Live updates, September 7: R number of outbreak down to 0.4; new locations of interest added

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for September 7, by Stewart Sowman-Lund. Send me thoughts and feelings to stewart@thespinoff.co.nz. Auckland is currently at alert level four, the rest of NZ will move to level two at 11.59pm.


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Today’s numbers

  • There are 21 new community Covid-19 cases.
  • The outbreak total now sits at 841, although 147 cases have recovered.
  • 39 people are in hospital with Covid-19, including six in intensive care.
  • 7255 Covid tests were taken nationwide yesterday, 5852 of those in Auckland.
  • On the vaccine front, 66,310 doses were administered yesterday.

6.40pm: 29 Middlemore staff stood down as close contacts; four wards closed

Following a patient testing positive for Covid-19 on Sunday, 29 staff at Middlemore Hospital are now being treated as close contacts and have been stood down for the next 14 days, according to a report from Michael Morrah on Newshub. These include doctors, nurses and cleaners.

In addition, four wards have been closed and all patients in those wards are being treated as if they have Covid, according to the report.

Earlier in this evening’s bulletin, Morrah interviewed a man whose wife had been in the same ward as the positive case. She was told to isolate at home, but he has diabetes and their son is an essential worker. On calling Healthline, the family was told that the woman should be in MIQ, according to the report. An elderly man who shared a room with the case, who wasn’t removed from the room to await the results of his test, told Newshub a senior Middlemore executive had apologised that he was put in those circumstances. The daughter of the 91-year-old man said they had not been told how at risk he is, how long he has to isolate for or when he’ll be tested.

Morrah also reported that there was concern the virus could have spread to two wards beneath the affected one through the ventilation system, but after a smoke test was conducted, the risk was deemed extremely low.

6.30pm: ‘Outbreak not over yet’ – police urge compliance in level two

With all the country except Auckland moving to level two at 11..59pm tonight, police are reminding people excited about a return to (sort of) freedom that they’ll be out in force ensuring compliance with level two restrictions. “We understand people will be enthusiastic about the drop in alert level and getting back to some of the activities they love, but this outbreak is not over yet,” said police commissioner Andrew Coster in a statement.

As outlined in Toby Manhire’s explainer, the biggest change to level two since earlier iterations is that masks and scanning with the Covid Tracer app, or signing in on a register, are now mandatory in many places.

“We will continue to take a graduated approach as we all work through the new rules and ask for the public’s patience in this,” said Coster. “Police will take an education-first approach but will use enforcement where necessary.”

Compliance to date has been pleasing, said police, but as of 5pm yesterday, 197 people had been charged with a total of 212 offences nationwide, mostly for failing to comply with the Covid-19 public health order. Just over 500 people received formal warnings, with 3,711 issued with infringement notices.

4.40pm: New locations of interest include multiple supermarkets, dairy

The Ministry of Health has updated its list of locations of interest this afternoon, adding recent visits to several Auckland supermarkets.

Both Pakn’Save and Countdown in Botany were visited by cases in the late afternoon/early evening of Saturday, September 4, while Countdown at the NorthWest shopping centre in Massey was visited during the early evening of Friday, September 3. Other locations added today include West Liquor Royal Heights in Massey for the evening of Wednesday, September 1, and the Z service station in Manurewa for the early hours of Saturday, September 4.

Multiple locations from earlier dates were also added today, including several separate visits to Countdown Auckland Airport on Friday August 27, Monday August 30 and Wednesday September 1, and a visit to Mojo’s Superette in Māngere Bridge on the evening of Saturday, August 28.

All the locations added today advise affected people to self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days, get a test and isolate if necessary, rather than isolate and get tested at multiple stages regardless of symptoms, indicating they are considered relatively low-risk.

The full list of locations of interest is here, and our interactive map of them is here.

4.20pm: R number in delta outbreak likely 0.4 – Hendy, Plank

According to the latest modelling of New Zealand’s community outbreak, the R number is 0.4 – indicating cases are very much on a downward trend. That’s according to Te Pūnaha Matatini modellers Shaun Hendy and Michael Plank, who say in a piece on The Conversation that their modelling shows the lockdown and contact tracing efforts are working, and we’ve got a good chance of eliminating delta.

The R number is the reproduction number. If it’s less than one, that’s good news – each case is infecting less than one person. Or, in real terms, 10 cases are infecting on average four people. On the weekend of August 28-29, when New Zealand reached a peak of 82 and 83 cases each day, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said the R number was about 0.8. A week and a half on, we’ve had three days in a row of around 20 cases, and the R number confirms we’ve made real progress.

That 0.4 R number is very close to what was observed in the March/April 2020 outbreak, say Hendy and Plank, meaning the current lockdown is proving just as effective at stamping out the virus, even though delta is twice as infectious as the original variant.

