Live updates, October 11: Northland Covid case’s travelling companion found; another Middlemore ED patient tests positive

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for October 11, by Stewart Sowman-Lund. Auckland is now at step one of the alert level three pathway, Northland and parts of Waikato are in regular level three. Reach me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


Today’s 1pm and 4pm updates, summarised

  • Auckland will remain under its current alert level three restrictions until at least 11.59pm on Tuesday October 19. This will be reviewed in a week, on October 18.
  • Northland and parts of Waikato will remain in the classic, stricter, level three until at least 11.59pm on Thursday October 14. This will be reviewed on Wednesday, October 13.
  • Vaccinations will be made mandatory for all teachers and school staff from January 1, 2022 and for some in the health and disability sector from December 1, 2021. Weekly testing will be required for unvaccinated school staff up until the new year.
  • The plan to reopen Auckland schools on October 18 has been delayed.
  • There are 35 new community cases of Covid-19. All are in Auckland but 21 have not yet been epidemiologically linked to the wider outbreak.
  • And a friendly reminder: Our coverage of Covid-19 depends on support from Members. Join us here.

9.40pm: Northland Covid case’s travelling companion located, taken into custody

The travelling companion of a Covid case who breached alert level restrictions to travel from Auckland to Northland, resulting in the region being put into level three lockdown on Friday, has been found.

The woman was located this evening at a west Auckland address, according to a police statement, and has been taken into custody under section 70 of the Health Act. She will be transported to an MIQ facility.

The woman she travelled with was confirmed as a positive case on Friday, having earlier in the week returned a weak positive result. That evening, Northland was put into level three lockdown as the case had travelled around the region extensively and was not cooperating with public health efforts to trace her movements. Police were aware she’d been travelling with someone else but despite identifying this person, they’d been unable to find her until now.

It’s not yet clear whether either of the women will face charges, but according to the statement, “police are continuing to investigate this matter and will be following up with this individual”.

No further cases have yet emerged in Northland, but level three has been extended for the region until 11.59pm on Thursday, October 14.

8.00pm: Another Middlemore ED patient tests positive; 40 patients and 34 staff considered contacts

A patient who presented to Middlemore Hospital’s emergency department on Friday for a non-Covid-related issue has since tested positive for Covid-19, the latest in a number of similar exposure events at the hospital. 

The patient was asymptomatic when assessed and admitted to hospital on Friday, and answered no to all screening questions, according to a statement from the Ministry of Health. Yesterday, however, they developed a cough and were tested, returning a positive result today. They have been moved to an isolation ward. 

 “Acting out of an abundance of caution, as of this evening, 40 patients have been identified as contacts as a result of the exposure event,” says the ministry. “Of these, 15 are inpatients while the remaining 25 are being followed-up by the Auckland Regional Public Health Service.”

In addition, 34 staff have been identified as contacts, 21 of whom have been stood down with testing plans.

A further update will be included in the ministry’s 1pm statement tomorrow.

5.45pm: Auckland schools not reopening in 2021 is “worst case scenario” – Hipkins

Covid-19 response minister (and education minister) Chris Hipkins appeared live on RNZ Checkpoint shortly after the 4pm briefing this evening to discuss vaccine mandates in the education sector. Lisa Owen asked the question on every parent’s mind: will school-aged children in Auckland be home for the rest of the year? Hipkins wouldn’t give a clear timeframe but also didn’t rule it out. Read a condensed transcript below or watch the full interview here:

Owen: Can you give us a guarantee that school’s going to be back, in Auckland, sometime this year?

Hipkins: There are no guarantees when you’re dealing with Covid-19.

Do you think it’s likely, minister?

I think there’s a good stance, but we’ll review it week by week. We’ve basically extended the deadline out by a week, so we’re learning from home for the first week of the school term. That’ll give us further time to get higher rates of vaccination and also to look at what the case numbers are showing us.

We do have some ability even now at alert level three for those senior secondary school students who are needing to complete assessments and so on and need to be on the school site to complete assessments, there are provisions available for them. We are making arrangements for exams to still be able to proceed at the end of this year regardless of where we’re sitting with things.

