Live updates, August 12: Four more probable cases linked to new community outbreak

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for August 12, bringing you the latest on New Zealand news and Covid-19 as it returns to the community. Auckland is now in alert level three and the rest of NZ level two. More details here. Official information here. Get me on Stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

7.30pm: The day in sum

Four probable cases were announced, all of whom are contacts of the four family members who were confirmed to be Covid positive on Tuesday.

One new case in managed isolation was announced, a woman in her 50s who had travelled from Pakistan.

The prime minister announced it would be mandatory for businesses to display Covid Tracer app QR codes, and for people leaving Auckland on flights to wear masks.

National leader Judith Collins called for the election to be delayed until at least November, and alleged the government was not being transparent.

The dissolution of parliament was delayed until at least Monday.

The prime minister and director general of health revealed one of four family members who tested positive for Covid-19 on Tuesday had travelled to Rotorua while symptomatic.

It was confirmed the possibility the virus had been imported with freight was being investigated.

There were long queues at testing centres in Auckland as residents rushed to be tested. Seven additional pop-up testing centres opened.

Nine police check points were established on the borders of Auckland.

The government strongly encouraged those in Auckland to wear masks when out and about.

At midday, Auckland entered alert level three restrictions, with the rest of the country moving to alert level two.

6.45pm: UK enters first official recession in 11 years

The United Kingdom has officially entered recession after its economy suffered the biggest slump on record in response to Covid-19 lockdown measures. Between April and June, the economy shrank 20.4% compared with the first three months of the year, reports the BBC. This has pushed the UK into its first technical recession – defined as two straight quarters of economic decline – since 2009.

6.20pm: Countdown limits hours, restricts certain products

From tonight, all Countdown stores will close at 9pm and open at 8am each morning, the supermarket chain has announced. The restricted hours will remain in place throughout the country until further notice to allow for restocking, and limits will be placed on certain items. Shoppers will be limited to one per person for mask products, and three per person for flour, rice, dry pasta, canned baked beans and spaghetti, UHT milk, frozen vegetables, toilet paper, paper towels, personal wash, hand sanitiser, paracetamol, household cleaner, period products and baby formula. Wine and beer will be limited to six per person.

5.50pm: Hospitality industry calls for urgent support from government 

The hospitality industry says the return to level three restrictions for Auckland will put some operators out of business.

Both Restaurant Association CEO Marisa Bidois and Hospitality New Zealand chief executive Julie White described the move to level three a “devastating blow” for already struggling businesses. 

“Bars will have to pour their kegs down the drain and restaurants will be working out what fresh produce can be saved – it’s not as simple as turning the lights off and locking the doors,” said Hospitality New Zealand chief executive Julie White in a press release this afternoon, adding that if the lockdown is extended beyond Friday, it will “likely mark the end for some operators”.

White said level two restrictions, which are in place in the rest of the country, would also be damaging to  hospitality operators’ income, and called for the government to extend the wage subsidy beyond September 1, provide urgent relief packages and allocate some of the $14 billion Covid Response and Recovery Fund to the hospitality sector.  

In a press release sent last night, Bidois called on the dining public to support the industry. “We will be redistributing our guidelines for safe operations at levels two and three and are laser focused on how we can best support the industry through these incredibly difficult times. But with support from the dining public we can absolutely do this.”

5.30pm: Seven new pop-up testing centres open in Auckland

Seven new pop-up community testing centres (CTCs) opened in Auckland this afternoon, in addition to the four permanent centres and two pop-ups that opened this morning. The details of all the centres can be found here.

Work is under way to set up additional pop-ups tomorrow morning and to increase the number of mobile testing units, according to a press release from the Auckland DHBs.

As of 1pm today, more than 1,600 people had been swabbed at the four permanent CTCs and two pop-ups that opened this morning in Ōtara and New Lynn, said the press release. People can also be tested for free at general practices and urgent care clinics and these providers have also seen increased demand.

The Covid-19 testing centre at White Cross St Lukes in Auckland (Photo: Matthew McAuley)

4.10pm: Four more probable cases linked to new community outbreak

There are four additional probable cases linked to the new outbreak of Covid-19 in Auckland, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield has announced, as well as one more new case in managed isolation.

