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PoliticsAugust 15, 2020

Live updates, August 15: Seven new Covid-19 cases in the community

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Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for August 15, 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. Contact us at

7pm: The day in sum

Seven new cases of Covid-19 in the community were announced. Six of the new cases are linked to the existing Auckland cluster and one remains under investigation.

There are now 56 active cases – 37 in the community and 19 at the border.

Testing of surfaces at the Americold cool store in Mt Wellington is being processed to establish if the virus could’ve been imported via freight.

The Cook Islands has closed its border to incoming flights.  The move came as an Auckland-based Cook Islands GP and former Cook Islands PM, Dr Joe Williams, tested positive.

Jetstar will suspend all New Zealand flights from midnight Tuesday until at least August 26.

Home Learning TV – Papa Kāinga TV will be back on screens, according to the Ministry of Education and TVNZ.

4.30pm: Positive case linked to Ōtāhuhu Primary

Auckland’s Ōtāhuhu Primary has confirmed that a person with Covid-19 had attended the school. It did not say whether the person was a student or staff member, but that anyone considered a close contact would be contacted today.

“If your child wasn’t in the classroom at the same time, you won’t be contacted – your child doesn’t need to be tested and be in self-isolation. If we contact you we will let you know what the next steps are.”

An Auckland Regional Public Health Service spokeswoman said the person linked to the school was among the 21 new cases announced since Friday.

4.10pm: Covid case visited Tūroa skifield

A member of the Auckland Covid-19 cluster is reported to have visited Tūroa skifield last weekend, according to Stuff.

Skifield operator RAL said that the Whanganui DHB advised the company on Friday. Two RAL staff were tested for Covid-19 with both tests coming back negative.

RAL said the person also visited the Whakapapa Ski Area that same weekend, but was considered pre-symptomatic and unlikely to be infectious at that time.

2.30pm: Today’s Covid-19 data, visualised

Chris McDowall has whipped up the following graphs and charts from today’s Covid-19 data. There are now 56 active cases, 37 of which are in the community. Yesterday saw a huge 23,846 tests processed.

2.10pm: Fire alarm at Jet Park, mixing of positive and negative cases – report

There are reports of those staying in the quarantine facility at Jet Park in Auckland being forced to evacuate due to a fire alarm, with Covid-positive and negative people mixing as they gather outside.

TVNZ reporter Anna Burns-Francis has made the claim via tweet, saying staff at the facility are telling people to delete videos and photos from their phones.

Asked about it by a reporter following the 1pm media briefing, health minister Chris Hipkins said he wasn’t aware of the situation, but would look into it. He said contingency plans were in place to deal with such incidents and asking people to delete videos and photos would not be usual practice.

1.05pm: Seven new confirmed cases

There are seven new confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the community, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield has announced.

Six of the new cases are linked to the existing Auckland cluster, and one remains under investigation. This is in addition to the case yesterday whose source is unknown. “In both cases we feel quite confident they will be linked to the cluster,” said Bloomfield.

Fifty-four people linked to the cluster have been moved into a quarantine facility, said Bloomfield, 24 of whom have tested positive. The new cases bring New Zealand’s total number of confirmed cases to 1,258, 56 of which are active – 37 in the community, and 19 cases at the border.

Bloomfield said 1,090 close contacts have been identified, 934 of whom had been contacted by 10am this morning and are in self-isolation. “We are in the process of contacting the remaining close contacts,” said Bloomfield, issuing a plea to anyone who was to return the Ministry of Health’s calls. He said 80% of close contacts being contacted within 48 hours of a positive test was a sign of effective contact tracing, and for this cluster, the number between August 6-12 was 86%.

Hipkins said he was heartened that all current cases appeared to be linked to the cluster, and that there had been no positive tests from close contacts in Tokoroa, Rotorua or Taupō.

Tokoroa cases, travellers and bullying

The two positive cases from Tokoroa are being moved to the quarantine facility in Auckland, and their close contacts were in self-isolation. All have returned negative tests. 

All staff and residents of the Morrinsville aged care facility visited by a positive Covid case had tested negative, said Bloomfield. The close contacts, including two staff, were completing 14 days of self-isolation.

