blog upd sept 6

PoliticsSeptember 6, 2021

Live updates, September 6: All of NZ, aside from Auckland, to shift to ‘delta level two’

blog upd sept 6

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for September 6, by Stewart Sowman-Lund. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz. Help us keep you informed on Covid-19 – click here to learn how you can join The Spinoff Members.

A summary of the alert level decision

  • The entire country – bar Auckland – will move to alert level two at 11.59pm tomorrow.
  • Auckland will remain at alert level four for at least another week.
  • The new level two rules include widespread mask use and tighter limits on gatherings.

Today’s numbers

  • There are 20 new community cases of Covid-19, all in Auckland.
  • There are now 40 people in hospital with Covid-19, including six in ICU.
  • Just 4750 tests were given out over the past 24 hours.

6.15pm: Public health experts on masks in schools 

When schools reopen from Thursday for kids outside of Auckland, masks will be “strongly recommended” for those aged 12 and above, said director general of health Ashley Bloomfield. But unlike in most other indoor venues, they won’t be compulsory.

That concerns Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker, who would have liked to have seen mask use mandated for intermediate and secondary school students. He told RNZ’s Checkpoint the fact it wasn’t was a “real gap”. “It means the children are missing out on an essential protection if we do get an outbreak.”

It also underestimates the role children can play in leading the way, said Baker, as they have done with other Covid-19 public health measures. “School students learnt how to wash their hands properly and took the lesson home to their families,” he said. “They set the bar higher.”

Barker’s fellow Otago epidemiologist Amanda Kvalsvig said she hoped practical advice would be supplied to schools “to support them in implementing mask use in an appropriate and child-centered way”. “Clear messaging for children to encourage them to wear a mask to protect others” was also key, she said via the Science Media Centre.

Kvalsvig also highlighted the importance of improving ventilation in classrooms, “a key measure that works alongside masks to prevent viral spread”. “While structural changes to school buildings will take time, simple measures like opening windows whenever feasible will help to prevent spread of a number of respiratory infections and will also improve children’s learning and concentration.”

5.55pm: Auckland boundary poses biggest risk – experts on the move to ‘delta two’ 

Public health experts have welcomed the tightening up of alert level two restrictions ahead of most of the country moving out of lockdown from Wednesday, but say the Auckland boundary will pose the biggest risk.

Speaking on RNZ’s Checkpoint, University of Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker said essential workers crossing from Auckland into level two regions was “the biggest weak point”. He welcomed the rolling out of pre-testing for essential workers, but said the fact it isn’t quite ready yet was problematic. “There are real implementation challenges here.”

Covid-19 modeller Michael Plank of Te Pūnaha Matatini said the new level two safeguards were important, because “no boundary is watertight”. “Just because most regions have remained Covid-free up to now doesn’t guarantee a case won’t pop up in future,” said Plank, via the Science Media Centre. “If this does happen, alert level two conditions mean the virus will be able to spread more easily.”

Nick Wilson of Otago’s public health department said there should be a requirement that all essential workers crossing the border must be vaccinated. Also speaking via the Science Media Centre, he called for rapid antigen tests, which produce a result in just 15 minutes, to be used at border crossings. “This approach is much safer than the weekly testing of these workers that the Ministry of Health is currently planning.”

5.35pm: ‘We’re very close’ – Hipkins on boost in vaccine stocks

Chris Hipkins has given a strong hint that the government is close to concluding negotiations to get hold of an unscheduled batch of Pfizer doses. “We’re very close to being able to give people more certainty about what’s coming in and when,” the Covid response minister told Checkpoint on RNZ. “I’ve been very reluctant to even talk about it until we’ve got something signed, sealed, and all the boxes ticked. I’m hoping we’ll be in a position to to say more about that in the next days.”

New Zealand currently has just over 700,000 doses in stock. Current high rates of vaccination would not be able to be maintained in coming weeks without added arrivals.  Australia has in the last week announced “swap deals” with Singapore and the UK to get increased vaccine stock to meet demand.