What does this mean for Auckland, still languishing in level four? On the current trend, case numbers could be into single digits next week, say Hendy and Plank. “If all new cases are close contacts who have been isolating throughout their infectious period, Auckland may be able to safely move to alert level three then.”

It’s possible the outbreak will have a long tail, however, and to prevent that, it’s crucial Aucklanders stick to their bubbles, they say. “Each time Delta finds its way into a new household, it tends to rapidly infect everyone in that bubble. This could potentially lead to a significant number of new cases and cause the outbreak to drag on. Again, denying the virus any chance to find new bubbles to infect is the best way to stamp it out quickly.”

The full reports of Hendy and Plank’s latest research are here.

3.40pm: 80 homes ‘significantly’ damaged in Auckland floods, four left uninhabitable

About 80 homes were significantly damaged in flooding that hit parts of Auckland last week.

Of those, just four received a “red placard” meaning that the property was no longer habitable or had suffered significant structural compromise. 74 properties were yellow placarded as there was enough damage for the council to have concerns about the building’s performance, but not enough to prevent entry entirely.

Auckland mayor Phil Goff said support remained available to anyone impacted by the deluge.

“Last week’s flooding added an extra level of stress to what was already a difficult time, and my thoughts continue to be with those whose homes and businesses were affected,” he said. “If you need assistance, advice or support, please call the council on 0800 22 22 00.”

Image: Tina Tiller

Why did we not see the Auckland floods coming?

Writing for The Spinoff this morning, science journalist Paul Gorman questioned why Aucklanders were left unprepared for the torrential rain.

Here’s an extract:

When the heavens opened above West and North Auckland last Monday night, where was the official warning from MetService that it might happen? A lower-tier severe weather “watch” for heavy rain had been issued, along with advice that thunderstorms could bring downpours in places, but to the surprise of some no warning was released.

But, to the surprise of some, no warning was released, not until the following morning after a night of pouring rain.

Read the full piece here

2.55pm: Slow vaccine rollout not to blame for new level two rules – PM

The prime minister has rejected a claim from Judith Collins that our sluggish vaccination rollout is the cause of the new, strict, level two requirements.

From midnight tonight, all of the country outside Auckland will move to delta level two with new 50 person restrictions to be introduced for indoor venues.

Speaking in question time, Jacinda Ardern said even if our vaccine rollout has ramped up earlier in the year, we would likely still have delta restrictions in place. “Countries that started their vaccination programmes in earnest in February… in some cases still have restrictions in place, they still have gathering limits in place,” she said. “And in places where they don’t have that, they have record hospitalisations.”

The only thing that has constrained our vaccine rollout has been supply, said Ardern.

2.00pm: Officials ‘confident’ they know how Middlemore patient caught Covid

On the Middlemore patient who tested positive for Covid-19, Bloomfield said eight members of their 11-person household have now tested positive. He said public health teams were “quite confident about where the link is, some time ago, to the outbreak, and how the infection got into the household”. The family had complied well with level four rules, he said.

Asked how he would ensure something like this did not happen again, Bloomfield said he was “very satisfied that the clinicians made good decisions based on the information they had available at the time.” It is not feasible to test everyone who arrives at a hospital, Bloomfield added.

1.25pm: Tracking the delta outbreak, including today’s 21 cases

Here’s a look at how the delta outbreak is tracking, including the latest new cases. There were 21 new cases reported today – a slight bump on the last three days but still enough to continue the overall downward trend.

The total number of cases linked to the outbreak is now 841, although 147 have recovered. That brings the number of active cases down to 694.

1.10pm: 21 new community Covid cases announced, one case being investigated

Updated

There are 21 new community Covid-19 cases in Auckland, Ashley Bloomfield has announced. There is an additional case under investigation that has not yet been confirmed as either a border or community case.

The total number of cases is now 841, while 147 have recovered, said Bloomfield. That brings the number of active cases down below 700. One of the previously reported cases has been reclassified as a duplicate.

Ongoing investigation by public health units has resulted in 24 unlinked cases, falling from 33 yesterday. "Finding epidemiological links can take some time, but most of them can be linked," said Bloomfield.

85% of yesterday’s cases were contacts, and 80% were household contacts already isolating. Just four people – or 20% – were potentially infectious in the community, with eight exposure events between them.

39 cases are in hospital, six in intensive care, and four on ventilators. That's a drop from yesterday where 40 cases were reported in hospital.

There remain eight epidemiologically linked subclusters in the current outbreak. The two largest subclusters are the Māngere church group with 368 cases and the Birkdale social network cluster with 76 There are nine epidemiologically unlinked subclusters.

