian Zsofia Konkoly chased her down for a photo finish at the actual wall. Pascoe retained the gold with a winning margin of 0.27 seconds. She then threw up, and passed out on the side of the pool, eventually being wheeled out of the arena.

Pascoe admitted to simply “not breathing” for the last 10 metres, and announced that she’d no longer be competing in that particular event. “I did really leave it all out there,” she said, once she’d recovered enough to speak to media after the win. “And even left some on the side of the pool.”

6.35pm Staffer at West Auckland rest home tests positive for Covid-19

During the initial outbreak last year, three residents of St Margaret’s Hospital and Rest Home in Te Atatu died after contracting Covid-19. Today a staffer at the rest home, who is a household contact of a confirmed case, has tested positive for the virus. All residents of the unit where the staffer worked are being tested and close colleagues are self isolating.

The staff member was already isolating prior to taking a test.

6.20pm Covid-positive escapee allegedly a repeat offender

Newshub has reported that the man charged with failing to comply with the Covid-19 public health order after escaping from an MIQ facility had breached an earlier self isolation order. After testing positive for Covid-19 the man was granted permission to isolate at home. He didn’t do that, and when he returned from his outing, was confronted by police.

After being sent to a quarantine facility on Wednesday night, the man promptly escaped, spending 14 hours in the community before being arrested. He is now back in MIQ.

5.30pm Man charged after escape from MIQ facility

A man who escaped from the Novotel & Ibis quarantine facility in Ellerslie overnight has appeared, via video link, in Auckland District Court this evening and been charged with failing to comply with the Covid-19 public health order. The judge bailed him and he will return to the managed isolation facility from which he absconded. Police have thanked the man’s family for their cooperation throughout the ordeal.

4.45pm Second dose mass vaccination event now at Auckland airport

Auckland’s second dose mass vaccination event, which will provide a second Covid-19 vaccination dose to people who attended the first event (July 30 – August 1) will now be a drive-through event. Those who attended the first event can expect an email or text in the next 24 hours confirming that their second dose location will now be the airport park and ride on Verissimo Drive rather than the Vodafone Event Centre on the weekend of September 10-12.

If that location and date no longer works for people, rescheduling can be done here.

Those who have yet to receive a first dose can now book an appointment at the airport drive-through location on the vaccine website or by calling 0800 28 29 26. People are encouraged to bring their bubble with them for vaccination.

4.15pm Man who escaped MIQ was in community for 14 hours

A man who tested positive for Covid-19 escaped an Ellerslie MIQ facility in the middle the night. Police surrounded an Ōtāhuhu address this afternoon and arrested the man 14 hours after he fled the Novotel & Ibis quarantine facility, the NZ Herald reports. The prime minister and Covid-19 response minister were both made aware of the situation prior to the 1pm briefing but Ardern did not address it publicly. The exact circumstances of the escape are not yet known though Hipkins understands there is “some CCTV of someone hiding in a bush while a security guard walked past them.”

It’s also not yet known where the man was for those 14 hours.

National’s Covid-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop is demanding answers, including why it took ten hours for police to be informed of the escape, what time the management at the MIQ facility knew or suspected this person had escaped, and why the prime minister did not inform the public of the escape at today’s press conference.

“There should be protocols in place for situations precisely like this because, let’s face it, it’s not the first time that people have tried to escape from MIQ,” said Bishop.

“The last thing we need is delta spreading further into the community through poor oversight of security at MIQ.”

3.55pm: Greyhound racing industry formally on notice

Minister for racing Grant Robertson has issued a notice to the greyhound racing industry following a review of animal welfare and safety. The review, carried out by Sir Bruce Robertson (no relation), concluded that if Greyhound Racing New New Zealand wants to secure its future it must “demonstrate the decency of the industry”.

Robertson the minister has demanded that the Racing Integrity Board address three fundamental issues: data recording, transparency of all activities, and animal welfare. He was clear in his statement – “either make the improvements needed or risk closure”. The Board has until the end of 2022.

3.30pm: Bonus NCEA credits up for grabs if lockdowns continue

The education minister (who is also the minister in charge of our Covid response) has announced plans to help students if lockdowns disrupt planned end of year exams.

If schools and kura are disrupted by alert levels three or four for 20 or more school days, “learning recognition credits” will help boost students’ NCEA results, said Chris Hipkins. If this threshold is met, students would be entitled to one extra credit for every five credits they earn towards their NCEA through assessment.

“The wellbeing of students is our priority – particularly at those schools which have already experienced Covid-19 in their school community this year,” Hipkins said.

2.50pm: Covid-positive person escapes from MIQ

A person who previously tested positive for Covid-19 has escaped from a managed quarantine facility in the Auckland suburb of Ellerslie.

