Live updates, October 6: Covid patient who died had been in ICU for 40 days; new Hamilton locations of interest added

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for October 6, by Stewart Sowman-Lund. Auckland is now at step one of the alert level three pathway. Reach me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


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5.50pm Unvaccinated people won’t be allowed at parliament

Parliament is to introduce a vaccine passport by the start of next year that will apply to all visitors, including the public, according to speaker Trevor Mallard.

Members of parliament stuck in Auckland or Waikato under level three will also now have a means of getting back to Wellington. They’ll be required to provide a negative Covid-19 test before leaving for Wellington, then undergo five days of self-isolation in the capital before showing a second negative Covid-19 test.

Parliamentarians are essential workers. Mallard said that any member who breaks the rule might cause the entire parliamentary precinct to be moved to level three.

People at parliament are currently required to wear masks and maintain social distancing at all times.

5.40pm Chris Hipkins on Waiheke annexe and Waikato border review

Appearing on RNZ’s Checkpoint, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins confirmed that he made the decision last night for Waiheke Island and Great Barrier to close to non-residents at level three. “If they get Covid-19 positive cases there, it will create significant challenges in that they don’t have the healthcare facilities available,” he said. 

Following today’s new cases in Kāwhia and Karapiro, which are outside the current level three boundary, Hipkins said that the Waikato border will be reviewed over the next 24 hours. “At this point, it is contained,” he told Checkpoint. “We know who they are, we know who they’ve been in contact with.”

On available vaccine doses, Hipkins told Checkpoint there were currently 1.5 million doses in the country. “We are not going to run out of vaccine doses” he said. With the large-scale vaccine “day of action” planned for October 16, Hipkins reiterated that people can still act ahead of time.

“There are 350,000 available appointments in the next seven days, and we want people to use them,” he said. 

4.35pm New locations of interest added, including Waikato Hospital and a Hamilton supermarket

Nine new locations of interest have been added to the Ministry of Health’s list today, including two in Hamilton.

The emergency department reception at Waikato Hospital in Hamilton is now a location of interest, with the exposure time listed as 10.30pm-11.10pm on Friday, October 1. Earlier today, the Ministry of Health confirmed an asymptomatic person who visited ED on Friday night had since tested positive, and several staff had been stood down.

Countdown Dinsdale in Hamilton is also now a location of interest for 10.15am-12.30pm on Friday, October 1.

Auckland locations of interest added this afternoon, all relating to exposure times in the past eight days, include the Royal Laundromat in Henderson for three separate periods on Sunday October 3, a BP in Takapuna for a brief period on Friday morning, a sushi shop in Glenfield on Thursday, a bakery in Onehunga on Tuesday, a Beach Haven Four Square on Saturday and an Ōtara grocery store for two separate periods on Sunday October 3 and Monday October 4.

See the full list of locations of interest on the ministry’s website and see our interactive map of all locations here.

4.15pm Man who died with Covid had been in ICU for 40 days

The man whose death at Middlemore Hospital was announced today was in his 50s, had underlying health conditions and had been in intensive care for 40 days, the Ministry of Heath has revealed in a press statement.

His family is being supported by their church and community, said the director of public health Caroline McElnay. “Our thoughts are with his whānau at this deeply sad time.”

3.35pm: Winston Peters says Pfizer letter never made it to cabinet

Winston Peters has denied knowledge of a letter from Pfizer suggesting the vaccine manufacturer was keen to start negotiations early.

According to the National Party, who obtained the correspondence, New Zealand officials did not meet with Pfizer until six weeks after the June 2020 letter was received. The opposition’s claim is that our vaccine rollout could have started quicker if the meeting had taken place earlier.

In a statement, Peters – who was deputy prime minister in June last year – said the letter never made it to cabinet. “If New Zealand First had known then that Pfizer was willing and able to begin negotiations we would immediately have urged funds be made available – just as we had done months before when MFAT set $50 million aside for the COVID response in the Pacific,” he said.

“It is clear we had the capacity to be front of the queue for vaccinations and delivery, but this critical information was never shared with us at that time, and discussions about funding contracts did not occur until months later.”

