Live updates, April 8: Flights from India temporarily barred; MIQ worker confirmed as current case

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for April 8, bringing you the latest news throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

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5.45pm: MIQ worker confirmed as current case; missed two vaccination appointments

The security guard at the Grand Millennium managed isolation facility who tested positive for Covid-19 (see 1pm update) has been confirmed as a current case after a second test returned a positive result.

The co-worker who often travelled to work with the man has returned a negative result, said the Ministry of Health, as have four members of the house that adjoins his.

The man had not been vaccinated because he missed two appointments due to personal reasons, said the ministry in an emailed statement. “The employer is being contacted for further relevant information,”

“We know that the company employing this case has vaccinated 79% of its MIF workers and 81% of the Grand Millennium staff have received their first vaccination.”

For the next fortnight, Grand Millennium staff will be tested weekly, and a “spot infection control audit” of the Grand Millennium was undertaken today, said the ministry.

There are no locations of interest to report at this stage and the ministry believes the public health risk to the wider community is low. Another update will be provided tomorrow.

2.40pm: Flights from India temporarily barred from entering New Zealand

Travellers from India will temporarily be barred from entering New Zealand after a recent influx in Covid-positive arrivals. This measure will be in force from 4pm on Sunday April 11 and stay in place until April 28.

Jacinda Ardern has made the announcement in Auckland after an earlier unplanned briefing from Ashley Bloomfield. During that press conference, Bloomfield announced that 19 active cases of Covid-19 were reported today in managed isolation, with 17 of these having travelled from India.

Until recently the daily average of new MIQ cases was sitting at around two or three, said Ardern, and this has now moved up to 7. “[This is] a high we haven’t seen since October last year.”

Ardern emphasised that the new measure is temporary and is being done so that the government can work out how to best to deal with the influx of new cases. This is the first time New Zealand residents will not be permitted to return.

The prime minister said that officials have been concerned for some time about the risk of Covid-19 transmission from “high risk” countries. Despite this, as The Spinoff’s Justin Giovannetti reported this morning, Los Angeles and San Francisco remain the only two locations designated “high risk” under official health rules.

Health officials began reviewing the risk assessments a month ago after an Air New Zealand flight attendant tested positive following her return from Japan. That review concluded with no change being made and restrictions continuing to apply only to direct flights departing from the US, Bloomfield previously confirmed.

“We are seeing surges in other places but we just don’t have the high number of travellers from those travellers that are coming at present,” Ardern said, when asked why India was the only country with these new travel restrictions.

2.15pm: Covid Tracer app updated

While you wait for the prime minister to speak at 2.30, have you seen the new update to the Covid Tracer app?

The new app shows up to date data on how many people have scanned in using the app and also encourages users to record data every day during each two week period, even if you just stayed at home.

(Image / Covid Tracer app)

1.30pm: Ardern to reveal outcome of ministry advice about India flights

In case you missed it in the 1pm update: 17 of the 19 new cases of Covid-19 detected in managed isolation today travelled to the country from India. Ashley Bloomfield called the high number of new infections “significant” and said he’d provided advice to the government about the risk of transmission from long haul flights.

We can now confirm Jacinda Ardern will be speaking in an hour in Auckland where she will reveal any steps the government will take with that advice.

As always, we’ll bring you a livestream when we have one.

1.00pm: Unvaccinated MIQ worker tests positive for Covid-19; had sore throat four days ago

Updated

A 24-year-old security guard who works at the Grand Millennium managed isolation facility has tested positive for Covid-19, Ashley Bloomfield has revealed.

The new case – who had not yet been vaccinated against the coronavirus – had a sore throat four days ago, said Bloomfield. He was at work over the Easter period.

A PCR swab returned “high CT” values, Bloomfield said, which means the man is either very early on in their infection or nearing the end (or that it is a historical case).

Urgent repeat PCR test and blood serology is being carried out today. The low viral load means the genomic sequencing process will take longer than usual, Bloomfield said, and a result is expected by tomorrow afternoon.

The man lives alone and travels to work with a colleague, who has been informed they are a close contact, is self-isolating at home and will be tested today. The colleague has been fully vaccinated.