On saliva testing, Bloomfield said this will soon be an option for workers travelling across the Auckland border. Details are being firmed up now, with more than 830 border workers having so far signed up for saliva testing.

On the vaccine front, more than 66,000 doses were administered yesterday, said Bloomfield.

And testing saw a bit of a boost overnight, with 7255 completed nationwide yesterday. Of those, 5852 were in Auckland.

NZ (outside Auckland) prepares for shift to level two tonight

Despite all of the country, aside from Auckland, moving to the relative freedom of level two, Covid economic supports will stay in place nationwide for as long as Auckland is in higher restrictions. Ardern said this was because of the knock-on effects to other parts of the country.

That will mean hospitality businesses operating at level two will be able to access the wage subsidy.

Ardern clarified some of the rules at level two after yesterday's announcement. Buses and trains won’t be able to carry standing passengers at level two, said Ardern. This will not apply to school buses. Masks will not be a requirement at hospitality venues and bars, or gyms.

1.05pm: Vaccine deal announced to meet surge demand

The government has confirmed it is finalising arrangements to secure additional supplies of Pfizer vaccine in September.

"We are still waiting for final contracts to be signed," said Jacinda Ardern, saying she could not therefore confirm what countries would be providing the additional vaccines. However, Ardern said the vaccines would all be Pfizer – the government's chosen supplier – and that more than one country was involved in the deal.

Quantities and other info, at this stage, were all TBC.

Rapid negotiations with Pfizer have been taking place over last two weeks. “To say they have been complex would be an understatement,” said Ardern.

Recent demand for the vaccine in New Zealand has been at 180% of planned supply as a result of the delta outbreak.

The agenda

  • 1pm: Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield will reveal the latest delta Covid-19 cases on the final day of level three for much of the country. We are also keeping our fingers crossed for an announcement on vaccine stocks with the PM teasing a "multi-country" deal could be announced today.
  • 2pm: Parliament will sit on its final week before going back into recess.
  • Auckland is currently at alert level four, the rest of NZ will move to level two at 11.59pm. Read the rules here.

12.45pm: Latest delta cases to be revealed, plus a possible vaccine announcement

Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield are about to reveal the latest Covid-19 delta cases and are poised to announce a new multi-country deal to keep our vaccine rollout on track.

Yesterday was the third day in a row that 20 new community cases were announced so we're all keeping our fingers crossed for a drop into the teens today.

Meanwhile, a handful of new locations of interest have been announced today including a Z service station in Manurewa and a Countdown supermarket in Massey.

As always, watch below or follow along with our live coverage.

Watch below:

12.25pm: Call for financial boost for events sector in level two

Auckland Pride want the government to help out the arts sector while the the country is at alert level two.

As announced yesterday, the new "delta two" rules include tighter, 50 person restrictions on indoor events and 100 person limits for outdoor venues. That will cause substantial implications for the live events sector, said Auckland Pride.

Director Max Tweedie wants the government to provide specific funding for Creative NZ. "It's critical that the government once again empowers Creative NZ to provide support to our artists to ensure that the industry isn't decimated by the impacts of Covid-19," said Tweedie. "While we support the need for increased restrictions in response to the Delta variant, the Government must ensure the burden doesn't fall on our artists."

Aside from Auckland, the entire country will move to level two at midnight.

11.20am: Government spreading 'misinformation' on saliva testing

The government has been accused of "misinformation" over its comments about saliva testing.

Despite the Covid-19 tests being far less invasive than the typical PCR nasal swab, and providing quicker results, New Zealand has been well behind the rest of the world in adopting them.

US-based New Zealand researcher Anne Wylie told RNZ she had contacted the PM to express concerns about the length of time it has taken for saliva testing to be implemented. "I've even heard at some of the daily briefings things that are just downright wrong being said by the prime minister in regards to saliva testing," said Wylie.

"This misinformation among the government prevails. I'm trying to highlight that there is a lot of credit research out there now... and the government should be looking beyond just its internal advisors."

Wylie said New Zealand had an opportunity to help bring smaller companies and labs to the forefront.

"Look at the rest of the world. How many labs have opened up in countries around the world to respond to the crisis? [NZ] could be empowering more academic labs, clinical labs [and] small businesses," said Wylie.

Listen to the full interview here


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. Kia kaha te reo Māori, kia kaha Aotearoa!


10.10am: Prepare for delta level one, says Michael Baker

All of New Zealand – except, of course, Auckland – will shift to alert level two at 11.59pm tonight. But, as Toby Manhire dissects here, those rules will be a little different to the last time we were in level two.

Epidemiologist Michael Baker told Newshub that we can expect a revised version of level one in the future as well.

