Election Live, September 14: Alert level set to drop, but Aucklanders will have to wait

Welcome to The Spinoff’s Election Live for September 14, bringing you the latest on election 2020 and other NZ news. The essential campaign dates are here. For all you need to know about the cannabis referendum click here. For the assisted dying referendum click here. Explore the parties’ pledges at Policy. I’m on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

The day in sum

New Zealand will move down to level one at 11.59pm on Monday, September 21.

Auckland, however, will remain at its current level, with the Mount Roskill Evangelical Church sub-cluster being cited as a “trouble spot” by Jacinda Ardern.

One new community case of Covid-19 was announced, linked to the Botany sub-cluster. They had been in isolation since August 30 due to being a household contact of a confirmed case.

National unveiled a $1.9b education package which would include a $480 million investment in learning support, and $150 million to increase the number of teacher aides.

“Māori Language Moment” kicked off language week with a nationwide virtual event which saw more than a million New Zealanders pause and celebrate the Māori language.

8.10pm: Netflix adds warning to doco for Christchurch terrorist footage

A warning has been added to new Netflix documentary-drama The Social Dilemma for featuring a banned excerpt from the video filmed by the Christchurch terrorist. This was after a member of the public made a complaint to chief censor David Shanks who subsequently asked Netflix to add a warning and raise the age advice from 7+ to 13+.

For more on this story, you can read our piece here.

8pm: North Shore gym-goer worked at quarantine facility

The person who attended three classes at Les Mills Takapuna before testing positive for Covid-19 is a healthcare worker at Jet Park Hotel quarantine facility, RNZ reports.

The Ministry of Health says it’s likely the worker contracted the virus from the quarantine facility, but exactly how is still being investigated.

Anyone who attended the same Les Mills Takapuna classes as the person with Covid-19 is considered to be a close contact and are being urged to self isolate and get tested.

Currently, 89 people have been identified as close contacts.

5.30pm: Māori Language Moment celebrated by more than one million

Māori Language Moment, which took place today at 12pm, saw more than a million New Zealanders take part in “the largest, single celebration of te reo Māori in history”, according to the Māori Language Commission.

The commission’s Māori Language Moment marked the day and hour when a small group of language champions presented the Māori Language Petition to parliament in 1972. The sign-up website saw more than 500,000 people join in the last three days. The last hour before 12pm saw the commission’s websites and online Zoom meeting struggle to cope.

“Our virtual whare struggled to cope as more than a million language champions arrived to celebrate te reo with us. But we found room and everyone was with us as we celebrated the Māori language, together,” said commission chief executive Ngahiwi Apanui.

“There are people still logging on to let us know they took part: because the site was unable to record them when they tried to sign up earlier in the day.”

The Māori Language Moment website will remain in place for those who were unable to sign up before 12pm to record their moment. So far one million people have recorded their Maōri Language Moment.

3.45pm: The National Party’s 2020 ad, remixed

I don’t really have words to describe this video by José Barbosa, but I know I feel very at peace with the relentlessness of election season.

Join the opposition for a soothing meditation and stay grounded this election cycle

3.15pm: Opposition unhappy with level two extension

The opposition has done what the opposition does best, and hit out at the government’s extension of alert level two restrictions for another week.

As explained in the 1pm update below, the country – except Auckland – will drop back to alert level one at 11.59pm next Monday night, if Covid-19 remains contained. Auckland, meanwhile, will stay in level two until at least Wednesday, September 23.

National’s Judith Collins said the latest extension is unfair on those in the South Island. “Why is the South Island still at level two when there hasn’t been a case recorded there since the end of May?” Collins questioned in a press statement.

South Islanders, Collins said, have “had enough” of continued restrictions.

Act Party leader David Seymour agreed, saying the government has failed at its Covid-19 response.

“The government says it has done a great job, and we must stay locked down. They cannot have it both ways. Either the government has failed, or the restrictions can be lifted,” Seymour said.

“Six months into this epidemic, the only tool the government has is lockdowns. This approach is not sustainable.”

3.00pm: National unveils $1.9b education package

A National government would devote almost $2 billion toward education over a four year period, Judith Collins has announced.

The education package, announced in Christchurch, includes a $480 million investment in learning support, and $150 million to increase the number of teacher aides.

National would also give back schools the power to create their own zoning areas, reversing the government’s decision late last year to give over zoning power to an independent agency.

“We want all children to go on to achieve great things. With the right education we can overcome the challenges some children face purely because of the situation they were born into,” Collins said in a statement.


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2.40pm: Shaw promotes rail electrification during Ōtaki campaign stop

James Shaw fights truck traffic to talk rail – The Bulletin’s Alex Braae reports from Ōtaki

Green party co-leader James Shaw has had a lot of fights around road vs rail over this term, but today had to put up with an even more literal version.

