Live updates, September 8: New delta cases drop to just 15, six people remain in ICU

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for September 8, 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 level two.


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Today’s numbers + more

6.30pm: There are still new locations of interests

The case numbers may be coming down and Auckland may still be in level four lockdown, but new locations of interest are still being added to the Ministry of Health website with some only days old. Tonight, two new locations were added, the Galaxie Dairy in Mt Eden and Kwality Mini Bazaar in Flat Bush.

Stay on top of all locations of interests in your area with this interactive map.

6.00pm: Man allegedly assaults officers after driving through checkpoint

This morning, a vehicle failed to stop for police and drove through the Southern boundary checkpoint. The vehicle was observed by the eagle police helicopter as it headed north before stopping at a Kelston address.

When police arrived at the address, the driver allegedly assaulted two officers, who required treatment for injuries, according to a statement from police.

More than 60 additional officers from around the country will be deployed to assist at checkpoints on the Auckland region’s boundary. The support will begin later this week as Auckland remains in level four lockdown while the rest of the country has shifted to delta level two. Police are currently operating 10 checkpoints around Auckland’s northern and southern boundaries.

In the 48 hour period from midnight September 6 to midnight September 8, 28,316 vehicles were stopped at the checkpoints. Of those, 274 vehicles were turned back.

5.10pm: New red flight from NSW to New Zealand

New Zealanders stranded in NSW and who are eligible for emergency MIQ allocations will have another opportunity to return home, with a second red flight leaving the state next Wednesday. Travellers on the flight will require a negative test prior to departure and will pay for their MIQ stay in New Zealand. The first red flight from Sydney arrived in Auckland on Sunday carrying 93 people.

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said the trans Tasman bubble is unlikely to reopen anytime soon, not least because NSW reported 1,480 new community cases of Covid-19 today, as well as nine deaths

4.30pm: Brand new Gone By Lunchtime

From deep within the level four fortress comes an all-new late-night lockdown pod, with Toby Manhire, Annabelle Lee Mather and Ben Thomas. On the agenda: a terrorist attack in Auckland, what comes next in the Covid response, and a terrible horrible no good very bad day for Judith Collins. Plus: ACT’s big intake of MPs at the last election led to much speculation about which of them might be the first to do something humiliating on the internet. But we didn’t expect it to be David Seymour.

Follow Gone By Lunchtime on Apple PodcastsSpotify or your favourite podcast provider.

4.05pm: A dispatch from Christchurch in delta two

Catherine McGregor writes:

It was hard to tell for sure under the omnipresent face masks, but it certainly seemed like Christchurch residents were, at minimum, a good 50% more cheerful today than this time yesterday. After a rainy morning put something of a damper on the dawn of level two, the sun came out and so did the customers. The queue to get into the carpark at Riccarton Shopping Centre was enough to force me onto a side street to park; inside the mall, the stores were buzzing but far from thronged thanks to the two-metre distancing requirement that forced many customers to wait outside – paradoxically increasing the crowds in the mall itself.

Shopping centres are perennially popular with teenagers, but today Riccarton seemed even more packed than usual as high schoolers took advantage of the opportunity to socialise and shop before school resumes tomorrow.

Based on my brief and highly unscientific observations, here’s how I’m scoring the people of Christchurch on the first day of level two:

  • two-metre distancing compliance 5/10
  • mask use 9/10
  • relief at finally being somewhere other than home 13/10

3.30pm: Swarbrick unimpressed with government’s tertiary support

Green Party MP Chlöe Swarbrick has expressed her disappointment at a tertiary support announcement made by the government.

Earlier today, education minister Chris Hipkins revealed a $20 million boost to a hardship fund for students impacted by the lockdown.

Swarbrick, who has been pushing for greater student supports during lockdown, said it wasn’t good enough. “Hardship funds are facilitated by tertiary providers, each with a totally different approach in collaborate w/ Student Associations (who are far faster at distributing the funds), take time to access and usually quite a lot of admin. Basically, it’s inequitable in access,” said said on Twitter.

“This isn’t good enough – at the very least, we’d been expecting a doubling of course related costs (despite all of the problems that come with greater debt) which would be available to all 250,000 students, instead of this potential help for a maximum of around 15,000.”

2.50pm: Haz Beats and the time Home Brew took a goat to the music awards

Producer Haz Beats (Home Brew, Team Dynamite, YGB) tells us about his first gig, taking a goat to the Aotearoa Music Awards and more on this week’s episode of FIRST.

