Live updates, October 13: Hipkins rules out return to level four; lockdown extended in Waikato and Northland

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for October 13, 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

  • Northland and parts of Waikato will remain in alert level three lockdown for another five days.
  • This will be reviewed on Monday, October 18.
  • There are 55 new delta cases in the community, including two in Waikato.
  • The Waikato cases have not yet been linked.
  • Four people – two patients and two staff members – have now tested positive in the North Shore Hospital dialysis unit.
  • An Auckland ECE teacher has tested positive, with six children deemed close contacts.
  • A truck driver who visited Northland has tested positive.

6.45pm: Bay Dreams cancels summer festivals, blames MIQ

Features editor Chris Schulz reports:

The organisers of Bay Dreams, the country’s biggest music festival, are blaming the MIQ situation for its cancellation today of both 2022 events.

Held in Tauranga and Nelson in early January, Bay Dreams has quickly risen to become the country’s most popular summer event, in past years attracting more than 50,000 people to see headlining acts such as Cardi B, Machine Gun Kelly and Tyler, the Creator.

Today, the festival confirmed it was cancelling both 2022 festivals and refunding customers, blaming massive demand for spots in MIQ for failing to allow international headliners into the country.

In an Instagram message this afternoon, organisers wrote: “There is much uncertainty around the trans-Tasman bubble and quarantine spaces are extremely difficult to obtain: a queue of 30,000+ people are trying to gain access to a few thousand rooms. This results in a lot of uncertainty around which international artists will be able to enter New Zealand this summer.

Bay Dreams would return in 2023 when “there will be more clarity around hosting our major international talent”. Refunds will be organised in the coming days, and a new, smaller event – “a world-class summer party in your favourite holiday spot” – would be announced to replace Bay Dreams shortly.

It’s the first summer festival to cancel following months of lockdowns and alert level changes aimed at stopping the spread of the delta variant of Covid-19.

With Bay Dreams pulling the plug, the fate of many other summer events hangs in the balance. Fans of long-running events Rhythm & Vines, Northern Bass and Rhythm & Alps must be holding their breath, as will those with tickets to new events like Outerfields, scheduled to be headlined by Benee in Auckland on December 4.

Recently, Rhythm & Vines organiser Hamish Pinkham told The Spinoff he was also trying to book spaces in MIQ to allow artists into the country after launching three new summer festivals around the country. “We’re in the line with everyone else,” he said. “We’ve got four months to try and get on top of the situation. Hopefully we can pull it out of the bag.”

4.45pm: Bay of Islands location of interest added

Another Northland location of interest has been added to the Ministry of Health’s list, following police locating the second Covid case who travelled from Auckland through the region on falsified essential worker documentation.

The location is AA Driver and Vehicle Licensing in Kerikeri, from 3.15pm-3.45pm on Tuesday October 5.

Northland was moved into alert level three on Friday, where it will remain until at least Monday, after the first case was detected and was uncooperative with contact tracers. At yesterday’s 1pm press conference, prime minister Jacinda Ardern said the second case was being more forthcoming with information, but at today’s briefing, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said getting details had been “slow going”.

A number of Auckland locations were also added to the list today, including several supermarkets (see 9.05am update), a Papakura superette for nine different time periods, and a train trip from Manurewa to Britomart yesterday afternoon.

The full list of locations is here, and our interactive map is here.

3.35pm: Baker ‘surprised’ by lack of consultation on ending elimination

Prominent epidemiologist Michael Baker has admitted being “surprised” by the shift away from elimination, and says he nor many others in the science community were consulted on the new pandemic response.

The government has been forced to defend its new strategy for curbing Covid spread in Auckland basically every day since it was announced over a week ago. At today’s 1pm presser, Chris Hipkins and Ashley Bloomfield were asked whether the strategy remained “science-led” (they both said it was).

Baker told The Guardian he was taken aback by the change in tack. “We were obviously surprised on Monday last week when the government seemed to say that we were moving away from elimination,” said Baker. “A decision of that size – changing your major strategy – you’d think you would consult with [the] quite small batch of scientists and other advisers who work very hard to support the government … explaining things to the public.”

The government had previously done a “great job” on consultation, said Baker. “I think it’s surprised all the advisers, because it’s not that hard to actually consult – it’s such a stark contrast with the reconnecting strategy released on 12 August, which was, I think really, very well done.”

The health advice that underpinned last week’s announcement has not been made public, however Bloomfield has maintained that he recommended the change in approach.

Read the full piece here

3.05pm: Late November for vaccine certificates ‘disgraceful – Bishop

It’s “disgraceful” that vaccine certificates won’t be available until late November, says National’s Chris Bishop.