Of the challenge facing Auckland, Hipkins said: “We’re winning this at this point. The last thing we want is for people to get disgruntled and frustrated and take risks.”

5.10pm: TVNZ cameraman knocked to the ground during live cross

A TVNZ cameraman was knocked to the ground during a live cross with Covid-19 modeller Shaun Hendy following this afternoon’s 4pm press conference.

Viewers of the presser, which was being broadcast live on TVNZ1, flooded Twitter with questions following the incident, which can be viewed in the tweet below:

Hendy told The Spinoff a young man who was swearing “came around from behind me and barrelled into the camera and another woman” then fled. He had no reason to think there was any targeted motivation on the part of the attacker.

TVNZ have confirmed that the cameraperson is OK.

4.35pm: No link yet found between Middlemore Covid case, delta outbreak

A patient who tested positive for Covid-19 after being moved to a surgical ward at Auckland’s Middlemore Hospital cannot yet be linked to the delta outbreak.

The patient was shifted into a room with three other patients, including a 91-year-old man, where he subsequently tested positive.

Speaking at this afternoon’s press conference, Ashley Bloomfield said public health officials were questioning the Covid-positive man’s 10 household members.

Bloomfield said the person presented to Middlemore without Covid-19 symptoms and was then admitted to hospital. The next day, the attending clinician, on further questioning, wondered if Covid-19 was a possibility so a test was done.

The person should have been isolated while waiting for the result, said Bloomfield. The hospital chose to leave the man in the communal room while he waited for the result of his Covid test.

Ardern said she was now considering whether there should be a widening of health symptoms that people are asked about when presenting to medical facilities.

4.25pm: ‘Delta level two’ will be ‘different to how it has been before’ – Ardern

The PM has announced new rules that will apply at alert level two and revealed that mask wearing will become “the new normal”.

A face covering will now be mandatory at level two in many public locations. This would include malls and libraries, for example. People will be allowed to remove their mask at hospitality venues to eat and drink, but staff members will have to wear masks always.

QR code scanning will also be mandatory at certain venues.

Indoor gatherings (including events), along with venues such as cafes and bars will be limited to 50 people. Outdoor gatherings will allow a max of 100 people.

One further change would impact indoor public facilities like gyms, museums and libraries. These will now have to follow the two metre physical distancing rules.

Mask usage has not been made mandatory at schools but Bloomfield said he “strongly recommended” students aged from 12 up wear a face covering. For younger students, it was still a good option, Bloomfield added. “We wouldn’t be recommending going down to alert level two if there was extant risk of spread of the virus. I think [mask use at schools] is an area we will keep an eye on and look and see what the evidence shows,” he said.

These new rules were unofficially being called “delta level two”, said Ardern.

“I acknowledge that that will be tough,” said Ardern on the new cap on numbers in public venues at level two. She said the government will “keep up the support that they’re able to access”, and any changes would be announced soon.

Level two rules a ‘kick in the guts’ for hospitality industry – Hospitality NZ

The new limit of 50 inside hospitality venues under level two is “another kick in the guts for an industry that’s already down”, Hospitality NZ has said in a media statement.

“Operators are in an horrific state financially, and this could be the final straw for many,” said CEO Julie White. “Hospitality venues went along with the idea of mandatory record-keeping and masks because it was an extra layer of protection and we figured it was something we could live with because at least we would be open – even though it’s not ideal venues will have to police it. But this is a huge step backwards.”

The Restaurant Association NZ was more accepting of the new rules, but has called for targeted fiscal assistance to counter revenue loss they will bring. “As an industry we are united in our desire to fully open our businesses and in a way that keeps staff and customers safe. We know that we can do this, but we do need to work together to ensure that we’re all sticking to the rules,” said CEO Marisa Bidois.

“Whilst our businesses outside Auckland appreciate the opportunity to open up their shop fronts once more, it is under even greater restrictions than previously further reducing revenues. We would like to see more support for business owners by way of targeted fiscal assistance to help them cover their fixed costs and compensate for their revenue losses.”

