Live updates, October 12: Another 43 new Covid-19 cases, including three in Waikato; live ‘vaxathon’ set for Saturday

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for October 12, 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


The 1pm update, summarised:

  • There are 43 new community cases of Covid-19, including three in Waikato.
  • So far, 19 of the Auckland cases have not yet been linked to the wider outbreak.
  • Genome sequencing has linked the Northland Covid case to the Auckland outbreak.
  • 16,565 tests were processed and 69,118 vaccine doses were given out yesterday.
  • A televised ‘vaxathon’ will air live this Saturday, featuring celebrities and health experts.
  • And a friendly reminder: Our coverage of Covid-19 depends on support from Members. Join us here.

3.50pm: Magnitude 5.3 quake strikes centre of the country

A 5.3 magnitude earthquake has struck this afternoon between the North and South Islands.

According to GeoNet, the quake only caused “light shaking” and could be felt primarily on either side of the Cook Strait.

And while we’re all used to seeing Twitter flooded with #eqnz hashtags after a quake, one change this time was that Android phone users were given warning it was about to hit. The new feature saw those in the effected part of the country given roughly a 10-15 second heads up of the shake.

(Image / Supplied)

3.35pm: National has questions after PM concedes case numbers will keep rising

National has questions it wants answered after the prime minister signalled Covid-19 cases may keep rising in Auckland. The “R rate” has now increased to around 1.2 or 1.3, up from below one earlier in the outbreak. That means each positive Covid case is passing the virus onto between 1.2 and 1.3 people.

Judith Collins said its left her with more questions about the lockdown exit plan for Auckland. “Businesses, school kids and families across Auckland need to be given some idea on how long the lockdown will last,” said Collins. “Is the lockdown now just buying time while we catch up on our slow vaccination rollout? If so, what are the conditions for exit? People being asked to give up so much need to know when the restrictions will end.”

Collins also called on the prime minister to disclose the health advice that led to the decision to move Auckland out of tougher restrictions, and “urgently release” a plan to move New Zealand out of lockdown.

3.10pm: Call to backdate any new financial relief

The Child Poverty Action Group wants to see upcoming financial relief for low income families distributed nationwide – and backdated to the start of the current delta outbreak.

Earlier this week, the prime minister signalled further support was on the way for struggling families but revealed no further details on how much would be available or who would qualify.

CPAG spokesperson Janet McAllister said with schools in Auckland set to remain closed after the school holidays, families will face ongoing lockdown costs coupled with the end of the winter energy payment. “It’s a double whammy of ongoing high bills for all and an income reduction for many,” said McAllister. “Even prior to lockdown, our research indicates many families receiving benefits could expect to have a hole of around $100 or higher a week in their budget, leading to debt, crowding and food insecurity.”

2.00pm: So what’s this vaxathon, then?

Well, it’s kinda like the telethon but just eight hours long and set to push for vaccination uptake rather than charitable donations. (If you want to know more about the telethon, read Tara Ward’s excellent nostalgic recap here).

Here’s what we know about the vaxathon so far:

  • It will be held from 12pm-8pm on Saturday, October 16.
  • It will be broadcast live on Three, Māori TV and Hahana.
  • It will include live footage from vaccination centres around the country.
  • TV personalities such as Mike McRoberts, Patrick Gower, Jesse Mulligan and Kanoa Lloyd will help front the live coverage.
  • It coincides with Super Saturday – a national day of action to bolster vaccination numbers.

Telethon.

A choir of millions launch Telethon 1988 with a lovely song Screengrab: YouTube

1.45pm: The key numbers, charted

A look at some of the key numbers as graphed by The Spinoff’s Harkanwal Singh.

These charts and more on The Spinoff’s Covid Tracker here

1.10pm: Televised ‘vaxathon’ to air live this Saturday

Updated

An eight-hour “vaxathon” will be broadcast online and on free-to-air TV this weekend, showing real time vaccination data on what has been labelled a “national day of action”.

