Prime minister Jacinda Ardern and director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield (Photo: Mark Mitchell - Pool/Getty Images)

Live updates, August 11: Four community cases; Auckland to level three lockdown; link to Mt Albert Primary

The latest headlines as community transmission returns to New Zealand. 

11.35pm: ‘Bugger’ – David Seymour

“Tonight’s news is not what anyone hoped for,” said Act Party leader David Seymour in a post on Facebook.

There will be time enough to ask why this has happened, but right now the goal is to get on top of it before there is loss of life or further loss of livelihoods,” he said.

Yesterday, Seymour launched his campaign to get more Act MPs into parliament after the next election. He left his Epsom electorate in a bus (van), with intentions to tour the entire country over the next month.

“As with the last lockdown, we all need to do the right thing to beat the virus as quickly as possible.

“We also need the Government to play an effective, transparent and competent role. It must be 100 percent open and transparent about all of the data, the options and the decision-making process,” he said.

11.30pm: ADHB asks Aucklanders to be ‘vigilant’

A reminder to Aucklanders to be vigilant, as the supercity heads into an alert level three lockdown from midday tomorrow. 

The city’s DHB has issued a media release saying they are well equipped to deal with the unexpected setback in our Covid response. 

“This news is of concern, but we expected to see further community cases in Auckland at some point in this pandemic, and we are well prepared,” said Northern Region Health Coordination Centre Lead (and Counties Manukau Health CEO) Margie Apa.

“We are working closely with the Ministry of Health and other agencies to ensure everything possible is done to contain the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.”

The return to level three follows four new cases of Covid-19 in the community, with no known links to international travel or mandatory isolation facilities.

“Our message to people living in Auckland is to continue to be vigilant. The best defense against COVID-19 is to follow the same actions we took earlier in the pandemic,” Apa said.

“Maintain good hand hygiene. If you are sick, stay home. Keep track of your movements to help us with contact tracing. Maintain physical distancing.”

Capacity at Auckland’s four Community Testing Centres has been boosted from tomorrow, with additional staff and longer hours. Traffic management is in place at all four sites, but people are being asked to expect longer waits than usual and be patient. 

Two pop-up centres will be open from 9am tomorrow: one in Otara Town Centre carpark (14 Fair Mall, Otara) and the second at Health New Lynn (Level 1 carpark, Totara Health Services, McCrae Way, New Lynn).

GPs and urgent care clinics are also prepare for a higher volume of testing, and mobile testing units are on standby. These can be “deployed rapidly” to locations throughout the city as directed.

11.15pm: ‘A shock to all New Zealanders who believed what we had been told’ – Collins

Judith Collins has issued a statement responding to this evening’s news of community transmission of Covid-19 in Auckland. “This will come as a shock to all New Zealanders who believed what we had been told – that we had got on top of this virus. It is disappointing that it is once again in our community,” said the National Party leader.

“A lot of work will need to be done over the coming days to figure out exactly what this latest case of community transmission will mean for the country, and I urge all New Zealanders to follow the hygiene protocols that saw us do such a great job of dealing with the first wave of Covid-19.

She added: “New Zealanders can be assured that National will be seeking an explanation and clear answers about the situation we now find ourselves in.”

All National Party campaign events planned for tomorrow have been suspended.

11.00pm: Mt Albert Primary School link to new Covid cases

Students’ parents and staff at Mt Albert Primary School have been sent an email this evening from the Auckland Regional Public Health Service headed “Covid-19 case in the Mt Albert Primary School community and temporary school closure”.

In the email, viewed by the Spinoff, they are informed that a child at the school “lives in a household where a number of people have been confirmed with Covid-19”.

The child has been tested and results are awaited. The school will close to all for at least 72 hours. A decision will follow on “if there has been any exposure to Covid-19 at the school” and whether further testing of students and staff is required.

10.45pm: Collins points finger at government

The Herald is reporting the leader of the opposition, Judith Collins, laying the blame on the emergence of Covid-19 community transmission at the door of the government. “I am, like I’m sure the rest of the country, extremely disappointed that this has been allowed in through our borders,” she is reported as saying.

10.30pm: Auckland supermarkets close early

After reports of long queues at several Auckland supermarkets, reports are now coming of many closing earlier than planned, to prepare for service under level three conditions.

