Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for September 15, by Stewart Sowman-Lund. Help us keep you informed on Covid-19 – click here to learn how you can join The Spinoff Members. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
6.20pm: New poll shows David Seymour’s Act nipping at National’s heels
A very bad day for Judith Collins, which saw her former chief press secretary argue that the National Party on the precipice of collapse under its current leadership, just got worse. The Taxpayers’ Union, a free-market lobby group, has released a poll it commissioned, undertaken by Curia, the polling company that for many years has done the polling for the National Party. And it makes for grim reading.
The poll of 1,00 people, carried out from September 5 to 9, puts National at a jaw-dropping 21.3%, with Act at 14.9%. It was a “devastating” number for National, wrote Henry Cooke for Stuff. Labour is on 45.8% and the Greens at 9.6%.
In her interview today for Spinoff podcast The Fold, Janet Wilson said: “I’m seeing a huge shift to Act. I’m seeing the rise of David Seymour. I’m seeing the rise of the Act Party, as well as the diminishment of the National Party at this present point in time. And unless things change radically, nothing will halt that unless they want to make the radical changes that they have to make.”
5.40pm: Hipkins mulling shift in school holiday dates
With the school holidays scheduled to begin in just over a fortnight and Auckland potentially moving out of lockdown around the same time, there have been calls from many parents to bring the break forward, in the hope of avoiding children’s time away from school extending to nine weeks. As explored in this Newshub item, teachers think it’s a bad idea.
Among his other high profile roles, Chris Hipkins is the minister of education. Asked by Lisa Owen on RNZ about the prospect of shifting the dates, he said he was yet to make a decision. “I’m obviously getting some very strong representations. I’m also getting advice from the Ministry of Education. I can say the underlying principle here will be what is good for kids’ education.” A decision would be coming “pretty quickly”, he said. “I understand people want to have some certainty around it.”
Among the wrinkles in any decision will be whether any change would apply to just Auckland or the country as a whole. “I’m getting advice on the practicality of all the different things to weigh up,” said Hipkins. “Obviously you’ve seen some strong resistance there from various parts of the community, not just teachers but some businesses … I’ll consider all of that.” A decision could be expected “within the next couple of days”.
4.15pm: Emissions reduction plan kicked into next year
Under the Zero Carbon Act, the government was required to publish its blueprint for meeting climate targets, the Emissions Reduction Plan, by the end of the year. That has just been delayed until May 2022, climate change minister James Shaw has announced in a statement. “Cabinet’s decision allows organisations and communities key to the Emissions Reduction Plan’s success to focus on getting through the worst of the Covid outbreak before engaging with the plan,” he said.
“The plan will be developed with input from Iwi/Māori, Pacific communities, business, NGOs, local government, and communities all over the country. Notifying them now of our timeline for consultation gives them time to prepare the resources they need to engage fully. It is only right to make sure everyone has the chance to contribute without the additional challenge of keeping people safe while the country is at different alert levels, especially those in Auckland who are still at level four.”
In the final line of the statement, it is acknowledged that the new end of May deadline “will require a legislative change”.
BusinessNZ welcomed the decision. “”It’s not realistic to expect businesses under severe stress to consider plans that will have such long-term impact,” said CEO Kirk Hope. “It should be developed with the greatest business input possible, to build maximum buy-in from the business community.”
3.30pm: New poll has Labour 20 points ahead of National
A new poll taken during the third week of the delta community outbreak has shown no real change across the political spectrum.
The UMR survey, reported on by the Herald’s Claire Trevett, has Labour up two points to 45% with National back on 26%. Act have not changed, sitting on 13%, while the Greens are down a point to 6%. Interestingly, NZ First is sitting just below the crucial threshold on 4.1%.
As noted by Trevett, this poll was taken during the first week of parliament’s return after the nationwide lockdown. That was at a time when Judith Collins faced criticism by some for choosing to travel to Wellington, but before some of her more recent controversies – including speculation a leadership challenge could be afoot.
3.15pm: Reports of a second Auckland lockdown absconder
There’s been a second case of an Aucklander leaving the locked down city in breach of the rules.
According to Stuff, the person was located overnight in Whakatāne and may now face prosecution. However it’s not yet known why the person chose to leave Auckland. Reportedly, the person visited a number of retail premises while in Whakatāne and contacted the local Work and Income office. In turn, this meant the police were notifified.
“As a result of the client contacting [the Ministry of Social Development] we got in touch with police and encouraged the client to visit the local police station,” a spokesperson told Stuff.
