Live updates, August 14: NZ to stay at current alert levels for 12 days; wage subsidy extended

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for August 14, 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.

6.30pm: Super Rugby Aotearoa finale cancelled

The final game of Super Rugby Aotearoa competition, scheduled to be played between the Blues and the Crusaders at Eden Park on Sunday, has been cancelled. The Crusaders, who should probably change their name to the Hard and Early, had already won the trophy.

Latest:

  • Auckland will be remaining in alert level three, and New Zealand at level two, until August 26.
  • This will be reviewed in a week’s time, on August 21.
  • A decision on whether the election should be delayed will be announced next week.
  • The wage subsidy has been extended and this will apply nationwide.

5.30pm: Current alert levels to stay in place for 12 more days

Updated

Our current alert levels will be staying in place for a further 12 days, the prime minister has confirmed. That means Auckland will be remaining in alert level three, and New Zealand at level two, until August 26 at 11.59pm. Ardern said this keeps with our philosophy of “going hard and going early” and takes the time at these current alert levels to a full two weeks.

There is nothing, the prime minister said, to suggest Auckland will need to shift to a level four lockdown.

The settings will be reviewed in a week’s time, on August 21.

In addition to the alert levels staying in place, Ardern confirmed the wage subsidy will be extended nationwide (more information below). “Estimates are that the economy operates at roughly 80% at level three compared to 60% at level four. I am mindful though of the extraordinary disruption to business and the anxiety that this outbreak will be causing,” Ardern said.

‘We have found this outbreak relatively early’

“We have identified 29 cases, at this stage all linked to the Auckland cluster… and one case that is likely linked to the cluster,” Ardern said.

There is, at this stage, no link to managed isolation or the border, Ardern said. “The sequence of the virus at this stage is not the same as community cases in our first outbreak. This suggests this is not a case of the virus being dormant or a burning ember in our community. It appears to be new to New Zealand.”

The prime minister said more than 30,000 tests have been completed over the past 48 hours. “There are signs we have found this outbreak relatively early in its life,” Ardern said. “The earliest case we have found to date was a worker at the Americold store in Mt Wellington who became sick on the 31st of July… Contact tracing and genomic testing has not yet found a link to the border or managed isolation in quarantine facilities at this stage.”

“‘We have got rid of Covid-19 before,” said Ardern. “We have been world leading in our Covid response. We can do all of that again.”

Aucklanders are being asked to stay indoors where possible, and use a face covering when in public. “For the rest of New Zealand, use a face covering when you’re close to others, like on public transport. Download and use the app,” Ardern said.

Ardern said there was no consideration to making masks mandatory, but their use is strongly encouraged in certain situations.

PM to reveal decision on election delay next week

On the question of any deferment of the election, Ardern said her focus had been on the alert level settings, and that question would be determined over the weekend. “I’ve got another 48 hours, I’m going to use it,” she said.

At this stage, the election is still scheduled for September 19. There have been calls from the opposition to delay it as a result of this outbreak.

Changes to wage subsidy, sick leave scheme

A few more details about the extension to the wage subsidy beyond the planned early September end have been provided in a statement from the finance minister, Grant Robertson. The criteria and eligibility requirements will be similar to existing criteria.

It will be available to businesses that have already finished receiving the subsidy and will cover the period that the level three restrictions are in place. It will apply nationwide, “particularly given the significance of Auckland’s economy to the wider country, and due to the impact alert level two would have on sectors like hospitality and retail”, said Robertson.

An extension to the mortgage deferral scheme has also been agreed in-principle, as has a potential change to the Covid Sick Leave Scheme. “We are very aware that those who are required to self-isolate may be concerned if they do not have any sick leave entitlements left or the business they work for is not eligible for the scheme under current settings,” said Robertson.

“We want everyone to feel confident that if they return a positive test that they will be looked after. Final details of these modifications will also be decided on Monday,” he added.