The downloadable passports were announced last week but, at today’s 1pm press briefing, it was confirmed they will not be available until the end of next month.

Bishop said it’s not good enough. “Today we learned that ‘in November’ actually means ‘the end of November’. This is just like the time that the government said group three vaccinations would begin in ‘August’, which actually meant ‘the end of August’ and caused huge confusion.”

People are able to access their vaccination information at the new “My Covid Record” website, which you can access here.

2.45pm: Why not?

At today’s 1pm press briefing, a lot of questions were asked. But none flummoxed the Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins quite as much as this one: “Why not?”

1.40pm: Return to level four ruled out

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins has explicitly ruled out a “circuit breaker” alert level four lockdown, despite escalating delta cases and calls from health experts.

As you can see from the graph below, case numbers have steadily increased since Auckland dropped out of the toughest restrictions. Asked whether a return to level four was on the cards, Hipkins said: “That’s not something the government is considering.”

Experts like Shaun Hendy have argued for a circuit breaker, while the Māori Party called for level four to remain in place in Auckland until vaccination rates increased.

“The alert level system that we have relies on a very high degree of voluntary compliance for New Zealanders,” said Hipkins. “What we’ve seen in most countries that have tried to sustain those kinds of restrictions for a prolonged period of time, they have found that the effectiveness of those restrictions actually diminishes.”

Hipkins said there was a very good chance we’d still be seeing the escalation in new cases even if we’d remained at level four.

Both Hipkins and Bloomfield said the pandemic response remained “science-led” after being questioned on the decision to go against the advice from numerous health experts.

Hipkins said a home isolation model was being looked at as with rising case numbers, putting everyone into quarantine facilities becomes less viable. It was likely to be implemented “fairly soon”.

“We’re going into a period where we are likely to see pretty significant growth in the number of cases,” said Hipkins.

1.15pm: Waikato and Northland lockdowns extended

Updated

The alert level three lockdown in Northland and parts of Waikato has been extended for a further five days, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins has announced.

It will now end no earlier than 11.59pm on Monday, October 18.

We still don’t have confidence that we have a full enough picture of the situation in Northland, said Hipkins, adding that getting information from the cases had been “slow going”.

There were concerns, Hipkins said, about people in Northland not coming forward to be tested because of fear they or their activities might be identified. He reiterated that any information acquired by contact tracing would not be used for anything other than stamping out Covid-19. “There are clearly some places these individuals have been that we don’t know about,” said Bloomfield on the decision to keep Northland at level three.

On the decision to keep Waikato in lockdown, Hipkins added: “We certainly weren’t willing to step down the alert levels in Waikato when we have two cases who at this point we don’t know how were infected.”

Vaccination rates in Waikato remained high yesterday with 7,434 people getting a dose. There were 2,980 tests processed in Waikato yesterday. And in Northland, 3,905 doses of the vaccine were given yesterday while the region saw 1765 tests completed yesterday.

On whether the Auckland border needed to be tightened to stop the leak of Covid-19, Bloomfield said the ministry was reviewing the testing requirement for essential workers to see if it could be increased to more than weekly. They’re also looking at whether there could be a requirement for those essential workers to be vaccinated.

1.10pm: Covid-19 spreads within hospital dialysis unit

Following a previously reported exposure event at the dialysis unit adjacent to North Shore Hospital, a total of two patients and two staff members have now tested positive for Covid-19.

“Staff are also undergoing rapid antigen testing before the start of each shift, with all results this morning again negative,” said the Ministry of Health. A number of staff in the unit are considered close contacts and have been stood down as a precaution.

“All appropriate steps are being taken to manage potential risk while maintaining dialysis services to this group of renal patients.”

All patients are being screened on arrival at the unit. Full PPE precautions are being taken within the unit, which is being intensively cleaned between each group of patients, the ministry said.

1.00pm: Delta outbreak grows by 55 on decision day for Waikato, Northland

Updated

There are 55 new community cases of Covid-19, including two in Waikato. There are no new cases in locked down Northland.

Of today’s new cases, 26 cannot yet be linked to the outbreak. For the first time since locking down, the two cases in Waikato – both members of the same family in Hamilton – also cannot be linked.

“At this stage, the cases are unlinked but interviews will be carried out today to help determine any links to known cases,” said the Ministry of Health. “Two workplace exposure events have been identified but Hamilton residents are encouraged to please keep checking the Ministry’s website for any locations of interest.”

Twelve of yesterday’s cases were deemed infectious while in the community, and so far 10 remain unlinked. There are now 75 unlinked cases from the past fortnight.