4.15pm: NZ, aside from Auckland, to shift to level two

Updated

All of New Zealand – aside from Auckland – will move to alert level two at 11.59pm tomorrow, Jacinda Ardern has announced.

Auckland will remain, as planned, at alert level four for at least another week.

Schools and other education providers will be given extra time to prepare, and will reopen from Thursday morning.

This will be the first time that a part of the country has been in total lockdown while other places begin to return to normal. With Northland set to be cut off from the rest of the country due to the level four border, Ardern confirmed people will be able to travel through Auckland in some circumstances such as for work.

On Auckland, Ashley Bloomfield said the key thing to watch is the proportion of new cases that are known household contacts, which is increasing. Exposure events will also be key. Only one essential worker was among yesterday’s cases, which is a good sign.

4.10pm: Bloomfield’s message as Covid testing rates plummet

Ashley Bloomfield has once again encouraged those with Covid-19 symptoms to get a test immediately as testing rates plummet. “This is our lowest testing day since the start of the current community outbreak,” said Bloomfield of yesterday’s numbers, where less than 5000 people were tested.

“In large part, the falling numbers reflect a reduction of symptoms due to the lockdown, but testing remains central to us being confident that the outbreak is under control.” he said. “Over the next week our goals are to improve our confidence there is no undetected transmission in Auckland and protect the rest of the country from leakage out of Auckland.”

He added: “If you have any symptoms, you must get tested, wherever you are in New Zealand.”

For workers crossing the Auckland boundary, weekly testing will be implemented. “We have started engaging with workplaces and industries whose workers are effected.” Proof of a test will be required to travel across the border.

Officials were working to enable saliva based testing was “rolled out over coming week”, added Bloomfield.

Bloomfield said officials will also be working with employers to encourage essential workers not to come to work if sick, and to get tested, and moving testing centres into areas where cases have recently occurred.

There would also be more regular surveillance testing for healthcare workers caring for Covid-19 patients in the coming weeks, said Bloomfield. MIQ staff testing will increase too.

3.50pm: Will there be a move to alert level two? Ardern to speak

Jacinda Ardern is set to reveal whether any parts of the country will drop down to alert level two from midnight tomorrow.

Currently, all of New Zealand – bar Auckland – is in level three. It’s been more than 300 days since a case of community transmission in the South Island and aside from a smattering of cases in Wellington during the current outbreak it’s really just Auckland that has faced down delta.

Watch below

3.15pm: Jump in benefit numbers during lockdown cause for concern

There’s concern the government isn’t doing enough to assist families in need after the ongoing lockdown triggered the largest weekly increase in benefit recipients since the first lockdown last year.

Benefit numbers increased 4,578 in the week ending August 27, pushing the total up to almost 358,000.

Child Poverty Action Group’s Janet McAllister said help needed to be provided. “Families losing jobs and those on fixed low incomes are bearing the brunt of this lockdown,” said McAllister. “If the government allowed them the basic dignity of reliable, secure and adequate income support, that would relieve much of their lockdown-related shock and distress.”

Over the first full week of the current lockdown, food parcels topped 40,443 – more than double what they were at the same time last year. “Food insecurity is caused by income insecurity – and not everybody who needs a food grant can get one. This is a huge wake-up call that the current income support systems are inadequate,” said McAllister.

2.35pm: Māori and Pasifika vaccination plans should be made public – Bishop

National’s Chris Bishop has called on the government to release full week-by-week plans for Māori and Pasifika vaccination.

There was no direct reference to David Seymour’s earlier comments (see below) in his statement, but Bishop did stress: “It is critical we get Māori and Pacific vaccination rates up”.

According to Bishop, who is National’s Covid spokesperson, DHBs have prepared weekly plans for the expected number of vaccinations for Māori and Pacific populations in each of their areas, but these have never been made public.