The four probable cases are awaiting test results and are in full isolation. Full contact tracing has been initiated, said Bloomfield. Of the four, three are adults – two of whom are workmates of the initial cases – and one is a teenager. The remaining adult and teenager are relatives of the initial family, said Bloomfield.

The new case in managed isolation is a woman in her 50s who arrived from Islamabad via Dubai on August 7.

The total number of confirmed cases is 1225, 22 of which are active. Yesterday, 4225 tests were processed, which brings the total to 502,705 tests processed overall.

Rotorua visit and contact tracing

The Rotorua visit of two of the four family members who tested positive yesterday has not resulted in anyone being considered a close contact, said Bloomfield. They were in Rotorua from August 8 to 11, and visited a number of eateries, details of which were not yet available. They stayed at the WaiOra Lakeside Hotel and visited the Skyline Gondola and Lodge from 4pm-6pm on August 9, and Heritage Farm and 3D Gallery from 3-4pm on August 10.

Anyone who had been at those locations during those periods, and had scanned in on the NZ Covid Tracer app, would be sent an alert via the app. “We remain confident that alert level two is the right level for Rotorua,” said Bloomfield.

Regarding contact tracing, Bloomfield said just over 200 close contacts had been identified, most of whom are from two work places: Americold Mt Wellington and the Dominion Road branch of Finance Now. Just over 100 of them had been contacted so far.

Bloomfield made the “significant and serious step” of making an oral direction under section 70 of the Health Act 1956 to require employees of those workplaces, as well as any visitors to those places in the last 14 days, or anyone who lives with a worker at either of these businesses, to isolate at their usual home and to not go to work until they receive further direction.

He said the Ministry of Health will continue to make the information available about locations the family visited during their trip to Rotorua once they’ve contacted the businesses involved.

Mandatory for businesses to display QR codes

The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has announced two changes to the previous level three order. The first “makes it mandatory for any business or service to display a QR code for the Contact Tracer app prominently at every entry point allowing everyone to sign in via the tracing app”.

Businesses will be allowed one week to download and display their QR code.

The second makes it mandatory for those leaving Auckland via plane to wear a face mask. Ardern asks those leaving Auckland on a plane to only do so if they are returning to their usual place of residence.

Ardern said the Covid-19 leave support scheme would be available for all businesses experiencing financial hardship, and applications for the wage subsidy scheme extension remain open until September 1. She said the small business cashflow scheme would be available until December 31 for businesses with fewer than 50 employees. The Covid income relief payment is to be available for people who lose their jobs between March 1 and October 30 as a result of Covid-19. It will be paid at same rate as the wage subsidy, for 12 weeks.

“We have a plan, and now is the time to follow it.”

Aged care and freight investigation

Aged care facilities are at heightened risk during the outbreak and Bloomfield said the threshold will be very low for getting tested or the use of PPE within such facilities, all of which went into full lockdown throughout the country at midday today.

Bloomfield said that while it’s unlikely, the Ministry of Health is not ruling out the possibility that the virus has travelled around the country in refrigerated freight sent via Americold, the Auckland cold-storage facility where one of the new cases worked.

Ardern on election and National’s accusations

On the question of delaying the election, Ardern said no decision has been made. “We’ll have time to deal with the date once we have more information but … we’ll need to make that decision before … Monday.”

When asked about comments National leader Judith Collins and deputy leader Gerry Brownlee made at a press conference this afternoon regarding an apparent lack of transparency and a failure to “respect the pre-election conventions” (see 3.05pm update), Ardern said she would prefer the opposition to focus on the virus.

“If I could ask the energy of the opposition to be channelled into anything right now it would be supporting New Zealand’s overall response to this resurgence, because the sooner we can get on top of it, the sooner that we can ensure the security of people’s incomes, their health, their livelihoods, and then after that, of course, that enables us to hold, safely, elections,” she said.”

“All I would ask for is at least some unity in our response here.

“It’s not a political matter,” Ardern added. “It’s in everyone’s interest that we stamp Covid out and we do that with very strong health messaging in support of New Zealanders’ actions as our team of five million.”

