Election Live, September 11: One new case of Covid-19 in community, second West Auckland student tests positive

Welcome to The Spinoff’s Election Live for September 11, 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

6.30pm: The day in sum

There was one new case in the community – linked to the” bereavement sub-cluster”.

The Ministry of Health confirmed a West Auckland primary school student, one of Thursday’s cases, has tested positive for Covid-19.

Australia nabbed the Rugby Championships from New Zealand, with the blame placed on our quarantine rules.

Labour released its first television ad for the 2020 election.

The government announced it would cover the cost of repatriation flights for stranded immigrants who can’t afford to return to their home countries.

National leader Judith Collins announced an electric vehicles policy, with the aim of 80,000 EVs on the road by 2023.

Labour promised to start opening up the borders more to allow critical workers in.

NZ First leader Winston Peters promised to continue being a handbrake to Labour.

6.20pm: PM denies government to blame for loss of Rugby Championships

Jacinda Ardern has hit back at claims it’s the government’s fault Australia nabbed the Rugby Championships from New Zealand, reports the Herald.

“We put in a huge amount of effort into that bid, worked really hard to accommodate the needs of the tournament and the players, even creating a regime where they could be training within three days of arrival in New Zealand,” Ardern said. “If we are not successful, I’d say it would be a result of being caught up in Sanzaar politics.

“The arrangements that we proposed as part of the bid did include training while in quarantine. We worked very hard with [Ministry of] Health and the tournament organisers to make it work in a way that looked after people’s health and didn’t jeopardise the tournament. It would mean they would’ve been able to train within three days of arrival.”

Meanwhile, the head of New Zealand Rugby told RNZ’s Checkpoint the country’s quarantine rules were a critical factor in losing the competition.

3.30pm: National accuses Labour of losing rugby championship

​It is often said that sports and politics don’t mix, but the influx of press releases I’ve received about rugby this afternoon suggests otherwise.

It’s now confirmed that Australia has secured rights to the Rugby Championship, over New Zealand. National’s sports spokesperson Mark Mitchell has said it’s the result of “Labour’s clumsy and incompetent handling” and Australia offering “superior quarantine conditions”.

Those comments don’t wash with sports minister Grant Robertson, who said New Zealand had offered an “attractive set of arrangements”.

“We offered flexible quarantine arrangements that would have seen players able to train after spending three days in isolation and returning a negative test,” Robertson said.

New Zealand will still be hosting the Bledisloe Cup in October, Robertson confirmed, and said the country remains ready to attract other international events.

3.10pm: Labour releases first TV ad focusing on Covid response

Jacinda Ardern is front and centre of Labour’s first television ad for the 2020 election, which focuses heavily on her government’s response to Covid-19.

“We went hard and early to fight Covid,” Ardern says in the ad. “Our plan now is to rebuild the economy even stronger.”

2.30pm: Stranded immigrants to get flights home from government

The government will cover the cost of repatriation flights for stranded immigrants who cannot afford to get home, RNZ’s reporting.

Temporary visa holders will have to demonstrate they cannot fund their own return travel, or that their embassy will not assist.

It’s estimated 7000 people may take up the offer.

1.45pm: Electric cars to be free from road user charges under National

Electric cars would be cheaper and more accessible under National, leader Judith Collins has pledged today as part of a new policy package.

All electric vehicles would be exempt from road user charges until at least 2023, and fringe benefit tax until at least 2025, Collins announced.

National wants 80,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2023, which is four times the current level, including a third of the government fleet. All electric vehicles would be allowed to use bus and high-occupancy lanes, Collins said.

“We believe the future of transport in New Zealand will be zero emissions. Our ambitious and comprehensive plan will encourage the purchase of EVs, create a thriving second hand EV market, support sustainable transport infrastructure, and lower carbon emissions in New Zealand’s transport sector.”

The policy was announced in Auckland, with Collins flanked by her transport spokesperson Chris Bishop and associate environment spokesperson Erica Stanford.

Bishop said: “Transport emissions are the largest driver of increasing greenhouse gas emissions in New Zealand, having doubled since 1990. National has a bold plan to address this.”

1.05pm: One new case of Covid-19, linked to Mt Roskill group

There is just one new case of Covid-19 in New Zealand today, associated with the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship bereavement events group.

The Ministry of Health says the case is epidemiologically linked to an existing case. “There are a number of interrelated cases and contacts who may have been involved with both the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship sub-cluster, and the bereavement sub-cluster,” according to a statement. “We have worked with ARPHS to refine our information to more clearly identify those whose source of infection occurred at the bereavement events.

