Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for September 13, by Stewart Sowman-Lund. Auckland is currently at alert level four, the rest of NZ level two. Send me thoughts and feelings to email@example.com. Help us keep you informed on Covid-19 – click here to learn how you can join The Spinoff Members.
A summary of the alert level decision
- Auckland will remain in alert level four until at least 11.59pm on September 21.
- The rest of New Zealand will remain in alert level two for the same amount of time.
- These decisions will be reviewed in a week, on Monday September 20.
- There are 33 new community cases of Covid-19, all in Auckland.
- Of those, just one – a Middlemore patient – has not yet been linked epidemiologically to the outbreak.
- 21 people are in hospital with Covid, including four still in intensive care.
- Yesterday saw: 33,866 vaccine doses given out and over 8600 tests administered.
6.20pm: Wānaka absconders dobbed in through online reporting tool
The 35 year-old man and 26 year-old woman who drove from Auckland to Hamilton and then flew to Wānaka (via Wellington and Queenstown) were reported to police through the Covid-19 compliance online reporting tool. Police say they were notified via the reporting tool and located the pair in Wānaka on Saturday afternoon. After speaking with the police, the couple indicated they would be returning to their usual place of residence.
Police are considering charges under the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 and, if laid, the couple will be due to appear in court this week.
6.00pm: Residents of Auckland suburbs of interest encouraged to get tested
The Northern Region Health Coordination Centre (made up of the Northland and metro Auckland DHBs) has encouraged all residents in the seven suburbs of interest to get a Covid-19 test. “We want to cast a wide geographical net around the location of known clusters and unlinked cases so we particularly want to see more families and household bubbles from seven Auckland suburbs of interest come out to get tested,” it said in a statement. The seven suburbs of interest are:
- Mt Eden
Anyone with any symptoms, in any suburb, should get a test. But now even those without symptoms in the above suburbs are also encouraged to get tested “to help us have a level of assurance”.
People who don’t have symptoms and get a one-off COVID-19 test for surveillance purposes don’t need to isolate while they wait for the result.
5.45pm: National supports lockdown extension, sort of
Leader of the opposition Judith Collins, along with spokesperson for Covid-19 response Chris Bishop, has come out in support of the level four extension for Auckland, saying there was “no alternative”. But with this lockdown soon to become the longest ever since the virus first hit New Zealand, it has made “a mockery” of the prime minister’s claims of being “short and sharp”, said Collins.
Bishop added that the current outbreak has simply exposed the lack of planning for delta. “The government went into self-congratulation mode for most of this year, and didn’t make the investments needed to get ready for Delta, even while it was raging around the world,” he said. “Saliva testing has taken a year to roll out, rapid testing is banned in New Zealand, and contact tracers have done a heroic job with limited resources.”
5.25pm: Restaurant associations warn of business closures
Hospitality New Zealand has warned that the level four lockdown extension with no sector-specific support for Auckland businesses will result in more and more liquidations. “We’re the industry hardest hit by policies designed to cut socialisation,” it said, in a release. “Our need is uniquely desperate. Levels two to four are periods of 30-100% losses for most hospitality and accommodation businesses.” The sector has reported little bounce-back under delta level two. “Most of our members will trade at a loss even with the extension of the wage subsidy and resurgence payment last week.
Last week, restaurateurs from across Auckland gathered in a virtual situation room to discuss strategy and a plan of attack in negotiating for more support from the government. Read more about what went on in that room here.
National Party spokerpserson for economic development Todd McClay says the lockdown extension is the final straw for many businesses. “We’re not talking about a few operations here and there – this will be catastrophic for hundreds of hospitality businesses nationally.” Hospitality New Zealand has reported more than 80% of its members say they are not sustainable after four weeks at level four.
“The cumulative impact of weeks and weeks of severe restriction will be devastating and long-lasting,” says McClay. “The government must act now and put additional support packages in place.”
5.05pm: Police pleased with border compliance
Yesterday two men were stopped in their vehicle at Auckland’s southern checkpoint at Mercer, travelling south. Both had travel exemption notices but officers at the checkpoint “noticed the smell of cannabis coming from their vehicle,” according to a police statement. It was revealed the two weren’t travelling for legally essential purposes and over 2kgs of cannabis was found in the car.
