Live updates, November 14-15: Neighbour confirmed as ‘very recent’ Covid case; RCEP trade deal signed

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for the weekend. Contact us on inof@thespinoff.co.nz

Sunday November 15

7.00pm: Regional trade pact signed

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) has been agreed in a virtual ceremony with 15 national signatories from the Asia-Pacific region –the 10 members Asean, plus China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. India withdrew from negotiations last year. The deal standardises requirements for exporters across the territories, which between them account for more than a third of world trade.

The press guff boasts that the deal with increase New Zealand’s GDP by around $2 billion, cut red tape across the region and boost exporters’ opportunities.

“A range of New Zealand industries will directly benefit from this new agreement, helping us to accelerate our economic recovery and build back better. These include the education sector, with new access opportunities into large Asean economies such as Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines,” said Jacinda Ardern in a statement.

Edward Miller, from the trade-deal-sceptic group It’s Our Future, has spoken out against the deal.

“We’re seeing a huge secret agreement being negotiated where we don’t know what the risks are and from the economic modelling that we’ve seen there’s very little economic benefit to be gained,” he told RNZ. “So we don’t know why the government continues to do secret deals that are against our national interests.”

There’s more about the RCEP deal here.

1.10pm: Neighbour confirmed as ‘very recent’ Covid infection, two new border cases

The Ministry of Health has confirmed that the “weak positive” case identified yesterday (see below, Saturday 1.05pm) is in fact a recent infection. A close contact and neighbour of the AUT student who lived at Vincent Residences in central Auckland, has been in the Jetpark quarantine hotel since Thursday November 12.

“This individual’s initial test result was negative and their subsequent test yesterday returned a weak positive result.  A third test taken yesterday is now confirmed as positive. These test results indicate that this new case is a very recent infection,” the Ministry of Health announced via press release.

“Auckland Regional Public Health have identified seven close contacts and three casual contacts. All have been contacted and testing arranged. Testing for all ten contacts is expected to be completed by the end of the day. There are no places of interest identified to date for this latest case.”

There are two other cases, both recent arrivals detected in isolation.

One is a a recent arrival from from the UK on November 10 via Qatar and Australia, who tested positive around day three in Hamilton. The second case arrived from Dubai on November 10 and was also detected day three testing.  Both are now at the Auckland quarantine facility.

Yesterday 10,525 Covid-19 tests were processed, around 70% in Auckland, the highest number of tests in one day at a weekend since August 16, amid the second major outbreak in the community.

More than 1.1 million QR code scans took place yesterday using the Tracer app, the most since September 26.

The total number of active cases in New Zealand stands at 58 and the overall total number of confirmed cases 1,645.

12.15pm: Covid numbers to come

Usual drill today: a release is expected from the Ministry of Health at 1pm with the latest numbers on any new cases and other details, including any update on the “weak positive” result for a neighbour of the young woman who contracted Covid-19 in the community last week. There were more than 5,000 tests completed in Auckland alone on Friday; we’ll be hoping for a substantial number from yesterday, too, to add to confidence that the latest seepage into the community didn’t go further.

10.15am: Three Cook Islands arrivals from NZ placed in quarantine

Two passengers from New Zealanders who arrived yesterday in the Cook Islands have been placed in supervised quarantine after authorities discovered they had visited one of the locations of interest linked to the new Auckland community Covid case.

While the risk was “at the lower end”, the pair would go into the equivalent of managed isolation for “up to 14 days”, reported Te Marae Ora, the Cook Islands Ministry of Health. “A third passenger has also been placed in SQ, because he was seated next to one of the identified casual contacts.”

A group of New Zealand officials were travelling on the flight to work on establishing a Cooks-NZ travel bubble. They were not required to isolate on arrival, but had to produce a negative test before deprarting. They will, however, have to go into MIQ for two weeks upon returning to New Zealand.

9.45am: Chris Liddell responds to critics

Jack Tame has returned from the US, where he reported on the presidential election, with what journalists call a Massive Get: a long-form interview with New Zealander Chris Liddell, deputy chief of staff in Donald Trump’s White House. A former senior executive at Carter Holt Harvey in New Zealand and Microsoft and GM in the US, Liddell’s role is overseeing policy coordination – he describes himself as a “train conductor” in putting policy options in front of the president. As one of the only survivors of the administration – he’s been there since the start of the Trump term – he also describes himself as a “submarine under the surface”; while other figures might attract more attention he has been focused on a “large amount of productive policy that has gone on”, he told Q+A from the Roosevelt Room in the White House.