The vaxathon will air between 12 and 8pm this “Super Saturday” on channel 200, Three, Māori TV and Hahana. Speaking at today’s 1pm presser, prime minister Jacinda Ardern said the event will feature well-known celebrities, influencers and health professionals along with live footage from Covid-19 vaccination sites to capture the atmosphere and experiences of those receiving their first or second vaccine. The televised event will see some “healthy competition” between towns, said Ardern, along with prize draws.

Ardern issued a challenge to Auckland to hit 90% first doses among the eligible population by the end of Saturday. 82% of eligible New Zealanders have now had their first dose and 58% are fully vaccinated. In Auckland, the numbers are 87% first dose and 63% second dose.

1.05pm: Another 43 Covid-19 cases, including three in Waikato

There are 43 new community cases of Covid-19, including three in Waikato.

Speaking at parliament, Ashley Bloomfield said 19 of today’s cases have not yet been linked but interviews with these individuals are now under way. All three of the Waikato cases are household contacts who were already in isolation. Fourteen of yesterday’s 35 cases remain unlinked, said Bloomfield.

Whole genome sequencing has linked the first Northland case to the Covid outbreak. That individual’s travel companion testing positive today after being located overnight in Auckland. Jacinda Ardern said the second Northland case located last night is providing information more locations of interest are likely to be added later this afternoon after the interview with this person has finished.

There are now 35 people in hospital with Covid-19, including five people in intensive care. One is needing ventilation. Reinforcing the importance of vaccination, Bloomfield said just three of the 158 people who have been hospitalised with Covid-19 during the current outbreak were fully vaccinated (as in, it had been at least two weeks since they had received their second dose).

Twenty-three of yesterday’s cases were infectious in the community.

On the testing front, 16,565 were processed yesterday with almost 14,000 of these in Auckland. And vaccinations: 69,118 doses were given out yesterday, consisting of roughly 15,000 first doses and 54,000 second doses.

1.00pm: The government’s books are way better than expected

Political editor Justin Giovannetti writes from the Treasury:

The country’s elimination strategy “has protected New Zealand’s economy,” the Treasury noted today as it unveiled final figures for the financial year that ended in June and shows government revenues were billions above expectations while spending fell below what was projected. “On almost every indicator the accounts show that the New Zealand economy has performed better than forecast, even as recently as the budget in May,” finance minister Grant Robertson said in a statement.

In the year between the first lockdown in 2020 and the latest delta outbreak, the economy far surpassed expectations. Today’s numbers aren’t surprising as each of Treasury’s updates over the year has shown its previous projections to be far too pessimistic. However, it illustrates that as Robertson had cautioned the need for fiscal prudence and rejected requests from renters, educators and nurses, among many others, his office knew it had billions in unexpected cash coming in the door.

According to the new crown accounts, the government’s deficit had been estimated at $15.1 billion, instead it was only $4.6 billion. Along with a gusher of new revenue, the government also spent $3 billion less than expected across the board. As a result, the debt is over $10 billion smaller than expected. New Zealand’s debt had been projected to hit 34% of GDP, up significantly since before Covid-19 but still one of the smallest among advanced economies countries. Instead, it was barely above 30% of the economy in June.

Speaking with reporters earlier today, Robertson hauled out his thesaurus for more words that mean strong to describe the economy. The current outbreak will have had an impact on these numbers, but the recovery from 2020 shows it can overcome anything, he said. “The New Zealand economy is strong, resilient and robust and will bounce back from the position we are in now,” he said.

12.55pm: Ardern and Bloomfield to speak after second Northland traveller tests positive

Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield are due to speak at 1pm after a second Northland traveller tested positive for Covid-19.

As always, we’ll get the latest case numbers along with an update on vaccinations, testing and any new mystery infections.

Watch live or follow along with our live coverage.

12.45pm: Tamaki teases follow-up lockdown protest, despite ban

After being banned from organising another anti-lockdown protest, Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki has instead told his followers where he will be this weekend and indicated a rally could be arranged around him.