4.00pm: Ardern and Bloomfield hold media briefing  – watch live

3.05pm: Collins calls for election to be delayed until November

Judith Collins has questioned Jacinda Ardern’s response to the emergence of community transmission, saying that her limited discussions with the opposition ahead of making decisions amounted to a failure to “respect the pre-election conventions”.

She has requested a meeting with the Electoral Commission to discuss election timing. “We are calling on the prime minister to decide … to shift the election date until a date later in November”. Even better, said Collins, would be for the election to be pushed into 2021.

Collins complained that she was told of Ardern’s alert level announcement only 15 minutes before the media conference last night. “It is very important in a time like this, five weeks out from an election, that we have the government respecting the pre-election conventions.

“It is always part of our pre-election convention that the government does not make major decisions without full consultation with the opposition. Clearly, advising the leader of the opposition just before the public announcement is not consultation.”

Collins said Reti had been trying to have a meeting with the minister of health, Chris Hipkins. “He was promised one at 12 and it is now after three, and phone calls have been made on a half-hour basis,” she said.

“It is important that we have full transparency, and that is currently not available.

“It is simply unsustainable to expect there to be a fair and just election at a time when the opposition parties and other parties in government are not free to campaign, but also when people have no certainty as to whether or not they’re going to be able to personally cast their vote on election day.”

Deputy leader Gerry Brownlee said questions should be asked on whether authorities knew more than they let on prior to the announcement of the new cases.

He said the shift in alert levels being for three days only, as well as the fact the new cases were tested twice, made him wonder “what do the health authorities know that they’re not fully explaining?”

“I just think it was interesting,” said Brownlee. “The messaging around a possible further outbreak of Covid-19 begun about 10 days ago. On top of that, we were advised to start purchasing masks, to have them in the emergency kit, then you had the prime minister’s visit to the mask factory yesterday, and after 103 days of no community transmission, Ashley Bloomfield having a test… all very interesting things to have happened a matter of hours before you have the largest part of the country going into level three lockdown.”

3.00pm: National’s Collins and Reti speaking to media – watch live

National leader Judith Collins and health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti are about to hold a press conference. You can watch below and we’ll be providing running updates.

2.50pm: Possibility virus imported by freight investigated

Surface testing is under way at the Auckland cool store where one of the new Covid-19 cases worked to investigate the possibility the virus was imported by freight. “We know the virus can survive within refrigerated environments for quite some time,” said director general of health Ashley Bloomfield at this morning’s press conference.

The man, in his 50s, was the first of four people in one family to test positive for Covid-19 yesterday, in New Zealand’s first cases in the community in 102 days. He worked at a Mt Wellington cool store owned by Americold, reports RNZ. The facility in question, as well as the Auckland Airport plant owned by the same company, have been shut down and more than 40 workers are being tested.

Americold managing director Richard Winnall told RNZ he believed the man had been on sick leave for nine days before testing positive. China has reported instances of the coronavirus being detected on the packaging of imported frozen seafood, reports Reuters.

2.40pm: ‘Think before you shop’ – disability commissioner’s plea

A plea from the disability commissioner: think before you shop. There are reports across Auckland today of huge queues outside supermarkets, following the prime minister’s announcement about a return to alert level three.

In a statement, Paula Tesoriero said people need to think about those who can’t leave their homes to shop or who might need help with their shopping. “For many people who can’t leave their homes at all, shopping for essential items will be extra challenging,” she said.

“If you can free up your online supermarket shopping slot for people who most need them, please do so.”

2.30pm: Reserve Bank to print $100b, holding OCR at 0.25%

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand has today expanded its quantitative easing to $100b, up from the initial $60b announced earlier this year. The additional asset purchases – sometimes called printing money – would enable the Reserve Bank to further lower retail interest rates in order to achieve its remit of keeping inflation between 1% and 3% and supporting maximum sustainable employment.

Reserve Bank governor Adrian Orr said the move reflected ongoing pandemic uncertainty. “Any significant change in the global and domestic economic outlook remains dependent on the containment of the virus, which is highly uncertain as evidenced today by the return to social restrictions in New Zealand,” he said in the statement. “Such uncertainty is stifling household and business spending appetites, as highlighted in confidence surveys. Given the ongoing health uncertainty, there remains a downside risk to our baseline economic scenario.”