As you’ll probably appreciate, some parents are kind of hanging by a thread here, right? They’ve had a long period of time where they’re assuming a whole bunch of responsibilities. So can you just be as clear as possible – let’s talk about primary school – do you think it is likely that primary students will be back at school before the end of the year or should parents prepare themselves to be schooling their kids until Christmas?

I fully understand the plight of those parents who’ll be listening to this. We want to get their kids back to school as soon as it’s safe to do so. I can’t put a specific time frame on that. If I was giving odds, again, I don’t think that would be fair. I do think there’s a good chance we’ll be able to reopen schools and have kids back in school but I don’t want to put particular deadlines, dates, timeframes or odds on it.

I understand the deadlines, dates, and the odds. Let me put it another way: are you reviewing scenarios which would be that students are not returning to school by the end of the year? Are you gearing up a scenario that fits that?

Look, that would be the worst case scenario-

Yes but are you preparing for that, minister?

All scenarios are on the table and we look at the implications for all of them and what the options are. But as I said, that would be the worst case scenario… I’m still optimistic that we’d be able to get to a better place than that.

5.10pm: Vaccine mandates ‘entirely justifiable’, says public health expert

Professor Nick Wilson from the department of public health at University of Otago has welcomed vaccine mandates in the health and education sectors announced by the government today.

“This is entirely justifiable from a duty-of-care perspective and is an increasingly common approach in other high-income countries, including Australia,” he said. For those health and education workers who refuse to be vaccinated against Covid-19, there will often be alternative work roles available where they do not interact with the public.”

Wilson said the decision not to open schools in Auckland next Monday will “give more time for the introduction of safeguards” alongside the new mandates.

He also encouraged the strengthening of Auckland’s borders to prevent spread to other regions, as well as a border around the South Island, where “we probably should be aiming to have some border controls so as to replicate the success of Tasmania, which has had no community cases for over 500 days”.

4.15pm: Vaccinations to be mandatory for all teachers by 2022

All school and early learning teachers, and staff who have contact with school students, will need to be vaccinated by the start of next year. 

The government has confirmed vaccines will be mandatory for many in the education sector, with a first dose required by November 15. Schools and early learning providers will then need to maintain a vaccine register confirming their student-facing staff are doubled jabbed from January 1, 2022. 

Speaking at today’s 4pm press conference, Covid response and education minister Chris Hipkins revealed this would include support staff such as teacher-aides, administration and maintenance staff and contractors. “Secondary schools and kura will also be required to keep a Covid-19 vaccination register for students,” he said.

Schools in Auckland will no longer reopen in a week’s time, but all employees will first require a negative Covid-19 result when returning to school grounds in the future. This will also apply to those in other level three areas. 

“Those who are not fully vaccinated in the period leading up to January 1 2022, will also be required to undergo weekly Covid-19 testing,” said Hipkins. “Work is continuing on whether mandatary vaccinations will be required in the tertiary education sector.”

Asked what will happen to those who remain unvaccinated by the start of next year, Hipkins confirmed they will no longer be able to work in their job after the vaccine deadline. Students, however, will not need to be vaccinated. “That’s really important,” said Hipkins.

Vaccines also mandated for some in health and disability sector

Meanwhile, anyone conducting “high-risk work” in the health and disability sector will also need to be fully vaccinated by December 1 this year. “Under these new requirements, general practitioners, pharmacists, community health nurses, midwives, paramedics, and all healthcare workers in sites where vulnerable patients are treated (including Intensive Care Units) must receive their first dose of the vaccine by October 30,” said Hipkins. 

“These requirements also include certain non-regulated healthcare work, such as aged residential care, home and community support services, kaupapa Māori health providers and Non-Government Organisations who provide health services.”

Hipkins said mandating vaccines wasn’t an “easy decision”, but with vaccinations not yet approved for young children – and the high risk presented in the disability sector – this was a necessary step. “A high rate of vaccinations will help to protect staff from getting sick and passing Covid-19 onto loved ones. It will also reassure those who are anxious about their children attending school and early learning services.”

4.00pm: Lockdown restrictions to stay in place in all three regions

All three currently locked down regions will remain under current restrictions, Jacinda Ardern has announced.

In summary:

  • Auckland remains in level three (step one) for at least another week.
  • Level three settings will remain for affected Waikato area and Northland until at least 11.59pm Thursday.