"I'm not sure if we'll ever get back quite to the level of freedom we've had for much of the last 18 months because the world has changed," he said. "The level of risk has risen but, certainly, we should back to something that resembles that [level 1] in terms of our ability to mix and so-on."

Baker also argued for mandatory mask wearing at schools during level two. Jacinda Ardern last night said that while mask wearing would be recommended (especially for students over 12), it would ultimately come down to person choice. Baker thinks that is a mistake.

"[Children are] just as good at transmitting this virus as adults," he said. "They have huge social networks so I think internationally, in many parts of the world, it's been the norm for well over a year now."

Toby Morris

9.05am: $24b transport plan unveiled

The government has announced plans to almost double its investment in transport infrastructure projects over the next three years.

The 44% boost will see $24.3 billion spent on transport services and infrastructure, via the 2021-24 National Land Transport Programme.

“Our government has listened to the concerns of local government and communities and we have stepped in to provide $2 billon of financing to boost road maintenance and public transport," said transport minister Michael Wood. "We couldn’t accept our roads deteriorating."

Almost $7 billion will be invested in local road and state highway maintenance, said Wood, which will see around 7000 lane kilometres of state highway and 18,000 lane kilometres of local roads renewed. Nearly $6 billion alone will go toward public transport, walking and cycling infrastructure.

Michael Wood and Jacinda Ardern standing together

Transport minister Michael Wood with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (Photo by Lynn Grieveson - Newsroom/Newsroom via Getty Images)

8.35am: Seymour doubles down on decision to share Māori vaccine code

Act Party leader David Seymour has defended his decision to share a priority vaccine code for Māori on Twitter.

His choice to post the code online was quickly met with backlash from social media but soon extended to include political colleagues in the Greens and the Māori Party.

Seymour told Newstalk ZB that people were “sick and tired of a government that frames every issue through the lens of ethnicity". "I think we've actually got to take a stand and say there is no country in history that has started formally treating people in law and in policy differently based on their ethnicity... any country that has tried that has gone absolutely down the tubes sooner or later."

The decision to create a priority code was "cack-handed" and "racially divisive", claimed Seymour.

8.00am: The 'day of the vaccine'? Multi-country deal set to be announced

The government is poised to announce a multi-country vaccine deal that will ensure we don't have to reduce the number of jabs being given out daily.

New Zealand currently has just over 700,000 doses in stock, meaning the current high rates of vaccination would not be able to be maintained in coming weeks without added arrivals.

Speaking to Newstalk ZB this morning, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins remained coy on whether an announcement would be coming today – but guaranteed it would be before the end of the week.

"We've got good numbers of people lining up [for a vaccine] and that's actually the key thing," he said. "I'm optimistic that we're going to be able to continue our vaccine programme at its current rate."

He said he couldn't confirm or deny when they would make the announcement, saying "multiple pieces of paper" had to be signed first. "I'm aware that other countries announce these things before there's a signed deal ... until we've got absolute confirmation we won't announce it."

Jacinda Ardern, appearing on RNZ, was equally cagey when asked about an announcement day. "We've gone out to try and seek out that extra supply... it's only for the month of September that things have been really tight for us." She confirmed an update would be made within the week.

Any deal will follow a recent move by Australia to "swap" vaccines with Singapore and the UK to meet increased demand.

7.30am: From The Bulletin

Some of the top stories from The Bulletin, our daily news wrap:

Welcome to delta two. All of New Zealand except greater Auckland will move to a revamped alert level two tonight which the prime minister has dubbed “delta two”. It follows days without any transmission of Covid-19 outside the Auckland region.

As detailed in The Spinoff, the rules have changed over mask use, record keeping and gathering sizes. People are now required to wear face coverings when outside the home, including in shops, malls, cafes and bars. You're also legally required to scan or keep a record of your visits while out in the community. Gatherings are also now capped at 50 people, that includes restaurants, clubs and events.


The Covid numbers: 20 new community cases were reported yesterday, 25% of the previous day’s cases were active in the community while infectious. All the cases were in Auckland. The overall trend of daily cases is falling rapidly, but only 2,088 tests were conducted in Auckland yesterday. 821 cases have now been detected in the delta outbreak. 38,710 people were vaccinated yesterday.


A bubble for seasonal workers is on ice. Plane loads of seasonal workers from the Pacific were meant to start arriving quarantine-free this month, but the plan has been halted because of the delta outbreak. Only a few hundred RSE workers have come in under the programme so far. It's a blow to the horticultural industry and as Stuff reports, it's unclear when bubbles could reopen with Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu.

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

A summary of the alert level decision

  • The entire country – bar Auckland – will move to alert level two at 11.59pm tonight.
  • 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.

The latest 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 on Sunday.



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