The Official Cash Rate (OCR) is also being held at 0.25 percent in accordance with the guidance issued on 16 March.

1.50pm: Delay setting up police checkpoints

Almost two hours into being alert level three, and police say they have not finished setting up all nine road checkpoints around the city. Eight have been completed with the ninth and final one to be established at the Bombay Hills on State Highway 1.

In a statement, a police spokesperson attributed the delay to the road being busy: “we have to ensure appropriate traffic management and safety plans are in place as it is an extremely busy route with very high volumes of traffic.”

Meanwhile, the AA has assured motorists that services and stations will continue to operate nationwide under the current alert levels, including in Auckland. In a release, the organisation said that only the Glen Innes, Auckland, vehicle testing station would close, because it was not possible to maintain social distancing at that site. All roadside assistance services will still be operating as normal, and strict cleaning and hygiene processes will be in place.

1.40pm: Auckland medical centre closes after visit by Covid positive

A medical centre in West Auckland has closed, after a visit by a person with Covid-19. The patient, who is one of four new cases with no links to overseas travel, visited the Westview Medical Centre in Glen Eden.

In a text message seen by The Spinoff, the centre contacted all patients to alert them to the 48-hour shutdown. The message said the Covid-19 patient was seen in the “infection control” area of the clinic, and was wearing a mask. The patient was seen by a doctor wearing full protective equipment, the text said.

“All surfaces were subsequently cleaned as per guidelines. On the advice of the Ministry of Health, Westview will close down for 48hrs from 11am today 12/08/2020.”

The Spinoff has reached out to Westview Medical Centre and is awaiting a response.

1.30pm: South Auckland’s mask sellers prepare for surge in demand

Small businesses who began supplying masks during the last lockdown are preparing for a surge in demand, following yesterday’s announcement about Auckland returning to level 3.

The Spinoff’s South Auckland editor Justin Latif filed this report:

Tasha Lee from Tasha Lee Couture, a Ōtara-based dress maker and fashion designer switched to creating masks during the first lockdown and following the prime minister’s announcement her inbox is already been flooded with inquiries about ordering more.

“We sold about 6000-7000 masks last time and we were also a supplier for the police, health services and supermarkets. We are now making a plan about what we will do this time,” she says.

“Given it’s ball season we’ve also had orders cancelled for dresses, so we’re just trying to work out that all out too.”

Masks made by Ōtara-based fashion designer Tasha Lee.

Fitz runs a Māngere-based barbershop called twosevenfive. To ensure he could keep paying the rent during the first lockdown, he found a mask supplier on the Chinese e-commerce site Alibaba and it was an immediate hit with locals.

“We needed to generate some money, so I found of supplier of masks, and that pretty much kept us going,” he says.

“We sold about 900 in the first month but it has slowed down in the last two months. But with what’s been happening in Melbourne, we’ve been  getting people messaging for them. They have become a bit of fashion statement as people love to represent their community.”

Along with his barbershop business and merchandising, Manase also runs a mentoring programme for young people referred from Oranga Tamariki, so he’s also spent the morning contacting the young people to reassure them about the need for the lockdown.

“Our business is all about being responsive to our community’s needs. I know for the young guys we mentor, they won’t understand why this lockdown is happening so my message for them and everyone is just stay respectful and stay connected.”

The latest: here’s what you need to know

Auckland is now at alert level three and the rest of New Zealand has moved to level two. Here’s what you need to know about what’s happened so far. 