“As a result, we can now say there are 33 cases in the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship group and 13 cases in the bereavement sub-cluster, which includes the cases whose source of infection was the bereavement events.”

Church leaders have been encouraging all members of the congregation to be retested and as of 8am this morning, new tests had been registered for 82% of them.

In the statement, the ministry asked for the privacy of the members of the church to be respected. “The Ministry has received reports of people associated with the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship being pursued by media. This is creating stress and, crucially, hindering public health work as these people are becoming reluctant to answer their phones,” it said.

“It is also creating a sense of stigma which is again unhelpful for public health efforts – we need people to be forthcoming and cooperative with testing and contact tracing.”

The numbers

There are now 70 people linked to the community cluster in the Auckland quarantine facility, which includes 55 people who have tested positive for Covid-19 and their household contacts.

Since August 11, our contact tracing team has identified 3,623 close contacts of cases, of which 3,608 have been contacted and are self-isolating.

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

The total number of active cases is now 114, 39 of which are imported, and 75 are community cases.

New Zealand’s total number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 is now 1,442. Yesterday laboratories processed 8,953 tests, bringing the total number of tests completed to date to 848,420.

There are now 2,181,800 users registered on NZ Covid Tracer app, and it has recorded a total of 51,939,563 poster scans, with the daily number over two million every day this month. Users have created 2,705,019 manual diary entries in the app, and 366,041 QR codes have been created to be displayed around the country.

Henderson North School student

The ministry confirmed one of the cases reported yesterday is a student at Henderson North School. “The student is a household contact of a previously reported case, and as such had been in isolation and had been tested for Covid-19.

“They were not infectious when they last attended school and there are no close contacts among the Henderson North School community. The risk to any students or staff is considered to be very low, and the school remains open.”

12.55pm: Covid-19 case numbers to be updated

There’s no press conference today but a Covid-19 update is due to land in our inbox at 1pm. We’ll bring you all the details here.

12.50pm: West Auckland primary school student tests positive for Covid-19

A student at Henderson North School has tested positive for Covid-19, the school has told its community. RNZ reports the child is a sibling of the St Dominic’s student who tested positive earlier in the week. Henderson North principal Irene Ogden told RNZ the entire family has been in self-isolation, and the student was not in class while infectious, so no one at the school is considered a close contact.

12.20pm: Ardern defends strong health response in pitch to voters

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has relied on her government’s response to Covid-19 in a pitch to voters in Auckland today, running through a greatest hits of achievements from the past six months.

“The best economic response is a strong public health response,” Ardern said. “Ours is a response I will defend as being among the very best in the world. Not acknowledging that would be a disservice to five million New Zealanders in making that happen.”

If Labour returns to office next month, Ardern said the current elimination strategy will stay in place. “We will endeavour to fulfil that through appropriate restrictions and avoid another level four lockdown,” she said.

“We will not rely on restrictions alone, they must be coupled with a strong, robust public health response.”

Ardern said we need to be able to leverage our health response to yield economic results.  “Charting the course to recovery relies on the structures we’ve already put in place,” Ardern said.

The border will remain strictly managed, Ardern said, but Labour has today pledged to loosen restrictions slightly.

The government’s priority until now has been getting New Zealanders home, Ardern said, but if Labour returns to government they would introduce a 10% quota for critical workers in managed isolation (more information in the 11.30 update).

12.00pm: ‘We will deliver on what we promise’ – Collins’ voter pitch

Judith Collins has pitched National as the party that actually gets things done – in contrast to the current government – during her address to business voters in Auckland this morning.

“The greatest challenge for New Zealand over the next few years is the economic challenge,” she said. Yoyo-ing in and out of lockdown is going to cause immense harm to businesses, Collins said, and it is important that there is economic plan in place to move ahead.

National’s plan focused on responsible management, infrastructure, re-skilling workforce, a greener future and building strong communities.

Her party would “keep people in work through infrastructure and actually getting things done”, Collins said, and would not promise things they could not achieve. “We would not say we’re going to build 100,000 homes in ten years… We would not promise light rail up Dominion Road and then not do it. We would not promise the north-west light rail line and then not do it,” she said.

“We will deliver on what we promise.”

Getting people into work and then keeping them there is crucial, Collins said, before pledging to bring back 90-day trials. Overseas workers should also be allowed to play a part in our Covid-19 rebuild.

“This is also a time to think about technology and the way that we use it. We are going to be looking at how we can further lead our credentials in the world around issues like carbon emissions.”