Tamaki this morning pleaded not guilty to organising a “freedom picnic” in Auckland’s domain, attended by up to 2000 people. He was also banned from encouraging non-compliance with lockdown orders.

Despite this, in a follow-up post on his website, Tamaki said he was planning to have a picnic with his family this weekend and suggested others were “capable” of hosting a rally at the same time.

“Our prime minister has told us its safe to picnic, therefore I will be attending a picnic with my family at the Auckland Domain on this same Saturday with my bubble, adhering to the current Covid-19 restrictions, wearing my mask, but also at the same time exercising my right to peacefully protest,” said Tamaki. “I am not organising this Families Freedom picnic, I will leave that to The Freedoms & Rights Coalition team who are quite capable.”

12.30pm: 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.)

12.10pm: Green Party comes close to endorsing Māori Party lockdown proposal

The Green Party has once again distanced itself from the government over the Covid-19 response – but stopped short of endorsing a call to return Auckland to alert level four.

That was the plan proposed yesterday by the Māori Party, who said the government’s Covid response was going to lead to Māori deaths. The Spinoff asked Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson for comment and while she did not go so far as to endorse the Māori Party’s idea, she certainly did not back the government.

“The Green Party is clear that we must continue on our elimination path until vaccines are approved for and rolled out to under-12s, and high coverage is achieved for all age groups, geographic areas, and population groups including Māori and Pacific peoples, and those with underlying health conditions,” Davidson said. “Te Paati Māori have made a strong case for making sure we do everything we can to protect those most at risk. The Green Party is focused on the same outcome and will maintain its focus on elimination and equity. It is especially important for Māori to be resourced and supported to lead vaccination programmes at a community level.”

Green co-leader Marama Davidson shaking hands with PM Jacinda Ardern on the cooperation agreement (Getty Images)

11.30am: Travel companion of Northland Covid-19 case tests positive

The travelling companion of the first Northland case of Covid-19, confirmed before the weekend, has now tested positive for Covid-19 after being located by police in West Auckland last night.

The pair have been uncooperative with authorities since breaching Auckland’s lockdown to visit the top of the country last week, leading to a snap lockdown for Northland.

In a statement, the Ministry of Health said the woman is now being interviewed and any new locations of interest in Auckland and Northland will be made available as soon as possible.

There are now 18 contacts who have now been linked to the first Northland case. “Contact tracers have made contact with 17 of these individuals, one of whom is the travelling companion and four who are household contacts,” said the ministry. “All 17 of these individuals have been tested. The remaining contact is being actively followed up by contact tracers and will be advised to get a test.”

Of the 18 contacts identified, nine are in Northland, seven are in Auckland, one is in Wellington, and one is still to be determined.

“Northland DHB has stepped up testing and screening at Northland hospitals for visitors and patients. Anyone with symptoms should get tested and people in Auckland and Northland should continue checking the Ministry’s website for new locations of interest,” said the ministry.

Director of public health Caroline McElnay said this will help limit any potential spread of infection from the case. Public health interviews with the case are under way to confirm their movements, said McElnay.

11.25am: Tamaki pleads not guilty to organising protest

Brian Tamaki has pleaded not guilty to organising and attending an anti-lockdown protest during a virtual court hearing today.

The Destiny Church leader, along with associate Paul Craig Thompson, are facing a 6-month jail term or a $4,000 fine over their role in organising the mass gathering earlier this month.

As Stuff reports, while Tamaki pleaded not guilty he has been banned from accessing the internet in order to encourage non-compliance with the lockdown orders.

11.15am: 25 years of MMP!

Our current political system, MMP, has celebrated its 25th birthday.

In 2016, The Spinoff published reflections on MMP at 20 from a bunch of political high-flyers, including Judith Collins, Richard Prebble and Winston Peters.