  • Last night, the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, and the deputy general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, announced that four people in one family in South Auckland had tested positive for Covid-19, with no known connection to overseas travel or mandatory isolation facilities. They are two men, one of whom is in his 50s, a woman in her 20s, and a toddler.
  • As of 12pm today, Auckland moved to alert level three, with the rest of the country shifting to alert level two. We will stay at these alert levels until at least midnight on Friday. 
  • At 10.30am, Ardern and Bloomfield gave a media briefing in which they revealed that the woman in her 20s and the toddler who tested positive had travelled to Rotorua at the weekend. The woman, who was symptomatic, had visited several tourist attractions. Bloomfield said those in Rotorua should be vigilant, and an additional pop-up testing centre would open tomorrow.
  • All four of the positive cases are isolating at home in Auckland together, and whether to move them to a quarantine facility is being discussed. All close and casual contacts of the family are being tested – around 130 people, including workplace colleagues. Three colleagues of one of the positive cases are symptomatic and are isolating. The workplaces involved include a finance company and a cool store in Mt Wellington.
  • Bloomfield said genome sequencing was being carried out on those who tested positive to help track where the virus had come from. 
  • Preparations are in place for tens and thousands of tests to be undertaken in the next few days, but Ardern encouraged people only to get tested if they are symptomatic.
  • The government is strongly encouraging those in Auckland to wear masks, or a face covering of some kind, when they leave the house, but it is not compulsory. 
  • The dissolution of parliament has been deferred until at least Monday. 
  • Nine police checkpoints are now operating at the regional boundaries of the Auckland super city.
  • Another press conference will take place at 4pm. 

12.00pm: New alert levels now in place

Auckland has now moved to alert level three, and the rest of New Zealand has shifted to level two. The new alert levels will be in force until at least midnight on Friday. Prime minister Jacinda Ardern said information on whether the levels will stay in place longer will be revealed ahead of Friday night.

We’ll keep you update on everything you need to know here and across The Spinoff.

In the meantime – Andrew Geddis has updated his explainer and if and how the election might be delayed, in light of the prime minister’s announcement that dissolution of parliament will be deferred until Monday. The upshot: “In reality a decision is going to have to be made by pretty early next week whether September 19 is to remain our election day.”

Read his piece in full here.

11.30am: Auckland police checkpoint locations confirmed

The locations of nine police checkpoints at the regional boundaries of the Auckland super city, which will begin operation at noon, have been announced.

“The checkpoints will be similar to the operations conducted ahead of the long weekends during the national Alert Level 3. We will be stopping vehicles and questioning drivers, but as has been our approach through the Covid-19 response, our first focus will be on educating people and ensuring they are aware of the new restrictions,” said Police Commissioner Andrew Coster.

“We have issued a reminder to our staff that they need to be exercising good hygiene and social distancing practises, and we have issued a directive to our Auckland staff that they must wear masks when dealing with the public, and other PPE gear as necessary.

“For the rest of the country, this is not new territory for people and hopefully there is a strong community willingness to abide by the restrictions of Alert Level 2.”

(Image : Supplied)

10.40am: Dissolution of parliament delayed; symptomatic Covid case travelled to Rotorua

Updated

One of the new cases of Covid-19 visited Rotorua over the weekend while symptomatic, Ashley Bloomfield has revealed. He said the new information, about the woman in her 20s, came to light while she was questioned by health officials. The woman visited several tourist attractions during her visit.

She’s one of four people who tested positive for the virus yesterday, with no known links to overseas travel or an isolation facility. Bloomfield said all four are in isolation at home, together. Bloomfield said that there are active discussions about whether they will move into a quarantine facility. The ministry is testing all close and casual contacts of the family that have come into contact with them recently, which the ministry estimates to be 130 people including workplace colleagues. Three colleagues of the male and his partner are symptomatic and are isolating, Bloomfield said.

“We are doing genome sequencing on all those who have tested positive, and our recent cases in managed isolation and quarantine,” he said. “So that may help us track where this virus has arisen from”.

Bloomfield said the public health response has scaled up since the discovery of these cases yesterday afternoon. “People in Rotorua and indeed around the country, should be vigilant.” He said there are currently testing sites available in Rotorua and Taupō. “A reminder, once again, that this virus does not discriminate,” said Bloomfield. “We want to find the virus, and we will.”

Auckland will be heading into alert level three in just over an hour’s time, at midday. At the same time, the rest of the country will move into level two. At this stage, the new alert levels will be in place until midnight Friday.

Testing to ramp up – Bloomfield

Bloomfield said there are preparations in place for tens of thousands of tests in the next few days: “We have stocks of more than 270,000 tests at the moment… we can process more than 12,000 tests per day and are looking to increase this.”

He said we are going harder than Victoria did, to avoid a similar situation to what is happening in Australia. “The alert level that we’re implementing here in New Zealand was not implemented until some weeks after the virus was detected in Victoria,” he said.

Masks are strongly recommended for those in Auckland, Bloomfield said.