The men were charged with Possession for Supply and Failing to Comply with the Covid-19 order and are due to appear in the Manukau District Court today. But police say such instances are rare, and compliance overall has been good.
As of 11.59pm yesterday, 71081 vehicles have been stopped at the five southern checkpoints at Auckland’s perimeter. Of these, 841 were turned away for non-essential travel, including 137 yesterday.
At the five northern checkpoints, which have been in place since Northland dropped to Alert Level 3 at 11:59pm on 2 September, 16071 vehicles have been stopped. Of those, 263 vehicles were turned away for non-essential travel, including 27 yesterday.
4.40pm: On those mystery cases
The mystery cases of concern include a case from the Auckland suburb of Mount Eden – who later visited a pair of supermarkets – along with a new case that came in overnight, said Ardern and Bloomfield.
There was also concern about a person who had recently visited Middlemore Hospital while very unwell. Their seven household members have since tested positive as well.
Ardern said that tools like whole genome sequencing were giving indications of where the recent Middlemore cases fitted into the outbreak, even though an epidemiological link could not yet to be found. Who was sick first in the household was being investigated, she added, to determine the original case.
4.00pm: Auckland to spend another week in alert level four
Auckland will remain in alert level four for another week, until at least next Tuesday, September 21. That makes it the longest time any part of the country has ever spent in total lockdown – two days longer than during the nationwide level four last year.
It’s then hoped some restrictions can be loosened with cabinet making an “in principle” decision to move Auckland down to level three from next Wednesday, September 22. The rest of the country will stay in alert level two until at least that point.
A review of both these decisions will happen in a week’s time, on Monday September 20.
Ardern: ‘We haven’t quite finished the job yet’
Speaking at parliament, prime minister Jacinda Ardern said alert level four had been working and health officials were confident there was no widespread transmission of the virus in Auckland. However, the three biggest clusters continued to produce cases. “We haven’t quite finished the job yet,” said Ardern.
Only 17 cases from the past two weeks remain unlinked, and only a handful of those have been highlighted as of particular concern. The fact that those cases are coming to light through surveillance and community testing rather than contact tracing is a concern, Ardern added.
The PM acknowledged the difficulty of trying to contain delta. “Every time we get a new case, if that person’s family don’t already have the virus they are likely to get it in due course. That’s why numbers are rumbling on.” Today, 33 new community cases were reported – the highest daily count for the past 11 days.
The next week will see testing focused on the seven suburbs of interest: Mount Eden, Massey, Māngere, Favona, Papatoetoe, Ōtara and Manurewa.
For those in Auckland, Ardern issued a reminder of the rules: Please stick to your bubble, stay home as much as possible, get tested even if you have mild symptoms and get vaccinated. “If you have a booking for October, jump online again and see if you can get a booking for this week, or go to a drive-in vaccination centre,” said Ardern.
“To all Aucklanders, we owe you a debt of gratitude,” added the PM.
Further financial support will be available due to the extension of lockdown, Ardern said. Applications for a third fortnight of wage subsidy payments will open this Friday.
‘The lockdown is working’ – Ashley Bloomfield
The director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said despite another week of lockdown for Auckland, the restrictions have been effective.
“The signs are good and despite the high numbers over the past few days, the lockdown is working, the testing is at a good level and it’s only a small number of cases we are investigating thoroughly,” said Bloomfield.
“Another week in lockdown gives us a chance to finish off the job properly.” Bloomfield said the important thing is to find new cases, so that we can isolate them, test others and prevent further spread.
When the lockdown was announced back in mid-August, Ardern described it as “short and sharp”. Asked today whether this lockdown could still be called “short”, Ardern said people should know by now that the government liked to go “hard and early”.
On whether it was human nature to bend the rules – perhaps a reference to the Auckland abdicators who headed to Wānaka – Ardern said, “I’m the wrong person to ask, because it’s not really my nature.”
3.50pm: Ardern to reveal decision on Auckland lockdown
Auckland will finally know whether or not it can move out of alert level four at midnight tomorrow.
With case numbers back on the rise, and a number of mystery cases identified, experts have warned Aucklanders that they could face at least one more week in total lockdown.
Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield are about to reveal all – as always, we’ll have live coverage right here or you can tune in for the presser below:
3.40pm: Vaccinators and testers wary of burn out as outbreak contacts pass 38,000
Kaupapa Māori vaccinators and testers are getting burnt out due to the vast number of Covid-19 contacts associated with the current outbreak.