9.25pm: Four confirmed cases of Covid-19 in one family, acquired from unknown source, Auckland to move to alert level three tomorrow

Read our full report on the new cases and what it means for New Zealand here

Ashley Bloomfield has announced four confirmed cases of Covid-19 in one family in South Auckland, acquired from an unknown source, and Auckland is moving to alert level three. The rest of the country goes to alert level two.

“While we have worked incredibly hard to avoid this … we have also planned for it,” said Jacinda Ardern, speaking at an emergency press conference at parliament.

The first case is a man in his 50s who twice tested positive in the Auckland region after being swabbed yesterday. Three members of his family also tested positive, while three others tested negative. None of the cases have known connections to managed isolation facilities or anyone working in a high-risk area, such as at the border, said Ardern.

As a result, Auckland will be moving to alert level three for three days from midday tomorrow, said Ardern. That means schools and early childhood centres will be closed, except for the children of essential workers, and if you can work from home, you should.

Read our alert level three explainer

The first case in the family to test positive is understood to have had symptoms for five days. He is currently being interviewed by Auckland Regional Public Health. All close contacts will be tested and will remain in self-isolation for 14 days.

Bloomfield said it was “a wake up call against any complacency that may have set in”. Authorities had been preparing for some time for a community case. He urged people to follow guidelines including hand-washing, physical distancing and mask wearing. Testing would be scaled up and people encouraged to err on the side of caution as far as testing is concerned.

Read our full report on the new cases and what it means for New Zealand here

For a reminder of what alert level three means, read our explainer from April.

9.20pm: Ardern and Bloomfield press conference – watch live

9.00pm: Ardern and Bloomfield to announce Covid case in the community at 9.15pm

The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, and director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, are holding a press conference in the Beehive Theatrette at 9.15pm this evening. It will be livestreamed on the prime minister’s Facebook page and we’ll bring you the details here.

The Spinoff understands the announcement will be about a man in his 50s in the Auckland region, who tested positive for Covid-19 after a swab yesterday and has no history of overseas travel.

The person is understood to have had symptoms for five days. He is currently being interviewed by Auckland Regional Public Health.

All close contacts will be tested and will remain in self-isolation for 14 days. Further details, including any information about a regional change in alert level, is expected to come from the prime minister and the director general of health in the coming minutes.

6.55pm: The day in sum

There was one new case of Covid-19, in managed isolation.

The Village Palms rest home in Christchurch went into lockdown as residents were tested for Covid-19.

Judith Collins unveiled National’s law and order policy, and said the entire National caucus will vote no in the cannabis referendum.

The homeless man whom National’s Michael Woodhouse claimed had sneaked into managed isolation was in fact in the hotel legitimately, RNZ revealed.

Psychic Jeanette Wilson ended her parliamentary campaign less than a day after launching it.

National selected its new Auckland Central candidate Emma Mellow, who is NOT Merv

Ashley Bloomfield’s nostril was swabbed, willingly, for Covid-19 – despite having no symptoms.

6.15pm: Entire National caucus to vote no on cannabis – Collins

All members of the National Party caucus plan to vote against the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill in the upcoming referendum, leader Judith Collins has told RNZ Checkpoint. Her announcement puts more pressure on PM Jacinda Ardern, who today rebuffed Collins’ call to say how she’ll be voting.

This afternoon Collins called Ardern’s refusal to state her position “absolute codswallop”.

“For goodness’ sake, you wouldn’t let me get away with that one, would you?” she told reporters.

5.10pm: Michael Woodhouse half right about homeless man

A homeless man did stay in managed isolation, Checkpoint has revealed, but while Michael Woodhouse got that part right, he got the other part wrong. According to the programme, the man did not breach security to “sneak in” to the Crown Plaza Hotel, but “had every right to be there”.

The RNZ programme said it has established that he had “returned to Auckland from Melbourne and accessed the hotel legitimately”, and on departure provided “no fixed abode” as his address. Woodhouse, who is no longer the National health spokesperson, did not respond to RNZ requests for comment.

3.20pm: Mervmania hits the 2020 election campaign

This week on our politics podcast Gone By Lunchtime: Toby, Ben and Annabelle gather to talk a lot about Merv.