Bloomfield said the second person who tested positive worked in Mt Wellington, but the business has four locations across Auckland. The Mt Wellington site has been closed and all the person’s workmates are being tested. He said he didn’t know the location of the workplace of the original case.

Jacinda Ardern said the fact that one of the positive cases had travelled to another region reinforces why the whole country has moved to alert level two. She reinforced the need for higher testing, especially for people who are symptomatic. For anyone else, she said, “please comply with the alert level requirements.” Ardern said Auckland was “currently the source and the centre, as it were, of the current outbreak”. Teams in Rotorua are looking for casual contacts, not close contacts.

On alert levels

Under alert level three, Jacinda Ardern said households should reform their bubbles. “All of the same obligations and rules of level three that we’ve experienced before, apply here,” said Ardern. “Workplaces should only open if workers cannot work from home,” she said.

“Supermarkets, dairies, petrol stations can have customers on their premises… retail is possible through delivery, including of prepared food.” All aged care centres will close to everyone except staff and for essential deliveries from noon today, and staff won’t be allowed to work across multiple sites

For the rest of New Zealand, under alert level two, people are asked to maintain social distancing and hold gatherings of no more than 100 people.

“Healthline has received over 2000 calls since late yesterday,” Ardern said. Staff numbers will be boosted.

Masks still not mandatory, but strongly encouraged – PM

The prime minister said masks are still not mandatory, but people should be wearing them in Auckland in situations where social distancing cannot be easily observed. This includes public places and the supermarket. Ardern said homemade masks are OK, and supplies are being ramped up.

“If you are in Auckland, please cover your face if you leave your house to access those services that are operating at level three,” said Ardern. “A mask or any face covering such as a scarf or bandana covering the nose and mouth will suffice.” Ardern said the government is not mandating use at this stage but is “strongly encouraging” it.

Parliament dissolution deferred, PM confirms

The dissolution of parliament has been delayed by “at least a few days,” Jacinda Ardern confirmed. “That will be extended until Monday … to preserve all options if needed for reconvening parliament or [delaying] the general election,” said Ardern.

Further discussions were under way with the Electoral Commission but no decisions have been made, she said.

A further press conference will be held at 4pm today, to “check in and share what we know”.

Ardern also responded to rumours that they had known about the cases earlier than declared. “I’ve heard suggestion that we may have had this information earlier than we have said. There is no reason why we would ever do that,” she said. “I do worry that those kind of theories do nothing to support what needs to be collective action from all of us.”

The worst case scenario, Ardern said, would be if the cases could not be linked or isolated. “If we’re unable to identify the source and we continue to see positives that perhaps are difficult to link, that makes it more difficult,” she said. She said updates from the prime minister and the ministry of health will be frequent over the coming days.

Watch below:

10.20am: 60 seconds with Siouxsie

We’re about 10 minutes away from this morning’s update from prime minister Jacinda Ardern and director general of health Ashley Bloomfield. In the meantime, here’s the latest update from Dr Siouxsie Wiles on what we have to do now that Covid-19 is back in the community.

9.50am: Testing centres in Auckland swamped

It’s not just the Healthline phone number being swamped with concerned Aucklanders this morning. We’re getting reports of huge queues at testing centres as well. Our South Auckland editor Justin Latif said the testing station in Wiri is experiencing massive demand. He said traffic is stretching about 1 kilometre back from the entrance to the station, and he’s been sitting in the same spot in the queue for 10 minutes.

The queue at the Wiri testing station (Photo : Justin Latif)

The station is adjacent to Destiny Church, so the smiling face of Vision NZ party leader Hannah Tamaki is helping keep commuters’ spirits high.

We’ve also had reports the Northcote testing had about 200-300 people in line earlier this morning.

The Northcote testing centre (Photo : Catherine Woulfe)

Meanwhile, it’s busy but not chaotic at the Taupō testing station, according to The Bulletin’s Alex Braae. The region will be heading into alert level two along with everywhere else in the country, except Auckland. The testing facility opened earlier today to deal with an anticipated rush in demand, and even before the opening hours listed on the website more than a dozen cars had built up. So far the wait time appears to be at least half an hour, though it could be longer, Braae said.