More than 38,000 people have been linked to the delta outbreak, compared with roughly 2000 after the Valentine’s Day cluster was detected in February.
Waipareira Trust chief executive John Tamihere told RNZ that vaccinators could see up to 3000 people. “We need to go hell for leather in lockdown [level] 4 … because when people go back to work the number of no-shows on appointments increases dramatically,” he said. Some staff were being forced to take 48 hours off because they would otherwise “work until they drop,” said Tamihere.
“They’re in a mode. It’s like they ain’t gonna stop fighting until they run out of ammunition.”
2.50pm: Man who fled to Wānaka the son of a ‘high-ranking public official’
An Auckland man who breached level four rules to flee to Wānaka over the weekend is the son of a “high-ranking public official”, reports Stuff.
The 35-year-old and his 26-year-old partner managed to leave Auckland using essential worker exemptions, before flying to the South Island despite the strict health rules in place. The couple will be charged, said police, and appear in court this week.
The man’s lawyer Rachael Reed QC told Stuff she was preparing an application for suppression, which would also stop details about the man’s parent’s job being revealed.
2.10pm: The ‘infectious in the community’ factor
As noted below, the top line of the “new cases” summary is not always the most meaningful. While every case is a real concern for the people involved, as far as containing the outbreak is concerned (and so the chances of Auckland moving out of lockdown), more instructive are, first, the cases where contact tracers haven’t been able to establish how and when the infection happened (epidemiological links) and, second, the number of new cases who have “exposure events” so were “infectious in the community”. These events may be little more than a trip to a dairy or supermarket, but they present elements of risk all the same.
“Infectious in the community” numbers are reported the day after the case numbers. So we learned this afternoon that seven of yesterday’s 20 new cases had exposure events. Here’s the last fortnight in chart form:
1.20pm: A summarised look at the outbreak
Today has seen a fairly hefty bump in new delta cases, as you can see from the graph below. Unfortunately it's come on the day when alert level decisions are being made, but we do have to remember that both Ardern and Bloomfield have said we can expect some minor blips on our journey to elimination.
Alarming though that count of 33 might be at first glance, the Ministry of Health stresses in its statement that 32 of those cases are "epidemiologically linked". That is, they are almost all linked to known cases, so don't present a risk of undetected chains of transmission. It's slightly complicated, however: the one case that isn't linked epidemiologically is the person, as mentioned by Bloomfield yesterday, who presented to Middlemore Hospital on Saturday. That person lives in a household of eight, and the other seven have tested positive; they're therefore counted as epidemiologically linked.
1.05pm: Jump in new delta cases with 33 announced ahead of alert decision
There are 33 new community cases of Covid-19, all in Auckland – the highest daily number we've had for 11 days. It's also a significant jump on yesterday's 20 and Saturday's 23 cases, especially compared with the 11 we recorded before the weekend.
In a piece of good news, just one of today's cases cannot be epidemiologically linked. That is the person who presented to Middlemore Hospital on Saturday.
This is the final set of information that health officials and cabinet will be considering today ahead of the 4pm alert level announcement from the Beehive.
There are now 955 cases linked to the current outbreak, although more than 300 of these have now recovered.
Just seven – or 35% – of yesterday’s 20 cases were deemed infectious while in the community, with the remaining 13 already in self-isolation. Twenty-one people are now in hospital with Covid-19, including 10 at Middlemore Hospital. There are now four people in intensive care.
Of the 38,681 contacts associated with the current outbreak, 87% have now been reached by contact tracers with 92% having had at least one test result.
On the testing front, the past 24 hours saw more than 8600 tests nationwide – another fairly strong outing. More than half of those were in Auckland, around 8200. In its statement, a Ministry of Health spokesperson said: "Testing nationwide remains an essential part of our response to this outbreak, in particular providing confidence for understanding the extent of any spread of Covid-19."
And finally, vaccinations: yesterday there were 33,866 doses administered. While that may seem comparatively low, remember that vaccination rates are always significantly down on a Sunday. Of yesterday's jabs, 20,490 were first doses and 13,376 were second. Almost 1.5 million New Zealanders are now fully vaccinated.