“Transparency around the government’s vaccination plans has been a problem since the start of the rollout and has only recently started to improve,” he said.

“Releasing this data will allow local populations and media demand more of DHBs that are not delivering where they should be.”

1.55pm: ‘All time low’ – Māori Party slam Seymour for ‘sabotaging’ vaccine rollout

David Seymour has “stooped to an all time low”, say the Māori Party, after the Act leader encouraged his followers to use a priority vaccine code provided to Māori.

In a tweet, Seymour shared the code and told his 18,000 followers they could use that instead of booking in for a jab. He later justified his tweet in a press release where he argued for “fairness” in the vaccine rollout.

Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi said it was a step too far. “It is a sad day when a supposed leader of this country intentionally sets out to sabotage a positive campaign aimed at saving the lives of the lowest vaccinated peoples in our country,” he said. “Māori are the lowest vaccinated people. That is a fact. Prioritising Māori was never about excluding anyone but ensuring equity and equality of access to our most vulnerable communities.”

Last week, roughly one in seven New Zealanders got a jab – but the figure for Māori was closer to one in 11.

Māori Party co-leaders Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and Rawiri Waititi (Getty Images)

Oh, and while we’re here: this from Newshub’s political editor Tova O’Brien will surely go #nzpol viral.

1.25pm: When will we find out the alert level changes?

At 4pm, Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield will reveal any alert level changes for the country (aside from Auckland). Grant Robertson this morning said that there were “encouraging signs” for an alert level drop, with some experts calling for an intermediary alert level 2.5.

During that press conference, we’re also expecting more detail about plans to expedite changes to terrorism legislation following Friday’s attack in New Lynn. Ardern indicated on Saturday that the Counter Terrorism Legislation Bill, currently at select committee, would be pushed through under urgency, and passed at the latest by the end of the month.

1.15pm: Tracking the delta outbreak, including today’s cases

Today is the third consecutive day with 20 new delta cases recorded, as you can see from the below graph.

1.00pm: 20 new community delta cases announced ahead of alert level decision

Updated

There are 20 new community Covid-19 cases today, bringing the total number in the delta outbreak up to 821.

It's the third day in a row with 20 new cases being announced and the final set of case information that will be considered by cabinet as they meet to decide on the nationwide alert levels.

All of the new cases are in Auckland, with 14 active cases from the outbreak in Wellington.

Just five of yesterday's cases were infectious while in the community, said the Ministry of Health. The remaining 15 were already in self-isolation.

Of today's cases, five are yet to be epidemiologically linked to the outbreak. Overall, 33 cases from the outbreak can still not be linked.

There are now 40 cases in hospital with Covid-19: of these, eight are in North Shore hospital, 14 in Auckland and the remaining 18 in Middlemore. The latter has been the source of possible new Covid transmission, with a patient on a surgical ward testing positive for the virus after being moved into a room with three other patients.

Six patients are now in intensive care with Covid.

Eight subclusters have been epidemiologically linked, with the two largest still the Māngere church group with 363 cases and  the Birkdale social network cluster with 76. In addition, there are six epidemiologically unlinked subclusters.

Of the 38,058 confirmed contacts of Covid-19 cases, 86% have received a call from contact tracers to confirm testing and self-isolation requirements. 91% of contacts have already received at least one test.

The number of locations of interest has dropped significantly, down to 122. That's in part due to the fact we are now more than two weeks into the current outbreak.

On the testing front, numbers remain fairly low. Nationwide, 4750 tests were given out over the past 24 hours with just over 2000 of those in Auckland alone. By contrast, the rolling average over the past week has been more than 13,000. Grant Robertson and Ashley Bloomfield both said that testing numbers need to remain high in Auckland to confirm there is no undetected transmission of delta.

There have been no new unexpected wastewater test results, the ministry confirmed.

Yesterday saw another 38,710 vaccines administered nationwide. Of those, 26,738 were first doses and 11,972 were second.

An update on alert levels will be provided by Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield at 4pm.