Here’s what Collins had to say, five years ago:

MMP has been our system of electing parliament for 20 years and many people I talk to still find it confusing and counterintuitive. One of the reasons is that many New Zealanders are just too busy earning a living and getting on with their lives to worry about the intricacies of how we vote in MPs and, by extension, government. Many people do not get why we should have parties represented in parliament where no MP has been directly elected and why electorate MPs and list MPs get paid the same for a quite different job.

As an electorate MP, I feel that MMP gives everybody a vote that counts. No longer do people who support a party feel that there’s not much point voting if they live in an electorate that usually returns a member of a different party. When I was minister of justice, I did not support lowering the threshold of votes required to get parliamentary representation. That threshold is either winning an electorate seat or winning 5% of the party vote. We already have eight parties represented in parliament. My view is that if we can’t get 5% of the country to support us or at least an electorate seat, then as a party, we probably don’t have a lot to offer. That 5 % threshold tends to keep out the truly fringe element and standing and winning an electorate seat, means quite a lot of voters in an area have confidence in you.

The best thing about MMP, apart from every vote now counting, is that it has given political parties realistic and sustainable ways of extending diversity in representation. That’s a good thing. Diversity, whether at the workplace, the board room or in parliament makes for more balanced decision making and better understanding of the ramifications of decisions.

I’ve gone from being a First Past the Post supporter to being very relaxed and comfortable with our flawed but relevant system.

Read more reckons on MMP here.

10.15am: Tamaki appears in court after organising lockdown protest

Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki is appearing in court this morning after he helped organise a large anti-lockdown protest in Auckland. The 63-year-old will be joined by an as-yet unidentified second man, facing similar charges for breaking Covid-19 health restrictions.

In a post on his Facebook, Tamaki remained defiant. “I STAND today for all NZers who believe our “FREEDOMS AND RIGHTS” should never be removed, negated or violated, but protected and preserved,” he wrote, pledging to “take this government to task.”

Tamaki met over Zoom with police before his protest, where he promised to abide by health rules around mask wearing and social distancing. However, many of the more than 1000 who attended actively broke Auckland’s level three rules.

10.00am: Bloomfield denies recommending level four

Ashley Bloomfield has denied rumours he recommended a return to alert level four for Auckland.

Appearing on Newstalk ZB, the director general of health told Mike Hosking his advice was adopted – but did not rule out recommending it again in the future. “The reason we are so focused on a high vaccination is so we don’t need to use alert level four,” he said. High vaccination meant “in excess of 90%,” said Bloomfield.

“We’ve got to maintain our effort here to control the virus, keep the numbers as low as possible in Auckland and keep getting those vaccinations up, and the number is 90 percent, and it’s got to be right across the community.”

Bloomfield suggested case numbers could continue to rise due to the R value being just over 1.

9.00am: Surge nurses will be capable of caring for ICU Covid patients, says Little

The health minister believes there will be enough nurses to cover intensive care units should the delta outbreak escalate.

There’s been attention on our hospitals since Covid returned to the community with concern we could run out of beds once restrictions are dropped.

But Andrew Little told RNZ a lot of work has been on to alleviate potential pressure on hospitals. “Last year we started additional training for more nurses to work in an ICU environment even if they’re not a fully qualified ICU nurse,” said Little. Surge trained nurses are “totally adequate” to provide care for Covid patients in intensive care, even if that is not their specialist area.

“The Covid patients who wind up in ICU, obviously have respiratory problems and major problems with the oxygen levels, but they’re not like a patient who has just come through a highly traumatic motor vehicle accident with multiple broken bones, organ damage, traumatic brain injury,” said Little. “The other thing too… once we get to the vaccination levels, once restrictions reduce and there will be continued Covid infection the real game in town is not what happens in hospitals and ICUs, it’s what happens in the community.”

Most people who get infected with Covid will be cared for at home or in the community, said Little.  “What keeps me awake at night is making sure that we’re supporting our GPs and our community care clinics to make sure that they’re supporting people.”

