Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for November 3, by Stewart Sowman-Lund. Help support our Covid coverage – join Members today.
8.20pm: Person with Covid-19 dies while in isolation
A person with Covid-19 has died while isolating at home, the Ministry of Health has announced.
At this stage the cause of death is unknown. While it may have been due to Covid-19, the death could also have had some other cause, the ministry said in a statement tonight. Cause of death will be determined by the Coroner.
The person had been isolating at a Manukau address and was found deceased by a family member visiting them today. The person tested positive for Covid-19 on October 24 and had been isolating at home with public health oversight.
“The Ministry extends its sympathies to this person’s family and acknowledges the stress this may cause them,” the statement concluded.
6.00pm: School reopening decision early next week; travel out of Auckland over Christmas likely to be staggered
Kids and parents in level three areas will know early next week whether primary schools will reopen the following Monday, says Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins.
Last week, Hipkins announced November 15 as an “indicative date” for a phased reopening of primary schools in Auckland, telling RNZ’s Checkpoint it was doable as long as case numbers stayed relatively stable.
This evening, he told Checkpoint that cabinet would discuss on Monday whether the reopening would go ahead, with a decision to be announced that day or the following.
Checkpoint’s Lisa Owens also asked Hipkins about the prime minister today revealing that Auckland’s border was likely to stay in place over the summer period (see 3.30pm update).
He indicated that both vaccination and testing were likely to be required, and that for logistical reasons, travel out of the region around Christmas may be staggered. “We’re working through options on it and ways to spread the travel,” he said. “People might get allocated a time.” He conceded that road travel was likely to be “a time-consuming process”.
3.30pm: Auckland border likely to remain over summer
Auckland’s hard border will likely stay in place over summer, the prime minister has revealed, but those who are vaccinated will be able to leave the city.
During alert level three, transport across Auckland’s border is heavily restricted. Only essential workers and those with border exemptions are able to move about. But once the new traffic light framework comes into force, that will change.
“We do still want Aucklanders to move around though particularly over summer and Christmas so what we are looking at for now is how do we keep in that hard border but some checks around it so more people can move but we might say use testing or vaccinating status to help people move around a bit more,” Ardern told ZM.
There has been some concern around whether Aucklanders would be able to leave the city if other parts of the country were still in the alert level system. Ardern said the overall vaccination status of the country wasn’t the problem so much as the ability to deal with the movement of people.
“We are having to establish our own systems at borders so how do you do that when you have up to 30,000 cars moving at a time,” she said, referencing what sounds like a traffic nightmare.
Vaccine certificates are expected to be available within the next few weeks.
3.00pm: Covid-19 detected in Waiheke Island wastewater
A positive Covid-19 wastewater result has been confirmed on Waiheke Island, according to the local board chair.
Just one case of the coronavirus has been confirmed on the island during the pandemic after a person who travelled to the island in mid-October tested positive.
Cath Handley, writing on a private Facebook group, said the wastewater result was from testing conducted on October 26. “Auckland Regional Public Health Services have confirmed that this is to be expected with the recent case on Waiheke Island. Waste Water on Waiheke will be tested again this week,” she wrote.
“It is advised for residents on Waiheke to remain vigilant and get tested. We also encourage that if you are travelling off island, along with current public health measures of social distancing, regular hand washing and wearing a face mask, please keep up to date with current locations of interest on the Ministry of Health website.”
Due to the isolation of Waiheke Island, a lot of residents use septic tanks. The Owhanake wastewater treatment plant currently serves the commercial centre of Oneroa Village and the Matiatia Wharf facility.
2.00pm: Today’s key numbers – and the race to vaccinate
Just under 29,000 vaccines were administered across the country yesterday, comprising 7,574 first doses and 21,347 second doses. That’s only a nudge above the number of first doses given out on Monday which represented the lowest weekday total since early June.
Across Auckland as a whole, 92% have received their first dose with the Counties Manukau DHB just 3000 doses away from hitting that milestone. Once Counties Manukau hits 90% the race will be on to move Auckland out of level three and into the traffic light system.
Check out how your DHB is doing with the interactive graph below:
Today was a noticeable drop in new Covid-19 cases with a round 100 reported. None were announced in Northland or the South Island.
The number of hospitalisations has bounced back slightly however the number in intensive care remains steady.