Auckland public health officials have this morning carried out “scoping interviews” with the infected man to determine any locations of interest, said Bloomfield. “But at this stage we understand the case was not at work yesterday and did not visit anyone.” If any locations of interest are identified, the Ministry of Health’s website will be updated and push notifications sent out via the Covid Tracer app.

An audit of the Grand Millennium, where another worker also tested positive last month, will now be undertaken. That worker tested positive on March 22 with the UK variant of the virus.

Bloomfield was unsure why the security guard hadn’t been vaccinated. He would have been offered the vaccine but Bloomfield didn’t believe he had objected to receiving it, rather that it was a question of “logistics”. He said MIQ workers who couldn’t or wouldn’t be vaccinated were being redeployed in roles away from the border, but they were being given time to come round to the idea and wouldn’t be removed from their roles immediately if they declined the vaccine initially.

Bloomfield didn’t know how many MIQ workers hadn’t been vaccinated, but said of the 16,000-strong workforce, the percentage who had been is in the mid 90s.

‘Significant’ number of new imported cases

Meanwhile, there are 19 new imported cases of Covid-19 – which Bloomfield called “significant” – along with four historical cases.

Read more: The air routes bringing in the most Covid to NZ aren’t flagged as ‘high risk’. Why not?

Addressing the large number of recent cases arriving from India, Bloomfield said there was “no reason to not take at face value the pre-departure documentation and results being presented by people arriving from India”. Of today’s new case numbers, 17 of the 19 active infections arrived in the country from India.

The bulk of the positive cases over the last days were thought to be “recent onset infections”, he said. The day zero/day one positive cases are likely individuals who have become infected within India as they travelled to the ports of Mumbai and Delhi.

“There is a very active outbreak [in Mumbai],” said Bloomfield, which was the likely reason for the spike in cases travelling from India. Advice has been given to government on the increased risk of in-flight transmission from long haul flights arriving into the country. “An announcement based on that advice is expected from the prime minister this afternoon.”

Jacinda Ardern will be speaking in Auckland at 2.30pm.

12.40pm: Watch – Bloomfield to speak after reported new case of Covid-19

After reports of a new Covid-19 case outside of managed isolation (more below), Ashley Bloomfield will be speaking at 1pm. The fact that he is speaking from the Ministry of Health, rather than the Beehive, and without Chris Hipkins or Jacinda Ardern hopefully bodes well for what he’ll be saying.

Watch below:

11.20am: Border worker reportedly has Covid-19

Following the earlier news that Ashley Bloomfield will be holding an unscheduled press conference, the Herald is reporting that a new case of Covid-19 has been detected outside of our managed isolation facilities.

It’s claimed that a border worker has contracted the virus, with no reports of community spread.

Jacinda Ardern will likely be holding a press conference later today in Auckland after fog (not Covid) caused her to cancel a planned trip to Dunedin.

10.40am: Bloomfield announces 1pm press conference

I’m not too sure what to make of this yet, but Ashley Bloomfield has announced he will be fronting a 1pm press conference. It appears to be Bloomfield on his own, without the Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins.

We’ll have a livestream for you and all the detail you need to know before 1pm.

10.00am: Coal boilers to be phased out by 2037; ban on new imports

The government has signalled the end of coal in New Zealand, announcing a ban on new low and medium temperature coal-fired boilers as part of its commitment to tackling climate change. It also wants to see coil boilers completely phased out by 2037 and has introduced new funding for businesses to move away from fossil fuels.

The ban on new coal boilers used in manufacturing and production will come into effect by December 31 this year.

“Today’s announcements will make a real difference to New Zealand’s emissions profile, and are a significant boost to our clean energy sector, helping us on our path to a cleaner, smarter economy,” energy and resources minister Megan Woods said.

In addition, the government is also considering how to phase out other fossil fuels in existing sites.

“The amount of coal displaced by these proposals equates to about 500,000 tonnes each year. Once the changes are fully in place it will mean the equivalent of between 400,000 to 550,000 cars being removed from our roads in a single year,” Woods said.

9.45am: Trans-Tasman travel bubble excludes Western Australia

Quarantine-free travel with Australia will start in just over 10 days time on April 19, but it’s now been revealed Western Australia will be excluded from the arrangement.

