Live updates, October 15: ICU doctors contradict Andrew Little; Harry Tam sends legal threat to Winston Peters

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for October 15, by Stewart Sowman-Lund. Auckland is now at step one of the alert level three pathway, Northland and parts of Waikato are in regular level three. Reach me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


6.30pm Proof of vaccination needed for Vic Uni student halls

Students and staff frequenting student accommodation at the Victoria University of Wellington next year will have to provide evidence of full vaccination status, the university has announced this afternoon.

For staff, the deadline to get fully vaxxed is January 10, 2022. Students will need both doses before the halls of residence open in February, with those who are unable to receive the vaccine to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

“Our halls of residence provide a 24/7 living environment where students are in close proximity to each other and also with members of university staff” Vice Chancellor Guilford said in a statement.

“We are satisfied that given the living environment in our halls of residence, mandatory vaccination for those residing and working there is the right response to the existence of Covid-19 in the community.”

5.00pm: More celebrities announced for tomorrow’s Vaxathon

Conga lines at the ready, more big names have been released in the line-up for tomorrow’s televised Super Saturday Vaxathon. The all-day event will be broadcast on Three, Māori TV and TVNZ, and will include a plethora of local talent encouraging New Zealanders to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated.

The Vaxathon will see celebrities joining forces from across network divides, with TVNZ announcing this afternoon that Francis and Kaiora Tipene (The Casketeers), Jason Gunn (Jason Gunn), Karen O’Leary (Wellington Paranormal) and Jess Tyson (Celebrity Treasure Island) will feature.

There continues to be a vague threat of both “performances” and “zoom crosses” throughout the day, and we simply cannot wait to cover every moment. In the meantime, please enjoy this exciting round of The Masked Vaxxer and read this list of recommendations for what is surely going to be one of the live television events of the year.

4.10pm: We can staff 186 beds, not 550, say ICU doctors

Today’s edition of The Bulletin reported on how the country’s hospitals are preparing for a delta wave. Political editor Justin Giovannetti reports on conflicting numbers from doctors and government.

Andrew Little, the health minister, told the country yesterday that the country’s hospitals can surge up to 550 ICU beds in the coming weeks if needed as the delta outbreak worsens. Told at the time that doctors in the country’s intensive care units were questioning his numbers, calling them a significant overstatement, Little shot back that individual doctors didn’t have a good sense of the overall picture across the country.

Today, the Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Society, the group representing those doctors, has come forward with statistics that directly refute the minister’s claim. Working with every ICU in New Zealand, the group has reported that 172 beds are staffed in the country for adults and 14 for children. That’s 186 beds, with staff, in total.

A further 44 places are available in high dependency units, beds that don’t have expert care but are designed for patients with deteriorating health. According to the group, the government has purchased about 500 beds and ventilators. In a crisis, doctors and nurses from across the health system can be mobilised to attend to all of them. But only 186 of those beds will actually have trained ICU staff. “We have been preparing for such extraordinary circumstances over the last year. Outcomes will not be as good as those achievable under normal models of care but will be better than not having access to ICU care at all,” ANZICS said in a statement. It has appealed for everyone to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

3.45pm: Mongrel Mob leader sends legal threat to Winston Peters

Mongrel Mob leader Harry Tam has sent a legal threat to Winston Peters over claims the former deputy PM made on national television.

In an interview with Newshub Nation, Peters alleged Tam helped a Covid-positive case breach the Auckland border and travel into Northland. The tip of the country subsequently shifted into a sudden level three lockdown that remains in place.

As Stuff reports, Tam sent the New Zealand First leader a legal letter, calling for a public retraction and apology. Tam is being represented by prominent QC Ron Mansfield.

The letter, which you can read in full, calls on Peters to “account for your false comments and the harm those comments have caused him and the community”. It threatens further legal action should Peters not apologise.

“You blamed Mr Tam personally and in a public forum for Northland going back into level three lockdown for an unknown period and therefore causing significant personal and financial hardship for the region and its people,” reads the letter. “These claims were heard by the entire country and caused the adverse reaction that you had hoped that they would. Many people may now think Mr Tam is responsible.”

Peters has until next Tuesday to respond.

3.35pm: Today’s key numbers, charted

A few of the key details from today’s 1pm update, as charted by The Spinoff’s Harkanwal Singh. For more, visit our Covid Tracker page here.

2.55pm: Political leaders unite to push vaccine message

The leaders of all our major political parties joined forces this morning to form some sort of Avengers-style vaccination super squad.

Jacinda Ardern, Judith Collins, David Seymour, Marama Davidson and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer all appeared on The AM Show to help encourage vaccine uptake ahead of tomorrow’s Super Saturday Vaxathon.

“We’re appealing here to people’s sense of community,” said Ardern. “Don’t do it just for yourself, do it for others.”