With 39 days to go until New Zealand goes to the polls, talkback caller “Merv” has lit up the election campaign, delivering a deeply unmellow curtain-raiser to the National Party’s Auckland Central candidate selection. That’s top of the agenda for this week’s Gone By Lunchtime.

Subscribe through Apple Podcasts, or read more here 

3.00pm: Christchurch retirement village in lockdown for Covid testing

A Christchurch retirement village has gone into lockdown after “several residents” began displaying symptoms of a respiratory illness, Newshub is reporting.

Today marks 102 days since the last possible case of community transmitted Covid-19, according to the Ministry of Health.

The Village Palms Retirement Village in Shirley advised of the lockdown in a letter to family members of residents on Tuesday.

“We have forwarded swabs to the Public Health department to test for Covid-19.”

2.30pm: Ashley Bloomfield gets swabbed (in gif form).

The Spinoff is now able to provide this exclusive gif of the precise moment a swab was thrust forcefully into Ashley Bloomfield’s nostril, and then gently twisted.

Contrary to the ghostly white back drop of the below gif, Bloomfield was not being tested for Covid-19 today at a mobile testing facility in Porirua – not in purgatory. He said he had no symptoms for the coronavirus, but had been offered the chance to get tested.

And from the looks of things, it’s not as unpleasant as some people would have you think.

1.30pm: Is this the most annoying hat in NZ?

New Zealand First MP Shane Jones wears several hats in government. But, he has an interest in non-metaphorical headwear too.

Today, The Spinoff’s video whiz José Barbosa investigates whether Shane Jones’ most notable hat is the most annoying hat in New Zealand.

1.00pm: One new case of Covid-19; Bloomfield gets swabbed

Ashley Bloomfield said he’ll be putting his nostrils on the line today, and getting a test for Covid-19. He was quick to say he does not have symptoms of Covid-19, but has taken up the offer of a test as he’s visiting the Ora Toa Cannons Creek Medical Centre in Porirua.

During today’s media stand-up, Bloomfield announced there is one new cases of Covid-19, in managed isolation. It’s been more than 100 days since the last case in the community.

The new case is a man in his twenties who arrived in New Zealand on July 30 from Melbourne. He initially tested negative on day 3 of his stay in isolation, but went on to test positive on day 12. The total number of active cases is now 22, all in managed isolation facilities.

Bloomfield said he’s taking the Covid-19 test today to “show people how it’s done” because some people find it quite uncomfortable.

Ashley Bloomfield at the precise moment the swab plunged deep into his nostril

12.55pm: Collins challenges Ardern on cannabis referendum vote

The cannabis referendum has been pulled into the election campaign, with Judith Collins pressuring the prime minister to publicly state how she’ll be voting.

In a tweet, the National Party leader said: “National supports medicinal cannabis but not recreational use and sale.”

“Today, I have challenged the Labour Leader to tell NZ if she is voting to legalise the recreational use and sale of Marijuana…Can she let New Zealand know?”

Watch now: Alice Snedden’s Bad News is back

The first episode of the all new season of Alice Snedden’s Bad News is available to watch right now on The Spinoff. It’s about sex work, and whether or not it’s fair that migrants aren’t covered by the law passed in 2003 to make it legal. It includes a shocking (Alice literally gets an electric shock) visit to a high-end brothel and an interview with then-immigration minister Iain Lees-Galloway where he talks about the place of morality in politics.

The next episode (there are eight in total) is out on The Spinoff on Thursday and it’s a must-watch as well. Actually, they all are.

Watch episode one right now:

12.25pm: Carcinogens detected in Pike River, workers withdrawn

Underground workers have been withdrawn from the Pike River Mine after samples returned positive for the presence of carcinogens.

In a statement, chief operating officer Dinghy Pattinson said the team working underground recently encountered an unusual substance on the walls and roof of the tunnel and took samples.

“As soon as we received notification back from our independent testing facility, we stopped work underground and withdrew the mine workers.  We are now working with mining experts and WorkSafe to understand what the results of the testing mean for our operations.”

11.15am: Magic Talk secures live cricket commentary

MediaWorks has swooped into a Radio Sport-sized hole this morning, announcing a three-year broadcasting deal with NZ Cricket. It’ll see live, free-to-air commentary of all Blackcaps and White Ferns matches, as well as selected content from domestic competitions.