He was in Ōtaki with local candidate Bernard Long to talk about the importance of improving and electrifying commuter rail services between Wellington and Palmerston North, a “top priority” for the Greens if the party makes it back into government.

However, the speech was repeatedly interrupted by massive earthworks trucks rolling past, working on the construction of a major new road on the other side of the train tracks. “There’s a certain irony there, isn’t there?” he joked.

At one point, Shaw had to pause for about half a minute before answering a question about current polling. On the road construction taking place while the rail upgrades weren’t, Shaw conceded that a lot of locals were looking forward to the work on that road finishing, and that his party would continue pushing to give commuters more options.

Improving commuter rail services is proving to be a popular policy in the Ōtaki electorate, with National’s candidate Tim Costley also promising to push the policy if he wins the seat. Shaw described this as a “rail to Damascus conversion”, and said it would “really make a difference” to making it happen.

He said with Labour not necessarily on board yet, his call was for more party votes to give the Greens a stronger hand in negotiations.  Among the specific pledges, Shaw said he wanted the electrification of the line north of Waikanae to proceed in the next term. The party intends to launch a nationwide transport package in two weeks.

2.30pm: Audit of wage subsidy scheme announced

The Auditor-General has announced an investigation into how the government’s wage subsidy scheme was managed, including how payments were made.

The audit will look at how the scheme was managed by different departments, such as the Ministry of Social Development and MBIE.

“Our work will provide the public and parliament with an independent view on how well the [wage subsidy] scheme has been managed. We expect to identify the challenges in operating high-trust models and lessons for decision makers,” a note on the Auditor-General’s website said.

It’s expected the results of the audit will be released in 2021.

1.00pm: NZ – except Auckland – set to drop alert levels in a week

Updated

New Zealand is set to shift out of alert level two in a week’s time, Jacinda Ardern has announced. However, Aucklanders will have to wait a little longer.

The country – except Auckland – will move down to level one at 11.59pm on Monday, September 21, contingent on any new Covid-19 cases appearing between now and then. The move will be confirmed on Monday when Cabinet meets again.

Meanwhile, Cabinet will be reviewing the current restrictions in Auckland next Monday, however there is no commitment to loosen restrictions at the same time as the rest of the country.

Ardern said the earliest Auckland could join the rest of the country in level one would be Wednesday, September 23 depending on how the existing cluster is contained.

The delay in shifting down from alert level two is being linked to the Mount Roskill Evangelical Church sub-cluster, which Ardern called a “trouble spot”.

New Zealand has taken a cautious response since the start of Covid-19’s emergence, Ardern said. The move into alert level one will take place when there is a lower risk of bouncing back up alert levels.

Jacinda Ardern has made the announcement in Dunedin, where she is on the campaign trail, flanked by her former health minister David Clark.

Defending the decision to keep our current alert levels for another week, Ardern said: “modelling done for the Ministry of Health continues to suggest around a 25% chance of cases moving outside of the Auckland region.”

On the Jet Park quarantine worker who has tested positive for Covid-19 (see 12.30pm update), Ardern said, “Everything around the management of this case is as we would expect – we’ve picked it up through our testing regime, the close contacts and contacts of contacts have been tested, people who need to be in isolation are in isolation.”

The last time cabinet made a decision to move down from level two to level one, New Zealand had spent 26 days at level two, Ardern said. There had also been 17 days without any new cases of Covid-19 in the country.

Physical distancing requirements loosened

An easing of physical distancing requirements on planes and public transport has also been announced, effective from today.

There will be no seating restrictions or passenger capacity limits, but mask use will continue to be compulsory.

“I know this change will make a real difference to Air New Zealand and those parts of the country seeking increased numbers of visitors, and the change made demonstrates the willingness on the government’s behalf to constantly review our settings, with everyone’s health at the top of our minds,” Ardern said.

Winston Peters ‘agrees to disagree’ on cabinet alert level decision

Even as Jacinda Ardern is making her opening statement, NZ First has issued a press statement saying it invoked the “agree to disagree” provisions over the latest alert level decision.

While the party supported the extension for Auckland, Winston Peters said that they wanted the rest of New Zealand to move immediately to level one. “Despite modelling suggesting a small risk of undetected cases outside Auckland, no evidence has yet emerged that this risk has been realised,” he said.

“Travelling around the South Island has reinforced that people are not observing social distancing in the absence of any registered or real threat of Covid-19 exposure since late April. Not because they are against the Government’s Covid-19 response, but because they have applied their own ‘common sense’ test to their risk of exposure to the virus.”

