Live updates, October 7: Whangārei positive case confirmed; government chided for slowness on new testing

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for October 7, 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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The alert levels, in summary

  • The Waikato level three boundary has been extended to include the Waitomo district, Te Kuiti, Waipā and Ōtorohanga.
  • The new boundary will enter force at 11.59pm tonight and remain in place until at least Monday at 11.59pm.
  • Auckland remains in step one of its alert level three exit plan. This will be reviewed on Monday.
  • The rest of the country, including the South Island, is in alert level two.

Today’s numbers

  • There are 29 new community cases of Covid-19, including five in Waikato.
  • Of the 24 in Auckland, seven have not yet been linked. All cases in Waikato are linked.
  • There are now 23 people in hospital with Covid-19.

7.05pm: Positive case in visitor to Whangārei confirmed

News broke yesterday that a weak positive Covid result had been returned by an essential worker from Auckland who had travelled to Northland, which is currently in level two settings. A fresh test in Auckland has now confirmed the positive case, Ministry of Health had revealed.

“The ministry’s current assessment is that the earlier weak result combined with the positive result today indicate that the original test was taken in the early stage of the individual’s infection,” said director of public health Caroline McElnay. That should “help limit any potential spread of infection from the case”. Public health interviews are now under way to confirm the person’s movements.

Locations of interest in Auckland and Northland are expected to be posted tomorrow. Northland DHB will increase screening at hospitals for visitors and patients and arranging additional testing.

5.15pm: Vaccination rates where you live

In response to demands from across the board to provide detailed information on geographic and demographic vaccination uptake, the Ministry of Health has published this afternoon the “SA2” dataset. more detailed stats Spinoff’s head of data, Harkanwal Singh, has plotted all that on an interactive map of the country. Check that out here.

4.30pm: Extended level three map for Waikato released

At the 1pm briefing earlier this afternoon, Chris Hipkins announced that the chunk of northwest Waikato that has been put into level three would be extended in response to new cases emerging. The map of the new border has now been released. Below, the map as a whole, including the Auckland region (which is now in level three, step one, with the eased restrictions that affords) and the Waikato area that is under old-school level three measures, at least until Monday. You can search by address here.

3.45pm: The Covid hospitalisation rate, tracked

Some welcome relief today that nine people were discharged from hospital overnight after being admitted for Covid-related reasons. However, that news came a day after New Zealand’s 28th death from the virus. There are now four people in intensive care.

For more: The Spinoff’s Covid Tracker

3.30pm: Ministry of Health facing injunction over Māori vaccination data

The Ministry of Health will face a High Court challenge to release data regarding Māori vaccinations.

The injunction comes from the Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency. According to 1News, the agency’s seeking Māori NHI info so vaccine providers can directly contact unvaccinated Māori. One of those involved in filing in the injunction, John Tamihere, said: “It’s a sad day when you have to take legal action against your own mob.”

Tamihere yesterday claimed the ministry was sabotaging attempts to lift vaccine rates by refusing to provide the data. “If they hand it over, within an hour I can deploy my mobile units on a schedule between now and Christmas – which is only 11 weeks away,” he said. “There is no sense of urgency for them [the officials], because they are all OK, their community is all OK.”

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said officials were working to provide as much data as they could, taking privacy laws into account.

3.05pm: What risks did a move to level three bring?

Toby Manhire writes:

Takeaways notwithstanding, the most significant change in Auckland’s move from level four to level three just over a fortnight ago was how many people who went back to work. From construction and factories to hospitality, the total number returning to workplaces roughly tripled, based on MBIE estimates, going from about 150,000 to 450,000.

Last week I asked the Ministry of Health for some information on how many infections might be happening in workplaces. A spokesperson came back yesterday to say that in the nine days from September 22 to October 1, there were 47 workplace exposure events that had been associated with 26 community cases. “Please note that this is a simplified/high level classification of workplace exposure events and does not take into account the nature of the workplaces eg self-employed, large business, social distancing etc,” they noted. “We would also not be able to break this down further due to the small numbers of cases involved.”