“We want the R value to stay as close to one as possible,” said Ardern. “It has crept up a little in recent days. This means the number of cases will grow. If followed, our alert level restrictions can help slow this spread.”

Auckland’s lockdown will be reviewed again in a week, while the restrictions in Waikato and Northland will be reviewed on Wednesday.

Schools in Auckland will also not reopen next week as previously planned for, said Ardern. The current state of the outbreak in Auckland has heightened the need for robust safety measures to be in place before schools reopen. “Further public health advice will be provided next week,” said Afdern. “Distance learning will instead recommence at the beginning of term four.”

This week will culminate with “Super Saturday” – a national day of action encouraged to bolster vaccine uptake. “While we vaccinate, restrictions are still important,” said Ardern. Acknowledging the shift to the new version of alert level three in Auckland last week, Ardern said the general rule was that people should still stay at home and in their bubbles.

Small pockets of transmission have occurred at level three workplaces in the sectors of construction, food delivery and taxi services, said Ardern. Surveillance testing is now under way.

Waikato and Northland to stay in level three until Thursday night

Despite no new cases being announced in Waikato today, the parts of the region currently in alert level three will remain under restrictions until 11.59pm on Thursday night. A move to level two will tentatively be confirmed on Wednesday.

Similarly, despite no new cases cropping up in Northland, the tip of the country will also remain in level three until at least Thursday night. “While we haven’t had any new cases in Northland since the case emerged on Friday, without clear information about the exact places they travelled to, we’re relying on testing,” said Ardern. “This is an incredibly frustrating situation.” Ardern said she had asked health officials to take all possible steps to try and and determine whether any Covid spread had occurred.

Ardern urged Northlanders to get tested and vaccinated.

3.45pm: Announcement due on alert levels and vaccine mandates

We’re about to hear from prime minister Jacinda Ardern, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield, and the Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins.

First and foremost, we’re due to receive an update on whether restrictions can be loosened in any part of the country. Currently, Auckland is in stage one of the revamped level three pathway (or whatever it’s called) while parts of Waikato and all of Northland remain in the OG, stricter, version of level three.

We’re also expecting an announcement on vaccine mandates, possibly for the education sector.

As always – follow along with our live coverage by keeping this page refreshed or tune into the livestream below:

A special note from The Spinoff publisher Duncan Greive

Without wanting to get too Bernie Sanders-meme with it, I am once again asking you to consider donating to help The Spinoff. The delta outbreak struck just as we had made a major investment in new hires to grow what we can bring you on The Spinoff. These live updates have been a huge part of our work to make key news more accessible, and their editor, Stewart Sowman-Lund, is one of a clutch of new writers and editors we have appointed over the past year, including Reweti Kohere, Madeleine Holden and Chris Schulz. We also now have a CTO, working on a new site, and a head of data creating powerful charts to map the spread of the virus and rollout of the vaccine.

They are all creating important work under highly constrained circumstances — as are the rest of our 20-strong editorial team. Unfortunately delta has had a significant impact on our partnership work, which makes us more reliant than ever on the support of our audience.

So — if you’re part of The Spinoff Members, thank you, from all of us. If you’re not, and can donate, please do so today using this link — to keep on keeping on, we need you right now.

(A reminder: Every dollar donated through The Spinoff Members is ring-fenced to create more of our homegrown and independent journalism.)

3.05pm: Māori Party calls for return to level four in Auckland

The Māori Party has called for Auckland to return to alert level four, and the rest of the country to move into level three, until Māori vaccination rates hit 95%.

The prime minister has not ruled out moving Auckland back into the strictest lockdown settings as case numbers continue to fluctuate, with 60 reported yesterday and 35 today. Jacinda Ardern, joined by Ashley Bloomfield and Chris Hipkins, will reveal next steps at today’s 4pm presser.

In a press release, Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi said keeping the alert level restrictions as they currently are will lead to more deaths. “The reality is that the government has failed to deliver to Māori,” he said. “They have failed to uphold their responsibility to Te Tiriti o Waitangi. And now we are on the brink of a catastrophe that none of us are prepared or resourced for simply because they won’t hand over power.”