Peters called on the prime minister to explain why the letter wasn’t treated with greater urgency. “It is inexcusable that this delay not only occurred but was first kept and delayed from cabinet.  It has clearly caused the devastating flow-on effects we are seeing today in Auckland and around New Zealand,” says Peters said.

Jacinda Ardern and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, before last year’s election (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

3.05pm: How the vaccine rollout’s tracking

The government has announced a nationwide vaccine drive will take place next Saturday in an effort to bolster numbers before vaccine certificates are introduced from November.

Auckland’s shift out of alert level three restrictions also largely hinges on vaccination rates.

In these charts below, from The Spinoff’s data whiz Harkanwal Singh, you can see which areas are leading the pack and lagging behind when it comes to first and second doses.

  • Highest first doses: Chatham Islands (101%), Queenstown-Lakes District (90%), Wellington City (89%), Dunedin City (87%)

  • Highest second doses: Chatham Islands (78%), Dunedin City (58%), Central Otago (58%), Marlborough (58%), Kaikoura (58%)
  • Lowest second doses: Otorohanga District (34%), Kawerau District (35%), Ashburton District (36%).

2.20pm: Auckland City Hospital listed as location of interest

Auckland City Hospital has been added to the Ministry of Health's locations of interest for long periods of time on Thursday, Friday and Saturday last week.

On Sunday, the Ministry of Health reported that a parent of a baby in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) had tested positive for Covid-19 and that movements in and out of NICU had been restricted as a result. The DHB was testing all staff, whānau and babies in the unit as a precaution.

2.00pm: First OCR rise in seven years

The Reserve Bank has bumped up the official cash rate for the first time in seven years. It has been increased by 0.25 points up to 0.5.

The last change was a significant 0.75 drop in March 2020, as the country prepared to enter nationwide lockdown.

Today's move was largely expected by economists with Covid-19 restrictions beginning to ease in many countries.

"It is appropriate to continue reducing the level of monetary stimulus so as to maintain low inflation and support maximum sustainable employment," said a statement by the central bank. "The level of global economic activity has continued to recover, supported by accommodative monetary and fiscal settings, and rising vaccination rates enabling a relaxation of mobility restrictions.

"While economic uncertainty remains elevated due to the prevalent impact of Covid-19, cost pressures are becoming more persistent and some central banks have started the process of reducing monetary policy stimulus."

1.55pm: 'Weak positive' Covid-19 result under investigation in Whangārei

An essential worker in Whangārei has returned a "weak positive" Covid-19 result, prompting an investigation.

According to TVNZ, the person was tested on Monday as part of surveillance testing and was asymptomatic when tested. A spokesperson for the Northland DHB said it was only "a matter of time" until a case was confirmed in Northland. "It is imperative that everyone who is eligible is vaccinated against Covid-19 as soon as possible,” they said.

At today's 1pm briefing, Chris Hipkins said the test result was not yet clear and that often these results are subsequently found to be false positives or historic. The person was normally based in Auckland, he added.

1.40pm: Second person charged over organising Auckland 'freedom picnic'

A second person has been charged over organising a major anti-lockdown protest – dubbed a "freedom picnic" – at Auckland Domain over the weekend.

As many as 2000 people, many unmasked, crowded into the venue to hear from people including Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki and voice their discontent with the ongoing lockdown.

According to police, the 57-year-old man has been charged with breaching the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 and the alert level three order. He, along with a 63-year-old man widely speculated to be Tamaki, will appear in Auckland District Court next Tuesday.

Further charges are possible, said police.

1.30pm: Confusion continues over new level three rules

Three days on from announcing the new alert level three guidelines, the government is still fielding questions on aspects that have caused confusion.

Here is a verbatim transcript from today's 1pm briefing that may – or may not – help.

Reporter: Can playgrounds open?

Chris Hipkins: Yes

Reporter: Can stadiums open, under alert level two, with more than 100 people?

CH: *pause* I'll have to check that one for you.

Reporter: Can you go to the toilet if you go to your friend's house for a barbecue?

CH: No – unless it's an outdoor toilet.