At this evening’s press conference, Robertson said consideration was given to restricting the wage subsidy to to the Auckland level three areas, but such conditions “don’t work when you start to deeply analyse them”. Difficulties around defining location of multiple-site businesses and other administrative issues meant it didn’t make sense.

Early estimates are that the wage subsidy extension will cost less than $1 billion, he said.

Watch live:

Have you checked out Policy?

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern will be revealing cabinet’s decision on any possible alert level changes in just 30 minutes time. While you wait, why don’t you sit back with your Friday evening beer and peruse Policy – The Spinoff’s concise tool for guiding you through the election.

You can read more about Policy from our editor Toby Manhire here.

Check out Policy here

5.00pm: James Shaw tests negative for Covid-19

The Green Party co-leader James Shaw does not have Covid-19, it has been revealed. He underwent a test yesterday after displaying flu-like symptoms following a trip to South Auckland.

“While the test was precautionary, it’s important that we all take any symptoms seriously and undertake a test if it’s suggested by a medical professional,” Shaw said in a statement.

“I also want to thank the people I have been with this week for their patience whilst we waited for this result to come back. From what I understand everyone followed the health advice, which was exactly the right thing to do.”

2.25pm: Our latest Covid-19 testing data

Here’s a look at the latest Covid-19 testing data in New Zealand. Earlier today, the health minister said 26,000 tests have been processed over the past two days and there has been no evidence of a positive Covid-19 case outside of Auckland that is not connected to the existing cluster.

This chart is thanks to our data guru Chris McDowall.

1.50pm: Auckland school named as having link to Covid case says it hadn’t been informed

Pakuranga College, named by Ashley Bloomfield during the 1pm media briefing as one of the Auckland schools closed due to a link to a confirmed Covid-19 case, says it was the first it had heard of it. The school posted the below Facebook update in response to the announcement.

The press conference was still running as the Facebook post spread, and reporters asked Bloomfield and health minister Chris Hipkins about it.

“No, they should have been notified,” said Hipkins. “I’ll double check that.”

Bloomfield added, “That’s what I have in my notes but we’ll go back and check. I can remember from at least a day ago seeing Pakuranga College appear, and so I’m just going by the notes.”

1.00pm: 13 new community cases of Covid-19

Updated

There are 12 new confirmed cases in the community, Ashley Bloomfield has revealed, with one probable case. Two of these cases are in Tokoroa.

Twelve of the new cases, including the two in Tokoroa, have known links to the Auckland cluster. However, Bloomfield said the 13th case currently has no known links, but it is being investigated. This person is in hospital.

The two Covid-positive people in Tokoroa are from the same household, and are contacts of the two people from Auckland who visited a rest home in Morrinsville.

Other household contacts of the Tokoroa pair have tested negative and close contact tracing has been under way with wider whānau members. A “bespoke” quarantine arrangement is being organised. The new Auckland-based cases will be transferred to a quarantine facility there.

On the subject of “forced” quarantine for new confirmed cases, Bloomfield said there was room for flexibility as long as the relevant medical officer of health was happy with the arrangement. “The final directive I’ve signed and sent out to medical officers of health isn’t saying that people have to be sent to the Jet Park in Auckland.” He said, for example, the Ministry of Health had been working with local iwi and the DHB to find a suitable arrangement for the family in Tokoroa.

The new cases brings the confirmed total 1,251, 48 of which are active, and 30 of which are linked to the cluster. As of this morning, 771 close contacts of the cluster had been identified, 514 of whom had been contacted.

“The problem is the virus, people are the solution,” Bloomfield reiterated in this afternoon’s press conference. “There is no blame or stigma in anyone having Covid-19 and we should treat each as other as we would like to be treated.” Bloomfield said this message follows reports healthcare workers have been verbally and even physically abused, which he called “unacceptable”.

Addressing claims that people have been stockpiling medicines, Bloomfield reminded the public not to panic. “Pharmacies are an essential service so will remain open,” he said.