A National government would leave New Zealand in a better place than it is now, Collins said.

Collins also repeated her pledge to replace the RMA – one of her pet projects. The question, she said, was whether voters want a Labour or National government to be in charge of this.

11.30am: Labour promises to open borders to more critical workers

Labour is promising to start opening up the borders more to allow critical workers in, and encourage more high value investment.

It’s a change in position from what has previously been an extremely tightly controlled border, with very few exceptions to a system of only allowing returning New Zealanders through managed isolation. Some of those exceptions have proved to be controversial in the past, particularly if the case for their economic importance was arguably shaky.

Immigration minister Kris Faafoi said the party “will work with business, industry and the primary sector to identify where there is genuine and justified need for critical and skilled workers, and adjust the border exception settings to ensure their entry path is streamlined and remains safe.”

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern said that while strict border controls will remain in place, a quota in managed isolation facilities for critical workers will be set at 10% of capacity.

So far about 14,000 people a month are able to come into the country, which would mean there would be just over 1000 places.

11.15am: ‘Don’t stuff the country’ – Peters

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters used much of his Business NZ address to bash his coalition partner, Labour, and pitch his party as a handbrake on their governance.

Peters zoomed into the event from his campaign bus, parked up somewhere near Blenheim. “Why are we in lockdown in the South Island when the [Covid-19 cluster] is in Auckland?” Peters questioned.

Much of his address positioned his party as the “insurance” policy on a government led by one of the two biggest parties.

“Don’t stuff the country… that’s what this election is about. You’ve got two votes, buy yourself insurance, and vote New Zealand First,” he said.

“We wont tax our way to recovery… taxing people will not regain our prosperity.”

Highlighting the recent announcement by Labour that they would make Matariki a public holiday, Peters questioned what policies like this say about the sense of direction for New Zealand.

“My party’s view is that we are entering a completely new era,” he said. “It is a mistake to think we will simply revert back [to a time before Covid-19].”

Peters said that governments will have an “even bigger” role to play in the post-Covid era. “This may be the age of big government but we cannot afford big stupid,” he said.

“[NZ First] have been a handbrake for silly ideas… and we have to go on in government.”

11.00am: Shaw outlines ‘three areas’ Greens will focus on post-Covid

Green Party co-leader James Shaw outlined three areas which his party would focus on to drive the post-Covid economic recovery.

The ICT sector, in which he said New Zealand had seen remarkable economic growth and could profit from as a weightless export. He said the Green Party would see a digital export office set up at NZ Trade and Enterprise.

The next area he promoted was agriculture, emphasising New Zealand’s potential to capitalise on it’s organic and regenerative agriculture produce, which could be sold to the world at a premium.

But the winner, Shaw said, was the clean tech sector. He said New Zealand already had a niche industry that was starting to emerge that needed to be encouraged and grow.

“I would argue that we have a responsibility to future generations to ensure that every dollar that we have is going to awards those long term challenges.”

10.45am: Time to ‘get real smart’ about public health response – Seymour

Act Party leader David Seymour said it’s not good enough for the government to hold New Zealand up against countries handling Covid-19 worse than us, but should be looking at what countries are doing even better – like Taiwan.

Seymour is speaking at a Business NZ event in Auckland this morning, making his pitch for a government with the Act Party around the table.

“We need to get real, and get real smart, about the public health response,” Seymour said.

The Act Party, Seymour said, is the party of the self-starter and those who want to make a difference in public policy, citing charter schools, the end of life choice bill, and the party’s “principled stand” against rushed firearms laws and freedom of speech.

Seymour said a main goal for the next government should be to maintain elimination of Covid-19 without returning to lockdown. We need to strive to be better each week, he said, rather than doing “victory laps and little dances”.

We also need to have an honest conversation about debt, Seymour said, highlighting his party’s “alternative budget” and debt destroyer tool.

He questioned whether we should be keeping government spending like the fees-free policy, or if we should we be using that to pay back debt.

10.35am: Australia pinches Rugby Championships from NZ – report

The Herald is reporting that Australia is set to be announced as hosts for this year’s Rugby Championships, nabbing the four-nation competition from New Zealand, which governing body Sanzaar said in July was the preferred host.

New South Wales will now host the tournament, according to the Herald, due to having looser quarantine regulations that would allow teams to train while in isolation. It will start on November 7, and Sanzaar is expected to make an announcement this afternoon.

According to the Herald source, the first two Bledisloe Cup matches will now be pushed back one week and staged on October 17 and 24, likely to be in Auckland and Wellington. In this piece for The Spinoff, Scotty Stevenson argues why they should instead be held in Brisbane.

