Live updates, September 5: 20 new community cases, stamping out delta outbreak ‘looking very promising’

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for September 5. You can get in touch on info@thespinoff.co.nz. Help us keep you informed on Covid-19 – click here to learn how you can join The Spinoff Members.

Today’s numbers

  • There are 20 new community Covid-19 cases, all in Auckland.
  • The delta outbreak now totals 801 cases.
  • The number of people in hospital with Covid-19 is 38.
  • 77,000 vaccine doses were administered yesterday.
  • See all the locations of interest using our interactive map.

4.30pm: Experts push for alert level ‘two plus’

A group of doctors from the department of public health at the University of Otago, Wellington, have proposed a new alert level, dubbed “alert level two plus” to combat the delta variant. Level two plus would make masks mandatory in all indoor settings outside the home, including work and school, and require “high risk” venues like gyms, bars churches” to remain closed. The group has argued that the current alert level system doesn’t take into account the increased risk of airborne transmission present with the delta variant.

“The alert level system should be enhanced to incorporate new scientific knowledge so it is better able to protect population health and accelerate progress to the re-elimination of Covid-19 in NZ,” the proposal reads. “While community spread now seems confined to the Auckland region, the risk of further spread during this outbreak (or from future outbreaks from further border system failures) remains.”

3.00pm: Today (Sunday) is Father’s Day

As we near the end of a tough week near the end of a tough lockdown near the end of a tough year(s), I’d like to take a moment to share my two favourite radio clips, one of which is particularly relevant today. A very happy Father’s Day to all who celebrate. If you can, give the father figure in your life a call. Chances are they’ll answer, say “thank you”, and respond with “pretty good” when you ask how their day’s been. What more could you want from yet another Sunday at home? My gift to you is this clip which you’ll almost certainly be familiar with but is always fun to revisit:

And this, the most joyful radio moment in all of radio history:

1.40pm: Deputy PM confident the government did everything it could in dealing with mall terrorist

Speaking after the Covid-19 announcement today, deputy prime minister Grant Robertson defended the length of time it took for the man’s deportation appeal process to be undertaken. “Deportation is a long process,” he said. “We have to bear in mind we’re talking here about a person who had refugee status…the government is not above the law and we needed to go through that [process]. This is a very litigious area and it’s one where the government need to move carefully because the consequences of getting it wrong are extremely high.”

The government is continuing to review immigration law alongside terrorism-suppression law but Robertson noted the deportation process couldn’t continue while the man was in prison facing criminal charges, and all legal avenues were explored. “No stone was left unturned. Now we’re in the position we’re in now, of course we’ll continue to look at potential law changes.”

Robertson also poured cold water on suggestions by the terrorist’s mother that he was radicalised by neighbours from Syria and Iraq. “We don’t have any evidence to support that claim,” said Robertson. “The reason the terrorist came to the attention of authorities was online activity. That’s been the main focus of interest in him and I do want to reiterate we are not looking for anyone else in this situation. This is an individual, a lone attack.”

1.15pm: The downward slope of the delta outbreak

Another 20 community cases were confirmed today in the Auckland delta outbreak, the same as yesterday, bumping the total number of cases up to 801.

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

1.00pm: 20 new community Covid-19 cases, total now 801

Updated

Case numbers in the community delta outbreak continue to fall, with 20 recorded today, all in Auckland. This bumps the total number of cases in the delta outbreak up to 801.

79 people from the current outbreak have recovered, meaning 722 cases remain active.

There are currently 38 cases in hospital across Auckland, with six in ICU, four requiring ventilation.

30 cases are not yet epidemiologically linked to the existing cluster, down from 58 last Sunday. The number is expected to fall further in coming days, said Bloomfield. Of yesterday’s cases, six people, or 30%, were infectious in the community. There were no unexpected results across wastewater testing samples.

There were 77,000 vaccines administered yesterday and 9,232 tests processed, said Bloomfield. “I would like to stress the importance of sustaining good levels of testing to help give us further confidence that we are finding any cases of Covid-19 out there.” Please don’t put symptoms down to a cold – get a test, he said.

Bloomfield also provided an update on the victims of Friday’s terror attack – three remain in ICU at Auckland City Hospital, all in critical but stable conditions. Another person in Auckland City Hospital is stable, and the person who was at Middlemore is now recovering at home.

12.55pm: Will the downward trend in delta case numbers continue?

Deputy prime minister Grant Robertson and director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield will present the latest case numbers shortly.

12.30pm: Give Hipkins 'a bit of a break', says Judith Collins

Leader of the opposition Judith Collins spoke to Q&A this morning and assured Jack Tame that Chris Bishop's removal as shadow leader of the house was to make sure "he was 100% on to the Covid-19 situation". When asked if Bishop wanted to remain as shadow leader of the house, Collins responded: "Well obviously everybody wants to have every portfolio, the fact is those are the decisions Shane Reti and I have to make."

"It's really important that I look after my MPs so that they are not overly stressed, or overly occupied with other things," Collins said, before offering a suggestion to her counterpart. "I think Jacinda Ardern could do the same with Chris Hipkins and just give him a bit of a break so he can really focus on Covid and particularly the vaccinations."

Hipkins is the Covid-19 response minister as well as the minister for education and the leader of the house.

Collins also stated she's happy to work across parties on law reform in light of Friday's mall terror attack, and revealed she was briefed on the attacker "a couple of weeks ago...I was told that he was quite a serious threat and that people were surveilling him.

"In this particular case, this is obviously someone who has been under surveillance for a very long time and most people in the community, including myself until very recently, wouldn't have known anything about him."