Mt Albert Grammar and Pakuranga College are now closed, as are two other schools and a preschool after confirmed cases were linked to them, Bloomfield confirmed. Auckland Regional Public Health is tracing close contacts at the two new schools and the preschools. The two primary schools, as previously reported, are Glamorgan School in Torbay and Southern Cross Campus in Māngere, while the preschool is Taeaofou Puaseisei Preschool in Māngere East.

‘We’re not out of the woods yet’ – Hipkins

Chris Hipkins said more than a million people have now downloaded the government’s Covid tracer app. Over the the past 48 hours, 26,000 tests have been processed and there has been no evidence of a positive Covid-19 case outside of Auckland that is not connected to the cluster. “We’re not out of the woods yet,” Hipkins added. “Continuing our plan to rapidly contact trace and test over the net couple of days remains our number one priority.”

Cabinet will be meeting later this afternoon to discuss a possible change in alert levels. The prime minister will reveal the outcome to the nation at 5.30pm. When questioned on what health advice he will be providing the government, Bloomfield wouldn’t reveal it. “The health advice will go the minister [of health] and then be shared with the prime minister.” Hipkins said he won’t receive the advice until 3pm, and “will make appropriate announcements later this evening”.

Hipkins urged people in Auckland who are well not to get tested. “We need these tests to be available to the people the Ministry of Health has identified as a priority,” he said, mentioning those with links to Ports of Auckland, Americold and Finance Now.

Testing has ramped up at the borders and is now compulsory, Hipkins added. All people-facing border workers are expected to have been tested by the end of the day. “Compulsory testing is quite a big lever to pull,” he said, when questioned why this had not been done sooner.

“There are over 280 staff who work on the frontline of the border at Auckland International Airport,” said Hipkins. Most of them have been tested so far and the remaining will be done over today and tomorrow, he said.

Hipkins said 100 of the 141 Customs staff who work at the airport had been tested by last night, as had 75% of the 50 MPI staff working at the border. All Immigration staff who have worked at the border over the past 72 hours staff have been tested. On-site testing at Ports of Auckland tested 500 people and testing continues today. Hipkins said 1,435 of the 2,459 people who work in managed isolation or quarantine have been tested in last 48 hours.

On masks, Hipkins said 1.6 million were sent out at 4.30am this morning to 125 social sector groups in Auckland, and a further 1.4 million will be distributed. Hipkins said the risk in the Waikato remained low as the cases are linked to the Auckland cluster.

12.55pm: Latest Covid-19 case information to be revealed

Health minister Chris Hipkins and director general of health Ashley Bloomfield are about to reveal the latest Covid-19 case information at 1pm.

Today, it’s been revealed there is at least one confirmed case in Tokoroa, and two additional confirmed cases linked to an Auckland coolstore.

Watch below

12.50pm: Some election advertising may be delayed due to Covid-19

Political candidates and parties are being advised they may not be able to advertise on radio and television from Sunday, as planned. The dissolution of parliament was delayed earlier this week, due to the return of Covid-19.

In a statement, the electoral commission said this delay may impact the schedule for political advertising.

“If the writ is delayed you will need to cancel tv and radio advertising bookings scheduled until the writ is issued. We would advise you await confirmation of the dates.

“Radio and TV ‘election programmes’ are only allowed to be broadcast in the ‘election period’ from writ day to the day before the election, in accordance with Part 6 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. As soon as the writ for the election is issued party and candidate advertising can commence on TV and radio.”

12.30pm: Two new Auckland Covid cases – reports

There are reports of two new cases of Covid-19 at an Auckland coolstore that has been part of the existing South Auckland cluster.

The Americold coolstore is now linked to 13 cases, while the Auckland cluster itself grows to 19.

The director general of health Ashley Bloomfield will be updating today’s case numbers at 1pm. Earlier today, the health minister confirmed there are new community cases to report today.

