Election Live, September 10: Fourth Auckland eatery linked to Covid case

Welcome to The Spinoff’s Election Live for September 10, bringing you the latest on election 2020 and other New Zealand news. Find official Covid-19 information here. For all you need to know about the cannabis referendum click here. For the assisted dying referendum click here. Explore the parties’ pledges at Policy. I’m on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

7.00pm: The day in sum

The Ministry of Health announced four new cases of Covid-19, two in the community and two at the border.

A fourth Auckland eatery was named as a “location of interest” after coming into contact with a Covid-19 case.

Jacinda Ardern announced a plan to accelerate the target for 100% renewable energy generation, as well as the electrification of transport and energy sectors.

Air New Zealand grounded its entire Boeing 777 fleet for at least the next year.

Grant Robertson defended Labour’s conservative tax policy.

5.40pm: Fourth Auckland eatery linked to Covid case

Another Auckland eatery has been named as a “location of interest” for Covid-19 contact tracing after a customer tested positive for the virus.

Kage, at the Brickworks dining precinct at New Lynn’s LynnMall, was visited on Sunday morning between 9.15am and 11.15am by a person who went on to test positive for Covid-19. The venue was this afternoon added to the Ministry of Health website’s list of locations of interest, joining three other eateries that were named yesterday.

A Kage staff member told The Spinoff the restaurant was alerted by health officials last night, who said the risk was low as the person didn’t have close contact with staff.

People who were at any of the locations of interest during the relevant time-frames are considered casual contacts. Advice on the ministry website has been updated since yesterday to state that anyone in that category should ensure they wash their hands regularly, and if they develop symptoms, contact Healthline and stay at home.

On Wednesday, the Countdown at LynnMall temporarily closed for deep cleaning after being visited the previous Friday evening by a person who went on to test positive.

4.30pm: Greens prepared to walk away if post-election talks don’t go their way – Shaw

The Greens are prepared to forego a place in government if they don’t get their way in negotiations with Labour, according to James Shaw.

Talking to the Herald, the Greens co-leader said it was “always a possibility” the party would walk away if it didn’t get the gains it wanted.

He wouldn’t say what the Greens’ bottom lines were, but said a “wealth tax” was a “top priority”. He would also be pushing for co-leader Marama Davidson to be a minister and suggested a Green MP hold the agriculture portfolio, reports the Herald.

3.25pm: Greens say Labour’s energy policy doesn’t go far enough

Labour’s coalition partner the Greens have criticised today’s energy policy announcement, saying the party would go “further and faster” to tackle the climate crisis.

Labour announced it would accelerate the target for 100% renewable energy generation, bringing it forward five years.

In a statement, James Shaw said that’s a step in the right direction – but the Greens would do more.

“The Green Party knows that we must take bold action, now, if we have any chance of ensuring future generations have a safe planet to live on. That means an urgent end to coal and much more support for solar, like in the Green Party’s clean energy plan,” Shaw said.

“We have a crisis on our hands. The science is clear that urgent transformation is needed to ensure a stable climate for future generations.”

1.55pm: Labour plans to bring forward renewable energy target

Alex Braae reports from Taupō

Labour has announced a plan to accelerate the target for 100% renewable energy generation, as well as the electrification of transport and energy sectors. It’s the top line in an energy policy that Jacinda Ardern says is about “planning properly for New Zealand’s future energy needs.”

“We need to take steps right now and also plan 30 years ahead to ensure New Zealand has stable, sustainable and affordable energy while also protecting jobs and industries. This policy does that.”

A further $70 million was announced into investigating dry year storage capability. This is infrastructure that allows hydro dams to continue functioning even when there’s a drought, and is seen as a key component in any push to reach 100% renewable energy.

Currently, $30 million is being put towards investigations of such a scheme at Lake Onslow, but energy minister Megan Woods says the plan for 100% renewables is not contingent on that going ahead.

The policy also talked up further support for low emissions vehicles. Progress in this area stalled heavily over the term of government, however Ardern says uptake was also hindered by people being wary about a limited network of charging stations.