Reporter: Why are there different rules for people who are socialising – you can have two bubbles for up to 10 people – but if I have a group workout that can be up to 10 bubbles?

CH: They'll be socially distanced, if you look at the guidelines for any of those group activities. There are additional requirements for things like a group workout where people have to be a certain distance apart, and so on.

Reporter: So if friends want to catch-up and bring their yoga mat along, that's fine?

CH: If it was part of a structured class and they were following all of the relevant guidelines, then yes they could.

1.00pm: NZ records 28th Covid death; 39 community cases

New Zealand has recorded its 28th Covid-related death: a patient in Middlemore Hospital. Further information will be released later today.

There are 39 new cases of the virus today, including nine in Waikato. So far, just one remains unlinked. Four cases from yesterday are still unlinked, however 19 of these 24 cases were infectious while in the community.

Director of public health Caroline McElnay said an additional 36 cases could be expected in the coming days as a result of the number of close contacts of confirmed cases.

All the Waikato cases are all linked to known cases, confirmed McElnay. Two of them reside outside the alert level boundary, as reported by media this morning, in Kāwhia and Karapiro. McElnay confirmed a positive case presented at Waikato hospital's emergency department on Friday night.

The asymptomatic patient was screened when they entered ED by staff who were following alert level two protocols. In a cautious approach, the DHB has temporarily stood down a number of ED staff who are self-isolating. Results from rapid PCR tests are expected today, said McElnay.

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said, at this stage, the Waikato boundary will not extend despite the confirmed cases in parts of alert level two. This will be under constant review for the next 24 hours, he said.

Asked whether officials had identified the index case for the new Waikato outbreak, McElnay said they believed it was the Hamilton East case – but this had not yet been confirmed.

There are 32 people in hospital with Covid-19, seven in intensive care. On the testing front: 24,714 swabs were processed across New Zealand yesterday, with 13,331 swabs taken in Auckland alone.

The Ministry of Health is now advising people to consider a shorter gap in between the two doses of vaccine. "By enabling people to have that second dose sooner, after three weeks, more people can be fuller vaccinated sooner," said McElnay. As reported in the 12.55pm update, the vaccination drive will now include a "national day of action" on October 16.

“There will be a roll for everybody to play," said Hipkins, indicating that politics should be put to one side and public leaders should get involved.

In Auckland 85% people have now received their first dose of the vaccine. Nationwide, more than 17,500 first doses were administered yesterday – up from both Sunday and Monday.

Following reports a prominent gang leader had been given special permission to cross the Auckland boundary to help encourage vaccinations to take place, Hipkins said “a large number” of gang members were included in the current outbreak. Neither he nor McElnay had the precise figures.

12.55pm: 'National day of action' announced in final push for vaccinations

The vaccination drive will culminate in a "national day of action" later this month that will see clinics keep their doors open late and civic leaders encouraged to get involved.

This mega push for people to get jabs comes a day after the prime minister warned people they may be barred from venues and events over summer if they don't get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins described the day of action as "a bit like" election day. "We will have vaccine clinics open throughout Aotearoa all day and into the evening... [and] we will be asking all our political and civic leaders to contribute to a big collective effort to turn people out," he said.

A website will go live this afternoon with information about the day and how people can get involved.

12.45pm: Covid update due amid reports of three new cases in Waikato

Today marks not just a slight easing in level three conditions for Auckland but 50 days since the lockdown began. Looking ahead to the 1pm Ministry of Health update, in many ways the most important of the numbers will be not the new cases – we've been warned to expect those to keep bubbling away – but the vaccination first doses. After nosediving in recent weeks it picked up a little yesterday to roughly 14,000. Has the shift in approach signalled this week, and the exhortation to see restrictions lifted through higher vaccination rates, arrested the recent decline?

We are also anticipating further details on three Covid-19 cases reported around Waikato. Two of those – in Kāwhia and Cambridge – are outside the alert level three boundary. The third case tested positive after visiting Waikato Hospital's emergency department.

As always, keep this page nice and refreshed for full live coverage or watch the livestream below.