The range of exposure event across that period was also provided. “Other” sticks out like a sore thumb; it’s a fair bet plenty of those refer to the bleeding of one bubble into another; the level shift presumably wouldn’t have made much difference there.

Types and number of exposure event, Sept 22 to Oct 1

  • Eatery/food outlet: 20 exposure events
  • Healthcare service/Pharmacy: 40
  • Other: 129
  • Service station: 26
  • Supermarket/dairy: 64
  • Transport: 15
  • Workplace: 47
  • Total: 341

The “infectious in the community” count is an important metric in assessing the ongoing risks associated with an outbreak. We learned today that 28 of the cases reported yesterday had been infectious while in the community, the highest number since the Ministry of Health began reporting that number at the start of September.

There’s a concerning trend upward when it comes to the number of daily Covid-19 cases infectious in the community. Of yesterday’s 39 cases, 28 were deemed infectious while in the community.

More graphs available on The Spinoff’s Covid Tracker here

2.10pm: Government ‘too slow’ with saliva, antigen testing

An expert asked to conduct a review of our Covid-19 testing regime said the government was “too slow” with saliva testing and rapid antigen testing.

On the back of the newly released report, headed by professor David Murdoch, the government will move to roll out more antigen testing in hospitals and as part of the upcoming self-isolation pilot.

Murdoch, who spoke at today’s 1pm briefing, said the focus on elimination may have led to a conservatism around alternative testing. “We probably missed a few opportunities to get things up and running,” Murdoch said. Health officials could have been “faster and more agile” in trialling and implementing new testing technology and innovations, he added.

Associate health minister Ayesha Verrall acknowledged that under the elimination strategy, the government was slow to incorporate rapid antigen testing into its response.

1.10pm: Waikato boundary extended out of ‘abundance of caution’

Updated

The Waikato alert level three boundary has been extended south out of an “abundance of caution”.

At least two cases of Covid-19 have been detected in parts of Waikato outside the boundary, which have been in alert level two.

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said the boundary will include the Waitomo district, Te Kuiti, Waipā and Ōtorohanga. A full map will be published later today (we’ll have that for you asap!)

These restrictions will come into force at 11.59pm tonight and remain in place until the same time on Monday.

Hipkins said that extending the boundary today, and not yesterday, had not caused further spread of the virus. Just two cases have so far been detected outside the boundary, confirmed McElnay. Today’s new Waikato cases are all in Raglan or Hamilton.

While an epidemiological link between the Auckland outbreak and the Waikato outbreak has not definitively been released, Hipkins said it was understood the Hamilton East case was the index case. He said they had travelled into Auckland and back out again, bringing the virus with them.

Hipkins would not confirm whether the index case had gang connections. However, on the recent media stories about gangs during the outbreak, Hipkins said: “I don’t have any time for gangs… but that is not the number one priority at the moment.” Getting people tested and vaccinated was the priority, he said.

1.05pm: Another 29 community Covid-19 cases, with five in Waikato

Updated

There are 29 new community cases of Covid-19, including five in Waikato. The total number of cases in Waikato now rises to 22, while the overall number of cases linked to the outbreak is now 1,448.

Of today’s 24 cases in Auckland, seven have not yet been linked. All of the Waikato cases are now linked.

There are now 23 people in hospital with Covid-19, meaning nine have been discharged since yesterday. Four remain in intensive care.

The response to the call for testing in the suburb of Red Beach – the latest suburb of interest – has been excellent, said public health director Caroline McElnay. More than 1200 people have been tested there over the past 48 hours.

All 50 emergency staff at Waikato Hospital, linked to a case announced yesterday, have returned negative tests. Six are deemed close contacts so will remain in isolation and complete further testing.

Acknowledging that the Auckland City Mission has been named a location of interest linked to the delta outbreak, McElnay said the risk to the public was low. The person who later tested positive was outside the mission for a test and queued in the open air. “Many visitors to the Mission are vulnerable and have complex needs,” said McElnay. Staff are contacting people who visited at proximate times.