Yet again, we’ve hit a new record for the number of mystery Covid-19 cases.
More graphs like these are available on The Spinoff’s Covid Tracker here.
1.40pm: Vaccine certificates will be ready for when Auckland hits 90%
Vaccine certificates will be ready in time for Auckland’s shift to the new traffic light framework, confirmed Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins.
Once Auckland hits 90% doubled dosed, the city will be able to move out of alert level three and into the “red setting” of the new framework.
Hipkins said “stress testing” of the certificates is happening now and it will still be a few weeks before they are launched properly.
On current modelling, Auckland is tipped to move into the new system by the end of November.
1.35pm: Jump in delta cases at Auckland care home
Seven more people have tested positive at the Edmonton Meadows Care Home in Henderson since yesterday’s update.
There are now 15 residents and four staff members who have contracted delta. Three residents remain in hospital.
The first case was a resident who was reported as a positive case on Thursday last week. The source of their infection remained unknown yesterday, when the Ministry of Health said whole genome sequencing was under way.
When asked about the vaccination status of the cases, Ashley Bloomfield said he believed vaccination rates among residents was “very high” and all staff were fully vaccinated.
1.30pm: Ardern delays press conference due to anti-vax protest
For the second time in as many days, the prime minister has faced interference from anti-vaccination protestors while on the road.
Jacinda Ardern is in Whanganui today helping with vaccination efforts.
She was due to hold a press conference at 12.50pm but, according to media reports, this was bumped back 20 minutes after as many as 250 protestors made themselves known.
At today’s 1pm press conference, Covid response minister Chris Hipkins said the press conference was moved because the protestors were interfering with the ability of people to access the vaccine. He said the anti-vax movement was not growing, but was a very loud minority group that was travelling around the country.
Yesterday, while in Northland, Ardern was forced to move her press conference indoors after a heckler from an unaccredited right wing media outlet attempted to make unfounded claims about the Pfizer vaccine.
1.20pm: ‘Don’t do it’ – The simple message to those paying for vaccine exemptions
Chris Hipkins said the government has been made aware of people “aggressively demanding” vaccine exemptions from clinicians.
Nothing, said Hipkins, gave people the right to aggressively demand this. A robust process will be put in place and if anyone seeks to exert pressure the police will be involved.
Similarly, Hipkins said people should not be paying for vaccine exemptions. If anyone is trying to charge you for one, it is “a rip-off scheme”.
“There is no other language that I can use than that. It is a rip-off scheme. Don’t do it.”
1.05pm: Another 100 delta cases; 4.7m more Pfizer doses on the way
There are 100 new community cases of Covid-19 – 97 in Auckland and three in Waikato.
Almost half, 48, of today’s new cases have no epidemiological link to the wider outbreak. There are now 441 mystery cases from across the past fortnight.
Of yesterday’s 119 cases, 42 were infectious while in the community.
After being moved back into lockdown last night, Northland has recorded no additional cases of delta. Genomic testing of the two mystery cases has not yet come back, said Ashley Bloomfied. It’s hoped that will uncover whether there are any missing chains of transmission in Northland.
Widespread community testing and vaccinations remain crucial in the region, said the Ministry of Health. Today there are 10 community testing centres available across the region and 11 vaccination clinics.
Additional testing and vaccination capacity are being stood up where and when needed.
“Those who live in or around Taipa, Kaingaroa, Awanui and Kaitaia and have had symptoms of Covid-19 in the last couple of weeks, especially around Labour weekend, are encouraged to get tested as soon as possible,” said the ministry.
Of the three new Waikato cases, one remains unlinked to the outbreak at this stage. Two are known contacts and were already in isolation.
Once again, there are no new Covid-19 cases in the South Island.
1.00pm: 4.7m more Pfizer doses on the way
Another 4.7 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be winging their way to New Zealand over the next year, Covid response minister Chris Hipkins has announced.
The vaccines will help cover our booster vaccine programme along with those who have not been vaccinated so far. It will also allow us to provide doses to our Pacific neighbours.
“These doses will complement the other Covid-19 vaccines in our portfolio, which are scheduled for delivery in 2022. Further announcements on use of these vaccines will be made in due course,” Hipkins said.