NZ Cricket chief David White said: “The continuity of live, free-to-air, ball-by-ball radio and audio commentary was extremely important to NZC and was always a priority for us in terms of ensuring cricket fans could follow the Blackcaps, White Ferns and their favourite domestic teams – whenever they wanted and wherever they were.”

11.00am: National reveals law and order policy to ‘keep Kiwis safe’

It wouldn’t be an election campaign without some tough on crime campaign promises – and National has come out swinging.

“Our policy is simple: victims should get justice and criminals should be held accountable for the harm they cause,” leader Judith Collins said.

Collins has been on the campaign trail in Taupō today.

“National puts victims at the heart of our criminal justice system because we understand that, through no fault of their own, they are often left with deep physical and mental scars,” Collins said.

The party’s justice spokesperson, former leader and yak enthusiast Simon Bridges, said National would focus government efforts to reduce crime and reoffending by setting clear reduction targets. “We will use data to identify the areas of greatest need within the justice system and focus on making New Zealand a safer place,” he said.

The policy includes banning all gang patches in public places, introducing a “clean start” policy to help newly-released prisoners move to a new community, and expanding the use of specialist courts, such as drug and alcohol courts.

National’s law and order policy includes:

  • Implementing its social investment approach across the justice system by setting clear targets to reduce offending and address the areas of most need
  • Significantly expand mental health facilities in policing such as the Watch House Nurse Programme and the Mental Health Co-response initiative
  • Change the Victim Notification Register to make it opt-out rather than opt-in
  • Tightening border controls through increased searching of containers and mail to prevent drugs coming into the country
  • Expanding the use of specialist courts, such as drug and alcohol courts, which help offenders deal with their addiction issues
  • Institute a range of policies to target gangs and the harm they cause in communities
  • Introducing the Clean Start policy to help newly-released prisoners move to a new community

10.00am: Psychic withdraws from election 24h after campaign launch

Surely, she should have seen this coming?

Jeanette Wilson yesterday announced she would be standing for the conspiracy-pushing Public Party. But, as we all know, a lot can happen in 24 hours in politics. Wilson has this morning withdrawn from the upcoming election, saying she was “guided” to do this.

“I am here as a truth speaker and some of what I say will not be popular – it is onwards and upwards LIGHT into DARK,” she said in a post on Facebook.

It follows a big day for Wilson: yesterday she claimed she had been provided evidence the government did not have jurisdiction to hold this year’s general election.

9.00am: On The Spinoff now: Why is the PGF funding a racecourse?

Our managing editor Duncan Greive has written a scalding piece about the Provincial Growth Fund and its role in funding a racecourse in, spoiler, a city. Even if the thought of the PGF makes you tuck yourself into bed, give this one a read.

Here’s an extract:

The PGF had previously declined to fund the racecourse, chiefly because of its location. Riccarton is not in some poverty-stricken province in dire need of investment, but instead in the middle of Christchurch, New Zealand’s second (or third, depending who you’re talking to) biggest city. Officials assessing the bid, which was initially turned down in 2018, noted that it was quite a strange place to be spending PGF money.

“The proposed Riccarton Park synthetic racing track is located in Christchurch City, which is ineligible for PGF funding,” assessors from the Provincial Development Unit wrote, according to documents obtained by RNZ.

All that somehow still doesn’t capture the true surreality of what we have just witnessed. Because horse-racing is not a sport in any conventional sense. It exists largely as a vector for gambling. Without gambling, the sport would not exist – aside from a vanishingly small number of marquee races, its stands are near empty. Its races play only on a channel owned by the TAB, New Zealand’s statutory monopoly supplier of bets on its races. This is not to suggest there aren’t many wonderful people involved in the broader equine world – but that its racing subset is almost entirely about facilitating hundreds of short, sharp opportunities to gamble.

Read Duncan’s full piece here

8.15am: Ex-soldier compensated for 31-year-old injury

Cabinet has issued an apology to former soldier George Nepata, who was seriously injured in 1989. Nepata was rendered a tetraplegic, following an accident in a training exercise.

He’s also been compensated for the accident, which defence minister Ron Mark said is to recognise the Defence Force’s failure to provide Nepata with a safe system of work. “This is an issue I’ve continued to raise over the past 20 years – I’ve felt strongly that the government has had a moral obligation to address this and I’m pleased there has finally been a resolution,” Mark said.