It means New Zealanders hoping to visit friends and family in places like Perth will still be treated as international travellers and need to spend 14 days in managed isolation.

In order to avoid the costly stay in MIQ, travellers could spend 14 days in other parts of Australia first before crossing state lines.

Western Australia’s health minister Roger Cook told media the restriction on travel from New Zealand will be reviewed.

8.40am: Could Bridges return to the National leadership?

A (paywalled) report in the NZ Herald this morning that I thought I’d draw your attention to. Political writer Claire Trevett has claimed that work is under way to reinstate Simon Bridges as leader of the National Party with up and comer Chris Luxon as his deputy.

The claim is that Bridges would be paving the way for a Luxon leadership further down the track.

Of course, it would be unusual for a former leader to return to the top job so soon; Bridges was leader throughout the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown, before being replaced by Todd Muller.

As Trevett writes, Bridges would effectively be seen as an interim leader and there would be constant speculation about whether Luxon would roll him. What there is in this plan for Bridges, I don’t know.

Read the full piece here

8.00am: New government advisory group to look at vaccine target and border restrictions

A new scientific advisory group will help the government consider setting a new vaccine roll-out target.

It will be headed by epidemiologist Sir David Skegg, according to RNZ, and be in place until mid next year.

Yesterday, National criticised the government for being behind schedule with the vaccine roll-out, citing a leaked document dated January that showed we should have given out almost 400,000 doses of the Pfizer jab by now (we’re sitting at around 90,000).

While the new group will still report to cabinet, with the government having the final say on matters involving the Covid-19 response, it will ensure future decisions were “informed by the best available scientific evidence and strategic public health advice,” said minister Chris Hipkins.

Along with determining a possible vaccine target, the group will assist government with issues around the border.

Associate health minister Ayesha Verrall added: “[The group] will have an opportunity to feed directly and through myself and minister Hipkins to cabinet and they will be incredibly important, but those decisions are so important that we are trying to get a range of different information from within and outside government,” said Verrall.

“The government will be seeking their advice on issues such as how much of our population needs to be vaccinated before we can relax our border settings, evidence for transmission blocking properties of the vaccine, strategic public health controls when the borders reopen and public health responses to any new variants that aren’t covered by our current vaccine options.”

Alongside Skegg, other members of the group include epidemiologist Philip Hill and special advisor to the group Shaun Hendy.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

I’ve said it before, but the Covid-19 vaccine rollout is probably the most important single programme the government will run this year. And now, we’re going to get a much better idea of how it’s all going. The data will be published weekly on the health ministry website, and so far shows that just over 90k doses have been administered, with just under 20k of those second doses – meaning those people are now effectively protected against Covid. Stuff’s Kate Newton has gone through the data in a bit more granular detail, to pick out the key details.

Those numbers are slightly below the plan also published on the website. But it’s not exactly clear what plan is being referred to there. A document put into the public domain by National MP Chris Bishop – apparently produced by the ministry – suggests that the country should be hundreds of thousands of doses in by now, reports Newstalk ZB. That’s heavily disputed by Covid-19 minister Chris Hipkins, who said it was “likely to be an early working document that was shared with some DHBs”, rather than any formal plan.

The timing of this is curious, given questions were starting to be raised about why data wasn’t being provided proactively. For example, that very morning there was an excellent analysis by NZ Herald (paywalled) data journalist Chris McDowall, who noted that up to that point there had been “opaque and messy handling of public health data.”

It’s also considerably slower than some comparable countries. It’s important not to get too carried away on this point, because there are still plenty of countries around the world where approximately zero vaccines have been delivered or administered. And it is a complex operation that needs to be done right. But the number in New Zealand is quite a bit lower per-capita than Australia, for example, and some parts of the Aussie media have described that as “disastrous”. Newshub reports PM Ardern has defended the progress on the grounds that it was always meant to start slower and ramp up – “we’re hoping to see that catch-up occur in the coming weeks,” she told parliament.

Meanwhile, a new Covid-19 vaccine is being sent to Medsafe for approval to be used in New Zealand. One News reports five million doses of the Janssen Jab have been provisionally purchased, contingent on it being signed off. This particular variant of the vaccine is currently authorised for use in more than thirty countries.




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