1.00pm: Rapid antigen testing to be rolled out in more hospitals; piloted in workplaces

Updated

Rapid antigen testing will be rolled out to more hospitals in Auckland.

It will start within the next few days at Auckland City and North Shore hospitals, said associate health minister Ayesha Verrall, and be used as a “point-of-arrival test” for the self-isolation pilots in Auckland and Christchurch.

“I’ve been in talks with business leaders, and will meet with them tomorrow to discuss the next steps for safely incorporating rapid antigen testing into our Covid-19 response,” said Verrall. “While this technology provides a result quickly, rapid antigen testing tends to be less sensitive at detecting cases – especially in asymptomatic people, or those who are either very early in or towards the end of their infectious period.”

A review of the Covid-19 testing regime, headed by professor David Murdoch, has also been released. “One of the key themes in their report is how we adopt and use testing innovations,” Verrall said.

The government has faced widespread criticism for moving slowly on alternative testing options, especially while essential workers are still allowed to move freely around the country. Recommendations from this new review include a “future-focused Covid-19 testing strategy” to assist planning and the creation of a dedicated testing approach to facilitate innovation and the implementation of new tests and testing strategies in a timely way.

12.45pm: Auckland City Mission linked to delta outbreak

Auckland City Mission has been added to the list of locations of interest linked to the delta outbreak.

There’s concern that Covid-19 has become seated within vulnerable communities including gangs and those in transitional housing. According to the Ministry of Health, a positive case of Covid visited the city mission for three hours on Monday morning.

The full list can be found here

12.25pm: Hipkins to make unscheduled announcement on Waikato

There have been a few developments in the last half hour with regards to what information we’ll hear at 1pm.

  1. Firstly, we now know Jacinda Ardern is in Rotorua – not Wellington – and will not be speaking at 1pm. More on that below.
  2. Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins will front a previously unannounced press conference to provide an update on delta in Waikato. He’ll be joined by public health director Caroline McElnay.
  3. Associate health minister Ayesha Verrall will then make a further announcement.

A couple of these have been sprung on us just now but we’ll endeavour to bring you the livestream of the pressers and all the usual Covid numbers once they drop at 1pm.

Watch below:

12.10pm: Ardern makes surprise trip to Rotorua

Jacinda Ardern has made an unannounced visit to Rotorua, surprising Wellington journalist in the process.

According to Stuff, the prime minister is visiting a vaccination clinic in the city. However, she would not front media to answer questions and the trip was not originally part of the PM’s schedule.

A series of tweets from political journalists reveal that nobody was made aware Ardern would not be in Wellington today and it was expected she would be fronting the 1pm press conference. Ayesha Verrall will take her place.

Over the next two days, Ardern will also visit Murupara, Wairoa, Flaxmere, Hastings, Gisborne, and Ruatoria.

11.30am: Get vaccination clinics to schools over the holidays – National

The government needs to do everything it can to allow Auckland schools to reopen on October 18, after the school holidays, said National’s Paul Goldsmith.

Like the rest of Auckland, most schools have been closed for the entirety of the level four and three lockdown. Some have been allowed to open at level three, but only for the children of essential workers.

Goldsmith, the party’s education spokesperson, said vaccination is critical for allowing face-to-face learning to resume. “A starting point would be to have vaccination centres at every school on certain days throughout the holidays,” he said. “By October 18 every teacher and student over the age of 12 will have had six weeks to get vaccinated.”

Rapid antigen tests should be made available for teachers to test themselves regularly, Goldsmith added. “If we can find a way for it to be safe for kids and teachers to go to the supermarket, surely we can find a way for it be safe for them to attend school.”

10.40am: National backs ‘Super Saturday’ vaccine drive

The National Party has thrown its support behind the “Super Saturday” vaccine drive set to take place on October 16.

As announced yesterday, the national day of action will see vaccination clinics stay open later and civic leaders encouraged to make themselves visible.

Judith Collins said everything should be done to push vaccine numbers up.