Liddell made headlines of his own in recent months after the US put him forward as a candidate to run the OECD, the club of rich countries. One of the criticisms levelled at him was alleged complicity in a policy that saw children separated from their would-be migrant parents at the border. According to reporting by the NBC – denied by the White House – Liddell was among a group of senior staff who had a vote on whether to approve the policy. The report was categorically false, said Liddell, and clearly not sourced from anyone who had been in such a meeting. “Had there been a meeting like that, had there been a vote, I would certainly have voted against child separation. I think it was a terrible policy.”

Chris Liddel on Q+A. Image: TVNZ

On Trump’s wider, often outrageous behaviour, Liddell avoided an endorsement, saying he preferred to focus on the president’s strengths. “My interactions internally with him and with other people have been really enjoyable,” he said. “He’s fearless, he challenges the status quo, he delivers on his promises.”

As for personal attacks based on his working alongside Trump: “My job is to do something important. This is a bloodsport, if you’re not willing to take a few punches you shouldn’t be there …. I’ve lost friends from being here. I haven’t lost my soul … I’m proud of what I’ve done here.”

Had anything Trump had done made him think of resigning? “It’s impossible to be 100% aligned with the president on everything,” said Liddell. But: “I’ve never felt that I’ve so disagreed with what he’s doing that I’ve ever considered leaving.”

Liddell said he hoped that New Zealand would support his bid for the OECD secretary general role and disputed the suggestion that the US under Trump had caused damage to international institutions. They were opposed only to dysfunctional institutions, he said.


Saturday November 14

5.45pm: Ardern completes virtual summit with southeast Asian leaders

The Asean-NZ Commemorative Summit has concluded this afternoon after an online meeting with leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

According to a statement from Jacinda Ardern, who attended the meeting from Auckland, among the issues discussed were Covid-19 responses, ways to work together to “accelerate economic recovery; and “exploring further opportunities for partners to work more closely on health, economic and security issues facing the region”.

“New Zealand and Asean share a strong legacy of working together to advance peace and prosperity in our region. Asean is our fourth largest trading partner, a crucial defence and security partner, and a critical strategic hub that connects us to Asia and the rest of the world,” Jacinda Ardern said.

“Our partnership will play an important role as our countries work together to support global efforts to manage the pandemic and ensure fair and equitable access to safe vaccines, and drive economic recovery through maintaining open markets for our exporters and resilient supply chains.”

Leaders have issued a “vision statement”, which says all the things such statements usually say; most notable is this on the coronavirus response: “We acknowledge the ongoing threat of communicable and emerging infectious diseases, especially the Covid-19 pandemic, and reaffirm the value in strengthening cooperation and sharing information to enable collective, coordinated and comprehensive responses to such events, which require a whole of government and whole of society approach. We express our support for global initiatives that ensure the fair and equitable global access to and distribution of safe, effective, and affordable Covid-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines … and underscore the importance of strong, resilient and sustainable supply chains, in order to effectively facilitate trade and to ensure the unimpeded flow of goods and services, including medical supplies, medicines and vaccines, food, commodities and other essential supplies and services in the region.”

Later tonight Ardern will also take part in the East Asia Summit – again, digitally. “The meeting will be a good chance to exchange views with other leaders on the pandemic and issues such as the South China Sea and climate change,” she said.

4.30pm: What’s with the ‘weak positive’?

Siouxsie Wiles to the rescue: “It could be a historical infection, or person could be at coming to end of incubation period & test properly positive in the next day or so. I’m guessing they will retest and try to sequence if they can get enough RNA out of sample.”

The director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, discussed previous weak positive cases in this RNZ interview.

1.05pm: Weak positive for close contact neighbour in Vincent Residence, with three new cases in MIQ

Three new cases of Covid-19 have been detected, all in managed isolation and quarantine, the Ministry of Health has announced in its daily media release.