Little is also not concerned with running out of midwives due to the newly announced vaccine mandates. He said it’s not certain that the mandate will lead to a shortage. “For those who are hesitant there is an opportunity to get more and better information,” he said. “And with the professional organisations they are part of and health authorities I’m confident that we’ll get through this.”

8.30am: Seasonal work visas extended again

More than 8500 people with expiring visas will be able to legally stay in the country for another six month. An extension has been announced for those on working holiday and seasonal visas.

Immigration minister Kris Faafoi said the extension will give certainty for employers and workers going into this summer’s harvest season. “It will allow employers across a range of industries to make use of the onshore workforce while our border restrictions are in place, but it’s important to remember that these extensions are only temporary measures,” he said.

“We remain committed to our long-term vision for New Zealand’s immigration system, which involves sectors moving away from a reliance on low-paid and low-skilled migrant workers and transitioning to new ways of attracting, training and upskilling Kiwis into jobs and investing in productivity measures that will support New Zealand’s Covid-19 recovery.”

Eligible visa holders will automatically receive the extension and won’t need to apply for new documentation.

7.55am: Travel companion of Northland Covid-19 case now displaying symptoms – Bloomfield

The woman who travelled to Northland with a person who later tested positive for Covid-19 is now displaying symptoms of the virus, Ashley Bloomfield has confirmed.

The travelling companion was located last night in West Auckland, having gone into hiding days after her and another woman returned from Northland, having visited the region for two or three days with false essential worker details. On Friday, Northland entered a snap level three lockdown triggered in part by the pair being uncooperative with authorities. According to a police statement, the second woman was last night taken into custody under section 70 of the Health Act and will move to an MIQ facility.

Bloomfield told RNZ the woman was tested last night due to being symptomatic. That result is due today. “The section 70 notice does allow the person to effectively be held in a place to keep them and others safe and also to be tested,” said Bloomfield. “It doesn’t mean we can force the person to speak, we need cooperation.”

The woman she travelled with was confirmed as a positive case on Friday, having earlier in the week returned a weak positive result. Both have refused to disclose their Northland itinerary in detail, causing health officials to be concerned about possible unknown spread of Covid-19. It’s understood, said Bloomfield, that the pair were in Northland for two to three days and while police have a broad understanding of where they went they need further cooperation.

“Of course, what we really want to know is more detail about the places and the times they were in those places,” said Bloomfield. “The big question is were they infectious out in the community in Northland?”

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.

Bloomfield said there have been no positive results from wastewater testing in Northland.

7.45am: Yesterday’s news, in summary

  • 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.

7.30am: From The Bulletin

Te Pāti Māori wants a stricter lockdown as it warns the Covid outbreak could be a “modern genocide.” The Guardian reports that the opposition party has called for Auckland to be placed in level four lockdown and the rest of the North Island brought up to level three until 95% of Māori are vaccinated. Māori are far more likely to be hospitalised if infected with Covid-19 and have a lower vaccination rate. The prime minister has disagreed with the opposition party. In The Conversation, public health experts argue that even as the country switches to suppression instead of elimination, we still can’t live with the pandemic. It’s about much more than semantics.


The Covid numbers: 35 new community cases were reported yesterday, all in Auckland. 51% (29) of the previous day’s total were in the community while infectious. There are now 452 active cases. 42,226 people were vaccinated on Sunday.

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


One big region of New Zealand didn’t get a mention yesterday and the South Island noticed. Business leaders told the Timaru Herald that they were “gobsmacked” the prime minister didn’t mention the South Island at the Covid-19 press conference. Some were expecting a move to level one for the island, which hasn’t had a case of community transmission in nearly a year. Others wanted a mention, a plan, a possible border, something. While it can be easy to shrug off southern frustration from Wellington or Auckland, the government should be direct and clear if the plan is to not return any part of the country back to level one.

This is part of The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s must-read daily news wrap. To sign up for free, simply enter your email address below



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