Bloomfield said more than 100 requests requesting an exemption to Auckland’s border closures had been processed and 45 had been approved to date.

Regarding the two travellers who had been in New Zealand and tested positive when they arrived in Japan and Belgium, Bloomfield said contact tracing and testing of close contacts was under way. Eleven of the 13 close contacts of the Japanese traveller had been contacted and either tested negative or were awaiting results, and are in self-isolation. The single close contact of the other traveller is in self-isolation.

Bloomfield said he’d heard examples of online bullying of Covid-positive people, and condemned such behaviour. “The reports we’re seeing of pockets of anger and blame are completely unacceptable,” added minister of health Chris Hipkins. We cannot have people who are feeling unwell not going in and having a test because they’re fearful of backlash.”

Testing in community

Hipkins said 23,846 tests were completed yesterday, bringing the number since August 12 to 49,780, and to date to 548,260. “That is of course a phenomenal effort.”

The 37 cases in the cluster represent only 0.07% of all tests, suggesting a contained outbreak, he said. Some tests may take up to 48 hours to be processed through the labs, said Hipkins, so asked people to be patient as they await test results. “It’s important that only people who fit the criteria are getting those tests,” he added.

Regarding the NZ Covid Tracer app, Hipkins said registrations had doubled in the last four days, as had downloads of the QR codes for businesses, bringing the total number of users to 1,303,200, and number of QR codes on display to 186,480.

Testing of border and MIQ staff

On testing of border staff, Hipkins said the aim was for all MIQ and border staff to be tested by the end of Monday. In the last 24 hours, as of 9am this morning, 583 MIQ staff, 976 airport staff, and and 270 maritime staff had been tested.

Hipkins was asked by a reporter if he knew who was failing to do what was instructed regarding the testing of MIQ and border staff, and if they would lose their job, he said now was not the time to apportion blame. “Our sole focus at this point is responding to current outbreak and doing all the testing and contact tracing needed,” he said. “That’s what we want everyone focus on.

“Yes, it’s frustrating we weren’t getting the testing we thought was happening,” he added, “but there will be time to do that later on.”

He said the testing was a backstop, and the prevention work was more important.

In contrast to the health minister he replaced, David Clark, who refused to accept responsibility for border failures in June, Hipkins was quick to say “I absolutely accept responsibility” for the lack of testing of MIQ and border workers. “This has been a huge focus for me, every day.

“I’m not going to stop and take a whole lot of time to look backwards,” he added, “but at some future point of course we will look back, and ultimately i will fully accept responsibility for it.”

He stopped short of apologising, saying “in this regard I have shared the information I was given. I think I’ve been doing everything I possibly can to ensure the testing that expect has been happening.”

Cool store surface testing and Mt Wellington GP

Testing of surfaces at the Americold cool store in Mt Wellington, which is at the centre of the new outbreak, is being processed today, said Bloomfield, to establish if the virus could have been imported via freight. He said he’d been in touch with his counterparts in Australia about genome sequencing being done on cases from an Americold cool store in Melbourne to see if there could be a link between the two.

On Dr Joe Williams, the Mt Wellington GP and former Cook Islands prime minister currently in hospital in Auckland, Bloomfield said he had been asymptomatic while treating patients. Around 200 people who visited his practice in the two days before the outbreak began are being followed up on.

Pasifika and Māori disproportionately affected in latest cluster

Bloomfield confirmed that of the current cluster of cases, approximately 50% are Pasifika and 30% Māori. Asked about criticisms that the policy of moving community Covid cases into quarantine facilities was racist (see 8.45am update), Hipkins said he understood anxieties around it, but “everybody is being treated the same, no ethnicity should feel targeted”.

Bloomfield added that the Ministry of Health’s Pacific and Māori teams, as well as local iwi, were working closely with affected whānau.

“We’ve seen the vast majority of transmission of this virus happens within households,” said Bloomfield, “and sometimes that continues even while the family is in self-isolation, because we know it’s quite a challenging virus and no matter how hard people try, it can keep transmitting. Every time another person in the household gets infected the clock goes back to zero.”

The Jet Park quarantine facility was used to housing families in which one person was infected but not others, and allowed them to stay together but reduced the chance of the virus being passed on, he said.