He added: “People are also asking me how it is fair for the election campaign to be conducted under the alert level restrictions and some feel, as we do, that there is not an even playing field for respective campaigns under these conditions.”

Asked about NZ First’s call, Ardern said, “We do have inter-regional travel, we do have people coming into the South Island. The modelling suggests there still is a 25% chance that cases could emerge outside Auckland. I want to make sure we’re keeping everyone in the South Island safe because level two restrictions are a better way of managing outbreaks than having to have level three restrictions because we didn’t.”

12.50pm: Watch – Jacinda Ardern to announce decision on alert levels

The prime minister will be fronting today’s post-cabinet press conference from Dunedin at 1pm, well away from the comfort of the Beehive theatrette and without Ashley Bloomfield.

Jacinda Ardern’s on the campaign trail in the South Island today.

Cabinet’s decision on alert levels will take into account the latest Covid-19 health data, including the one new case announced today, linked to the Auckland community (see below).

The decision also follows news that 89 people have been identified as close contacts of a person who attended a North Shore gym before they tested positive for Covid-19.

It’s been two weeks since Auckland entered “alert level 2.5”, joining the rest of the country that had been in level two since Covid-19 re-emerged in early August.

We’ll have all the details here from 1pm.

Watch live:

12.30pm: One new case of Covid-19, linked to community

There is just one new case of Covid-19 today, the Ministry of Health has revealed, ahead of the decision about whether or not the country will shift out of alert level two.

Jacinda Ardern will be speaking at 1pm today from Dunedin to announce any changes to our alert level system, or if restrictions will remain in place.

The new case is a female child associated with the Botany sub-cluster which has been genomically linked to the wider Auckland cluster. They are epidemiologically linked to an existing case associated within the Botany sub-cluster.

The child has been in isolation since August 30 due to being a household contact of a confirmed case, the ministry said.

Healthcare worker genomically linked to quarantine cases

The healthcare worker from the Auckland quarantine facility who was reported yesterday as having Covid-19 has now been genomically linked to three cases that have been in the quarantine facility. All are linked to the Auckland cluster.

The ministry said this reinforces that exposure at the Jet Park hotel remains the most likely route of transmission, but an investigation into how they caught the virus remains ongoing.

The healthcare worker has five household contacts, and all have returned a negative test result. As close contacts they will remain in self-isolation for the full 14-day period and will be retested twice.

Nine staff from the quarantine facility have also been identified as close contacts, tested, and all have returned a negative result. They will also remain in self-isolation for the full 14-day period and be retested, the ministry said.

A deep clean of staff areas in the facility was completed yesterday.

Just 3500 tests processed yesterday

Only 3573 Covid-19 tests were processed yesterday, the Ministry said, well short of the previous target of 10,000 tests per day.

There are 53 people linked to the community cluster who remain in the Auckland quarantine facility, which includes 29 people who have tested positive for Covid-19 and their household contacts.

Since August 11, contact tracing has identified 3,708 close contacts of cases, of which 3,697 have been contacted and are self-isolating.

Today there are three people in hospital with Covid-19 – one is in isolation on a ward in Auckland City Hospital, while two are in ICU, at North Shore and Waikato hospitals.

The total number of active cases is now 96, with 39 imported cases and 57 linked to the community.

The country’s total number of confirmed cases has now risen to 1,447.

12.00pm: ‘Māori Language Moment’ kicks off language week

A nationwide virtual event is happening right now to help launch Te Wiki o te Reo Māori. As of this morning, over 800,000 New Zealanders had signed up for the first Māori Language Moment – where all Kiwis were encouraged to pause and celebrate the language in their own way. It’s hoped one million people will be participating.

More information can be found here.

11.45am: New surveys show Ardern’s Covid-19 leadership still strong

Jacinda Ardern’s Covid-19 leadership remains popular, according to a trio of new surveys released over the past few days.

According to latest Wilberforce Foundation survey of 1000 people, taken in early August, 73% indicated the prime minister “inspired their confidence”, while 61% felt the same way about our health officials.

The prime minister has bounced up 1% from the same survey in April, which was released during the height of the pandemic.

These results largely mirror a Deloitte and Chapman Tripp election survey released on Friday, which showed 71% of those questioned said the government has done a good or excellent job of handling the Covid-19 outbreak. Similarly, a new Horizon Research revealed that Jacinda Ardern made nearly twice as many feel hopeful as her National counterpart Judith Collins.

Meanwhile, the Wilberforce survey also showed that 87% of New Zealanders believe Covid-19 will significantly shape the children of today as a result of more education delivered online, more flexible working conditions and a heightened desire to travel and to see the world.

Nearly three out of four New Zealanders think the pandemic will also have a negative impact on the mental health of younger people.