The announcement took place at the Mokai Power Station near Taupō, which uses geothermal energy to power milk processing facilities, and is also in the process of developing capabilities to produce hydrogen fuel.

Ardern said such an approach “really showcases the vision that we have for Aotearoa New Zealand as a whole.”

12.55pm: Four new cases of Covid-19, two in the community

The Ministry of Health has announced there are four new cases of Covid-19 today. Two are community cases linked to the Auckland August cluster and two are imported cases detected at managed isolation facilities.

Both community cases have epidemiological links to existing cases in the bereavement sub-cluster and back to the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship group, said the ministry via an emailed statement.

“One factor that it’s important to underline here is that this sub-cluster has come about as a result of a contact of a case having close contact with other people,” said the statement. “As far as we can tell they were unaware they had been infected and were incubating and spreading the virus at the time.”

The statement said this fact “underscores the importance of close contacts following the public health advice they’re given which includes strict self-isolation even if they don’t have symptoms, and even if they have returned a negative test”.

Church leaders are “actively encouraging all members of the congregation to retest by Friday and to comply with other public health advice such as self-isolation”. By 8am today, labs had registered new tests for 64% of the congregation (213 of the 332 people), said the ministry.

There are 101 close contacts associated with this sub-cluster, and public health officials make daily phone calls to close contacts to conduct symptom checks. “Teams engaged in these checks are reporting a high degree of compliance.”

Speaking to media at the Beehive, health minister Chris Hipkins castigated “repeated deliberate and malicious spreading of misinformation. We are continuing to see organised campaigns that are designed to confuse and to sow doubt about our response.”

Such misinformation, he said, was “threatening to block our path to level one”. Hipkins yesterday said that the current outbreak had been made worse because some people did “not accept the science” around Covid-19.

“Watch the TV news and what’s happening internationally in countries where Covid-19 has gotten out of control,” Hipkins said today. “This virus is very deadly, there is no vaccine for it. The best protection we all have is our collective efforts.”

Asked about consequences for those that may have breached rules, Hipkins said: “The most important thing for us in this whole exercise is to get people coooperating, to get people sharing information. One of the risks of a punitive approach is that people will stop cooperating, stop sharing information, right at the time we really need them to be. So, no, we’re not talking about taking a punitive approach.”

Officials were investigating “how the link in the chain got missed”, said Hipkins. It was unknown for now whether information had been deliberately withheld.

Close contacts and hospitalisations

With today’s four new cases and nine additional recovered cases, New Zealand’s total number of active cases is 120. Of those, 39 are imported cases in MIQ facilities, and 81 are community cases. This brings the total number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 to 1,441.

Yesterday, laboratories processed 7,950 tests, bringing the total number completed to date to 839,467.

There are now 72 people linked to the community cluster in the Auckland quarantine facility, which includes 56 people who have tested positive for Covid-19 and their household contacts.

Since August 11, the ministry’s contact tracing team has identified 3,372 close contacts of cases, of which 3,354 have been contacted and are self-isolating, and they are in the process of contacting the rest.

Today there are three people in hospital with Covid-19 – one is in isolation on a ward in North Shore Hospital. Two are in ICU, at North Shore and Waikato hospitals.

St Dominic’s deep clean completed

The deep clean at St Dominic’s Catholic College has been completed and testing of all staff and students is well under way, the ministry said. Testers have been supplied with a surveillance code for testing of asymptomatic members of the school community so it can keep track of the numbers. As at 11am today, labs had registered 561 tests against this code.

Staff and students have been provided with access to two dedicated testing centres not open to the general public, which means their tests are prioritised by labs. “The vast majority of students at St Dominic’s are casual contacts, and being tested as a precaution,” said the ministry.