2.45pm: Te Ao o Hinepehinga Rauna and the weird school rumour
Actor Te Ao o Hinepehinga Rauna (Head High, Shortland Street) tells us about getting in trouble at kōhanga reo, a hair-raising rumour and more in this week’s episode of FIRST.
2.00pm: The delta outbreak, in summary
Another drop in new cases – just 14 today – gets the downward trajectory back on track.
1.20pm: 3000 MIQ spots to be available from Monday
The temporary pause on managed isolation bookings will lift from next Monday, announced Chris Hipkins.
"The local pressure on our managed isolation system has started to ease, we do have rooms available between now and Christmas."
The virtual lobby will open at 8am NZT on September 20 and bookings will begin from 9am. "It's not a first in first served model, so if you join the lobby anytime between 8 and 9am... you will have equal chance of being able to book," clarified Hipkins.
Initially, 3,000 spaces will be released with 4,000 per fortnight thereafter. “We are fully expecting there will be more demand for the rooms then there are rooms available,” said Hipkins.
People will be randomly moved into the virtual queue and will not have to refresh the website. There is no limit to the number of people who can enter the lobby, but it will close once all the rooms have been booked.
The lobby system has been designed so bots can’t access it, said Hipkins, after criticism that some people could game the current system.
People should know their preferred flight route and select the correct arrival date when booking. Monday’s release won’t include red flights from Australia, Hipkins added. Another voucher release this month will include Australia and a decision on the trans-Tasman bubble will be made within the next week. However: “I wouldn’t be banking on the trans-Tasman bubble reopening any time soon,” Hipkins later said.
1.00pm: Auckland delta outbreak grows by 14, all clearly linked
There are 14 new community cases of Covid-19, all in Auckland. That pushes the total number of cases in the outbreak up to 983, although 456 have now recovered.
In good news, all of today's new cases have been epidemiologically linked to the outbreak. "It's clear that all our current new cases are linked to existing cases," said Ashley Bloomfield, speaking at parliament.
Of yesterday's 15 cases, just three – or 19% – were deemed infectious while in the community. Of the 10 new exposure events they created, Bloomfield said: "There were all largely essential businesses such as petrol stations and dairies ... and all prior to when people were notified they were a contact."
Eight cases from the past fortnight remain unlinked, another drop from yesterday.
Currently there are 20 people with Covid-19 in hospital, including four still in intensive care.
Of the 970 "active contacts" – those connected to cases that are still active – 95% have received a call from contact tracers with 90% having received at least one test result.
On the testing front, more than 10,000 were completed yesterday in Auckland alone. That's a significant jump after a call-out for tests from around the city, but particularly in seven suburbs. Outside of Auckland, just over 5000 tests were taken yesterday. However, of concern was a positive wastewater result from Snell's Beach, north of Auckland. Due to a logistical issue, this positive result from September 7 was not picked up until now. Additional testing is under way.
Vaccine numbers jump; Denmark doses arrive
And there was also a jump in vaccines administered yesterday, though numbers are still down on recent peaks. Yesterday, 62,155 vaccines were given out, including almost 40,000 first doses. More than 1.5 million people have now been fully vaccinated. Bloomfield issued a reminder for pregnant women that the vaccine is safe for them and their baby. There are “no additional risks", he said, and pregnant women have been arriving at hospital very unwell as a result of the virus. "Babies don't know it's lockdown, they keep coming," he said.
The first batch of vaccine doses from Denmark touched down at Auckland Airport just over an hour ago, said Hipkins.
Across the country, more than 70% of the eligible population have received their first dose of the vaccine, and 36% their second. Among Māori, only 48% have received their first dose, and 23% their second. 62% of Pacific people have had their first dose and 32% their second. Under-40s remain underrepresented in vaccination data, said Hipkins. “We’ve got a lot of work to do there.” He reiterated the prime minister’s call for all Aucklanders to get their first dose by the end of the week if they are yet to do so.
Acknowledging the Auckland managed isolation worker that tested positive overnight, Ashley Bloomfield said they had been fully vaccinated. There was a potential link with a community case so it’s not considered to be a result of in-facility transmission, said Bloomfield. ESR is rerunning the genome sequencing to confirm.
In response to a question from The Spinoff’s Justin Giovannetti on what proportion of those yet to get vaccinated or book to do so have fallen prey to misinformation, Hipkins said some of those people aren’t necessarily anti-vaccination, but they have questions. “It’s legitimate to have questions, but make sure you’re asking those questions of the right people, not people who are potentially spreading misinformation,” he said, encouraging people in that camp to talk to their GP or a nurse, or listen to people in the scientific community. “Get good, reliable fact-based information.”