“I formally apologise to George Nepata on behalf of the government and the New Zealand Defence Force for the New Zealand Defence Force’s failure to provide him with a safe system of work and the 31 years he has struggled with his tetraplegia.”

Mark said the apology reflects the fact that “as a junior soldier George was obliged to obey the commands of his superiors” during training and had “no opportunity to challenge the conduct of the exercise.”

“The apology also acknowledges the efforts and costs associated with his petitions to Parliament, but most importantly it recognises the burden and struggles that George, his wife Kim and his wider whānau and family have borne since the accident.”

7.45am: National selects new Auckland Central candidate

The National Party has finally selected the candidate to replace outgoing MP Nikki Kaye. The selection process has been plagued by numerous problems, including last night’s “Merv-gate” (seriously), allegations of a smear campaign against a candidate, and revelations the selection process had not been followed correctly.

Emma Mellow, 30, has now been selected to contest the seat. She’ll be up against Labour’s Helen White, and high profile Green MP Chloe Swarbrick.

In a statement, Mellow said she would be “hitting the campaign trail hard” in the lead up to the election.

She would be travelling to Waiheke and Great Barrier and campaigning in Auckland Central, planning to meet as many people as possible ahead of the election.

“Auckland Central has had strong National representation for 12 years and I will be fighting hard to make sure it continues to have strong National representation.

“Our community, like the rest of the country, is worried about the future. What our economy will look like, whether they will have a job and how they will support their family.”

7.35am: Top stories from The Bulletin

A draft agreement on a travel bubble with the Cook Islands is close to being finalised, the PM revealed yesterday. Stuff reports it has been discussed at cabinet, and there are just a few more operational details that need to be ironed out. No exact timeframe has been put on it, but at this stage it is hoped that it will be in place by the end of the year. ”We haven’t wanted to give dates beyond that while we’re still undertaking that verification work – and that’s on both sides. Both for the Cook Islands and New Zealand,” said Jacinda Ardern. Other ‘realm’ countries of Niue and Tokelau are also in the queue, but discussions are less well advanced with them.

Many on the Cook Islands side have been absolutely crying out for this to happen, as an economic boost. The economy is hugely reliant on tourism, and a recent episode of The Detail outlined just how hard hit the Cooks had been since the borders were closed in March. That is being felt across many Pacific Islands, in fact, with hard decisions being made about other, more risky ventures instead. But at the same time, the enthusiasm is not universal, reports the Cook Islands News – one local leader was quoted as saying “the majority of people don’t want the borders to reopen yet, it’s the hoteliers and those business people from overseas who are pushing for this. They are more worried about their pockets then people’s lives.”

After all, the potential risk of an outbreak is far more severe in the Cook Islands than in New Zealand. Health resources and facilities would be overwhelmed much more quickly, and the consequences could be dire. It also comes at a time when health officials in NZ are warning that renewed community transmission could still take place, so following on from that logically, anywhere there is an air bridge could also see that, even if cases spreading is less likely. The continued uncertainty in general terms is also taking a toll on the Cook Islands – for more on that, have a look at this exceptional Cook Islands News editorial cartoon.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

New Zealand achieved 101 days without community transmission. There were no new cases of Covid-19.

The PGF is bankrolling a horse-racing track in the middle of Christchurch, RNZ revealed, despite officials saying the $10.5 million project doesn’t meet the fund’s key “provincial” criteria.

Labour won’t make a deal with the Greens to help Chloe Swarbrick win Auckland Central, thereby helping to ensure the Greens get into parliament, Jacinda Ardern said.

National’s deputy leader Gerry Brownlee said he is “puzzled” why the government is warning people to be prepared for a second wave of Covid-19

A Ministerial Services review cleared former minister Iain Lees-Galloway of any inappropriate spending or transactions while in government.

Officials from New Zealand and the Cook Islands could meet within 10 days to decide on details of a “travel bubble” between the nations, the PM said. She refused to be tied down on a date for its opening, however.

The Act Party’s “Change Your Future” tour kicked off in David Seymour’s Epsom electorate. The “bus” – actually a large van – will be making its way down the country, with stops from Whangārei through to Bluff.

Catch up with yesterday’s happenings here.




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