Asked about rumours that a member of the index family visited someone in MIQ, Hipkins said he hadn’t heard anything about that, emphasising that social media was an unreliable source for information on these cases.

12.50pm: Hipkins and Bloomfield to update case numbers – watch live

Minister of health Chris Hipkins and director general of health Ashley Bloomfield are briefing the media on the latest Covid-19 information at 1pm. He has said a “handful” of cases will be announced.

12.45pm: Jetstar suspends all NZ flights

Jetstar will suspend all New Zealand flights from midnight Tuesday until at least August 26 in response to the heightened alert levels, reports Stuff. Jetstar flies from Auckland to Wellington, Christchurch, Queenstown and Dunedin, and between Wellington and Queenstown and Wellington and Christchurch. Customers with bookings during the affected period will be contacted directly to explain available options, which include moving their date of travel forward or a credit voucher.

Air New Zealand is operating a reduced domestic schedule in and out of Auckland to allow for essential travel, and the rest of the airline’s domestic services are operating as usual, with physical distancing in place.

12.30pm: Suzy’s back

Parents rejoice: Suzy Cato is returning to entertain (sorry, educate) your children during lockdown. The Ministry of Education and TVNZ have announced they are bringing Home Learning TV – Papa Kāinga TV – back during alert level three in Auckland and alert level two in the rest of New Zealand, reports Stuff. The channel, which made its first appearance in April during the first lockdown, when all schools were closed, will return from Wednesday morning to help children who are learning at home during the heightened alert levels. Schools in Auckland are currently open only to the children of essential workers or those who can’t learn from home. Papa Kāinga TV will take over TVNZ Duke’s daytime schedule between 9am and 1pm.

11.20am: Hipkins ‘very disappointed’ by lack of testing of MIQ staff

Health minister Chris Hipkins says he is very disappointed that not all staff in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities are being tested for Covid-19. Speaking on Newshub Nation this morning, Hipkins said he had been told all MIQ staff were being tested.

“The data I’ve received as of yesterday suggests it was only about 60%, so obviously I’m very disappointed by that. I don’t want to point the finger of blame at the moment because we’ll have time to get into all of that in due course.

“I want everybody focused full-tilt on getting things right now, and making sure that all of the testing that needs to be done is being done.”

On Thursday, Newshub revealed almost two-thirds of workers at the border and in MIQ facilities had not been tested. The prime minister responded by making testing compulsory for all such workers.

11.00am: Person who tested positive in Japan had been to Rotorua, Taupō

A person who tested positive for Covid-19 on arrival in Japan had recently visited tourist sights in Rotorua and Taupō, health authorities have said.

As a precaution, Toi Te Ora Public Health has alerted the public there is a “small possibility” they may have been exposed to this person at two places on the following dates and times:

  • Wairakei Terraces: Thursday, August 6, 6pm-7pm
  • Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland: Friday, August 7, 9am-10.15am

“If you were at one of these places at these dates and times, there is a small possibility that you may have been exposed. You should monitor yourself for symptoms of Covid-19 and if you develop any symptoms you should immediately self-isolate and arrange to get tested,” says Dr Neil de Wet, medical officer of health.

The same person had also visited a Wellington ramen restaurant on August 5, while asymptomatic. They left the country on August 8.

10.45am: ‘Handful’ of new cases to be announced, no evidence outbreak came through border – Hipkins

New Auckland cases will be announced at today’s 1pm update, says health minister Chris Hipkins. “There’s a handful of new cases that have been identified,” he told Newshub Nation. “All of the contacts and the links of course will be worked through this morning, and we’ll release the details of that.

“They do all appear to be in Auckland, they do all appear likely to be related to that cluster that we’re dealing with.”

Hipkins told the programme there was no evidence the latest outbreak came through the border. “At this point, there isn’t any evidence it’s come through the border in a person-to-person sense.”

Opposition leader Judith Collins, meanwhile, said “it’s pretty clear it has been from a border failure”.

“This is not something that was lurking in the community – it’s come in through the border in some way,” she told Newshub Nation.