Focusing both the elimination strategy and the vaccine rollout on the general population has left Māori “out to dry”, said Debbie Ngarewa-Packer. “Māori are now presenting over half of daily cases. We need to be placed back into a level that will break the circuit of this outbreak for Māori.”

Yesterday, Covid modeller Shaun Hendy – whose figures have informed the government’s pandemic response – indicated a circuit breaker lockdown may be needed for Auckland.

2.05pm: Today’s key numbers, in chart form

Here are the key figures from today’s 1pm update, as charted by The Spinoff’s Harkanwal Singh.

As you can see, today saw a dip in new cases compared to yesterday’s mammoth surge. However, today’s 35 new cases is still one of the highest we’ve seen since the peak of the outbreak in August. And taking into account testing numbers are lower on a Sunday, it remains concerning.

The second and third charts show the number of hospitalisations and cases infectious in the community. Both are trending upward at a time when we’d very much like to see the opposite.

View these charts and more on The Spinoff’s Covid Tracker here. Check out the vaccination rates for every suburb in the country here. And view the live list of locations of interest here.

1.35pm: Two Auckland hospitals standing down staff after separate Covid incursions

Both North Shore Hospital and Auckland City Hospital are dealing with separate Covid-19 incursions that have resulted in staff being stood down.

In today’s 1pm media update, the Ministry of Health said two staff members at North Shore Hospital have now returned positive results for Covid-19 following a confirmed case in a patient receiving treatment in the dialysis unit. The connection between the three cases is being investigated.

“A number of staff have been stood down initially as a precaution, and all those staff who have been tested have returned negative results,” said the ministry. “The dialysis unit remains open, with measures in place to manage potential risk to both patients and staff.”

Meanwhile, three staff members at Auckland City Hospital have also tested positive – including one who was fully vaccinated. Of the three, two were tested at a community testing site while one was tested as part of routine workplace surveillance. Initial investigations have shown there are no links to the NICU parent case.

There are currently 33 people in hospitals around Auckland with Covid-19.

1.25pm: Northland Covid-19 case genomically linked to Auckland outbreak

Whole genome sequencing has definitively linked the Covid-19 case first detected in Northland with the wider Auckland outbreak.

Due to sample quality limitations, whole genome sequencing could not link the case to a specific cluster, however resampling has been undertaken and ESR are working to improve the data quality of additional sequencing. The case remains in an Auckland quarantine facility.

A second person who is thought to have travelled with this case has been contacted but not yet located, said the ministry.

More information on the Northland case and their travel companion may be released by the prime minister Jacinda Ardern at today’s 4pm press conference after pressure to confirm whether or not the pair have gang links.

“Public health staff continue to work closely with the person to determine any locations of interest or exposure events associated with the case,” said the ministry. There are currently 21 close contacts associated with this case. The household of the case and travel companion are included in this number.

“Anyone in Northland should remain vigilant for symptoms, particularly anyone who has visited a location of interest or been in an area of interest at the times specified should get tested and isolate until they receive the result,” the ministry said.

Today there are five testing sites available across Northland:

Whangarei – Rock and Roll car park, Pohe Island (9am–4pm); Kamo, 20 Winger Crescent (9am –4pm)
Dargaville – Dargaville Hospital (9am-4pm)
Kerikeri – 1 Sammaree Place (9am-4pm)
Kaitaia – Kaitaia Hospital, 29 Redan Road (9am-4pm).

1.15pm: Ministry announces 35 new Covid-19 cases ahead of lockdown decision

There are 35 new community cases of Covid-19, all in Auckland. It’s the final set of new cases ahead of a major lockdown announcement this afternoon, with Northland, Auckland and parts of Waikato currently in some form of alert level three.

Of today’s new cases, 14 have so far been epidemiologically linked to the wider outbreak. Twenty-nine of the 60 cases announced yesterday were infectious while in the community.

There are now 33 people in hospital with Covid-19, including seven people who are intensive care.

As is to be (unfortunately) expected, the Sunday figures for both testing and vaccination took a bit of a hit compared to last week. Nationwide, 15,349 tests were processed including just under 7000 in Auckland alone. 42,226 vaccine doses were administered, comprising roughly 9000 first doses and 33,000 second doses.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health has confirmed the case reported in Katikati has now been confirmed as a negative result.