Cases at the border 

Both cases arrived in New Zealand on a flight from India on August 27 – one is a man in his 30s and the other is a woman in her 50s. They were in managed isolation in Christchurch and tested positive at day 12 testing, and both cases are now in quarantine. At least six other people who arrived from India on the same flight earlier tested positive, as did 20 others from a single flight from India on August 23. India recently overtook Brazil to become the world’s second-worst-hit country for Covid-19.

11.15am: Air NZ grounds entire 777 fleet

Hopes of international travel resuming any time soon appear to be dashed, with news Air New Zealand has grounded its entire Boeing 777 fleet for at least the next year.

The move follows the airline’s decision earlier in the year to ground the majority of its seven 777-300 aircraft until the end of 2020.

Newshub’s reporting four of the 777-300 aircraft will be stored in Victorville in the Californian desert, while the remaining three will stay in Auckland in case they are needed. Meanwhile, the airline’s 777-200 aircrafts will be sent to facilities in Roswell, New Mexico and California from later this month.

10.30am: Ardern meets with Taupō locals, opens new walkway

Jacinda Ardern has been out on the campaign trail in Taupō today, and our van-based correspondent Alex Braae was there to see it.

With a bitterly cold wind whipping off Lake Taupō, Jacinda Ardern opened the upgraded Great Lake Pathway, which stretches along the shoreline around the town itself.

She was accompanied by local mayor David Trewavas, and flanked by Labour’s Waiāriki MP Tamiti Coffey, and Taupō candidate Ala’ Al-Bustanji. The Great Lake Pathway is aimed at supporting tourism and enhancing and protecting the natural environment. In his speech at the opening, mayor Trewavas talked up the prospect of it helping the city host future Iron Man World Championship events, among others.

At one point, he hinted that he’d like to see the pathway extended all the way down to Tūrangi, before making a dramatic pause and staring directly at Ardern, saying “with government support.”

Jacinda Ardern on the campaign trail in Taupō (Photo : Alex Braae)

The event took the form of a walk along the pathway, which in most parts was about two and a half metres wide. At various points, a combination of the press pack and the dignitaries meant that members of the public had to stop and wait. The shoreline side was lined with hotels and condos. One older gentleman leaned over his balcony to cheerfully tell the group “you’re wasting her time” – about the PM. Coffey shot back a challenge to the man, or perhaps simply hadn’t heard him properly, so the man repeated it.

On the lake itself, there were a few abandoned boats and desultory swans bobbing in the shallows. One particularly algae-covered boat was described as “iconic” by Taupō District Council chief executive Gareth Green.

The campaign group will move through Taupō to see the town centre transformation later this morning, before heading to the Mokai geothermal power station to announce the Labour energy policy.

Alex Braae will be on the campaign trail today with Jacinda Ardern and filing reports here.

On the campaign trail

Here’s where our political leaders are today:

Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern is on the campaign trail in Taupō today. Our reporter Alex Braae is with her and will be covering off any announcements.

National Party leader Judith Collins is in Palmerston North today, meeting with local business people and touring a steel fabrication workshop and Massey University.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters is at the top of the South Island today, disembarking from his massive campaign bus in Rangiora and Kaikoura.

Act Party leader David Seymour is participating in a webinar today but won’t be making any public appearances.

Greens’ co-leader Marama Davidson is in Wellington today, giving a guest lecture at Victoria University. She’ll be joining her counterpart James Shaw for a “Rally for the Future” event at Meow tonight.

8.30am: 43 Covid cases now linked to Auckland church

The church at the centre of a wave of new Covid-19 cases received $1.8 million in “offerings” last year, according to a report in the Herald.

That’s an average of $138 a week for every adult who attended its services.

The church cluster, which has epidemiological links to the bigger Auckland community cluster, has now been connected to 43 cases of Covid-19.

Senior members of the church wouldn’t comment when approached by the Herald, but the associated Bay Roskill Rugby League Club asked people “to not condemn them but be compassionate”.

Religious historian Dr Peter Lineham said the church appeared to be “pretty fundamentalist, believing in the Bible very literally” and reports that some church members had met during the level three lockdown “would be very compatible with the belief that the power of prayer needs to be tested”.

