Live updates, February 16: Tomorrow’s alert level announcement moved back

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for February 16. Get me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz. Auckland is currently at alert level three and the rest of the country, level two. 

Our Members make The Spinoff happen. Every dollar contributed directly funds our editorial team – click here to learn more about how you can support us from as little as $1.

7.00pm: The day in sum

There were no new cases of Covid-19 in the community or MIQ, raising hopes for an alert level decrease tomorrow.

Legislation was introduced under urgency to set up a new “resurgence support payment” for businesses affected by any resurgence of the coronavirus.

The union representing staff at LSG Sky Chefs – the company where one of the latest Covid-19 cases worked – said the woman followed all the rules to protect herself while on the job.

Jacinda Ardern hit out at Scott Morrison over the his government’s unilateral decision to revoke the Australian citizenship of a terrorism suspect who had been a dual citizen of both countries.

A number of major events scheduled for this weekend, including the Rainbow Pride in Auckland and the Art Deco Festival in Napier, have been cancelled due to ongoing uncertainty around Covid alert levels.

4.05pm: Tomorrow’s PM press briefing moved back

Jacinda Ardern will announce whether Auckland will be moving out of alert level three at 4.30pm tomorrow, not 4pm, it has been announced. Cabinet will meet at 3pm and Ardern will join director general of health Ashley Bloomfield at 4.30pm to announce their decision.

3.50pm: Morrison shrugs off Ardern’s citizenship slam

The Australian prime minister has reacted with equanimity to Jacinda Ardern’s denunciation of Australia’s decision to strip a suspected Isis terrorist of her citizenship. The woman held dual Australia-New Zealand citizenship, and Australia’s revocation of her citizenship has left New Zealand with sole responsibility for her. (See 2.20pm update).

Asked about Ardern’s angry response this afternoon, Morrison appeared to shrug off her comments.

“Well, my job is Australia’s interests. That’s my job,” he told reporters.

“And it’s my job as the Australian prime minister to put Australia’s national security interests first. I think all Australians would agree with that. Now, the legislation that was passed through our parliament automatically cancels the citizenship of a dual citizen where they’ve been engaged in terrorist activities of this nature.”

He acknowledged that “the New Zealand government has some issues with that” before noting that he and Ardern are scheduled to speak later today.

Read The Spinoff’s full story here

3.15pm: ‘Separate events’ – How Covid-19 spread at the Pullman

It’s now believed the recent outbreak of Covid-19 at the Pullman hotel MIQ facility was a case of coincidence.

A report into what went wrong at the facility has now been released after three guests tested positive for the coronavirus last month, causing a community outbreak scare.

“Investigations into the cases are ongoing and it’s possible we may never identify the exact cause of transmission but it’s believed there were three separate events,” said head of managed isolation and quarantine brigadier Jim Bliss, according to the Herald.

“The reports indicate that multiple factors contributed to the cases around the Pullman,” he said.

The facility started taking new guests from today after recently closing for the investigation and a thorough deep clean.

On The Spinoff: How Tuariki Delamere got banned from the long jump

Years before he joined NZ First and became a member of parliament, Tuariki Delamere was a promising long jump athlete with a scholarship at Washington State University. One of the oldest track and field events, the long jump has remained virtually the same since the first modern Olympics – and he wanted to change that.

In 1974, Delamere debuted the somersault long jump. It was a technique destined to revolutionise the sport of long jump the same way the Fosbury flop changed the high jump years earlier. But while Dick Fosbury’s name is now synonymous with the sport, the “Delamere Flip” was banned by the IAAF, meaning the name Tuariki Delamere is now little more than a curious footnote in long jump history.

Watch episode two of Scratched below:

2.20pm: ‘New Zealand is tired of having Australia export its problems’ – PM

Developing story:

Jacinda Ardern has some harsh words for Australian prime minister Scott Morrison, saying his government has “abdicated its responsibilities”.

It comes after revelations this morning a New Zealander with connections to Isis had been arrested on the Syrian border.