12.55pm: Latest delta numbers due via press release

A PSA that we're anticipating the latest delta numbers to drop into my inbox anytime from 1pm and there will be no press conference until 4pm.

I'll have the press release published, in full, when it lands – so keep this page nice and refreshed until then!

12.30pm: Backlash after Seymour encourages followers to use Māori priority vaccine code

David Seymour has been criticised for encouraging his supporters not to book in for a vaccine and instead use a priority code reserved for Māori.

Vaccination rates for Māori and Pasifika have been low since the rollout began. Stats from the last week show that almost one in seven New Zealanders got a jab, but the figure for Māori was closer to one in 11.

In a tweet, Seymour said: "If you’re worried about vaccination waiting times, you no longer need to make an appointment. All you need to do is use this access code." The code he referred to is a priority access code for Māori who wish to get a jab at the Trusts Arena in West Auckland.

“The virus doesn’t discriminate on race, so neither should the rollout," Seymour added in a subsequent press release.

“I’ve heard of many people who have had appointments cancelled or have had to wait weeks for vaccinations bookings. Why should some be able to jump the queue, and others have to wait for weeks."

He added: “The truth is that access to vaccination has been the same for people of all ethnic backgrounds. If fewer Māori are vaccinated it can’t be a problem with access, but this move by the Government insinuates that Māori have trouble making a booking."

Seymour's tweet has received widespread backlash online: Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson labelled the comments "unintelligent" while the Māori Party's Rawiri Waititi said Seymour was sabotaging our most vulnerable.

12.00pm: Extremely Online – When games play you

What is an ARG? How do you play? Are you being played? All will be revealed in this week's episode of Extremely Online, from the team at Shit You Should Care About.

11.15am: Big businesses claim millions over first fortnight of wage subsidy

The first two weeks of the wage subsidy saw over $17 million paid out to 69 large companies – i.e those with over 100 staff.

Some of those claimants, according to the Herald, include Air New Zealand, several McDonalds franchisees and Postie Plus. Overall, almost a billion dollars was paid out across all 242,600 businesses who claimed the subsidy for its first two weeks.

And, with Auckland set to remain in lockdown until at least next week, that bill will only be climbing.

Air New Zealand's chief Greg Foran said the wage subsidy was crucial to the business surviving lockdown. "It doesn't solve everything but it certainly helps so that is well underway already," he said.


A paid message from our partner Te Taura Whiri/ the Māori Language Commission: Join us in celebrating te reo Māori at 12pm on Tuesday 14 September. Sign yourself and your workplace, whānau and flatmates up to our Māori Language Moment: https://www.reomaori.co.nz/ Kia kaha te reo Māori, kia kaha Aotearoa!


10.50am: Two staff members breached MIQ protocols

Two staff members were among a number of breaches at managed isolation since the current delta outbreak began. There have been eight bubble breaches overall, according to MIQ head brigadier Rose King.

"Auckland bubble breaches include incidences such as a staff member wearing their mask incorrectly, and separately another staff member wearing an incorrect mask," King told RNZ. "Both were reminded of PPE protocols."

Other breaches included people leaving their room to go to another room to "pick up, or pass on items" and one person leaving their room for a smoke break without an escort. "All people involved were reminded of protocol around opening doors and transiting through hallways without an escort."

9.55am: Peter Williams leaves Magic Talk, Ryan Bridge named AM Show host

MediaWorks has unveiled several key changes to its broadcasting line-up, with morning show host Peter Williams set to leave the network.

In a release, it was revealed Williams would be retiring from broadcasting. Little detail was provided about his moves, and no quotes from Williams were provided. The network said the 67-year-old wished to "enjoy a life with fewer commitments". Before joining Magic, Williams had been a visible presence on TV1 for nearly 50 years.

Meanwhile, Ryan Bridge has officially been named host of the AM Show on TV3, after the departure of Duncan Garner last month.