12.40pm: PSA – It's just a statement at 1pm
A reminder that there is no 1pm press conference today and instead just a handy press release from the Ministry of Health. It's due around 1pm but we'll have it as soon as it arrives.
The 1pm statement will contain the final set of Covid-19 data that will be contemplated by health officials and cabinet ahead of this afternoon's alert level decision, so it's crucial information for Aucklanders in particular.
Keep the live updates open and refreshed and I'll have all the information you need when it drops.
12.15pm: Extremely Online – Are you being catfished?
In 2007 a 24-year-old photographer from New York received a painting. It was of one of his photos, painted by an eight-year-old called Abby. The photographer loved it, so he reached out to her, and through Abby he met her half sister Megan. From here blossomed an online romance between Megan and the photographer, and he arranged to meet her in person in Michigan. Only, neither Megan nor Abby existed.
If this sounds familiar it’s because it’s what happens in Catfish, the 2010 documentary that became a hit MTV reality series – and because it happens online all the time. Find out more in this week's episode of Extremely Online, from the team at Shit You Should Care About.
12.05pm: No plans to vaccinate people in MIQ
The government has no plans to start vaccinating people while they are in managed isolation.
The revelation came from National's Chris Bishop who had asked, in a written question, the Covid response minister Chris Hipkins whether it was in the pipeline.
"The government is not considering opening vaccination clinics in Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) facilities," said Hipkins. "During their 14-day stay in managed isolation, individuals are required to undergo mandatory Covid-19 testing. While someone is waiting for the results of a Covid-19 test, they must not attend a Covid-19 vaccination appointment."
But Bishop said it was "silly" not to be vaccinating people while in MIQ. “This is a common sense idea and most New Zealanders will have assumed it was happening already," he said.
“We need to be vaccinating as many people as possible as quickly as possible and when better to do it than when people are staying for 14 days in managed isolation?"
Over the weekend the government confirmed a further 500,000 doses of the Covid vaccine would be arriving in the country as part of a deal with Denmark.
10.55am: White powder sent to the Beehive
White powder has reportedly been found on the eighth floor of the Beehive in a "suspicious package".
According to TVNZ's political editor Jessica Mutch McKay, the eighth floor is where mail for the prime minister is sent. Jacinda Ardern, who works on the ninth floor, has been told to stay put.
1 News understands white powder has been found on the 8th floor (where the Prime Ministers mail goes to). People in Beehive including the PM told to stay on their floor @1NewsNZ
— Jessica Mutch McKay TVNZ (@MutchJessica) September 12, 2021
Emergency service are now responding, with police telling TVNZ they were alerted just after 10am about “an item of interest” at parliament. There was no information on evacuations at this stage.
9.50am: Collins doubles down on Wiles criticism
Judith Collins has doubled down on her criticism of microbiologist, and Spinoff contributor, Siouxsie Wiles.
The science communicator was filmed at a beach five kilometres from her home with a friend who was in her bubble. Both were maskless, and the friend went for a swim which is against level four rules. Wiles admitted her friend was in the wrong, but defended her own actions as within the rules – a sentiment later backed up by both Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield.
On Friday, Collins faced backlash after labelling Wiles a "big fat hypocrite" for supposedly breaking the rules she had been preaching throughout the pandemic.
Newstalk ZB host Mike Hosking this morning said Collins had been subjected to a "left-leaning pile on" and asked the National leader whether it was because the media hated her. "Sometimes when you tell the truth about something that has happened, when it's someone like Siouxsie Wiles that they've decided that they love, you're gonna get a backlash," Collins said. "It's absolute hypocrisy."
Wiles said that while the beach was five kilometres from her home, she had cycled there which was a form of exercise and therefore within the rules. Collins was unconvinced: "She wasn't exercising, where's the shoes?"
On reports TVNZ were alerted to the story several days before it appeared on right wing blog The BFD, Collins said that was an outrage. "If that was you, Mike [Hosking], do you think that would have been dismissed as something that's of no public interest? It's different rules for different people, and the different people at the moment is anyone who is seen on the side of the government, absolutely drinking the kool aid – they are treated differently."
9.25am: Auckland couple who escaped to Wānaka 'endangering' lives – mayor
Queenstown's mayor is outraged after an Auckland couple escaped lockdown to travel to their holiday home in Wānaka.