10.10am: Stamping out delta outbreak 'looking very promising' – Michael Baker

Epidemiologist Michael Baker spoke to RNZ this morning about vaccines, variants, and the delta outbreak. He said it’s looking “very promising now that New Zealand will stamp out this delta variant outbreak” in the next few weeks but urged continued vigilance.

Addressing concerns around supermarkets appearing as recent locations of interest, Baker wasn't too stressed. "It's now a very low risk that there are people infected with Covid-19 that are even in supermarkets in New Zealand, with the possible exception of Auckland." But even then, he said, "if people are wearing masks in that environment, they're far less likely to fire out this huge volume of aerosols and droplets into that environment".

With vaccinations, New Zealand’s priority from the beginning was border workers then health care workers. Baker agrees that this was the right approach, but suggests the most effective vaccine distribution beyond that would be to those most likely to spread the virus, which in the case of the delta variant, are young people and those who interact with many people throughout the day (in other words, essential workers). To date, 1,290,630 people have been fully vaccinated in New Zealand.

9.15am: Mall terrorist's family issue statement

The brother of the man who attacked supermarket shoppers on Friday has issued a statement on behalf of his family. "We are so shaken by what has happened and we do not know what to do," he wrote. "We hope these words will help bring some peace to your beautiful country. We are ready to help you all in the healing process no matter what it is needed from us."

"Aathil always contradicted what he was told. He would hang up the phone on us when we told him to forget about all of the issues he was obsessed with. Then he would call us back again himself when he realised he was wrong. Aathil was wrong again yesterday. Of course we feel very sad that he could not be saved."

The statement, released shortly after name suppression was lifted at 11pm Saturday night, asked for privacy for the family as they grieve, and offered condolences to the victims and to New Zealand.

"We are thinking of you all. We are thinking of our parents. We are thinking of the boy who left us and the innocent people were injured yesterday. Our lives have changed forever. We realise that it will take us some time to come to terms with this. We are thinking of the injured, both mentally and physically. May we all heal from this together. God be with you. Amen."

Read the full statement here.

7.55am: Government urged not to rush through legislation

The Counter-Terrorism Legislation Bill, currently at the select committee stage, would see the planning and preparation of terror attacks criminalised. After Friday's attack, Ardern has pledged to pass the terrorism law reforms by the end of the month. Law professor Andrew Geddis has explained why that might not be such a good idea. For anyone a little confused by the legal and political elements of this case, Geddis clearly outlines the laws at play:

Is it the case that this legislative gap allowed the offender to escape the law’s grasp? Well, no. He subsequently went on trial for the other offences: possessing the knife; the Isis propaganda; and failing to help unlock his electronic devices. And a jury then convicted him of two counts of knowingly possessing objectionable material and failing to assist a police officer exercise a search power.

The point being, our existing law still possessed the tools to hold this offender accountable for his actions; indeed, to potentially punish him even more heavily than the proposed new terrorist offence would... if we are going to legislate here, it would be better to do it with due consideration and deliberation, rather than in the shadow of one particular event.

7.30am: Name and case details of mall terrorist released

The man who left five supermarket shoppers hospitalised on Friday was Ahamed Aathil Mohamed Samsudeen, who was granted refugee status in 2013 and who the government had attempted to deport for years prior to Friday's attack. He had appealed his deportation while in prison and facing criminal charges in 2019, and was awaiting a decision when he attacked shoppers with a knife on Friday afternoon. Following the lifting of final suppression orders overnight, prime minister Jacinda Ardern has it was "incredibly disappointing and frustrating" that the man couldn't be detained while his deportation appeal was heard.

"In 2016 the terrorist came to the attention of the police and the NZSIS," she said. “In the course of these investigations, Immigration New Zealand were made aware of information that led them to believe the individual’s refugee status was fraudulently obtained. The process was started to cancel his refugee status, and with it, his right to stay in New Zealand."

Immigration New Zealand cancelled his refugee status in 2019 and he was served with deportation liability notices. He appealed. Due to the status of the country from which he'd travelled (he was Tamil, a minority group persecuted in Sri Lanka for decades), crown law advised that he was likely to be considered a "protected person". Protected people cannot be deported from New Zealand, but authorities were unable to detain him while the appeal process was undertaken.

“This has been a frustrating process," Ardern said. “Since 2018, ministers have been seeking advice on our ability to deport this individual." In July this year, she met with officials in person and expressed "concern that the law could allow someone to remain here who obtained their immigration status fraudulently and posed a threat to our national security".

What you need to know

  • On Friday afternoon, a man was shot dead by police at the Countdown at west Auckland's LynnMall after attacking shoppers with a knife.
  • Seven people were injured. Five remain in hospital with three in critical condition.
  • At an early evening press conference, the prime minister said the incident was a terrorist attack by a "violent extremist" inspired by Isis ideology. The attacker was under 24-hour surveillance and was shot by the police who followed him to the supermarket as part of this surveillance.
  • The man first came to the attention of police in 2016 after he expressed sympathy on Facebook for recent terrorist attacks.
  • Since then he has been arrested multiple times and charged with a variety of offences including possessing objectionable material and possession of an offensive weapon.
  • In April 2021, a draft bill that would criminalise preparatory acts was introduced to parliament. It had its first reading in May. Throughout this period, officials met a number of times to consider what avenues could be pursued to address the risk posed by this individual, and to prepare for the potential that we may run out of legal avenues to detain him.
  • In July 2021 he was released into the community after spending around three years in prison on remand. He had been under constant surveillance since then.

Yesterday's numbers

  • There were 20 new community Covid-19 cases, all in Auckland.
  • There was one death from Covid-19, a North Shore woman in her 90s.
  • The delta outbreak now totals 782 cases, including 54 that have recovered.
  • The number of people in hospital with Covid-19 has risen to 43.
  • 89,073 vaccine doses were administered on Thursday.




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