Speaking to reporters this afternoon, Ardern said New Zealand is “frankly… tired of having Australia export its problems”.

In a scathing statement issued shortly after, the PM criticised Australia’s decision to cancel the citizenship of the suspected Isis terrorist.

“The woman in this case has held New Zealand and Australian citizenships and has been known to Australian and New Zealand authorities for some time,” Ardern said.

“The fair question to ask is whether she should return to New Zealand or Australia. We firmly believe the answer is Australia – and have repeatedly communicated that view to the Australian Government at the highest levels. Unfortunately the Australian Government unilaterally cancelled her citizenship.”

The woman had left New Zealand when she was six and lived in Australia since then with her family.

We’ll have more on this from our political editor Justin Giovannetti momentarily.

1.55pm: Auckland Rainbow Pride parade postponed

Rainbow Pride Auckland confirmed to Express that they have made the “difficult decision” to postpone the Auckland Rainbow Parade, planned for this Saturday.

The Auckland Rainbow Parade has been running since 2020, and follows the “traditional” path of the Pride Parade down Ponsonby Road.

The event organiser, Shaughan Woodcock said: “The call to postpone has been made after assessing all options and advice from key stakeholders and while we would love nothing more than to put on a fabulous parade this weekend, Rainbow Pride Auckland will always follow and support the directives issued by the New Zealand government regarding Covid alert level moves.”

The parade’s organisers, Rainbow Pride Auckland – a distinct organisation from the Auckland Pride Festival (who have their event, the Pride March, still scheduled for Saturday 27) – will continue to monitor the situation and follow the government’s announcements.

Rainbow Pride Auckland is hopeful to be able to communicate the new date for the Auckland Rainbow Parade by the end of the week.

1.30pm: Person arrested after failing to stop at Covid-19 checkpoint

A 26-year-old has been arrested after failing to stop at a Covid-19 checkpoint.

They were arrested in Hamilton after refusing to stop for staff at the Mercer Checkpoint on State Highway 1.

The individual is currently assisting police with enquiries and charges could still be laid.

Meanwhile, between midnight on Sunday 4pm on yesterday, police processed 14,142 vehicles through the road checkpoints.

At the southern checkpoints, of the 8607 vehicles which came through, 779 were turned away. At the northern checkpoints of the 5,535 vehicles which came through, 715 were turned away.

1.00pm: No new Covid-19 cases; nationwide testing surge on day one of restrictions

Updated

There are no new cases of Covid-19 today, in either the community or managed isolation.

An intensive investigation around the source of the February Auckland cases continues, said Ashley Bloomfield. “These cases have resulted in a testing surge,” Bloomfield said. “It is encouraging… that there are no positive results.” There were 5,818 tests processed yesterday, with more than 15,000 swabs taken nationwide.

Out of that number, more than 10,500 swabs were taken in Auckland yesterday. The results from those tests will continue to be processed over next 24-48 hours.

A further 1,454 swabs had been taken across Auckland by late this morning. Taranaki reported 450 swabs and Waikato 750 yesterday.

ESR is now doing daily wastewater testing in Hamilton and New Plymouth as well in Auckland, Bloomfield said. So far the results have come back negative, but there is a 48-hour lag in reporting.

Contact tracing has now identified 109 close contacts to the three confirmed cases. The rise in close contacts has come from the addition of a new location of interest, a medical centre, visited by the father.

All the workmates of the father and the people who travelled in the car to Taranaki have tested negative, said Bloomfield, as have 14 out of 36 close contacts from Papatoetoe High School. More than 2,000 other contacts have been identified as “casual plus” contacts.

Follow-up investigation of Sky Chefs – the workplace of the mother from the group of three – identified that the laundry practices complied with health and safety management. A couple of small improvements were suggested, said Bloomfield.

Meanwhile, the person who died in North Shore Hospital last week is now being officially counted in the Covid-19 death toll, Bloomfield confirmed, sending condolences to their family.

26 people have now died from Covid-19 in New Zealand.

Pullman Hotel reopens as MIQ facility

The Pullman Hotel will reopen as a managed isolation facility with 50% of the normal capacity, Chris Hipkins announced.