Read more on all the new survey results here

10.20am: Māori Party unveil plan to see NZ become Aotearoa

The Māori Party’s unveiled a policy this morning that would see New Zealand’s name changed to Aotearoa by 2026.

Within the same time frame, English place names, cities and towns would be replaced with their original Māori name, te reo and Māori history would become a core part of the school curriculum, and state-funded broadcasters would have to have basic fluency in the language.

The policy’s been announced on the first day of Te Wiki o te Reo Māori – Māori Language Week.

“These changes are an incredibly important step in Aotearoa’s recognition of Te Ao Māori as the indigenous peoples of this land and of Te Reo Māori being the offical language of this country,” said Māori Party Candidate for Waiariki, Rawiri Waititi.

The party would also invest $50 million into a new Māori Standards Authority which would audit all public service departments against cultural competency standards, including the monitoring and auditing of language plans.

On the campaign trail

Here’s where our political leaders are today

  • Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern is in Dunedin today, where she’ll be holding the post-cabinet press conference and making an announcement on our Covid-19 alert levels. Then, she’ll be touring Hillside Engineering and speaking at the Otago Southland Employers Association.
  • National Party leader Judith Collins is in Christchurch for an education policy announcement.
  • New Zealand First leader Winston Peters is driving his massive campaign bus head first into Wairoa.
  • Act Party leader David Seymour is onboard his campaign bus/minivan today, on the road between Hamilton and New Plymouth.
  • Greens co-leader Marama Davidson is in Auckland today, hosting the party’s Te Wā Tuku Reo Māori at midday live on Facebook, joined by James Shaw and others.

7.45am: It’s decision day – will we leave alert level two?

Updated

Cabinet is meeting this morning to decide whether we are ready to return to a world with minimal restrictions, and leave alert level two from 11.59pm on Wednesday night.

Jacinda Ardern will be making the announcement from Dunedin, where she’s on the campaign trail, at 1pm.

Previously, Ardern has laid out the eight criteria that are used to help inform whether or not to shift alert levels.

There are currently 97 cases active in New Zealand, with 58 linked to the Auckland community.

Yesterday, it was revealed a person who subsequently tested positive for Covid-19 took part in classes at Les Mills in Takapuna as well as visiting various North Shore retailers.

Otago University infectious diseases expert David Murdoch told Newstalk ZB a shift down the alert levels seems unlikely.

“It’s quite a complex process,” Murdoch said. The Government would want to have confidence there were no loose ends. However, he said that the “counter-argument” is the fact that the South Island also remains in alert level two, despite no confirmed Covid-19 cases south of Tokoroa.

Similarly, public health professor Nick Wilson said he doesn’t expect Auckland to leave level two this week.

“I think it would be pretty important to see a run of zero days and I think we’re not really making proper use of masks in Auckland,” he told RNZ.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

The weekend saw an interesting event in the cultural history of this country: The government had a clear opportunity to try and create a good news story around rugby, and chose not to do it. That’s one conclusion that can be drawn from a remarkable stoush that erupted over New Zealand’s inability to host the Rugby Championship this year, largely because of the country’s Covid restrictions.

Who was to blame for the failure to win the bid to host the tournament? The PM blamed “Sanzaar (the tournament organisers) politics” for it not going ahead here – Sanzaar CEO Andy Marinos wholly rejected that, reports the NZ Herald. NZ Rugby CEO Mark Robinson backed that view up, expressing huge disappointment that it didn’t go their way, saying hosting the games “was something that was dear to us all.”

Columnists close to the rugby community absolutely piled into the maul, with columnist Gregor Paul unleashing on the “self-destructive” government, which he said had a” near irrational and self-destructive refusal to accept that compromise is not weakness.” Paul Lewis asserted that it was a political failure, saying “making it easy for the Rugby Championship to be held here would surely have been a sound, pre-election gambit that some kind of return to “normal” is possible in time; a political bone thrown to a largely sports-mad nation.” Richard Knowler’s take was a bit more nuanced, describing it most of all as a win for Australia, who will now get to host the tournament. Newstalk ZB host Martin Devlin spent the weekend talking about how it showed a lack of courage and can-do attitude.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.00am: Yesterday’s headlines

There were two new cases of Covid-19 reported, including a health worker at the Jet Park hotel quarantine facility in Auckland.

The decision on alert level status crept closer, with Jacinda Ardern expected to announce what change, if any, on Monday at 1pm in Dunedin.

The writ was signed by the governor general, signalling, among other things, the arrival of election ads on radio and TV.

Two Waitematā District Health Board staff members were revealed to have contracted Covid-19.

Read yesterday’s updates in full here.



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