The individual has made it to an address in Ōtāhuhu which has now been cordoned off by police, who are preparing to make an arrest.

While police say they were made aware of the incident at 10.30am this morning, no mention of the escape was made at today’s 1pm media briefing.

“Police are liaising with the Ministry of Health on this matter to understand this person’s movements since he left the MIQ facility and being located in Ōtāhuhu,” said a superintendent Steve Kehoe. “Police staff responding to this incident are dressed in full PPE.”

All police staff who have responded to this incident have been following all health guidelines, said Kehoe.

2.45pm: Tracking the delta outbreak

Another 49 community cases were confirmed today in the Auckland delta outbreak, bumping the total number of cases up to 736.

Below, The Spinoff’s head of data Harkanwal Singh tracks the growth of the outbreak.

Note: The above graph does not take into account recovered cases, of which there are currently 11.

2.35pm: Mission Bay, Auckland, on day 16 of level four lockdown

Eddy Fifield captured the video below today between 12.10pm and 12.50pm. He writes:

With people eager to get outside and make the most of the sunny weather, Mission Bay today felt at times closer to a standard weekday than a level four lockdown. Plenty of people were out exercising, walking children or pets, or just stretching their legs and chatting with their bubble buddies.

While the area felt surprisingly busy, people did a commendable enough job of keeping up the mask wearing and the social distancing. In fact the only significant breaches I observed were the people coming over to ask what lens I was using and whether or not they would end up on TV (an occupational hazard).

2.20pm: Government rejects National's call for 90% vaccination target

A motion proposed by National to set a 90% vaccination target has been shot down by the government.

The target was set after comments made by government minister Stuart Nash yesterday morning on Newstalk ZB, where he made a bet that New Zealand would hit 90% vaccination by Christmas.

In responding to the motion, prime minister Jacinda Ardern said that setting a 90% target could be more damaging than aiming for as many eligible people to get the jab as possible. "The targets only talk about those who are eligible to be vaccinated... and children are not in that group right now. We want as many people as possible and that means not creating space for someone to believe they should be part of the 10%."

Watch the discussion here

1.50pm: Delta outbreak leads to funding boost for Whānau Ora

Whānau Ora has received a multimillion dollar boost to help cope with the delta outbreak.

The three Whānau Ora commissioning agencies will receive an immediate boost of $8.816 million, the minister responsible Peeni Henare announced. A further $14.216 million will be distributed based on need.

“Delta has created new challenges for access to food and essential services and also requires more intensive responses to maintain whānau wellbeing," said Hanare. "As a result it is important that additional funding is provided where it is most needed."

$1 million from the Covid-19 Response and Resilience Fund will also be available to support iwi community responses and assist them to update pandemic response plans.

1.40pm: Tracking the delta outbreak, by age

Nearly 200 of the 736 delta cases are aged between 20 to 29, according the latest breakdown of data. 95 cases are under the age of nine.

1.20pm: Confirmed – Northland to move to alert level three

Jacinda Ardern has confirmed Northland will drop down to alert level three at midnight, after an additional 72 hours under level four restrictions.

"I want to thank everyone in Northland for their patience," said Ardern. "Northland will now be treated in line with the rest of country outside of Auckland."

The Ministry of Health confirmed there were no unexpected wastewater results anywhere in the country, including Northland.

Northland's alert levels, like those of the rest of the country aside from Auckland, will be reviewed on Monday.

1.05pm: 49 new community Covid-19 cases, total now 736

Updated

There are 49 new community cases of Covid-19, all in Auckland. This bumps the total number of cases in the delta outbreak up to 736. Of these, 16 are in Wellington.

After 75 cases were reported yesterday, Ashley Bloomfield called today's lower number "encouraging". Analysis showed 85% of cases reported yesterday were contacts of known cases, with 56% household contacts, already isolating. But 36% were believed to be infectious in the community, added Bloomfield.

That number has improved today, Jacinda Ardern confirmed, with just seven of today's cases infectious in community. "We are seeing fewer cases that are infectious in the community. Today around 14% – or seven – of the cases that are being reported were considered to be infectious in the community," she said.

"Just to be clear, that doesn't imply that any of those individuals were necessarily breaking any of the rules. For instance the most common exposure event for any of those people was visiting a supermarket of a diary. And for those seven people the number of exposure events in total is nine."

There are now 42 people in hospital with Covid, all in Auckland. "The growing number of people in hospital is a stark reminder of the seriousness of infection with the Covid-19 virus," said Bloomfield. Six people are in the ICU and three are being ventilated.

11 people from the current outbreak have recovered, meaning 725 cases remain active.

There were more than 17,000 tests processed nationwide yesterday, with around 6000 of those in Auckland. "We need to have higher levels of testing across Tāmaki Makaurau to give us confidence that we have the outbreak under control," said Bloomfield. "If you have any symptoms, or have been at a location of interest, or are a contact and should be tested – please do so."