Regarding the risk of Covid-19 in Northland, Ashley Bloomfield said there remain no new locations of interest after an interview with the second Northland case who was located by police earlier this week.

There are still 32 people in hospital with Covid-19, including six in intensive care.

Yesterday was another solid day for the vaccine rollout ahead of this weekend’s Super Saturday Vaxathon. Nationwide, 72,683 doses of the vaccine were administered yesterday comprising 17,396 first doses and 55,287 second. On the testing front: 25,799 tests were conducted nationwide with almost 13,000 in Auckland alone.

And finally, Bloomfield revealed the public health team in Auckland hasn’t been able to locate a Covid-positive person. The police have been asked to assist.

Truckie who visited Northland confirmed as Covid-positive

Bloomfield also confirmed an Auckland-based truck driver who travelled to Northland for work purposes on October 9 has tested positive for Covid-19. The case is currently being assessed to identify risk and any exposure events.

“While the case investigation is still in the early stages initial information suggests a limited scope of exposure in Northland, given alert level three precautions within the delivery sector.”

The driver was in the region between 3am and midday and the risk is believed to be low, said Chris Hipkins.

Auckland teacher tests positive

A teacher at an Auckland early learning centre has tested positive and six children are among the 11 close contacts.

The teacher’s infectious period is considered to be from October 8. They had had one dose of the vaccine.

My Covid Record website now live

The My Covid Record website is now accessible to the public so they can view their vaccination record. It’s currently available for only those aged 16+.

12.50pm: Watch live – Lockdown update for Northland and Waikato due

We’re about to find out whether Northland and parts of Waikato can leave alert level three restrictions this week. Of course, we’re also due to hear the latest Covid-19 numbers including whether there has been any spread connected with a woman who evaded health authorities after visiting Northland.

Watch along below or keep this page refreshed for live coverage.

12.45pm: A special note from The Spinoff publisher Duncan Greive

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

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

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

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

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

12.30pm: Ruby Esther’s comedy keeps making her dad cry

Comedian Ruby Esther tells us about an upsetting heckle, making her dad cry and more in this week’s episode of FIRST.

12.20pm: John Key ‘delighted’ by Vaxathon

Former prime minister John Key has endorsed this weekend’s Vaxathon – and taken some of the credit for its creation.

Key weighed into the Covid-19 response a few weeks ago with an opinion piece published by several major outlets, coupled with a host of television and radio appearances. Since then, he’s largely returned to his hermit (kingdom) existence.

He told the Herald he was “delighted” the government had adopted the Vaxathon idea. “And a few others like mandatory vaccination to attend events like Rhythm and Vines.”

The next thing the government needed to do was decide on a “freedom day” date and provide vaccine targets. “You have to get people a clear date, but if you reach a target like 90% before that date then you would do it then,” he said. “If you don’t put a date on it, then people don’t know what’s the urgency.”

11.25am: Coffee News quits social media

Cafe magazine stand staple Coffee News is leaving social media due to the promulgation of misinformation online.

In a statement, the magazine clarified that while individual licensees were free to run their own social media, Coffee News’ head office will no longer appear on platforms like Facebook or Instagram.

“At Coffee News New Zealand head office we are increasingly concerned about the types of posts & content we are exposed to (as a community) on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. Often the content and posts are an attempt to deliberately divide communities, but also friends and family members,” said the statement.

“The guidelines of this type of ‘freedom of speech’ posts used in newsfeeds on these platforms are not in line with our core values; that we respect each other’s choices, that we always support one another no matter what the circumstances are and that we believe that we are together as one (with a bit of banter and a good dose of dad-jokes).”

Coffee News pledged that even without social media, the publication will continue to offer “fantastic value” to advertisers and “great dad-jokes” to readers.

We’re hiring!

We’re thrilled to announce two new positions open at The Spinoff, both made possible by NZ On Air’s Public Interest Journalism Fund.

The Spinoff is currently accepting applications for two new editorial positions, both of which signal our ongoing commitment to publishing journalism that reflects the many voices of Aotearoa.

The new roles are:

  • Māori politics reporter
  • Pacific communities editor

Find out more about these exciting new roles here.

10.55am: Climate change proposal ‘missing detail’

The government’s newly released emissions reduction plan consultation document has been criticised for missing key detail and including few practical steps.

As reported earlier (see: 10am update), the document comes ahead of the full plan due for release next year. That will guide the country’s climate actions through to 2035, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But the Council of Trade Unions said while it welcomes action on climate change, today’s announcement was underwhelming.

“Today’s report contains very few specific, practical proposals to significantly reduce emissions,” said council president Richard Wagstsff. “Very little by way of realisable plans to support working families through the transition. And it shows almost no practical steps to include working people in the decisions that affect their jobs and communities.”