10.30am: Goff issues plea to businesses amid price-gouging reports

As Auckland continues its level three lockdown for another 12 days, mayor Phil Goff has urged businesses to act responsibly. “I am concerned to hear reports of price gouging, especially for items that Aucklanders consider essential at the moment, like masks,” Goff said in a statement.

“I am asking all businesses to act with integrity and to act responsibly when it comes to pricing as Auckland remains in level three. We had similar concerns during the last lockdown and it would be unfortunate to see a repeat this time around. I appreciate businesses are operating under difficult circumstances right now and many are going above and beyond to help their customers. But if a few act irresponsibly, this can taint the many.”

10.00am: Covid-positive Auckland GP is former Cook Islands PM

The Auckland doctor currently in hospital with Covid-19 (see 7.45am update) is 82-year-old former Cook Islands prime minister Joe Williams, the Cook Islands News has reported. Dr Williams, QSO, is a highly respected medical practitioner who was born on Aitutaki and studied medicine at Otago and Hawai’i universities, reports the Cook Islands News. He worked as a doctor in the Cook Islands from 1964, before entering parliament in 1968 as a Cook Islands Party MP. He served as a member of the World Health Organisation’s executive board from 1995 to 1997, then as Cook Islands prime minister from July to November 1999.

The Cook Islands cabinet last night overruled advice from the health ministry, Te Marae Ora, that a flight due to fly from Auckland to Rarotonga this morning carrying 41 returning Cook Islands residents and visa holders should be allowed in. Air New Zealand cancelled the flight so the cabinet didn’t need to, but it announced a total closure of the border.

8.45am: New quarantine policy ‘racist and patronising’ – advisory group

The government’s new policy of moving Covid-19-positive people in the community into quarantine facilities has been criticised by Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā, the expert advisory group set up in response to the pandemic.

On Thursday, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield announced that all new cases in the community would be housed in quarantine facilities – a change from the first outbreak, when most Covid-positive people were able to isolate at home.

The latest outbreak is centred in South Auckland, and appears to have disproportionately affected Māori and Pasifika people, reports Carmen Parahi for Stuff. The co-leader of Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā, Professor Papaarangi Reid, told Parahi the new policy was punitive instead of mana-enhancing. “It’s racist on a number of levels,” said Reid. “It’s racist because it’s patronising. It’s racist on its stereotyping. It’s racist on its assumption we don’t have the skills and the decision-making power to make good decisions.”

Reid told Stuff she was concerned the policy would increase mistrust of health authorities among Māori and Pacific, people particularly as conspiracy theories start to take hold. She said Te Urutā agrees isolation of infected people is an essential component of managing the virus, but they’re asking the government to rethink its strategy of making it compulsory.

Yesterday, Bloomfield said there was room for flexibility in the new policy 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, adding that the Ministry of Health had been working with local iwi and the DHB to find a suitable arrangement for the two new cases in Tokoroa.

7.45am: Cook Islands announces total border closure; Auckland GP tests positive

The Cook Islands has closed its border to incoming flights following the Covid-19 outbreak in Auckland, reports the Herald, after a flight was set to depart from Auckland to Rarotonga this morning. Last night One News reported that the government stepped in over concerns passengers on the flight may have had contact with Covid-19, and Air New Zealand cancelled it. The move came as an Auckland-based Cook Islands GP tested positive, who has many patients in the Cook Islands community. One News reported his practice was close to the Americold cool store at the centre of the outbreak, and the Herald says one other worker at the GP practice is also believed to have tested positive.

Air New Zealand’s chief executive Officer Greg Foran told the Herald the decision was made not to carry passengers out of Auckland due to the city currently being at alert level three. “The Cook Islands has so far had no cases of Covid-19 and we want to make sure we are doing the right thing for both countries in terms of safety and wellbeing,” Foran said. “That’s why we have taken the precautionary decision not to carry passengers out of Auckland on tomorrow’s service. We are contacting affected customers directly to let them know their options.”

There is currently one flight a week to Rarotonga for returning residents and visa holders. They do not have to quarantine on arrival, but do need a negative Covid test.

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories:

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.

There were 13 new cases of Covid-19, 12 of which are linked to the existing cluster. One is still under investigation. Two of the cases are in Tokoroa, the first of the new outbreak to occur outside of Auckland.

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