Essential workers crossing back and forth between the levels were asked to "get tested within the next three or four days, even if you have no symptoms", said Bloomfield. A system for routine testing of cross-level commuters would be established.

So far, 37,359 contacts have been identified. Of these, 81% have had direct contact. Most of the balance had had contact with Healthline or through being at a place of interest. About 86% of contacts have had a test.

There remain seven sub-clusters as part of the delta outbreak.  The two largest are the Māngere church group with 332 confirmed cases and the Birkdale social network cluster with 75 cases.

Ardern said there have been "multiple reports" of abuse toward bus drivers since lockdown began. "There is never any justification for lashing out at our essential workers," she said.

On the vaccine front, another 89,564 doses were administered yesterday. This pushes up the total doses to 3.59 million, of which 2.35 million are first doses and 1.23 million second.

12.40pm: Ardern, Bloomfield, speak ahead of Northland alert level shift

All going to plan, Northland will shift down to alert level three at 11.59pm tonight. But, before that decision is formally confirmed, Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield will reveal just how many new delta Covid-19 cases there are today.

If Northland remains clear of delta, and wastewater testing from Warkworth comes back as normal, Northland will be clear to move out of level four.

Meanwhile, we're expecting to hear the latest Covid-19 case numbers after 75 were announced yesterday.

Watch below or follow along with our live coverage from 1pm.

Today's agenda

  • 1pm: Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield will front today's Covid-19 presser. Yesterday saw a significant bump in new delta cases, but Bloomfield still believes we've hit the peak. Fingers crossed for a drop in new case numbers today.
  • 2pm: Parliament sits, beginning with question time.
  • 11.59pm: Pending any new cases or positive wastewater results, Northland will move to alert level three.

12.10pm: Melbourne outbreak could hit 2000 cases a day – expert

Victoria has thrown in the towel on a Covid-19 elimination strategy, instead hoping to beat the current outbreak through vaccinations.

The Australian state has today recorded 176 new community cases, with some restrictions set to ease slightly in the coming days.

Melbourne-based epidemiologist Tony Blakely told RNZ that based on the current trajectory, and with no elimination strategy, the outbreak could peak with 2000 cases a day by November 1. "Then it will turn and start coming back down cause the vaccine coverage would catch it," he said. "The bad news is we would need to stay in hard lockdown the whole time just to achieve that piece of maths. We're all over hard lockdown."

Blakely said that in place of lockdown, health officials need to look at innovative ways to stop Covid transmission. Part of that would include upgrading ventilation in places like schools, along with mass testing, rapid antigen testing for essential workers, and moving vaccination clinics into the suburbs where delta spreads easily.

Listen to the full interview here

11.00am: National calls for MIQ overhaul, introduction of 'points' system

National has proposed an alternative plan to fix the managed isolation system, amid widespread criticism the current system operates like a lottery. An overhaul is already planned for the coming weeks and, as a result, there's currently a pause in place for new bookings.

Judith Collins said more than 15,000 New Zealanders abroad have signed a petition to make changes to the MIQ allocation, "but the government has done nothing".

The party's suggested five changes to the system:

  • A ban on bots and third party providers;
  • A new prioritisation system to allocate space (a ‘points system’);
  • The introduction of a waiting list;
  • Transparency over room release dates; and
  • The introduction of a Kiwi Expat Advisory Group.

“The underlying problem of MIQ is that demand generally massively exceeds the number of spaces in any given period,” Collins said. “At the moment, with the exception of a 10% quota for critical workers, some contingency rooms, and a very limited number of emergency allocations, spaces in MIQ are simply allocated on a ‘first-in, first-served’ basis."

The prioritisation system suggested by National would see the introduction of "points", similar to the way in which skilled migrants are assessed for eligibility for New Zealand. “The system should assign points to particular categories of people who could then be allocated guaranteed spaces in MIQ for a period of time once they meet the threshold for points set by the government," said the party's Covid-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop.

Those coming home to visit sick or dying relatives, or for emergency medical treatment, should be given the highest priority along with people coming to fill skill shortages.

10.25am: Do Aucklanders escape to their holiday homes during lockdown?

Data journalism contributor Tim McNamara takes a look at the stats:

Some definitely have, but not as many as would travel away during an average weekend.

Waka Kotahi, the government agency responsible for maintaining the country's state highway system, has installed traffic counters at various places. By analysing this data, it's possible to get a sense for how people are travelling between regions. One of the counters is just north of Auckland, to the west of Orewa. The counters distinguish between light and heavy vehicles. A light vehicle weighs less than 5 tonnes. When more vehicles travel north than south on the same day, it probably means that someone spent the night up north. Perhaps at their bach in Omaha.