10.35am: Gone By Lunchtime presents: Podathon

On this week’s brand new episode of Gone By Lunchtime, Annabelle Lee-Mather, Ben Thomas and Toby Manhire spend 24 hours Zorbing the length of the country in the cause of vaccination and political commentary. On the agenda: what comes after elimination, the vaccine rollout, and MMP at 25. Listen on Apple PodcastsSpotify or your favourite podcast provider.

10.00am: Government releases emissions reduction plan to mixed reviews

Political editor Justin Giovannetti reports:

Climate change minister James Shaw has released a “consultation document” this morning before the government finishes writing New Zealand’s first emissions reduction plan. The document has already been greeted by mixed reviews.

The eventual plan, according to Shaw, will guide the country’s climate actions through to 2035, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions across the economy. It won’t be finished until next year, but Shaw will be bringing the rough sketch to a global climate conference later this month.

“We want to prioritise ideas that save people money, like cleaner energy that leads to lower power bills,” said Shaw in a statement. The government wants feedback from the public on the plan, called Te hau mārohi ki anamata. Drive Electric has said it is warmly in favour of the plan’s call for 30% of the country’s light vehicles being electric by 2035.

“Sure, more detail is needed, but the ambition is there and progress has started,” said a statement from the group lobbying for electric vehicles.

The Green Building Council is less happy by the lack of a firm programme to get started right now. “Besides our concern that we’re not rolling out proven plans immediately, we’re also not impressed with woolly wording in the government document. For example, ‘exploring a range of actions to lower emissions from buildings’ is neither a strategy nor a plan. It’s a vague collection of words which has more waffle than brunch time in Ponsonby.”

Greenpeace was left red in the face, calling the document, “hot air and udder bullshit.” The group is unhappy that there’s very little mention of reducing agricultural emissions at all.

9.05am: Number of supermarkets caught up in outbreak

This morning’s locations of interest update brings with it a number of supermarkets from around Auckland.

Locations include New World in Devonport, Countdowns in Newmarket and St Johns, and Pak’nSave in Mount Albert.

The latest gaggle of locations are all from the past week and anyone who visited the supermarkets at the same time as the Covid-infected patron is asked to monitor for symptoms for 14 days.

The full list is available here

8.35am: Judith Collins to miss Vaxathon due to being in self-isolation

National’s Judith Collins will not be part of this weekend’s Vaxathon due to strict self-isolation rules imposed at parliament for anyone returning from a level three part of the country.

Collins returned back to Auckland from Wellington at the end of September. As an essential worker, travelling across the border is permitted however Collins already faced public scrutiny over her decision to travel out of level four Auckland at the start of the outbreak.

This time, Auckland is in level three but travel out of the city still requires essential worker status or a valid exemption. According to Newsroom, all MPs travelling to Wellington from a level three area require a pre-departure test within 72 hours, to self-isolate in Wellington for five days and take second Covid test on the fifth day.

Only one party – National – is allowing MPs to leave level three.

Collins told RNZ that because of rules instigated by the speaker of parliament she would be in self-isolation from today, meaning she will not be able to participate in the Super Saturday Vaxathon. National, however, has endorsed the Super Saturday call to action and deputy leader Shane Reti will be a visible presence on the ground in Northland.

8.00am: Waikato and Northland wait for confirmation of level two move

While Auckland has to accept at least another week under current restrictions, both Northland and parts of Waikato are waiting nervously for confirmation they can leave alert level three from tomorrow night.

Cabinet will consider lower restrictions in the two regions this morning, with an announcement due at today’s 1pm press conference.

However, in a potential curveball, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking that a truck driver who drove into Northland had tested positive. “Truck drivers are asked to follow a number of preventative measures… [but] if they were doing all the things they should have been doing then the risk should be reasonably low here,” Hipkins said. Any other new cases would be revealed, as usual, at the 1pm briefing.

Asked whether Auckland was waiting for 90% double jabbed before any restrictions could loosen, Hipkins said that would be “an encouraging start”. He refused to set a target saying the government had never done that. “The key piece of feedback I can give is that the higher those vaccination rates go, the faster they move up, then the greater our possibility [of leaving restrictions],” Hipkins said.

On vaccine targets, Hosking once again used his favourite example of New South Wales, who have spent 16 weeks under strict restrictions, saying that the Australian state had left lockdown this week when vaccinations hit a target. Hipkins said certainty isn’t possible with delta. “We will give certainty as soon as we can,” said Hipkins. “We are continuing to try and provide as much freedom as we can while dealing with one of the greatest public health risks that we’ve ever experienced.”

Yesterday’s headlines:

  • 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.



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