12.50pm: Hipkins to give update on Covid cases and Northland lockdown
Chris Hipkins will front today’s Covid-19 press conference. He’ll be joined by the director general of health Ashley Bloomfield. Expect an update on Northland’s snap lockdown along with the latest Covid numbers for the rest of the country.
As always, follow along with our live coverage or tune into the press conference below.
12.30pm: The rangatahi sharing the voice of their generation with Apec world leaders
New Zealand’s youth are helping shape a declaration to Apec leaders as the region sets a plan spanning the next 20 years. The Spinoff spoke to three delegates ahead of the Apec youth summit.
Jess Jenkins (Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa) doesn’t see the task of tackling climate change, or Covid-19, as a burden.
“As soon as people start thinking about burdens, they start thinking about the consequences of that burden,” says the 18-year-old award-winning orator from Tītahi Bay, Porirua.
“And rather than a consequence of a burden, I like to think of it as an opportunity to tackle or a barrier to overcome.”
Jenkins was meant to be studying at Harvard University this year, but Covid-19 put that plan on hold. Instead she is preparing for November’s Voices of the Future youth summit for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec), part of the final act in New Zealand’s hosting of Apec 2021.
Read the full piece here. This content was created in paid partnership with Mfat.
12.00pm: Low number of full time contact tracers raises eyebrows
There are concerns about our ability to trace new cases of Covid-19, with Newsroom reporting that just 44 full-time equivalent staff were working at the contact tracing centre as of October 20.
There are currently upward of 400 mystery Covid-19 cases around the North Island, with a pair in Northland plunging parts of the region into a snap level three lockdown.
National’s Covid response spokesperson Chris Bishop said more focus should have been directed at contact tracing. “I think we’re up to four independent reviews now, all of which have made various recommendations, the central point of which is, ‘You need to put some extra resource and focus here’,” he said. “Basically, it would probably best be described as, lip service was paid to those reports. The 44 FTE figure is a reflection of that.”
Last month, public health director Caroline McElnay signalled that the delta outbreak would put pressure on our ability to trace cases. She said 170-180 cases a day would be the maximum that could be handled.
11.05am: Unemployment hits record low as job market remains tight
Unemployment has fallen to its lowest levels in almost 14 years.
New figures from Stats NZ show unemployment has dropped to 3.4%, the lowest on record and matching numbers from December 2007 – just before the global financial crisis. At the same time, employment has also peaked at 68.8%.
The number of unemployed people fell by 18,000 over the recent quarter to 98,000, which, combined with 54,000 more people in employment, drove the unemployment rate down.
“The fall in the unemployment rate is in line with reports of difficulty finding workers and high labour turnover, and continued travel restrictions on international arrivals, which put pressure on domestic labour supply,” work and wellbeing statistics senior manager Becky Collett said.
The employment rate for women was 64.6%, up from 62.8% last quarter. This is the highest rate ever recorded for women. The employment rate for men was 73.2%, up from 72.6% last quarter.
10.45am: Peters unhappy with ‘on the hoof’ lockdown decisions
Former deputy PM Winston Peters has criticised the decision to shift parts of Northland back into alert level three.
Peters, who is Northland-based, said lockdowns are no longer the right way to address the pandemic. “[It’s] decision-making that’s been made based on the thinking that was appropriate back in 2020 – but it’s not appropriate now,” he told Newstalk ZB.
Officials should now only be focusing on hospitalisation, as opposed to cases, he said.
As for whether Auckland should be waiting a further week before restrictions ease, Peters said no. Businesses – and society – have been wrecked by “on the hoof, inconsistent decision-making”. The government should have gone to Māori and Pasifika vaccine providers earlier, added Peters.
9.40am: World Rugby responds to former All Black Carl Hayman’s dementia diagnosis
The Spinoff published a feature this morning by Dylan Cleaver revealing that former All Black icon Carl Hayman has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia and probable CTE at the the age of 41. Hayman is the first former All Black to join a lawsuit being prepared against World Rugby and the RFU claiming rugby’s governing bodies failed to protect players from the risks caused by concussions and sub-concussions, despite being armed with the knowledge and evidence to do so.
World Rugby have since responded saying they are “saddened by the accounts of former players and their experiences. It is not easy to speak so candidly about their personal circumstances and we appreciate what it takes for them to do so.” World Rugby’s comments echoed those of New Zealand Rugby, emphasising that “player welfare is the sport’s top priority”.