12.15pm: Waikato Hospital patient tests positive for Covid-19; case reported in Cambridge

Updated

An unexpected case of Covid-19 has cropped up in Waikato Hospital, causing some staff to be sent home and tested for the virus.

Stuff's reporting the hospital case visited the emergency department on Friday night has since tested positive. They were not symptomatic on entry, and it was prior to Waikato having any locations of interest. However it's now believed the person may have been infectious and staff who had contact have been stood down as a precaution.

Meanwhile, Stuff has also reported a new case in Cambridge – outside the level three boundary. If proved correct, this may be the third mystery case in Waikato reported today after a new case was also allegedly also detected in the level two town of Kāwhia.

11.50am: Waiheke, Great Barrier, off-limits to Aucklanders during level three

Don't plan day trips to Waiheke or Great Barrier Island during the new alert level three. The two islands have added an additional layer of Covid protection, shutting their doors to visitors.

According to Stuff, health orders have been approved that will stop anyone who doesn’t normally live on either of the two islands visiting for recreational reasons. However, those who permanently live on the islands will be able to travel into the city to safely meet with friends or family.

The Waiheke Local Board had tried to have the island moved down to level two, which won't be happening.

11.15am: Pfizer waited six weeks for first vaccine meeting

The government is once again facing claims it slowed down the vaccine rollout. This time it's accused of making Pfizer wait six weeks for a meeting.

Information released to National has revealed Pfizer wrote to the MBIE in June 2020, saying it could provide "millions of vaccine doses by the end of 2020". It took until August 14 for that meeting to occur – six weeks after Pfizer’s first letter and four days after funds had been allocated to establish a negotiating team for vaccines.

National's Chris Bishop said it was "disgracefully negligent" of the government. "While other countries were signing bilateral advance purchase agreements with manufacturers, our government was sitting on its hands," he said. “By the time the government got its act together to get into a position to negotiate agreements other countries had already concluded theirs."

The opposition has long argued that if the vaccine rollout occurred more swiftly, Auckland could have avoided the current seven-week lockdown. “The prime minister now urges Kiwis to get vaccinated and says this is the way for restrictions to be loosened. She’s right, but this same urgency should’ve been deployed last year when Pfizer was trying to talk to her Government about their vaccine," Bishop said.

10.30am: New Raglan locations of interest confirmed

A pair of new locations of interest, linked to confirmed Covid-19 cases, have been announced in Raglan.

One of these – the Aroha Sushi shop on Wallis Street – appears to be connected to a worker as it is listed twice and for full day shifts. The other is the Raglan laundromat, linked on one occasion.

They join a liquor store in the town. So far, no public locations of interest have been identified in Hamilton where another confirmed case of Covid-19 resides.

New locations (Image / MOH)

The full list is available here

10.20am: Person in level two Kawhia tests positive – report

A person in Kāwhia – outside the Waikato boundary and therefore in alert level two – has tested positive for Covid-19.

According to the Herald, the person is a close contact of the confirmed case in Hamilton east. Ōtorohanga district mayor Max Baxter said he was made aware of the new case this morning.

Additional testing would be available in the town, claimed Baxter. "I believe they're going to be setting up more testing centres... in Kāwhia," he said. "So I think there's going to be a bit more activity out there."

At this stage, no information has been released from the Ministry of Health. It's likely this will be made official at the 1pm update.

9.30am: Trade minister celebrates 'excellent' relationship with France – in front of Australian flag

The trade minister has celebrated the "excellent" relationship between France and New Zealand – while posing in front of an Australian flag.

Damien O'Connor is on a whirlwind tour of Europe and Washington, that was only announced in the week of his departure.

Taking to Twitter to share one of several snapshots from his tour, O'Connor said it was "great to catch up" with his French counterpart Franck Riester. While his choice of emoji was clearly the New Zealand flag, the backdrop... less so.

The gaffe was almost achieved successfully – were it not for the distinctly Australian star popping out in the lower corner of the flag.

It's certainly not the first time our two flags have been confused: Australia's ambassador to the Philippines posed behind a New Zealand flag earlier this year, while our water polo squad were welcomed to the world championships with the Australian flag in 2015.