“While the case remains under investigation, the public health risk is deemed low given the person’s vaccination status, regular test history, good use of the NZ Covid Tracer app and rapid contact, testing and isolation of family members, all of whom also returned negative results,” said a spokesperson.

Finally: there are no new community cases to report in Waikato today. All 31 existing cases have been linked to the original index case in the region, believed to be the first case reported in Hamilton East. Yesterday across the region, 1,212 swabs were taken, and 3,292 vaccinations administered.

12.50pm: A special note from The Spinoff publisher Duncan Greive

While we wait for the 1pm update, a note from The Spinoff’s managing editor Duncan Greive:

Without wanting to get too Bernie Sanders-meme with it, I am once again asking you to consider donating to help The Spinoff. The delta outbreak struck just as we had made a major investment in new hires to grow what we can bring you on The Spinoff. These live updates have been a huge part of our work to make key news more accessible, and their editor, Stewart Sowman-Lund, is one of a clutch of new writers and editors we have appointed over the past year, including Reweti Kohere, Madeleine Holden and Chris Schulz. We also now have a CTO, working on a new site, and a head of data creating powerful charts to map the spread of the virus and rollout of the vaccine.

They are all creating important work under highly constrained circumstances — as are the rest of our 20-strong editorial team. Unfortunately delta has had a significant impact on our partnership work, which makes us more reliant than ever on the support of our audience.

So — if you’re part of The Spinoff Members, thank you, from all of us. If you’re not, and can donate, please do so today using this link — to keep on keeping on, we need you right now.

(A reminder: Every dollar donated through The Spinoff Members is ring-fenced to create more of our homegrown and independent journalism.)

12.30pm: Extremely Online – The truth about bots

We’ve all seen them in the comments on social media, and some of us have probably even had an argument with one. So what’s the deal with bots? This week’s episode of Extremely Online, from the team at Shit You Should Care About, takes a look.

12.00pm: Three Covid cases in Mount Eden prison

Three Covid-19 cases have been confirmed in Auckland’s Mount Eden prison.

According to Stuff and the Herald, the inmates are being held in the dedicated “echo” wing of the prison where confirmed cases are quarantined.

11.15am: Peters repeats Covid-19 gang claims

Winston Peters has not backed down from his comments that a Covid-19 case in Northland was linked to gang activity.

So far, there has been no evidence to support Peters’ claims made in a Newshub Nation interview over the weekend. “This person came [to Northland] with a gang member assigned essential worker status, falsified the reason she was coming,” Peters said on Saturday.

While PM Jacinda Ardern this morning said there was no evidence of this, Peters has continued to raise suspicions. “Was there any association between the Mongrel Mob and these two women? … In terms of the health of Northlanders, we should know that now,” Peters told The AM Show.

In a follow-up post on his favourite social media platform, Twitter, Peters accused the government of refusing to share information.

10.30am: PM should have fronted media yesterday, says Collins

Judith Collins has criticised Jacinda Ardern for not fronting for a press conference yesterday despite surging Covid-19 numbers.

There were 60 community cases yesterday – the highest since the start of September.

Collins said people would have been unsettled by the rise in new cases and someone from the government should have fronted on camera. “National have been critical at times about the unnecessary press conferences that were held when case numbers were very low, but if Jacinda Ardern thought it necessary to speak directly to the media then, why now with 60 cases is she missing in action?” asked Collins.

There are questions that the prime minister does not want to be asked, said Collins, repeating her claim that gangs have been spreading Covid-19. “Now is the most important time for Jacinda Ardern to face the media.”

Collins will get her wish at 4pm this afternoon.

9.10am: Visitor to Waitākere Hospital tests positive for Covid-19

There’s been another Covid incursion at Auckland’s Waitākere Hospital, reports 1News.

A person has tested positive for the virus after arriving at the hospital yesterday. They were tested based on displaying Covid-related symptoms symptoms and returned a positive result.

Three non-clinical staff will be stood down and patients in the area at the time have been identified. “All clinical staff involved in the care of this person wore appropriate PPE and were vaccinated and can continue to work as normal,” Waitematā DHB deputy chief executive Andrew Brant said.

The emergency department has not been closed but has undergone a clean.