Read the full response and the original story here.
9.10am: ‘Big puzzle’ – Still no link between new Northland cases and wider outbreak
There’s still no connection between a pair of Covid-19 cases in the north of Northland, and other community delta cases in the region.
The two mystery cases plunged the tip of the country into lockdown last night. The snap level three restrictions will stay in place until at least Monday.
Speaking to RNZ, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said there wasn’t even a working theory yet on how the virus had spread. “We genomic sequence pretty much all of the cases that we get. When that result comes through it’ll give us more of a clue about how that case links in,” said Hipkins. “The risk is that there is at least one transmission links… who could still be spreading it.” The mystery cases were a “big puzzle”, added Hipkins.
There was a “very remote possibility” that the chain of transmission stemmed back to the pair of Aucklanders who breached lockdown restrictions to visit Northland last month. That was being followed up by health officials, said Hipkins.
Northland’s low vaccination rate meant that a lockdown could not be avoided, Hipkins told Newstalk ZB.
8.30am: Former All Black Carl Hayman is suing World Rugby after being diagnosed with dementia at 41
Former All Black Carl Hayman has entered into litigation against World Rugby, the first All Black to do so, after being diagnosed with early-onset dementia and probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. It’s a progressive brain condition which has been strongly associated with former NFL players and boxers.
The 41 year old, once regarded as the finest tighthead prop in the world, received the shocking diagnosis after extensive testing at King’s College Hospital in London, including an MRI scan using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) that can identify changes in the brain’s white matter.
In a wide-ranging and poignant interview, Hayman, once estimated to be the highest-paid player in rugby, has spoken of the disorientation he felt as his career was winding down, the ceaseless headaches that plagued him and sent him into a spiral of alcohol abuse and frequent suicidal thoughts, and a suspended prison sentence in France after admitting to charges of domestic violence.
8.00am: PM to visit locked down Auckland after rule change
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern will visit locked down Auckland after a rule change that allows her to return to parliament without self-isolating.
Until now, all MPs heading to parliament from a level three area had to self-isolate for five days. Despite opposition pressure, Ardern said she would not visit Auckland while that rule was in place.
But yesterday, speaker of the house Trevor Mallard removed the self-isolation requirement. Instead, MPs will only need a negative test result within the 72 hours before they leave the level three area. Rapid antigen tests may also be introduced at parliament.
Ardern said she will now head to the supercity. “With the speaker removing the rule that was a barrier to me heading to Auckland, I’m now making plans to get there early next week,” said Ardern.
Both National and Act have long been calling for Ardern to visit Auckland, with Judith Collins and David Seymour having been in the city last week. Collins welcomed the PM’s visit. “I’ve spent four weeks of the last three months in Auckland, and when I go and visit people, small businesses and that and I try and cheer them up and give them some hope, you see people who are really resilient people just at the end of their tether,” she told RNZ. “Watching people in tears, I would say is one it’s really, really hard.”
Seymour called the trip long overdue. “For 11 weeks the prime minister has been listening to civil servants with secure jobs in Wellington at alert level two, she needs to see how their advice computes to the reality of the people paying the bills,” he said. “Let’s hope the prime minister’s visit is about her listening to Aucklanders instead of telling them how successful the government’s response has been.”
PM safe to return from Northland
The self-isolation rule change comes at a convenient time for Ardern, who yesterday was in Northland. At last night’s unexpected press conference, Covid response minister Chris Hipkins denied any political connection between Ardern’s visit to the region and the decision to keep parts of Northland in level two. He said Ardern had not been at any locations of interest and as a result was safe to return to Wellington.
“The prime minister wasn’t in the area that we’re moving into alert level three,” said Hipkins. “The prime minister does travel around the country, but [is] very careful in terms of the nature of activities that she undertakes, so at this point, there’s no additional risk there.”
Yesterday’s key Covid-19 headlines
- The northern part of Northland moved into alert level three at 11.59pm.
- A boundary runs from the centre of Hokianga Harbour to the Mangamuka junction on state highway one to the Kāeo River bridge on state highway 10 and East Bay.
- There are 126 new community cases of delta.
- 107 are in Auckland, 18 in Waikato and one is in Northland.
- 59 of the cases have not been linked to the wider outbreak.