2.05pm: Chris Hipkins’ matinee performance, reviewed

Toby Manhire writes:

Chris Hipkins began well, sportingly taking a swig of something (probably his beloved Coke Zero) from a mug paying tribute to his recent “Spread your Legs” malapropism. The mug had, according to the Spinoff’s parliamentary bureau, been placed at the last minute by his press secretary on the podium. These are serious times, but with the new case count at 15, the lowest for more than three weeks, a little levity is welcome.

But any credibility gained by his willingness to wrap his lips around meme culture was irretrievably destroyed moments later, in answer to a question from Jenna Lynch. Newshub’s dynamic reporter wanted to know how it was fair that the same rules applied in level two to a venue as vast as Prefab and one as cosy as Fidel’s. I forget what the substantive answer was; the important part was his statement: “I am not familiar with those establishments.” On Prefab, fine. The hangar-style cafe has only been open since 2013.

But Fidel’s? Fidel’s??? The Upper Cuba Street cafe has been there since the beginning of time. Or, more specifically, since 1996. Yes, he’s the MP for the Hutt Valley seat of Remutaka; he probably thinks Wellington stops just south of Astoria, which he probably thinks still operates. But Hipkins was the president of the Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association in 2000 and 2001. Not knowing about Fidel’s, in fact not knowing how to walk there from anywhere in the city based only on memory and smell, is indefensible, unforgivable. His name should be stripped from the VUWSA honour board immediately.

Post-script: He’s redeemed by his response to a question late in the briefing about Chris Bishop losing the shadow leader of the house role and whether he should reduce his own workload: “It’s amazing how much you can accomplish if you focus your time on your work instead of fighting with your colleagues.”

Three and a half stars.

(Image / The Spinoff)

1.55pm: Delta variant stalls plans for travel bubble reopening

The delta variant has put any plans to reopen the trans-Tasman travel bubble on hold.

Speaking at today’s 1pm press conference, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said discussions on reopening the bubble were still a while off. However, he said that people shouldn’t be expecting another 12 to 18 months with borders closed.

A trial of at home isolation for vaccinated travellers was still on track for later this year, Hipkins said.

The first trans-Tasman bubble flight from Australia to Wellington lands at Wellington Airport on April 19. (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Wellington International Airport via Getty Images)

1.15pm: The delta outbreak, in chart form

As you can see below, it certainly looks as though we are flattening the curve. There are just 15 new community cases today, the first time new case numbers have dropped below 20 since August 20.

1.05pm: 15 new community delta cases, six remain in ICU

Updated

There are just 15 new community cases of Covid-19, all in Auckland. This pushes the total number of cases in the outbreak up to 855, with one case reclassified as a border case. So far, 218 people from the outbreak have recovered.

After four days with new cases sitting at either 20 or 21, this is the first day since the outbreak plateaued that new numbers have dropped back down into the teens.

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said only two of today's new cases have not yet been epidemiologically linked to the wider outbreak. "Investigations into all unlinked cases are continuing." Overall, 25 cases from the outbreak remain unlinked, said Bloomfield.

Analysis of yesterday's 21 cases revealed 19 were contacts of known cases and just five were deemed infectious while in the community. Together they created 17 exposure events.

37 people from the outbreak are now in hospital, with six of those in intensive care. On the vaccine front: 2.6 million people have now had their first dose of the vaccine. 13,230 tests undertaken yesterday, a boost on recent days. "In many respects that's the most important number. It's a welcome pick-up," said Bloomfield, thanking those who have come forward. "Our most important action that can be taken is for us to all be confident that there is no virus circulating out in the community."

On contact tracing, about 36,000 people are now linked to existing cases. Around 87% of these have been tested, said Bloomfield.

Today marked the move into alert level two for the entire country, except Auckland. Bloomfield said that while Northlanders were allowed to travel through Auckland to visit people in other parts of the country, people should not be travelling cross-country to get their vaccine.

On the reopening of the Crowne Plaza MIQ facility, Hipkins called the risk to the public negligible.

12.50pm: Hipkins and Bloomfield to reveal latest delta cases

It's Chris Hipkins fronting today's Covid-19 presser, alongside the director general of health Ashley Bloomfield.

We're keeping our fingers crossed for a drop in new delta cases after four days of either 20 or 21 being announced. We're also expecting a further update on the government's decision to bring in further Pfizer vaccines as part of a multi-country deal.

As always, follow along with our live coverage or tune in below:

12.30pm: Crowne Plaza to reopen for returnees

The Crowne Plaza MIQ facility in Auckland will be able to host new returnees from tomorrow, despite the source of the current outbreak remaining unknown.

The first case of delta linked to the Auckland outbreak was a Sydney returnee who stayed at the hotel last month. But there is still a missing link between that person and the first community case.