8.50am: Senior Mongrel Mob member given travel exemption to assist vaccine drive

A senior Mongrel Mob gang member was given an exemption to cross the Auckland border to help with the vaccination rollout.

According to Newstalk ZB, Sonny Fatupaito – head of the Waikato chapter of the mob – was allowed to enter Auckland to assist with reaching people within the gang community who may have not been vaccinated.

"This required immediate intervention from the senior leadership in the Waikato Kingdom, and this onsite intervention ensured compliance and welfare assistance was provided as needed," Fatupaito said via a spokesperson. His travel was permitted only "under strict Covid-19 protocols, enforced by health officials and the police".

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said he supported the involvement of Fatupaito. "I back any method that will help us to reach those who are hard to reach, and back the ministry of health and police to make the right decisions about how we do that," he said.

National's Simeon Brown, on the other hand, has questioned why a gang member was given a travel exemption while people who want to leave the lockdown for personal reasons are not allowed to.

8.30am: Rules updated after mixed messaging

The official Covid-19 website was quietly updated overnight to align its messaging on the new alert level rules with a statement from the department of prime minister and cabinet.

As had been pointed out online, the Covid-19 website previously said that outdoor exercise could only be undertaken by a maximum of two bubbles, of no more than 10 people. That contradicted information provided directly from DPMC, which said that the 10 person cap remained but they could be from 10 different bubbles.

The official messaging on outdoor exercise now reads:

  • Outdoor exercise classes limited to 10 people, from as many as 10 bubbles. Everyone must maintain two metre physical distancing, so cannot include contact sports.

A reminder, however, that the rules are different if you are not exercising:

  • Outdoor gatherings between two households can go ahead, with a maximum of 10 people attending.

There was also some confusion over the ability to use a guest's toilet while visiting in the backyard. Both deputy PM Grant Robertson and Ashley Bloomfield said "yes", so long as there was no gathering inside while you were using the facilities. But the latest advice from DPMC overruled that:

  • "Visitors cannot go into your house at all. If you have visitors they can meet in your garden or in a public outdoor space. The important thing is that your gathering of 10 people is outdoors to reduce the ability of the virus to transmit. This includes walking through a house to access the backyard or use the bathroom facilities."

We've explained the rules for you here

8.00am: The unanswered questions on vaccination certificates

Vaccine certificates will be introduced from next month – but a number of unanswered questions remain.

We know so far that the document will be required to attend "high risk" events, such as music festivals. But the government has not confirmed whether you'll need proof of vaccination to visit a restaurant, go to church, or teach a class of unvaccinated primary school students.

Speaking to RNZ's Morning Report, Covid response minister Chris Hipkins said "final decisions" have not yet been made about where a certificate will be needed. That included churches, which have been the epicentre of at least two Covid-19 outbreaks since the pandemic first began. "I wouldn't make a call on that. They're not front of mind, they're not top of my list," he said. "I wouldn't rule it out but at this time the sorts of things we're talking about are events or hospitality venues."

Hipkins could also not confirm whether vaccinations for teachers would be mandatory. At this stage, children under 12 – and therefore all primary school age children – are unable to be vaccinated in New Zealand. "Cabinet will be talking about that on Monday," Hipkins said.

Accused of drip-feeing information, Hipkins said the government has been consulting different sectors and would likely make further announcements next week.

Business group calls for certificates to be mandatory for workplaces

Meanwhile, the Employers and Manufacturers Association wants vaccination certificates mandatory to enter the workplace. That would not mean that all businesses require vaccination, but simply proof of vaccination status. Chief Executive Brett O’Riley said carrying a certificate would give employers and employees the certainty they want in their workplace.

"You’ll need a vaccine passport at work and if you are visiting a workplace, retail or service outlet or a bar or restaurant you’ll also need a passport to enter," he said.

Those who choose not to be vaccinated – or are exempt for medical reasons – would be required to display proof of this on their certificate as well. "The unvaccinated may have to take some responsibility for the circumstances or decisions they face while the extra precautions would help employers manage a potential mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated staff."

At this stage, the government has not made a formal decision on when vaccine certificates would be mandatory.

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