10.55am: Tokoroa records first Covid case – mayor

Updated

It’s now believed Covid-19 has made it to the Waikato, with reports of at least one confirmed case in Tokoroa.

In a post on Facebook, South Waikato mayor Jenny Shattock confirmed there was one Covid-19 case in the town. She told Stuff her council was advised at around 5.30pm on Thursday following a staff member potentially being linked with a known Auckland case.

“We were notified last night by the regional Civil Defence controller who had a phone call from the Ministry of Health,” she said.

Stuff is also claiming that two staff members at Tokoroa Medical Centre have gone into self-isolation as a result of the new case.

The Spinoff has approached the South Waikato council for confirmation but was informed the mayor and councillors were in a meeting.

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield will be providing today’s 1pm media briefing, ahead of the prime minister’s address at 5.30pm.

10.45am: Restaurant Association want takeaways at level four

The Restaurant Association is calling for level three-style contactless takeaways and delivery to be allowed should we have to move to alert level four at any point.

Under level four, there is a blanket ban on hospitality operations, which meant that during the last lockdown, 98% of the industry group’s members had no ability to generate revenue, according to a press release from the association.

“Delivery options continue to be made available to other businesses such as online retail and supermarkets,” said Restaurant Association CEO Marisa Bidois. “Our industry has already proven it can operate a safe contactless service at level three, so we see no reason why these couldn’t be extended to level four.” A survey of Restaurant Association members conducted yesterday found just over 50% would support the change, and 14% would need more information before making a call. The association is also calling for additional fiscal relief from the government.

Since the last lockdown, 50 member businesses have closed, with close to 1,000 job losses, and the end of the wage subsidy is anticipated to bring more closures.

9.30am: A map of the Auckland Covid-19 community outbreak

Health minister Chris Hipkins has confirmed new cases of Covid-19 in the community will be confirmed at today’s 1pm press briefing. However, in the meantime, The Spinoff’s compiled a list of locations connected to the confirmed Auckland cases of community transmission.

Schools, workplaces, and shops connected to the new Auckland Covid-19 cases (Image : Chris McDowall)

9.15am: How schools and students are coping with a return to lockdown

Despite the health minister claiming a shift to level four is not currently “in the frame”, it’s still possible Auckland will at least stay in alert level three after midnight tonight.

The Spinoff’s Alice Webb-Liddall has written about how Auckland students and teachers are coping with the second move into level three.

Here’s an extract:

Last time the country went into level three lockdown, on March 24, schools had less than a day to prepare themselves, get plans in place for remote learning, and help students adjust to the new normal. This time, Auckland was brought into lockdown on Wednesday at midday, just over 14 hours after it was announced that four cases of community transmission had been detected in South Auckland. The rest of the country went into level two, meaning schools stayed open, but all around the country plans are being made in case alert level three, or even four, restrictions are put back in place.

Auckland high schools had been in the midst of preparations for the upcoming exam season. On Wednesday, they needed to re-employ the tactics they’d grown familiar with over the first lockdown. While most had been braced for another outbreak, and thus another lockdown, principal Claire Amos of Albany Senior High School says news of the return to remote learning still came as a surprise.

“Luckily amongst our senior leadership team we’d already started having those conversations in the last couple of weeks, saying we needed to have another plan and just make sure we were ready. Whilst we hadn’t necessarily produced that plan, our thinking was there so we were well-positioned,” Amos says.

Read the full article here

8.25am: Level four not ‘in the frame’ yet – health minister

Updated

Chris Hipkins has suggested a move to alert level four isn’t currently on the cards. Appearing on Newstalk ZB, the health minister said there still appears to be just one cluster of Covid-19 cases in the community.

“You would need to see a number of different clusters and a number of different isolated cases before you make a decision along those lines. There is nothing like that in the frame at this point,” he said.

Hipkins confirmed there are more positive cases of Covid-19 today, but said these are all linked to the existing South Auckland cluster. The details, Hipkins said, will be revealed in today’s 1pm health briefing. He would not reveal whether any of the new cases are from outside the Auckland region.