He said New Zealanders weren’t getting sucked into misinformation as much as in some other places in the world.
Later this week, police will begin checking that people crossing the boundary have had a test in the last seven days. 176 employers covering more than 1800 employees have signed up for saliva testing, and 350-plus individuals.
12.45pm: Hipkins to reveal new delta cases after MIQ worker tests positive
Chris Hipkins will join Ashley Bloomfield for today's 1pm Covid briefing.
Yesterday saw just 15 new cases announced along with good news on the "mystery case" front. All of yesterday's cases were epidemiologically linked to the outbreak.
Earlier today, an Auckland MIQ worked tested positive after surveillance testing although the risk to the public is deemed low.
As always, watch below or keep this page refreshed and follow along with the live coverage.
11.45am: Auckland drive through vax clinic offers new incentives
The country's largest drive through vaccination centre is proposing incentives to help drive up the number of jabs given out.
Auckland Airport's park and ride has been taken over by the clinic since last month and has reached more than 70,000 people alone. But capacity could allow for twice as many people to get the vaccine every day.
“With vaccination rates lower in the 20-35 age group, Auckland Airport and a group of Kiwi businesses are offering to pitch in and support the next phase of the vaccination drive, testing and trying new tactics to boost numbers,” Auckland Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood said.
Incentives include daily prize draws from companies like Noel Leeming and The Warehouse along with the chance to see $10,000 donated to an Auckland school.
“We know that from all around the world, there are different reasons why people are hesitant to get vaccinated, and we shouldn’t be afraid to tackle these issues in different ways and try new strategies," Littlewood added.
10.35am: 'Unprofessional' – Collins pushes back at comments by former staffer
National Party leader Judith Collins has pushed back at claims she ruled the National Party with fear and could be subject to moments of paranoia.
The comments were made by her former press secretary Janet Wilson, who spoke to The Spinoff's Duncan Greive this week. "That’s part of the problem of her leadership, I believe, that she is consumed. As I said in the piece, she prizes loyalty above all else. But then her ugly stepsister, paranoia, steps in, and she has these almost paranoid storms," said Wilson.
Speaking to Stuff, Collins denied the claims and criticised Wilson for being unprofessional. “It is a very odd thing to say, actually, I think that shows an unprofessionalism that I wouldn't have expected – not expected from someone who had been employed in a very generous way," said Collins.
“I'm not going to speak to Janet Wilson – she'd never worked here before, she wasn't used to parliament. It's a very, very hard environment when it comes to hours, long hours, the sorts of things and people react different ways.”
Collins also said Wilson was simply a hire made by former leader Todd Muller and there wasn't time to change things up before the election. “I think that Janet Wilson is someone who was Todd Muller’s secretary, I kept her on when I was forced to take over when he resigned for health reasons, and she’s not someone who I re-employed. So I think we just need to leave it at that,” Collins said.
10.05am: Health minister admits tough road ahead to get vaccine rate up
The health minister has admitted the government still has its "work cut out" trying to bolster the vaccination rate.
So far, 77% of eligible adults have either had a dose of the vaccine or are booked in for one.
Speaking to Newstalk ZB, Andrew Little said we've got plenty of vaccines, and getting those in people's arms would see restrictions lessened. "Not just us moving around inside the country, but people coming into the country," he said. "We can change the rules around managed isolation, we can let more people in, all those sorts of things."
Little said he hoped that it wasn't more than 5% of people who will never consider getting the vaccine, and would ideally like to see the vaccination rate get well into the 90s.
9.20am: Coroner shuts down vaccine death rumour
The chief coroner has shut down rumours the recent death of a teenager was caused by the Covid-19 vaccine.
The rumour has been spreading rapidly online since the teenager's death on Friday, with claims the Pfizer vaccine was to blame.
In a statement, reported by the Herald, judge Deborah Marshall reiterated that there was no evidence supporting the rumour.
"I am aware of ongoing speculation about the cause of death in a case involving an Auckland teenager that was recently referred to the Coroners Court," she said. "Based on the information available to date, it does not appear that the death in question is linked to the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine."
8.35am: Lawyer who fled to Wānaka could face disciplinary action – Law Society
A lawyer who flouted Auckland's level four rules to travel to Wānaka with her partner may face disciplinary action from her profession's governing body.