Health minister Chris Hipkins yesterday said there had been scepticism around the coronavirus from those in the church, and Ashley Bloomfield confirmed police had been called in to shut down a meeting during the recent lockdown.

8.00am: Robertson defends ‘balanced’ Labour tax policy

Grant Robertson has defended Labour’s tax policy amid criticism it’s not transformational. The party’s policy is estimated to rake in roughly $550 million each year – with a new top tax bracket of 39% on income over $180,000 being introduced. That catches just the top 2% of New Zealand earners.

“I actually think $2 billion of revenue across the four year budget period to spend on things like health and education… is actually really important,” Robertson told Newstalk ZB this morning.

“Obviously we’ll get criticism from this policy, it’s coming from all directions, which means I think we’ve probably got the balance right.”

Robertson said this is a permanent change to the tax policy that will help keep debt under control, and is a “further step” in New Zealand’s progressive tax system.

Along with the prime minister, Robertson has continued to deny any further tax announcements – something the opposition are not buying into. Yesterday, National’s Judith Collins said this tax announcement was just the start, alleging more changes were in the pipeline for Labour.

Appearing on RNZ, National’s finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith repeated this claim. “What you don’t need is more taxes at a time like this,” he said, saying the new policy was simply the “beginning”.

“We still have a Green Party that has much more enthusiastic approaches to tax… and so it’s an open question about what would happen if there was a coalition agreement between Labour and the Greens after the election,” he said.

Labour has ruled out implementing the Green Party’s wealth tax in any government it is a part of.

Questioned whether National would adopt any Act Party policies if it were to form a government with the minor party after the election, Goldsmith couldn’t rule anything out.

7.40am: Top stories from The Bulletin

What’s in the package? The top line figure is a new top marginal tax rate of 39%, which would apply to income earned over $180,000. As such, this means that 98% of New Zealanders would see absolutely no change to their income tax bill as a result. Also as a result, the revenue gathered up by it will be pretty marginal – about $550 million a year. To put that in context, a recent report found that legalising cannabis would increase the tax take by more than that. And even that $550 million could be somewhat optimistic – as Stuff’s Tom Pullar-Strecker reports, many people on incomes of that level or above would be likely to structure them so as to pay lower rates.

There’s also a commitment to “continue work with the OECD to find a solution to the issue of multinational corporations not paying their share of tax” – in other words, something may possibly one day happen. Finally, there was a commitment to “no new taxes or any further increases to income tax next term”, which firmly slams the door on a range of recommendations painstakingly put together by the tax working group. Very little at all will change if Labour are reelected.

What are they playing at? Stuff’s team of Malpass and Cooke have analysed the proposal, and argue that this is a move to protect their current whopping polling lead, while making a small incremental step in the direction they want to go. “This change is not really about raising revenue, but inserting a new bracket into the tax system that high income earners will have to get used to over the years ahead.” For many, the prospect of very little changing about the tax system – even with a wildly popular government that brands itself as progressive – isn’t a problem at all. Business Desk’s (paywalled) Pattrick Smellie says it was a case of “cautious populism” that will leave basically everyone fairly comfortable and happy.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.30am: Yesterday’s headlines

Six new cases of Covid-19 were announced, all with links to the Auckland church at the centre of a resurgence of coronavirus cases.

Four of the new cases are part of a group of 14 linked to a “series of bereavement activities”, including a funeral and visits to the household of the bereaved.

Three Auckland eateries have been listed as “locations of interest” by the Ministry of Health after customers tested positive for Covid-19

Some partners of New Zealanders stuck overseas will now be allowed to enter New Zealand under new border rules.

New residents stuck offshore will also be allowed to keep their residency status while Covid-19 travel restrictions remain in place.

Labour will introduce a new top tax rate for the country’s highest earners if re-elected to government.

National is promising a new “infrastructure bank” to streamline and fund projects if elected to government.

Read yesterday’s updates in full here.



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