It started to receive its first guests from this morning. The decision to limit the number of guests is in order to keep people on the lower floors and reduce the use of lifts.

While that’s happening, the air filtration systems in the lifts are being upgraded and replaced, which will be completed later in the week. The CCTV update is now complete, Hipkins said.

New strict procedures that limit people’s movement around the facility have been implemented and corridor ventilation now operates 24 hours a day.

How does cabinet decide whether to change alert levels?

During today’s presser, Hipkins issued a reminder about what cabinet considers regarding decisions on alert levels.

Those considerations are: advice from the director general of health and his team about the health risks; evidence around case numbers; contact tracing; geographical distribution of cases; connections to border; the effects of any change on the economy and society, including the impact on any particularly at-risk populations; whether changes to alert levels can be put in place safely, and the timeframe in which that can occur

A decision on whether the current restrictions will be changed will be announced around this time tomorrow, he said.

12.55pm: Hipkins, Bloomfield to give Covid-19 update

Has the latest Covid-19 outbreak grown? Chris Hipkins and Ashley Bloomfield are set to give today’s scheduled Covid-19 update.

Yesterday, there were no new community cases linked to the South Auckland family. Today, we’re expecting significantly more test results to have been returned.

Watch below:

12.30pm: How are Aucklanders reacting to lockdown 3.0?

Some very unscientific anecdotal evidence would suggest that, perhaps, Aucklanders are less panicked during this Covid-19 lockdown than previously.

We’ve had reports (about half an hour ago) that the queue for Covid-19 testing in Balmoral was just two cars long. It’s in stark contrast to images from the previous two lockdowns of queues of cars down main streets.

I’ve also just popped to the supermarket where I waltzed in with no queues and, other than flour, was greeted with lushly stocked shelves.

Are you experiencing things different? Send me your thoughts/feelings/pictures here.

11.15am: Auckland-based MPs on house arrest

With the shift to alert level three in Auckland, some MPs are unable to return to Wellington until at least Thursday morning.

National’s Chris Penk, MP for the Kaipara ki Mahurangi Electorate, reports on being stuck in the house:

What’s the difference between the House and a house?

The former is shorthand for parliament, of course, where I would be right now but for that wretched virus.  The latter (at least in this context) is a modest three-bedroom place in West Auckland where I’m trying to juggle various roles, including but not limited to that of an MP.  That’s a bit of a cryptic reference to some child-minding that I’ll inevitably do today – like so many others locked down across this fair city –  potentially in combination with work.  Please note “child-minding” is not as offensive as a claim of “baby-sitting” one’s own child, surely.

So I’ll be trying hard to keep children, cat filters and other distractions out of my Zoom image but there can be no guarantees, as we all know.

Caucus meeting soon, which will be another video conference number, so will have to brush up on the old hand-raising and mute-unmute functions.  Wish me luck.

National MP Chris Penk

Chris Penk (Image : Supplied)

10.45am: Financial support for latest Covid-19 restrictions announced – if lockdown extended

The government is moving to provide support for businesses impacted by the new Covid-19 restrictions.

Legislation will be introduced under urgency today to set up a new “resurgence support payment” for businesses affected by any resurgence of the coronavirus.

To be eligible for the payments – which include a core per business rate of $1500 plus $400 per employee up to a total of 50 FTEs ($21,500) – a business must experience a 30% drop in revenue over a 7-day period.

“This payment recognises that some businesses face one-off costs or impacts to cashflow when we step up an alert level to follow public health advice,” finance minister Grant Robertson said. “The payment is structured to provide most support to smaller firms who are most likely to face cashflow issues but will be available to all businesses and sole traders.

“A decision on whether this support will come into effect will be made if there is an extension to the seventy-two hour increase in alert levels announced on Sunday night. If it does come into effect it will cover the initial 72 hour alert level rise as well.”

10.05am: Sky Chefs employee followed all the rules – union

The union representing staff at LSG Sky Chefs – the company where one of the latest Covid-19 cases worked – said the woman followed all the rules to protect herself while on the job.