9.30am: Healthline inundated following new Covid cases

The Covid-19 Healthline (0800 611 116) has reportedly been inundated with calls, following the announcement of new Covid-19 cases in the community.

Spinoff reporter Josie Adams said she is currently on hold with the help line, with more than 800 people ahead of her in the queue and a reported wait time of almost two hours.

9.20: ‘I have no role’ – Speaker can’t stop parliament dissolving

The speaker of the house Trevor Mallard has responded to suggestions that he should be the one to delay the dissolution of parliament, saying it is not up to him.

It follows a letter from Act’s David Seymour addressed to Mallard last night, in which he asked for parliament’s dissolution to be pushed back. Judith Collins has also backed the call, saying it would allow for more effective opposition.

But Mallard, responding to a post on Twitter, said it’s not something he can do.

“I have no role unless Parliament is to be brought back early,” Mallard said.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Auckland will be moving to alert level three at midday today, after four new cases of Covid-19 were discovered in the community. The supercity will remain at level three until at least midnight on Friday.
  • The prime minister and director general of health will provide an update at 10.30am.
  • A directive on mandatory mask use is expected to coincide with the midday shift to level three.
  • The rest of New Zealand moves into alert level two today.
  • Political campaigning has been suspended amid calls for the election to be delayed.
  • Judith Collins and David Seymour have come out in support of the dissolution of parliament being delayed.

We’ll continue to bring you live coverage here and across The Spinoff today.

9.05am: Auckland Council venues close at level three

As our biggest city moves to alert level three, Auckland Council has closed all of its community facilities, effective immediately.

This includes all playgrounds and other facilities within parks, like park benches and basketball courts, as well as non-essential services such as libraries, pools and leisure centres, service centres, visitor centres, our network of community venues and our early childhood education centres.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has asked everyone to remain calm and follow the alert level three rules.

8.30am: What happens to the election campaign?

Political commentator Ben Thomas has penned a piece for The Spinoff explaining what the resurgence of Covid-19 could mean for the election campaign. All major parties have announced campaigning will be paused for the duration of the alert level three lockdown in Auckland.

Here’s some of what Ben Thomas has to say:

It’s tempting to reach for easy metaphors with the re-emergence of Covid-19 just weeks before the election: a horror villain rising from the dead; a restless spirit summoned to again haunt the dreams of New Zealanders. Just when we thought it was safe to go back into the supermarket. Et cetera, et cetera.

Jacinda Ardern, as Labour leader, announced on Saturday that this would be a “Covid election”. What she meant of course was a post-Covid election; a campaign basking in (deserved) public acclaim of her government’s success in squashing the pandemic in New Zealand, and the encouraging (if not wholly reliable) economic figures last week.

Despite job losses and business failures, albeit far fewer than expected, after 100 days without community transmission, the lockdown seemed more like a hundred years ago. The Covid tracing app was living, but not alive

Gerry Brownlee’s borderline paranoid questioning of the government’s timing of announcements about future rules on mask wearing could sound alarmingly prescient. They are of course not.

Statistically a second outbreak was probably inevitable at some point.

Read the full article here

8.05am: Seymour backs call for parliament dissolution delay

Act’s leader David Seymour has called for parliament’s dissolution to be delayed, after the news the country would be shifting to alert level two, and Auckland to level three. This morning, Judith Collins expressed her similar view that parliament should continue to operate, so as to allow effect opposition where needed.

In a statement, Seymour said he wrote to the speaker of the house Trevor Mallard last night.

“Terrible news tonight,” he wrote. “It occurs to me that Parliament does not need to dissolve before the election.

“I strongly urge you to postpone the dissolution of Parliament tomorrow until at least this time next week when a clearer picture of the Public Health situation can be had.”

Judith Collins earlier told RNZ she thinks conversations need to be had around delaying the upcoming election. Seymour agreed:

“It is possible that the election will now need to be delayed. If that is the case, I believe the people would want to have Parliament available for an epidemic response committee or perhaps sittings.”

8.00am: ‘Nip this in the bud’ and avoid a Melbourne situation – Goff

Auckland’s mayor Phil Goff said there will be a police presence on the borders of the supercity today, to stop unnecessary travel once the shift to alert level three takes effect. “The advice is clear: if you’re outside of Auckland don’t come into the city. If you live in Auckland, you’re not to go outside of the boundaries.” Non-residents may leave Auckland but are asked to watch their health and report any possible symptoms. For those who normally live in Auckland and aren’t currently in the city, they may return home.