9.00am: Don Brash worried gangs are the ‘fall guys’ for Covid spread

Former National Party leader Don Brash wants the “scaremongering” about gang members spreading Covid-19 to stop.

Brash, who has faced criticism for his comments on race, has this year joined the board of an education initiative started by the Mongrel Mob Kingdom. “I am worried that gangs are being made the fall guys for something that they have had no control over,” said Brash in a press release.

“We are told that gangs are responsible for spreading this virus. If that’s true, the government should confirm it. If there is evidence – let’s see it.”

8.20am: Another major cabinet decision looms

As happens most Mondays at the moment, Cabinet will meet today to discuss alert level restrictions. But this week, it’s not just Aucklanders waiting to hear what Jacinda Ardern will announce. Currently, parts of Waikato and all of Northland remain under the older, stricter, level three lockdown while Auckland is under the revamped and slightly more lenient version that allows for picnics.

All of these will be reviewed today, with the PM and director general of health Ashley Bloomfield set to reveal next steps at the traditional 4pm press conference.

8.05am: NZ confirms purchase of new antiviral Covid-19 treatment

New Zealand has purchased 60,000 doses of an experimental Covid-19 treatment called molnupiravir.

It follows similar orders being made by countries like Australia, but the drug will not be rolled out until it has passed a Medsafe assessment. Overseas reports have claimed the antiviral med could see hospitalisations and deaths from Covid-19 halved.

“Antiviral medicines are an additional tool the Government is adding to our toolbox to fight Covid-19,” prime minister Jacinda Ardern said. “We are continuing to use a stamp it out strategy. But this purchase of 60,000 courses is based on the same population basis as the likes of Australia and Singapore, and is not an assumption about the level of Covid we may have in the future.”

Ardern said the pill could help alleviate pressure on our hospitals and ICUs – but vaccinations were still the best way forward. “This purchase ensures we have molnupiravir to treat those with mild to moderate Covid-19,” said Ardern. “But I ask all New Zealanders to get vaccinated as the best protection from the virus and so we can regain our way of life with as few restrictions as possible.”

Merck’s experimental Covid-19 drug molnupiravir (Photo: Merck & Co/supplied)

7.45am: Katikati Covid-19 case retests negative

The Bay of Plenty can let out a sigh of relief. A person in Katikati reported as testing positive for Covid-19 over the weekend has been retested and returned a negative result. Their family members have also subsequently tested negative.

Speaking to RNZ, prime minister Jacinda Ardern said the person had a high CT, which could indicate an historic case or that the person was just beginning their infectious period.

While Ardern said the Bay of Plenty could now relax: “We want people to continue to be vaccinated.”

She said while this test was ultimately negative, it showed the delta outbreak was not just an issue for Auckland.

7.30am: From The Bulletin

Northland’s lockdown has sparked a war of words between gang leaders and Winston Peters. The former deputy prime minister went on Newshub to claim without evidence that a positive case who plunged the region into level three was travelling with Mongrel Mob leader Harry Tam. He’s categorically denied the allegation. It’s unclear where Peters is getting his information. What is is clear is that Covid-19 minister Chris Hipkins, during an emergency press conference on Friday evening to announce the lockdown, was frustrated with this latest case. She’s refused to cooperate with health authorities for contact tracing, was hard to track down and travelled to Northland using false documents. A second person with her has evaded contact tracers as well.


The Covid numbers: 56 new community cases were reported yesterday in Auckland, 3 in Waikato and 1 in Bay of Plenty. 61% (20) of the previous day’s total were in the community while infectious. There are now 423 active cases. 81,831 people were vaccinated Saturday.

The Spinoff’s Covid data tracker has the latest figures.


Life with a vaccine passport. Ben, a reader of The Bulletin currently in France, wrote in response to last week’s announcement of a vaccine passport for New Zealand about the situation with the French version, known as a health pass (pass sanitaire):

“We now have a QR code on our phones which we have to show at any restaurant, museum, public venue or to fly. It’s straight forward. It means that we no longer have to keep a record of where we go by scanning QR codes of the places we visit. The important difference is that you can get a health pass for 72 hours by having a negative Covid-19 test. These are done at pharmacies for a fee of 25 euros. This means that unvaccinated people can go places…although at the cost and inconvenience of having tests.”

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