As RNZ reported, the Covid case worked in a team of nine in the company’s Māngere catering and laundry facility.

E Tū aviation representative Savage said the company was a proactive employer. “The company has been encouraging people to go beyond the surveillance testing that has been put in place and encourage people to get regular testing.”

He added: “She was following all the rules and regulations given to her. But we just need to check on everything and see if we can work out what’s happened and try to plug the gap.”

9.20am: When can we expect the next Covid update?

It was Ashley Bloomfield’s job to do early morning media this morning, where he revealed more details about the latest Covid-19 cluster. (see: 7.45am)

At 1pm, we’ll have the next drop of information: Bloomfield will be joined by Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins for a press conference at the Beehive. I think we can safely say this press conference will be an important one.

Later this evening, Grant Robertson will do some evening media where any new developments may be released.

On The Spinoff: The critical factors that will determine if lockdown is lifted

Justin Giovannetti writes:

Aucklanders are likely to learn around midday on Wednesday whether this snap lockdown will be a short blip or another long slog through the alert levels. The next 24 hours will be crucial.

The first day after the Valentine’s cases were announced has shown some encouraging signs, with the cluster centred around three cases in a south Auckland family not expanding. Some of that was expected, with only limited testing on Sunday afternoon.

Ashley Bloomfield, the director general of health, said the lack of new community cases yesterday was “an encouraging sign, but it’s the days ahead that will be crucial”.

If the chain of transmission is short, so could be this lockdown. It’s clear to Bloomfield and the rest of government that this third lockdown in Auckland could be fraying some nerves. “Covid-19 can feel like being on a rollercoaster that you haven’t actually bought a ticket for,” said Bloomfield.

Read Justin’s full report here.

8.15am: Suspected NZ Isis terrorist arrested at Syrian border – report

Three New Zealanders, including a wanted Isis terrorist, were reportedly arrested at the Syrian border by Turkish authorities.

According to Stuff, Turkey’s national defence ministry said they had caught the three New Zealanders illegally trying to enter Turkey from Syria. It included a “26-year-old woman named S.A. … identified as a DAESH [Isis] terrorist,” read a statement from the ministry.

MFAT told Stuff they were “aware” of the information.

7.45am: Another close contact tests negative; original source still unknown

Another close contact of the trio of positive Covid-19 cases has tested negative, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield revealed.

The cases – a mother, father and daughter from the same family – have 42 close contacts; 33 of these are from Papatoetoe High School.

Speaking on Newstalk ZB, Bloomfield confirmed the 12th close contact to test negative was from the school community.

“We are reassured that there hasn’t been any onward transmission from our current cases,” Bloomfield said. “The other thing we’re really looking for – because we’re not sure exactly where the infection has come from – is are there any parallel sort of chains of infection or chains of transmission out there in the community.”

While the mother is the most likely source of the spread within her family, the daughter developed symptoms first, said Bloomfield. “So we have to be open-minded that she could be the first case, and could have got it somewhere else. And that’s what we’re trying to track down.

“The important thing about a source is keeping an open mind and not to jump to conclusions, just because the mother works around the airport precinct is not to say ‘oh that’s where it came from’,” said Bloomfield. Two workplace contacts of the mother were still awaiting results of their Covid-19 tests, while seven had tested negative.

7.35am: Top stories from The Bulletin

Yesterday was a day of significant developments in the Covid-19 outbreak and third lockdown, and I’ll try and get across them all. The biggest newsline was that no new community cases have so far been reported, over and above the three from the weekend. That’s good news, but it’s not by any means the whole picture, because as our live updates reports, the strain is the more transmissible UK variant, and there’s still no confirmed link to managed isolation. A critical round of test results is expected later today, of close contacts of the three people from schools and workplaces.

In the South Auckland suburb of Papatoetoe, there has been extremely high demand for testing. Justin Latif was out and about talking to people in the queues, about their feelings on seeing Covid return to the community and the anxiety that came with that. But there was also a strong sense of stoicism and a willingness to get through.