Collins echoed that message:  “Please just do this. I know those who haven’t yet done this, they’re worried about various things – but talk to very sensible medical practitioners and people who understand this. Listen to people like Dr Shane Reti. Listen to people like that who you can trust, who are going to tell you the truth.”

Watch more here

2.10pm: Ever wanted to see Taika Waititi, Suzy Cato and the Briscoes Lady on the same bill?

Further details about tomorrow’s Vaxathon have been announced, confirming the line-up has come from my wildest dreams. From The Briscoes Lady to Taika Waititi, tomorrow’s eight-hour TV event has appearances from everyone you could hope for.

Here’s what we know so far, according to Newshub:

  • There will also be appearances from Taika Waititi, Louis Baker, Dr Ashley, The All Blacks, Black Ferns, TJ Perenara, Hollie Smith, Lucy Lawless, Madeleine Sami, Toni Street, Suzy Cato, Megan Alatini, Ana Corbett, the Shortland Street Cast, Tammy Wells (The Briscoes Lady),Shannon Paku and plenty more.

1.40pm: The latest vaccination and testing numbers

Auckland has inched closer to the 90% first dose figure, according to latest Ministry of Health numbers. Around 88% of the eligible Auckland population have now had their first dose, with 67% fully vaccinated. Vaccination rates in Waikato remained high yesterday with 6,502 people receiving a dose, including 4,563 second doses.

Nationwide, 68,003 doses were administered yesterday including 15,121 first doses and 52,882 second.

Meanwhile, on the testing front: 27,766 were given out yesterday across the country, including 12,888 processed in Auckland and 3,500 in Waikato.

1.30pm: When Bloomfield tweets, you know it’s important

1.10pm: 65 new community Covid-19 cases announced

Updated

There are 65 new community cases today, a slight drop on yesterday’s numbers.

So far, 31 of these remain unlinked with investigations under way to help determine their connection to the current outbreak. All of today’s cases are in Auckland, with none announced in locked down Northland or Waikato. However, the two cases announced in Waikato on Wednesday remain unlinked. “Results of whole genome sequencing from samples from these two cases… show they are linked to other local cases and the Auckland outbreak,” said the Ministry of Health.

There are now 107 unlinked cases from the past 14 days and 664 active cases in the community outbreak. Of yesterday’s 71 cases, 30 were infectious while in the community.

There are 34 people in hospital with Covid-19, including six in intensive care.

And an interesting point to note: the Ministry of Health has stopped recording subclusters due to “the number of unlinked cases each day”.

“Epidemiological links are being explored during case interviews and whole genome sequencing is being undertaken on all cases, but the focus is on isolating cases and identifying, testing and isolating close contacts,” said the ministry.

Meanwhile, in Waikato, work is still under way to determine how two consecutive wastewater samples returned positive results in Te Awamutu. “Public health officials have yet to identify anyone who returned to the area from managed isolation and quarantine and could be shedding the virus in the area,” said the ministry.

There are five community testing centres available across Waikato today, including a pop-up testing centre in Te Awamutu.

12.50pm: Reminder – there is no press conference today

The latest Covid-19 numbers will be provided via press release around 1pm this afternoon. There is no scheduled press conference today, with the prime minister Jacinda Ardern visiting Taranaki to help bolster vaccine uptake. Along with providing the case numbers, today’s update will hopefully provide further detail about positive wastewater results in Te Awamutu.

We’ll have everything, in full, when it lands in my inbox – so keep this page updated!

12.35pm: A special note from The Spinoff publisher Duncan Greive

And while we wait for the 1pm update… a note from The Spinoff’s Duncan Greive:

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

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

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

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

12.20pm: The Friday News Quiz

It’s time for this week’s edition of The Spinoff’s Friday News Quiz! Do you know everything about the Vaxathon? What about the Great Kiwi Bake Off? Test your knowledge below!


Having trouble on the app? Click here.

11.20am: Want summer? Get vaccinated

This, from Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris:

11.00am: Can you guess the Masked Vaxxer?

Tomorrow is Vaxathon day – and in excited anticipation, we’ve got a challenge for you here at The Spinoff. We have dusted off the dorky masks and cryptic clues of Three’s The Masked Singer – which was a real thing that happened not that long ago – to see how well you know your prominent New Zealanders and their celebratory vaccination pics.

Check out all the pics and clues here and test your knowledge. The answers will be revealed at 2pm today, may the odds be ever in your favour.

10.15am: Second positive wastewater result in Te Awamutu

A second positive wastewater result has been detected in Te Awamutu, with no MIQ returnees located in the Waikato town.

The positive result came from a sample taken on Wednesday and is the second positive sample taken in as many days.

Crucially, public health officials say they have not yet identified anyone who returned to the area from managed isolation and quarantine and could be shedding the virus in the area. While this does not definitively rule out an historic case, it is especially concerning when coupled with the fact two two mystery cases remain unlinked in Waikato.