10.00am: Political leaders to address business community

I’m at the Hilton Hotel on Auckland’s waterfront this morning, enjoying free bottled water (not sparkling, though, so it’s not too flash) and Sean Plunket’s company, as our political leaders prepare to give their “pitch” to business voters.

Today’s Business NZ event will see Jacinda Ardern, Judith Collins, Winton Peters (zooming in from the South), James Shaw and David Seymour answer the question: “What is your Party’s plan for economic growth?”

Keep this tab open throughout the morning as I’ll be covering off the event live.

On the campaign trail

I’m heading out to a business event this morning where all the leaders of our main political parties will be giving their “pitch” to business voters. The live updates will be coming with me – so keep this tab open (as I’m sure you already do).

Here’s where our political leaders are today:

  • Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern is in Auckland to address business voters, then meet with Auckland Central candidate Helen White on K Road.
  • National Party leader Judith Collins is also in Auckland to address business voters, then heading out for a transport policy announcement in Takapuna.
  • New Zealand First leader Winston Peters is driving his massive campaign bus into Blenheim today. Presumably, he’ll be zooming in to the business event this morning.
  • Act Party leader David Seymour is also addressing business voters in Auckland today, ahead of his bus tour kicking off again next week.
  • Green Party co-leader James Shaw will be in Auckland addressing business voters as well! He’ll be joining his counterpart Marama Davidson in Christchurch this evening for a Green Party rally.

8.30am: ‘Blaming’ Mount Roskill church doesn’t help – local MP

Mount Roskill MP Michael Wood has called for online abuse targeted at the church at the centre of a renewed wave of Covid-19 cases to stop.

The Mount Roskill Evangelical Church has now been linked to 45 cases of the coronavirus, making it one of the largest clusters since the virus took hold in New Zealand.

Wood told Newshub this morning online trolling was uncalled for.

“We have had some pretty aggressive social media commentary. We have had a case of a church with a similar name but a different church getting very angry messages on its answerphone… none of that actually helps us with the public health problem,” he said.

“By blaming and getting angry at other people, that might feel good in the moment, but it doesn’t actually help us with the issue in hand.”

There remain 120 active cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, including in managed isolation.

7.50am: Auckland shouldn’t drop alert levels until it’s ‘safe’ – Goff

Auckland’s mayor Phil Goff said the supercity should only be moving down from alert level 2.5 if it’s “safe” to do so.

Cabinet will be meeting on Monday to discuss lowering our alert level restrictions, with the possibility we could be back in level one by next Thursday.

People are “overwhelmingly” wearing masks on public transport, Goff told RNZ, and despite it not being mandatory, the number of people wearing coverings in public spaces is high.

“By and large, I think people are doing the right things… and of course we’d welcome if we could move back to level one, but there’s still a fair amount of nervousness,” Goff said.

When people spread misinformation, as has happened online during the pandemic, further action should be taken – although Goff hasn’t thought about what that might mean.

“It is really obnoxious that people can spread misinformation, inaccurate information [and] lies, that can damage peoples’ wellbeing and health,” he said. The most effective way of dealing with misinformation needs to be found, Goff said, rather than simply dishing out fines. However, prosecutions can’t be ruled out and should be at the “end of the line”.

7.40am: Top stories from The Bulletin

Remember the massive wildfires that swept through Australia, and how they turned the skies a deep and forbidding orange? It was less than a year ago, and yet the event has been pushed aside by a tumultuous time since. But the issue underpinning the fires never went away, nor was it localised to Australia, and now the west coast of North America is once again seeing a massive season of burning, which by various measures is the worst ever seen. So that’s why we’re going to have an international lead story today. For context, the LA Times has an updating map of where fires are burning across the USA, and it’s worth noting that many of the areas that seem untouched are already deserts.

Earlier in September, CNN reported that the amount of land burned in California had hit a new state record for the length of a season, and that was still with the typically dangerous month of October to come. In Oregon, several towns have been “devastated” by the fires, reports Oregon Live, along with huge swathes of the surrounding counties. And the Seattle Times reports fires have also hit Washington State, destroying hundreds of homes in the process.

The smoke is absolutely choking for millions of people. The CBC reports it has stretched up into Canada, with health warnings issued for people in most of British Columbia, as well as the major city of Vancouver. The smoke is going all the way down the coast of the USA as well, with bad air being reported as far south as Southern California.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.30am: Yesterday’s headlines

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.

Read yesterday’s updates in full here.



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