When questioned on Winston Peters’ appearance on Australian media, in which he claimed the outbreak was due to a quarantine breach, Hipkins said that had not come from any official sources. He said cabinet are meeting today and Peters’ claim will likely be discussed then.

Hipkins said there is no evidence so far that people would refuse testing due to the prospect of mandatory quarantining for positive cases. “Mandatory quarantining is a very sensible precautionary step,” he said.

Meet the cast of Youth Wings

The Spinoff’s new six-part documentary series Youth Wings goes behind the O Week stalls to get to know some of the youngest and most passionate members of New Zealand’s main political parties.

It may be hard to imagine, but every single member of New Zealand’s parliament was once young. And when they were young, many of them would have got their first taste of politics by joining a party’s youth wing.

You’ve probably seen youth wings out doorknocking or waving hoardings at busy intersections during election campaigns. You might know them from uni, the ones wielding clipboards and passionately debating policy in the quad during O Week. Now it’s time to meet six representatives of different New Zealand youth wings and find out what it is about politics – and their party in particular – that inspired them to get involved.

Youth Wings premieres on Monday 17th August 11am. Episodes will be released daily on The Spinoff as well as The Spinoff YouTube, Facebook and Instagram channels. Made with the support of NZ On Air.

Watch the trailer here:

8.00am: Goff thinks Auckland will stay in lockdown

Auckland’s mayor Phil Goff has cast doubt on Auckland moving out of alert level three tonight. At this stage, the level three restrictions are only in place until midnight. The prime minister will be advising on next steps at a 5.30pm press conference from the Beehive.

Appearing on RNZ this morning, Goff said he doesn’t think our response to Covid-19 has been “perfect”, but said it has been “good” and “world-leading.”

He said that it was almost inevitable, despite our health response, that Covid-19 would return: “It is such a rampant virus internationally and with people returning home to New Zealand we had to be ready for this.”

Goff said he was expecting Auckland to stay in level three after tonight. “You don’t lift it prematurely because you sometimes lose what otherwise you might have gained,” he said. Health outcomes need to be prioritised over the economy, Goff said, because if we get bad health outcomes that would also be bad for the economy.

“Let’s get on top of the Covid and then get on top of the need for economic recovery.

“It’d be madness to have a rugby game [at Eden Park on Sunday].”

7.30am: National’s health spokesperson trusts Ashley Bloomfield

Updated

National’s health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti has told TVNZ this morning he does have confidence in health officials and Dr Ashley Bloomfield. That’s despite questions raised by his party’s leader Judith Collins and deputy Gerry Brownlee. Over the past week, including at an extraordinary press conference earlier this week, Brownlee implied there was collusion between Jacinda Ardern and Bloomfield regarding the timing of community transmission. Brownlee thought “it was interesting” that people were being asked to buy face masks in the same week Covid-19 returned to the public.

Appearing on Breakfast this morning, Shane Reti said if he becomes health minister after the next election, he would have confidence in Bloomfield.

“I would have confidence in health officials… at some level we have to have trust.”

However, on RNZ this morning, Reti said he backs the leadership team and the statements they have made. “From time to time, we will decide where we need to raise the bar and where we can be genuinely supportive.”

“I think they’re [the government] are doing the best job they can… there’s no particular information I am waiting on.”

He said it’s impossible to know if the government aren’t being forthright, but at this stage he has got all the information he needs from the health minister Chris Hipkins.

Reti said he’s met with Hipkins since the move to alert level three, and the pair had a very “productive meeting”. He said the opposition need to be able to work with the government collaboratively. “We’re working with the government to get the best result we possibly can,” he said.

7.15am: It’s decision day – will Auckland stay in lockdown?

As discussed below in today’s edition of The Bulletin, Aucklanders will today know whether they are to stay in lockdown – and the rest of the country will know if they’re to remain in alert level two.