The chart below shows the counts from each trip. When a day is above 0, a vehicle has left the city for the night. When it's below 0, someone has returned. As you can see, the chart's very jumpy. That's because thousands of cars head away from Auckland on Friday and Saturday, then return home on Monday. Over the course of the week, the population of Auckland breathes. During the summer months, this number grows. The big spikes up and down are holiday weekends.

So, do people flee to their holiday homes during lockdown? Probably, but fewer than what would happen on a normal weekend. At the start of the first level four lockdown, about 1900 vehicles travelled north. That compares with 3200 the weekend before and is significantly less than 5000 or so during holiday weekends. Many of those 1900 vehicles would have been returning back to their homes after visiting Auckland. But undoubtedly some would have spent a few weeks away from the city.

9.45am: Judith Collins' performance raises eyebrows in National

Judith Collins' performance yesterday on TVNZ's Breakfast programme, along with her fiery showdown with Grant Robertson in the House, have left some in National's caucus frazzled, according to two separate media reports.

The National Party leader was unhappy after Breakfast host Indira Stewart asked her about the decision to travel to Wellington during level four. Collins later accused the host of having a "political agenda". Then, in parliament, Collins went head-to-head with deputy PM Grant Robertson, accusing him of being "smug and contemptuous".

While Collins later told media she had enjoyed her day, the two performances left some thinking back to a misjudged Facebook post by Simon Bridges in the dying days of his leadership.

According to both Newshub's Tova O'Brien and RNZ's Jane Patterson, some of Collins' caucus colleagues were left alarmed. "Some... are having flashbacks from last year when they copped the political fall-out from a public in no mood for such an approach," wrote Patterson.

Read more in yesterday's live updates

9.10am: From The Bulletin

Some of the top stories from this morning's Bulletin, The Spinoff's daily news wrap:

The Covid numbers: 75 new community cases were reported yesterday, a quarter were active in the community while infectious. One of the new cases was in Wellington and the rest were in Auckland. The number of new cases is a significant increase over the past two days, but the trend is still down. 687 cases have now been detected in the delta outbreak. 84,971 people were vaccinated yesterday.

Yesterday’s live updates from The Spinoff covered the new cases, a battle of words in parliament and an interview on Breakfast TV that went off the rails. Stewart Sowman-Lund has done a skilful job of capturing the bizarre zeitgeist of these times.


Auckland hospitals ask for help. More ICU nurses are needed to cope with the number of Covid-19 cases now in hospital in Auckland, with 32 patients admitted and eight in the ICU. Three of those patients are on ventilators and need specialised round-the-clock care, the NZ Herald reports. The city needs at least 30 nurses for ICU and 30 more nurses to staff managed-isolation facilities. Some non-Covid patients are now being transferred to other parts of the country to free up hospital space.


Changes are coming to the border. A lottery of sorts is being introduced to the managed-isolation booking system to help New Zealanders overseas nab a spot to come home. Instead of using bots and constant refreshing to secure a room, people will enter a digital queue when new spaces are available and some will be chosen at random, Newsroom reports. The change won't come until bookings are reopened. The system is currently frozen to ensure all free rooms are available for the delta outbreak.

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

8.20am: Elimination strategy still backed by NZers – new poll

A new poll shows New Zealanders continue to back the government's Covid-19 elimination strategy.

Our government has faced criticism from overseas commentators and even leaders over its decision to lock down the country after just one case of delta was detected. But according to the NZ Herald-Kantar poll, New Zealanders were onboard with that move.

Just under half of those surveyed – 46% – believed we should pursue Covid-19 elimination. A further 39% supported the strategy until more than 70% of the population was fully vaccinated. That means 85% back some form of elimination, compared with 13% who believe we should live with Covid-19 and just 2% who didn't know.

The results echo a recent poll by Stickybeak for The Spinoff which showed 70% onboard with elimination.

7.50am: Nervous wait for Northland ahead of alert level three shift

Northland is on track to move down to alert level three at 11.59pm tonight.

The top of the North Island remained in level four lockdown, along with Auckland, after a confirmed case of the virus was linked to an aged care facility in Warkworth. Positive wastewater tests also raised concerns about possible delta spread. But, despite the scare, no confirmed cases were ever reported in Northland itself.

Announcing the alert level decisions on Monday, prime minister Jacinda Ardern said Northland would be safe to join everywhere (bar Auckland) in level three if officials were confident in the latest wastewater tests and, of course, no cases were announced in the region.

Associate health minister Aupito William Sio was on the morning media round today and told TVNZ's Breakfast that it was looking "positive" for Northland.

Yesterday saw 75 new community cases announced, with 74 in Auckland and one in Wellington. The next update will come, as always, at 1pm.

Yesterday's numbers



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