The Law Society's president Tiana Epati told RNZ that if Hannah Rawnsley used her status as a lawyer to cross the boundary, that would be extremely disappointing. "Just bringing the legal profession into disrepute is worth looking into," said Epati.
While lawyers are not automatically essential workers under level four, Epati said barristers were provided with letters that could allow them to travel to particular priority hearings during lockdown.
"It's a police investigation. Where there is a police investigation we allow that to run its full course, if there are charges we allow those to be considered in court. It's only after that that we would begin the disciplinary process," said Epati.
Epati was unaware of any other situations where lawyers had used documentation to wrongly cross the border.
7.45am: Auckland MIQ worker tests positive for Covid-19
A staff member at an Auckland managed isolation hotel has tested positive for Covid-19, the Ministry of Health said.
Surveillance testing revealed the positive result at the So hotel in downtown Auckland. A spokesperson told the Herald that an investigation was under way and there was so far no evidence of transmission within the facility.
"The worker is fully vaccinated, has been regularly tested and is now isolating in a quarantine facility," they said. "The hours worked by the [staffer] means they had limited contact with guests at this hotel."
Two household contacts of the worker have now been confirmed as close contacts.
Health minister Andrew Little, on the media rounds this morning, said the risk was "low".
7.30am: From The Bulletin
Four out of five cases in delta outbreak are unvaccinated. Newsroom reports that the unvaccinated are disproportionately represented among new Covid-19 cases. About 84% of people in hospital with the virus are unvaccinated, nearly double the 42.8% of the general population that hasn't had a jab. The numbers reflect what is being seen overseas in populations that are more highly vaccinated but suffering new waves of infections. In those countries, the vast majority of hospitalisations are from the minority that has avoided the vaccine.
The double jab ute. To help boost vaccine levels in areas with low uptake, the government is launching "Mr. Whippy-style" vaccine buses that will start in Northland, according to The Spinoff’s live updates. The prime minister said yesterday that Auckland is in lockdown because of low vaccine levels. If you’ve got a good name suggestion for the buses, send it to me.
The Covid numbers: 15 new cases were reported yesterday and 26% (8) of the previous day’s cases were active in the community while infectious. All the cases were in Auckland. 970 cases have now been detected in the delta outbreak and 394 have recovered. 22 people are in hospital, 4 in ICU. 54,877 people were vaccinated yesterday.
Couple who flew to Wānaka apologise, no longer seeking name suppression. RNZ reports that the two, who broke lockdown rules, are a judge’s son and his barrister partner. They got name suppression on Monday night, but after a day of rampant speculation online, have dropped it. William Willis, a 35-year-old equestrian from Karaka, and Hannah Rawnsley, a 26-year-old barrister from Pukekohe, crossed the Auckland boundary by misusing essential worker exemptions and then taking a flight south, police have said. Charge are expected for the pair. The man’s mother said she was “appalled” by his actions.
The Cook Islands won’t reopen to New Zealanders until community transmission ends. The Cook Islands’ prime minister has said there will need to be no community transmission for 14 days in New Zealand and travellers will need to be double jabbed before a getaway to Raro, according to Stuff.
Foodstuffs has denied food prices are high in New Zealand and doesn't think it has high profits. In late July, the commerce commission concluded that the country's two big supermarket operators are excessively profitable, anti-competitive and charge high prices. The commission gave the government a number of options, including breaking the companies up. According to Stuff, Foodstuffs’ chief executive has denied nearly all the commission's findings, but conceded that he’d be willing to consider a code of conduct and undoing land covenants the company created around the country to stop competitors from setting up shop.
This is part of The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s must-read daily news wrap. To sign up for free, simply enter your email address below
- Tekau mā rima ngā kēhi Kowheori-19 hou, ā, kei Tāmaki Makaurau te katoa // There are 15 new cases, all of them in Auckland.
- E tūhonotia ana te katoa e ngā mātai tahumaero ki te mate urutā // All are epidemiologically linked to the outbreak.
- E rua tekau mā rua tāngata e pāngia ana e te mate Kowheori-19 kei rō hōhipera, tokowhā kei te wāhanga whāomoomo // 22 people are in hospital with Covid, including four in ICU.
- E rima tekau mā whā mano, waru rau, whitu tekau ma whitu (54,877) tāngata i werohia ki ngā kano ārai mate inanahi, ā, e iwa mano, rua rau, whitu tekau mā iwa (9,279) tāngata i whakamātauria // Yesterday, 54,877 vaccinations were administered and 9,279 people were tested.