“For this reason, anyone in the Te Awamutu area who has symptoms of Covid-19, or have family or household members who are symptomatic, or anyone who travels in and out of the area regularly for work, are urged to get tested as soon as possible,” said a ministry spokesperson.

Anyone who has been at a location of interest at the relevant time and is now in Te Awamutu should also get tested.

The next Covid-19 update will come via press release at 1pm.

10.00am: SFO investigating allegations of wage subsidy fraud

The Serious Fraud Office is investigating “multiple complex cases” of alleged abuse of the Covid-19 wage subsidy.

SFO director Julie Read said the allegations involved “potential fraud” and were referred to the agency following extensive investigations by MSD.  

“We are pleased to be supporting the extensive work already being undertaken by MSD in response to abuse of the Covid-19 wage subsidy by contributing the expertise of our specialist investigative teams to look into cases of a particularly challenging and complex nature,” said Read. 

Last year, the agency received funding from the government to specifically tackle fraud arising from the pandemic.

9.45am: The two businesses going for ‘no jab, no entry’

Two prominent New Zealand workplaces are set to restrict entry to double vaccinated people.

According to BusinessDesk, both PwC and Russell McVeagh will introduce the policy this year in an effort to bolster company-wide vaccination rates. PwC will start no jab, no entry from December 1, while Russell McVeagh will bring it in one month earlier.

“Our responsibility is to keep all of our people safe,” said PwC’s CEO Mark Averill. “Introducing this policy will enable our people who wish to work from our offices to feel safe coming back into the workplace as government alert levels permit.”

Anyone who doesn’t return to the office will be able to work remotely, confirmed Averill.

8.55am: Shane Reti worried about ICU space for Māori populations

National’s deputy leader is concerned ICU could hit capacity in areas with large Māori populations.

Shane Reti has been based in Northland for parts of the delta outbreak, helping to boost vaccination rates in the region. In a release, he questioned what may happen in DHB areas with slim intensive care capacity should delta cases explode. “Lakes, Tai Rawhiti and Northland DHBs have a high proportion of Māori who are at increased risk of catching Covid and ending up in ICU,” said Reti. “Several of these DHBs have had periods at, or close, to full capacity.

Reti said building new ICU capacity was urgent and criticised health minister Andrew Little for claiming the system will manage. “Little’s ICU plan is for surge management, which means stopping elective procedures, lockdowns to reduce accidents and cannibalising other critical units from elsewhere,” Reti said. “It is not sustainable. Instead of sinking millions into a pointless restructure of the health system, he should be building sustainable ICU capacity.”

8.00am: Auckland braces for daily Covid cases to hit triple figures

Auckland is preparing for Covid-19 cases to escalate rapidly.

Yesterday saw 71 new cases in the community, one of the highest new case days since the outbreak started two months ago. And health officials warned that the number was set to increase and could even double within a fortnight.

Speaking to RNZ, the director general of health Ashley Bloomfield remained confident the outbreak was under control. “We are heading for triple figure case numbers and that’s important but also what’s important is whether those people become really unwell and we know if people are vaccinated most people don’t even get symptomatic illness,” he said.

Around 4% of confirmed cases in the delta outbreak had been vaccinated and, Bloomfield said, just three of those hospitalised had been double jabbed. “The vaccination is the ticket to remaining safe when we have an outbreak,” said Bloomfield.

When we reach 180 cases a day, it was revealed yesterday the contact tracing system would become overloaded. Bloomfield said officials had moved to a “different range of processes” to reach out to people who need to isolate. This included alerts through the Covid Tracer app and using businesses whose employees have been in contact with confirmed cases.

Bloomfield told Newstalk ZB that while some experts have a view about returning Auckland to alert level four, he did not believe people needed to panic. “The future has come forward. Let’s embrace it.”

7.30am: From The Bulletin

Indoor gatherings in Auckland are causing cases to spike. That’s the deputy prime minister’s message, according to RNZ, after 71 cases were detected yesterday in the city. With few infections happing in workplaces open under level three, Grant Robertson said that people getting together indoors is causing the virus to spread. No single area of the city is to blame as infections have been detected across the width of Auckland. “Now is not the time for complacency,” Robertson warned. In return, some Aucklanders have called for more clarity from the government around the rules.


The Covid numbers: There are 33 cases in hospital and 5 in ICU/HDU. There are now 599 active cases in New Zealand, 71 new community cases were reported yesterday, all in Auckland. 68,787 people were vaccinated on Wednesday.

The Spinoff’s Covid data tracker has the latest figures.


Wait, why did Stuart Nash take his shirt off? The Spinoff’s Mad Chapman called the government minister to get a straight answer on his shirtless vax picture. The vaccine portrait is usually done afterwards with a smile and thumbs up. Sometimes it’s taken during the jab, with a stoic expression. Nash did things different. After hurting his back at the gym, the minister rolled up to his second jab in a tight business shirt, and then one thing leads to another.

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