“In the spirit of National’s pragmatic ‘do what needs to be done’ approach to Covid-19, Dr Shane Reti and I have agreed that he will stay up north and focus on raising the vaccination rates of communities in Northland for the next couple of weeks,” Collins said.

Reti will work alongside Māori health provider Ki A Ora Ngātiwai on their vaccination drive, said Collins.

“I am yet to see the government pull out all the stops to address the barriers to Māori vaccination and simply talking about it is not enough. Scapegoating Māori is not acceptable either. It is because of the government’s incompetence and complacency that we are where we are.”

9.25am: Research confirms impact of lockdowns on mental health

New research has confirmed the heavy toll caused by Covid-19 on those with mental health issues.

The Otago University study found that 32% of those pre-diagnosed with a mental disorder reported their mental health had “deteriorated noticeably” during lockdown, while 50% said it had remained stable and just 20% claimed it had improved.

Patients with an existing mental health diagnosis were twice as likely to report “moderate to high psychological distress, anxiety and poor well-being” during lockdown and were at three to four times the risk of having experienced suicidal thoughts and plans.

The study’s lead author associate professor Caroline Bell said those with mental health needs should be prioritised during lockdown. “The findings make it clear this more vulnerable group need more specifically-targeted support to address their needs,” said Bell. “We now need to establish what further measures are required with the potential of further lockdowns to come, and what enhanced support structures we need to put in place.”

8.25am: Mongrel Mob says Covid-19 response has become ‘politically motivated’

A Mongrel Mob spokesperson said there is no evidence that the gang is spreading Covid-19, and accused the government of pushing a political narrative.

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins has suggested that the delta outbreak is now largely centred within marginalised communities, including gang members and those in transitional housing. But the Mob’s Waikato spokesperson Louise Hutchinson said that’s not true. “In the Waikato, there are zero members of any gang with Covid-19,” she told RNZ.

On Hipkins’ comments yesterday, Hutchinson said the government was pushing a “narrative” that gangs were responsible for the spread of the virus. “He didn’t have any data. That was a total political move by the minister,” she said. “He didn’t have any evidence to hand over yesterday. I believe the minister’s response was driven because of the political narrative being played out by the National Party.”

In particular, Hutchinson singled out National’s police spokesperson Simeon Brown and Newstalk ZB journalist Jason Walls. The former has been arguing that gangs get special treatment under the Covid-19 restrictions, while the latter yesterday broke the story about Mongrel Mob members being given travel exemptions to cross the Auckland border.

Hutchinson said that news story, coupled with the National Party’s reaction, led to Hipkins’ comments “When you look across social media and mainstream media yesterday, the whole narrative became about gangs,” said Hutchinson. “We’re talking about communicating with the most discriminated types of people who have no trust for authority. When we’re in a global pandemic, you have to be very careful about how you communicate with our people.”

Hutchinson claimed that the travel exemptions given to senior Mob members led to a delta cluster in the Mongrel Mob Pasifika chapter in South Auckland being resolved, with every member and their family tested.

8.00am: Waikato level three boundary should have been extended – Baker

A leading epidemiologist believes the Waikato boundary should have been extended when new Covid-19 cases appeared in level two areas.

Yesterday saw confirmed cases in Kāwhia and Karapiro: both are outside the level three area. A third case was also confirmed in Waikato Hospital’s emergency department. There is also no definitive epidemiological connection between the new cluster of Waikato cases and the Auckland delta outbreak, with health officials working on the assumption the Hamilton east infection is the index case.

While the government said yesterday it would continue to monitor the situation, Michael Baker told RNZ he was surprised the boundary had not already been moved. “A level three restriction is good at slowing the spread of the virus. It means everyone is at home unless they have a reason to be out. I had assumed that it would happen,” he said.

On the fact that this outbreak is now seated within marginalised communities, such as gang members, Baker said that was why the strict restrictions in Auckland eventually stopped working. “At a certain point [they] didn’t work any more,” he said. “For about four weeks we had this very entrenched transmission in Auckland.”

The current level three boundary



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