MIQ head Brigadier Rose King says the reopening of the Crowne Plaza follows a thorough source investigation by public health experts, an infection prevention and control assessment and a review of the public walkways next to the facility.

“The Crowne Plaza has been one of our best performing facilities and the TAG’s findings, and the additional assurance review, confirm that the procedures and ventilation at the facility meet the relevant IPC standards, and that the risk to members of the public passing by is so low, it is negligible”, she said.

Ashley Bloomfield said he was confident the facility was safe to receive its next cohort of returnees.

On the risk of Covid spread from the facility's atrium, King said modellers had concluded this was low. “The TAG has also concluded that the risk to members of the public walking through the public atrium is “negligible” and there was no rationale or justification for shutting the public atrium," she said.

“While the source investigation was under way, a number of precautionary measures were taken, including extending the height of the Perspex barrier between the lobby and the adjacent public atrium to the ceiling where it has been sealed."

12.05pm: What's life like at 'delta two'

There's a long road ahead for those of us in locked down Auckland. But for everyone else, life looks a little more normal today with the shift down into delta level two. The Spinoff's political editor Justin Giovannetti is in Wellington and provided this update:

The move to delta two has left downtown Wellington in a bit of a confused state.

People are getting their hair cut for the first time in weeks, while the baristas at my favourite cafe say level three was a much busier time for them. There's traffic on the roads and highways for the first time in weeks, but the car parks are far from full. Some people are wearing masks as they pound the sidewalks, while other groups of people walk by without them. Signs are reminding office workers to keep social distancing in elevators, but from my very limited sample, no one is waiting for the next ride if it seems a bit too full.

Probably the oddest scene for me was seeing a group of people, in masks, keeping social distance outside as they chatted, while a nearby restaurant was half full with people in full conversation and masks nowhere to be seen.

11.45am: Cyber attack targets banks, other businesses

Several banks and other businesses are experiencing technical outages. 

Users have reported they cannot access online banking with KiwiBank, ANZ or Westpac, and there are also reports of online outages for NZ Post and MetService. It comes less than a week after a DDOS attack cause widespread internet problems nationwide.

According to the government's cyber security agency CERT, today's outages have also been caused by a DDOS attack.

10.50am: $20m to help tertiary students during lockdown

A $20 million funding boost has been announced to help students in financial need during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The "Hardship Fund for Learners" was established in last year's budget as a way to help keep students in study if they were facing ongoing financial difficulties due to the pandemic.

Covid response/education minister Chris Hipkins said the fund will help keep 15,000 learners in study. “We are also ensuring that MSD will have the discretion to continue paying out both student loans and allowances to learners who are unable to resume their study until Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.”

The extra funding will be paid directly to tertiary providers who can then distribute it to those in need.

10.35am: Australian PM defends return trip to Sydney despite lockdown

Australian PM Scott Morrison is under fire for travelling to locked down Sydney and then back to Canberra.

Morrison has defended the Father's Day trip, saying he received approval local health authorities to return to the capital.

"I can understand [the] frustration, but I do think there has been a lot of misinformation about this," Morrison told media. "I live in Sydney. I often have to be [in Canberra] for work, there was no requirement to get an exemption to go to Sydney."

New South Wales has been recording well over 1000 new delta infections every day, with the death toll also climbing.

"The exemption I require is to come back here to the ACT and, as prime minister, of course I need to come back to the ACT," Morrison added.

One of Morrison's most vocal critics has been his former opposition rival Bill Shorten, who accused Morrison of showing "appalling judgement" in taking the trip.


A message from our partners at the Middlemore Foundation: With your support, the Middlemore Foundation is providing our South Auckland families-in-need essential care packs – including masks, sanitisers, sanitary pads, toiletries and wipes – to support them through this lockdown. These will ensure the safety of our South Auckland whānau, many of which include essential workers. Donate here to support a family in need.


Jacinda Ardern and Scott Morrison at their meeting in February 2020. (Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images)

9.40am: Collins distances herself from Seymour over Māori vaccination comments

National's Judith Collins doesn't endorse David Seymour's decision to tweet out a priority vaccination code intended for Māori.

The Act Party leader faced widespread backlash to the tweet and his subsequent defence of it, with claims he was sabotaging the vaccine rollout.

Speaking to Newshub this morning, Collins said Seymour had to answer for himself. "He's an adult. He's the leader of his own party. I'm thankfully neither his mother nor the leader of his party," she said.

"And I just think... the best thing I say to people is get as many people vaccinated as we can. If you're dealing with people who can be a bit hard to reach sometimes with vaccination messages, you do whatever it takes because Covid doesn't discriminate."