Cabinet will be convening at 3pm today, following Ashley Bloomfield’s 1pm press conference. At 5.30pm, the prime minister will reveal the next steps. At this stage, Auckland’s alert level three is set to expire at midnight tonight.

The latest case information:

Yesterday, 13 new cases of community transmission were confirmed in Auckland. All, however, were linked to the original four cases in South Auckland, that were detected on Tuesday. In total: the Auckland cluster is currently made up of 17 people.

Last night, it was confirmed a child who attends Glamorgan Primary School on Auckland’s North Shore has tested positive for Covid-19. A letter from the Auckland Regional Public Health Service to parents and staff at the Torbay school, seen by The Spinoff, advises that the student was last at school on Tuesday and was not symptomatic when in attendance. It is unknown at this point whether the case is one of the cluster of 17 associated with the resurgence of the virus in New Zealand.

The school will close to all staff and students, including children of essential workers, until at least Monday.

The letter advises: “ARPHS is currently working carefully with the school to identify the close contacts of the confirmed case … Please keep your child at home in self-isolation until you receive a letter from us advising what your child will need to do next. This also applies if you are a staff member.”

A student at Mt Albert Grammar and family members of a student at Mt Albert Primary have also tested positive in the new outbreak.

The Herald is meanwhile reporting that another of the positive cases is a Manukau Institute of Technology student.

Here’s what happened over the first 24-hours of lockdown 2.0

7.10am: Top stories from The Bulletin

At this stage, the 1pm briefing will be conducted by Dr Ashley Bloomfield alone. He will update case and testing numbers, and give a lot of the other sort of health information that would normally happen. Without pre-empting what gets said, some crucial bits of information to watch out for will be whether there are cases of community transmission outside of the existing cluster, and whether new cases have appeared outside of the Auckland region. As of yesterday’s briefing, the ministry was still yet to identify the ‘index’ (source) case for this particular cluster, so that too will be relevant.

Following that update, cabinet will convene in a combination of in-person and over zoom, and discuss the information. Their decisions could go in a number of different directions. For example, other regions could be moved into level three if cases are identified, or the country as a whole could move up a level. Or the existing levels could be extended for a certain period of time. Or the levels could be relaxed if it looks like it really is all under control – we just don’t know. Those decisions will be announced at a press conference fronted by the PM at 5.30.

Could a full-blown level four lockdown happen? It exists as an option that can be used if necessary, but at this stage seems unlikely. That’s based on comments from finance minister Grant Robertson, who last night told Three show The Project “we’ve got no plans to go to level 4 at this stage. As long as everyone does the right thing in Auckland, at level 3 and around the rest of the country in level 2, then we should be able to get on top of this outbreak.” Either way – and I say this with absolutely no inside knowledge of what will happen – it can’t hurt to mentally prepare yourself for the possibility of longer restrictions. We’ll keep you posted across the day through our live updates.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.00am: Yesterday’s key stories

Thirteen new community cases were reported, all connected to the existing cluster. One new case was reported in managed isolation.

Eleven of the confirmed cases are linked to one site, the Americold coolstore in the Auckland suburb of Mount Wellington, and one is a student at Mt Albert Grammar School.

One of the original four Covid cases visited a Waikato aged care facility, Ashley Bloomfield said, and the family who travelled to Rotorua also went on Taupō boat trip.

Bloomfield said the virus could have been circulating in the Auckland community “for some weeks”.

Deputy prime minister Winston Peters claimed the new outbreak was due to a “breach inside our quarantine system”, and that he’d learned the news from a journalist he declined to name.

Earlier, he lashed out at National leader Judith Collins, telling her to stop “undermining democracy” with her comments about the pre-election period.

A Newshub report revealed that two-thirds of Auckland staff in border, quarantine and managed isolation roles had never been tested prior to the new outbreak.

Several New Zealand nationals recently deported from Australia have been left homeless after completing their 14 days’ mandatory isolation, Stuff reported.

Read more:




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