Goff told RNZ that, at all costs, we need to try and avoid the situation that occurred in Melbourne and “nip this in the bud.”

“It is going to be tough but if we let this community outbreak get out of control it’ll be tougher still.” He said the three day lockdown is a period of time for “assessment” and to try and contact trace all of those who may have contracted the virus.

“We need to have the level three for as long as it’s necessary because if we don’t do it properly we’ll be living with this for a longer time, with real human cost, and the risk that the health system will be overwhelmed.”

But, Goff said overall he’s not pessimistic, saying we’ve done this before and “we can do it again – but it’s not easy.”

7.35am: Collins wants parliament dissolution delayed

The leader of the opposition has suggested that parliament should not be dissolved today, as is planned. That would mean the government remains in place, and the opposition too could continue to push them formally. Collins told RNZ that delaying the dissolution of parliament would be helpful: “We might need to debate this issue. This is actually quite serious.”

“If parliament is dissolved then there’s no opportunity at all to get the briefings that we would expect,” she said. But, Collins remains hopeful the situation will be under control by Friday evening.

“I am ever hopeful that on Friday the prime minister will be able to say ‘we’ve traced it all’,” she said.

The National Party campaign launch was scheduled for this Sunday, but Collins expects it will be postponed: “it seems difficult for us to have it… even if on Friday it’s all fine and dandy.”

When pushed on whether the election could safely take place on September 19, she told RNZ people will be “asking questions.”

“I can’t see how we can have the government saying ‘it’s all fine’… this is a democracy and people need to be able to have a fair go”

“I think it’s going to have to be delayed unless it can be sorted out by Friday,” she said.

7.15am: ‘All precautions have been taken at border’ – Hipkins

The health minister Chris Hipkins is doing the media rounds this morning, following the return of Covid-19 to the community. It’s worth nothing that during the level four lockdown earlier in the year, Hipkins was not in the role of health minister. Appearing on the AM Show, Hipkins defended the level of preparedness at our border – but said everyone will now be checked for Covid-19.

“Everybody who has been working at the border [or in a managed isolation facility] will be tested,” he said. “We don’t know where this has come from”

On Newstalk ZB, Hipkins said that he found out about the new cases just before 3pm yesterday, after Ashley Bloomfield but before the prime minister. He told Mike Hosking that it was his “understanding” that the colleagues of one of the new cases are showing Covid-19 symptoms. However, he wouldn’t be drawn on how many people were symptomatic.

Defending the decision to lock down for just three days, Hipkins told RNZ: “it will depend on how quickly we can identify the source” and everyone who has been in contact with them. Pushed on whether it was reasonable to suggest we could come out of lockdown in time for the weekend, Hipkins said that will give the government time to decide “what is the most sensible course of action.”

Symptomatic people should call Healthline before getting a test, he said, as the the phone line would be able to direct people to the best place to get a test: “Don’t rush out to get tested,” Hipkins said.

He told the programme that, at this stage, masks are not mandatory. People “should be wearing masks when they’re out in public,” such as for doing their supermarket shop.

However, he said the Government was working with lawyers on a notice to make masks mandatory for Aucklanders which will be issued at midday.

The election is still scheduled for September 19 and Hipkins wouldn’t be drawn on whether it will be postponed, but said the Labour Party campaign has been suspended. “We are looking at options… we will know a lot more in three days.

“At the moment we only have one family, so what’s important is that we work at speed… it may be a very short chain of transmission.”

7.00am: What you need to know

  • Auckland has four new cases of Covid-19 – all in the community.
  • There is no known connection to overseas travel or mandatory isolation facilities.
  • The entire supercity will move into alert level three from midday today, until at least midnight Friday.
  • The rest of the country shifts to alert level two today.
  • Supermarkets, pharmacies, and essential services remain open – do not panic!
  • Download and use the Covid tracer app.
  • Testing is available for anyone who wants it, and is free.
  • Practice social distancing, wash your hands, and try to wear a mask if you are in a public place.

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