At the other end of Auckland, there was a morning of severe confusion about which alert level people in Kaipara were at. Checkpoints had been set up on the edge of the Super City, leaving some areas in level two, and others in level three. However, Stuff reports the checkpoints have since been moved in towards the city centre to make it clearer who’s in and who’s not in lockdown.

Speaking of that lockdown, will it really only last until Wednesday? Justin Giovannetti has reported from parliament on the factors at play in that decision, and what the government will take into account. According to a trio of leading scientists (who we’ve published on The Spinoff) lifting the lockdown will depend largely on contact tracing, and what that finds. The current situation is dangerous because there may well be other cases in the chain of transmission, and these cases could have sparked additional community transmission chains. We’ve also published a standalone piece by Dr Siouxsie Wiles answering a range of questions about the current outbreak, including what genome sequencing is telling us, and whether the vaccine will be effective against every strain going around.

Around the country, the economic effects of the alert level shift are also being felt. Stuff reports there have been widespread event cancellations, including the opening days of the Art Deco Festival in Napier. Queenstown tourism businesses are also seeing a significant amount of business drying up. Radio NZ reports opinion is split in New Plymouth about a step up in alert levels. It was confirmed yesterday that the wage subsidy will become available to all qualifying businesses in the country if any part of the country spends a week or more at level three – Interest reports there will be some changes in how eligibility is assessed.

Having said that, there are also expectations the economy will bounce back fairly quickly, particularly if it is a short lockdown. Radio NZ spoke to Kiwibank economist Jarrod Kerr, who said businesses had built up their resiliency after the experiences of last year. He also said what we saw last year was economically nowhere near as bad as what was expected, so predictions of doom this time around should be taken accordingly.

It was revealed that the health ministry has been unaware of where the highest-risk international air crew have been staying while in Auckland. Newshub’s Zac Fleming reported the crew have been at a hotel in the middle of the CBD, rather than in Manukau close to the airport. That, and an earlier case in which aircrew were allowed out of hotels to exercise led to epidemiologist Dr Michael Baker describing it as “now one of the weakest points of our border.”

Delays have also been revealed in the government’s daily saliva-testing regime, seen as a critical line of defence for the front lines. Newsroom’s Jonathan Milne has covered how Auckland Airport and Air NZ have now signed up with a private provider of the testing, because government services were unable to meet capacity. They’re widely used internationally over and above nasal swabs, in part because they don’t involve a big stick being rammed up your nose. But in general, New Zealand has been slow on the uptake here, with the Simpson-Roche report from as far back as November last year offering criticism of the speed.

Finally, an anti-lockdown protest took place outside Jacinda Ardern’s electorate office yesterday, in violation of the alert level rules. went along to talk to them, and it was certainly one of the more surreal jobs I’ve been out to recently. For the avoidance of any doubt, I’d like to reiterate that most of the people I talked to were pleasant and friendly, even if I disagreed with what they had to say. And a few weren’t, but that’s life. My sincere hope is that the wider community response helps prevent them getting Covid.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.30am: Yesterday’s headlines

The first batch of Covid-19 vaccines arrived in Auckland, with vaccination to begin on Saturday.

The trio of new Covid-19 cases were identified as the more transmissible UK variant, with no known link to MIQ cases.

Experts said the likelihood of the virus having spread via laundry at one of the case’s workplaces was low.

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said there were some indications the daughter was the first family member to be infected.

National leader Judith Collins called for compulsory saliva testing in MIQ.

Police reestablished Covid-19 checkpoints after Auckland’s shift into alert level three, but there was confusion over the border.

There were no new cases of Covid-19 in the community beyond the three reported on Sunday, and five in MIQ.

Jury trials were suspended in Auckland while the city is at alert level three.

Act urged the government to reinstate the opposition-led Epidemic Response Committee to scrutinise its decision-making.

Anti-lockdown protesters gathered outside the prime minister’s Auckland office.




The Spinoff is made possible by the generous support of the following organisations.
Please help us by supporting them.