Bridge has been filling in on the show for the past few weeks. Previously, he has hosted Magic Talk's drive show along with reporting for RadioLive and Newshub. “I am really excited to be the new host of The AM Show," said Bridge. There’s nothing quite like morning television – it's live, largely unscripted and allows you to connect with everyday Kiwis as they get ready to take on the day."

9.10am: NZ finishes 2020 Paralympics with 12 medals

New Zealand has wrapped its 2020 Paralympics campaign in 24th place on the table, pulling in 12 medals overall.

Of those, six were gold, along with three silvers and three bronze. All 12 of our medals came from either the pool or the athletics field, with swimmer Sophie Pascoe grabbing four alone.

According to Stuff, our overall medal haul was a big drop from the 21 in Rio. From all 14 Paralympic Games that New Zealand has attended, Tokyo would rate 9th equal based total medals.

8.30am: 'Encouraging signs' for alert level drop outside of Auckland

The South Island is waiting nervously to hear if it will be able to drop down to alert level two.

Cabinet is meeting today to decide whether the country (except Auckland) will remain at alert level three after the current set of restrictions expires tomorrow night.

Speaking to Newstalk ZB, deputy prime minister Grant Robertson would not pre-empt this afternoon's announcement – but said there were positive signs. "It's been an encouraging period of time, not only the fact that we haven't seen cases outside of Auckland but that case numbers in Auckland appear to have come down on a trend," he said. "All the signs are encouraging."

The crucial "R rate" – the rate at which the outbreak is spreading – was now sitting around 0.6 to 0.8, said Robertson. That would suggest new case numbers will keep dropping rapidly.

On whether the 90-year-old woman who died from delta over the weekend had been vaccinated, Robertson said he did not know. However, he said that the woman could not be treated in the normal way, such as with ventilators.

7.55am: Hospital patient in shared room tests positive for Covid-19

A man who shared a room with three others on a surgical ward at Auckland's Middlemore Hospital has tested positive for Covid-19.

According to TVNZ, the man was admitted to the ward about 7am on Sunday and by 10.30am he was being tested due to his Covid symptoms. One of the three others in the room, a 91-year-old man, said he was "horrified".

“I’m 91 – I’m an ill man and seriously at risk. It was so damned obvious when we saw him in the room," he said, questioning why the man was allowed to remain on the ward while he waited for a test result.

"How did he get admitted into the Edmund Hillary block with three others let alone the fourth floor?" said the 91-year-old.

Deputy prime minister Grant Robertson has confirmed the positive case, saying the man entered hospital for an unrelated reason. All other patients on the ward will be tested and go into isolation, he said.

As always, the next official health update will come at 1pm.

7.30am: From The Bulletin

Here are some of today's top stories from The Bulletin, our daily news wrap. Read more here.

Booster shots could be on hold overseas. Officials in the US and UK are now indicating that programmes for a third jab could be delayed or scaled back as new research comes in. Both countries had intended to start offering booster shots this month. As the The New York Times reports, the White House has been told that boosters might only be necessary in a very few cases and not for months. The head of the UK’s programme told The Guardian that it’s probably best to wait to see how the pandemic evolves before offering a third jab.


Comparing plans to tackle the housing crisis. House prices around the world have spiked during Covid-19. Business Insider looks at how the US, Canada and New Zealand are trying to return to housing affordability. In short: The Americans want to massively increase supply, Canada is targeting foreign speculators and New Zealand is placing a heavy burden on the reserve bank. The story gives an interesting sense of the scale of response from each country.


The quiet Greens. While National and Act have thrown themselves into opposition, offering up a long list of ways to fix what they think is broken, the Greens have all but vanished. Andrea Vance has written for Stuff about what's happened. The party brought new activists into parliament just over a year ago who aren't bound to supporting Labour. While they’ve poked around on rent freezes and Judith Collins, the party has shrunk into the background by choice. That could change. Look to Te Pāti Māori’s outspoken co-leaders for what could have been.

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

Yesterday'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 on Saturday.
  • See all the locations of interest using our interactive map.
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