One is an arrival from Romania, who landed in New Zealand on November 3 via Qatar and Australia, and tested positive at around day 12 testing. The second person arrived from Australia on November and 1 was also detected on testing around day 12. The third arrived from the UK on November 12 and tested positive on arrival. All three have been transferred to Auckland’s Jetpark quarantine facility.

The ministry also reports a “weak positive test result” for a close contact of the woman who tested positive in the community in Auckland on Thursday.  The person “lived in a neighbouring apartment in Vincent St apartments”.

“The individual’s initial test result was negative, but a subsequent test has today returned a weak positive result.  A further test is now being taken. They are currently regarded as a case under investigation,” reports the ministry.

“Auckland Regional Public Health had already done some initial scoping of this case and will now be doing more detailed work on tracking and tracing any outstanding close contacts. Further information will be provided in later updates.”

There were 5,400 tests completed in Auckland yesterday – more than half of those at GPs. Another 920 were conducted outside Auckland, bringing the total test to date to 1,169,062.

One previously reported case has now recovered, meaning the total number of active cases in New Zealand is 56.

More than a million QR scans took place yesterday using the Covid Tracer app, the most since October 1, “which means around one in five app users were scanning the codes”.

12.15pm: Purple pin for Siouxsie and Toby

Good news: The powerhouse Covid-conquering combo Toby Morris and Siouxsie Wiles snared a couple of big prizes last night at the NZ Designers Institute Best Awards. At a ceremony at the Aotea Centre in Auckland they won gold in the public good category, as well as a purple pin, which is, people tell me, a Very Big Deal.

Here’s what the judges said: “This design took a complex message and made it simple in any language. In a highly volatile and confusing time the winning creative solution was simply executed and considered, achieving global reach, recognition and cut through. In an environment where science and facts were highly contested these designs were able to provide complex information in an accessible, clear and concise fashion. In my view they also helped inform New Zealand’s response and comparatively good Covid-19 statistics Such a simple and human approach to a once in a lifetime problem.”

There’s a bumper collection of their incredible work here.

11.45am: Trump speaks

After a week of silence and golf, President Donald Trump has addressed media at the Rose Garden. Trump and the Republican Party continue to contest the Biden victory in the presidential election, but there was a glimmer of hope that he may yet depart peacefully. Only “time will tell” who would be the next president, he said. Alluding to President-elect Joe Biden’s plans for tackling the Covid crisis, he added: “This administration will not be going to a lockdown. Hopefully whatever happens in the future — who knows which administration it will be? I guess time will tell … But I can tell you this administration will not go to a lockdown.”

Politico reports: “Trump did not take questions at the Rose Garden event, but the president and his team are barreling ahead with lawsuits aimed at casting doubt on the legitimacy of the election. In a recent interview, Trump continued to refuse to acknowledge that he had been beaten by Biden, insisting that his campaign’s election-related legal challenges would reverse the race’s outcome and arguing that Americans should ‘never bet against me’.”

11.00am: The weekend ahead

Good morning and welcome to our live updates for the weekend. We’re expecting any new information from the Ministry of Health to arrive at the usual time of 1pm today. Check in here for the latest.

Yesterday Auckland dodged a bullet with news that the new community case of Covid-19 had been genomically linked to what has become known as the “Defence Force cluster”, suggesting that there is a low likelihood of the virus having spread widely. That meant that there was no shift up the alert level ladder. If you’re in the city on transport or among crowds, however, the advice is clear: wear a mask.

A reminder: here are the Covid-19 locations of interest. The Ministry of Health is asking anyone who was at the Auckland locations to get a test – regardless of whether they have symptoms. Those locations are:

  • Mezze Bar on November 5;
  • Liquor.Com bottle store, Queen Street, on November 5;
  • Red Pig Restaurant on November 7;
  • Smith and Caughey’s Queen Street on November 7;
  • Sunny Town China Taste Restaurant on November 8 and 9;
  • Starbucks Queen Street on November 8 and 9;
  • The Gateau House on November 8;
  • A-Z Collection on November 8, 9 and 11;
  • The Vincent, November 7-12;
  • Auckland City Doctors on November 10; and
  • AUT Student Hub on November 10.

Read yesterday’s live updates here.




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