Collins said she supported Māori being able to access vaccinations from Māori providers. "It's Waipareira Trust, which is a Whanau Ora provider, wanting to encourage Māori to get vaccinated. Look, Māori being not vaccinated is a problem for everybody in the community," she said.

Judith Collins and David Seymour

Judith Collins and David Seymour (Image / Getty)

8.45am: Government under pressure to confirm booster shot plan

The two-dose "Novavax" vaccine could be the government's choice for booster shots come 2022, reports Stuff.

The government has been under pressure to confirm whether there will be enough vaccine stock for a run of boosters next year, with reports the Pfizer jab can lose its effectiveness over time. As some of our border workers and most vulnerable were vaccinated six months ago, they may well need a follow-up shot by the start of next year.

“We’re expecting to receive the bulk of the 5.36 million vaccine courses we purchased from Novavax in the first quarter of next year,” Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins told Stuff.

The Novavax jab has not yet been approved by our regulator Medsafe, while other alternatives AstraZeneca and Janssen have already been given the green light.

“The government is yet to receive advice on the efficacy of mixing vaccines and booster shots, but we’re really encouraged by the progress Novavax is making in further developing its vaccine to combat emerging variants of Covid-19,” Hipkins added.

Jacinda Ardern confirmed yesterday that a multi-country vaccine deal had ensured our current Pfizer rollout could continue at pace throughout September.

8.00am: Unanswered questions after Middlemore patient caught Covid

The health minister said there are unanswered questions after a patient at Middlemore Hospital contracted Covid-19.

The man was on a surgical ward at the hospital when he developed a fever and was tested for the coronavirus, but he was not moved into isolation while awaiting the result. Now, 29 staff at the hospital – including doctors, nurses and cleaners – are in isolation and there are concerns the virus may have spread to other wards via air vents.

Speaking to Newstalk ZB, Andrew Little called it a "significant" issue. "I think we do need to know how the judgement call was made at the time the guy was starting to get a fever... he was swabbed and he wasn't isolated at the time," he said.

Before the man displayed symptoms, and after he tested positive, the right steps were taken. "The advice I've had is that he was properly screened when he turned up... so there was nothing to suggest he was at risk of Covid," said Little.

Asked whether it was "inconceivable" that a hospital would make mistakes when dealing with Covid 18 months into the pandemic, Little said yes – especially at this hospital. "Middlemore is probably the one hospital that has dealt with the most Covid patients and has the most rigorous infection control and prevention measures. For something like this to happen, there are some questions that still need to be answered."

Little told Newshub that he rejected reports regarding a lack of available isolation rooms at the hospital. After the man returned a positive result, the four other patients he had shared the room with were moved into isolation. "I'm not quite sure what the story is with the availability of those rooms," he said.

Nurses union president Kerri Nuku blamed the issue on "chronic understaffing" at the hospital.

7.30am: From The Bulletin

A deal for more Pfizer doses. The prime minister has said an announcement is coming before Friday that the country has secured more jabs as a fast-moving vaccination programme is using up the country's stockpile. According to the NZ Herald, Jacinda Ardern couldn't confirm many details, but the deal is with a number of countries and delivery should start within days of an agreement. New Zealand is expecting massive shipments from Pfizer in October, so ongoing supply issues should be temporary.


The Covid numbers: 21 new community cases were reported yesterday and 20% 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 starting to plateau at about 20 cases. 841 cases have now been detected in the delta outbreak (one case was removed from the count because it was a duplicate). 66,310 people were vaccinated yesterday.

For everyone outside Auckland, welcome to delta two. Well done Aotearoa.


On the subject of shortages. Auckland's suppliers of critical building materials are being allowed back to work to ease shortages across the country, Stuff reports. Builders, including Kāinga Ora, were facing slowdowns as everything from gib board to pink batts was running out. Other businesses are now demanding relief, with hospitality businesses in Auckland threatening to stop paying GST unless they get support. The owner of Shaky Isles Coffee told Stuff that delta two is the worst alert level for business because they don’t get support and can’t trade easily.

Rushed counter-terror bill faces opposition from Greens, Act. The two parties that agree on little are worried that the proposed legislation could stigmatise refugees and create new problems, RNZ reports. The government wants to speed through the bill after Friday's terror attack at LynnMall and has the full support of National to do it. Among other things, the bill would make it a crime to plan an act of terrorism. As reported in Politik (paywalled) the government is also considering changes to the immigration act to allow for the deporting of refugees. It's an incredibly odd situation where Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins are allies for something while David Seymour and the Green leaders are allied against.

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

The latest 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.



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