The couple used an essential worker travel exemption to get through the Auckland boundary checkpoint before jumping on a plane to the South Island. Police have since said the pair will be prosecuted.
Mayor Jim Boult told the Herald he was speechless when first told the news. "We are all aware of the pain that Auckland is going through at the moment. The last thing we want is to be in the same position," he said.
"These people are endangering not only the health of folk in this part of the world but also their livelihoods, as things are tough enough down here at the moment."
8.20am: Mystery Covid cases linked to seven suburbs
Seven Auckland suburbs will face a heightened Covid testing drive after they were linked to a handful of mystery delta cases.
The 34 cases could be the one thing stopping Auckland moving out of lockdown today.
As RNZ's Rowan Quinn reported, health officials have concerns about possible undetected spread of the virus in Mount Eden, Massey, Māngere, Favona, Papatoetoe, Ōtara and Manurewa.
8.00am: Concern over 'handful' of unlinked cases, says Robertson
It's alert level decision day for Auckland after almost a month spent in alert level four.
But with growing numbers of unlinked, mystery cases, experts have warned Aucklanders not to expect good news come 4pm.
Speaking to Newshub, deputy prime minister Grant Robertson said there was "concern" over unlinked cases, but pushed back at an assertion that instantly meant no alert level change. "We look very closely at each of these individual mystery cases," he said. "The eight [mystery cases] will have reduced down significantly just overnight, I guarantee it, because during the day yesterday there would've been conversations with those people, connections would've been made to other parts of the outbreak, and they're no longer considered mystery cases."
However, Robertson admitted the government was concerned by a "handful" of cases. "As Bloomfield said yesterday, we've got three sub-clusters where we're still seeing cases coming around the outside of those that we want to make sure we're bringing in and we've got direct links to," he said.
Cabinet will meet today to finalise a decision on alert levels, with Jacinda Ardern set to speak at 4pm.
7.30am: From The Bulletin
An Auckland couple will be prosecuted for flying to Wānaka. According to RNZ, the two used their essential worker status to drive across the Auckland boundary and board a flight in Hamilton. The police called it a “calculated and deliberate flouting” of level four rules. The two will be prosecuted for violating the current health order.
Police have also revealed that one person has now been prosecuted for breaching level two. The NZ Herald reports that a Rotorua man was arrested last Wednesday after being asked to wear a mask or leave a mall by security, he refused to do either. He then refused to comply with police, adding a charge of obstruction to his failure to follow the health act. Three people also tried to cross the Auckland boundary claiming to be essential workers but provided a fake document, they got off with a warning.
The Covid numbers: 20 new community cases were reported yesterday and 43% (10) of the previous day’s cases were active in the community while infectious. All the cases were in Auckland. 922 cases have now been detected in the delta outbreak, of which 352 have now recovered. 61,810 people were vaccinated yesterday.
The prime minister has denounced online claims a teenager died of the Pfizer vaccine. The NZ Herald has reported that Jacinda Ardern isn’t pleased with a group online claiming that a year 13 student in Auckland died from the jab. A student has died, but of a suspected heart attack. “All I would say is, those who seek to make those links, I just can't imagine how distressing that would be for family members,” said Ardern. All adverse reactions to the vaccine are reported to an independent monitoring agency and then posted publicly by Medsafe.
Denmark has lifted all Covid restrictions as it reaches a high vaccination level. As The Guardian reports, more than 80% of people over the age of 12 are now fully vaccinated and the Danish government has declared that Covid-19 is no longer a “socially critical” disease. Despite still reporting nearly 400 cases daily, the country has gradually lowered its restrictions as vaccination levels have increased. Denmark has sold 500,000 extra doses of the Pfizer vaccine to New Zealand.
Boris Johnson has announced a U-turn on plans for a vaccine passport. The UK prime minister has scrapped the idea after a backlash from members of his party according to Reuters and will now start to end some Covid-19 emergency powers.
Australian news organisations can be sued for comments left under their social media posts. Hal Crawford has looked at what a recent court decision means for the country and whether it could cross the ditch. As someone who has spent far too much of his life monitoring comments, I certainly don't think they always raise the level of debate. While comments do act as a signal to algorithms and other readers that something has captured wider interest, it’s unlikely any organisation would want to be legally liable for them. The decision has shaken a lot of news publishers in Australia and some in New Zealand.
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