Election Live, September 16: Auckland primary school closes after student tests positive for Covid-19

Welcome to The Spinoff’s Election Live for September 16, bringing you the latest on election 2020 and other NZ news. The essential campaign dates are here. For all you need to know about the cannabis referendum click here. For the assisted dying referendum click here. Explore the parties’ pledges at Policy. I’m on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

7.30pm: Update on Chapel Downs case

Further to the news (see 5.45pm) that a student at Chapel Downs School who visited the school on Monday had returned a positive test for Covid-19 later in day, prompting the school to announce this afternoon it will close, the Auckland Regional Public Health Service has issued a statement.

“The child was dropped off before school on Monday September 14 but picked up 30 minutes later at 9.00am. The parents later received a positive test result for the child. This case has been previously reported by the Ministry of Health. The school has asked that the family’s privacy be respected, and that people do not speculate on the family or the child’s identity. The child and their family are in isolation, with Public Health monitoring their health and wellbeing,” read the statement.

The last community case reported by the Ministry of Health was on Monday, when one new case was announced. “The case is a female child who is epidemiologically linked to an existing case associated with the Botany sub-cluster which has been genomically linked to the Auckland cluster,” said the statement then. “The child has been in isolation since August 30 due to being a household contact of a confirmed case.”

7pm: The day in sum

A 54-year-old man with Covid-19 has died in Waikato Hospital. It’s New Zealand’s 25th coronavirus-related death.

An Auckland primary school has closed for the rest of the week after a student tests positive for Covid-19.

There was one new case of Covid-19, related to the border.

New Zealand’s economy shrank by 16% in the quarter between April and June, making it the sharpest economic contraction in the country’s history.

National pledged more Pharmac funding in its health policy.

Top politicians have been targeted by a firm with links to the Chinese military.

5.45pm: Auckland primary school closes after child tests positive for Covid-19

A student at Chapel Downs School in Flat Bush, south-east Auckland, has tested positive for Covid-19, prompting the primary school to close for the rest of the week. The child attended school for a short time on Monday morning.

The school relayed to parents the following information from the Auckland Regional Public Health Service: “A student at Chapel Downs School has been at school for a short time, before they tested positive for Covid-19. The child and three close contacts were dropped off before school on Monday 14 September for around 30 minutes until they were picked up around 9.00am. The child received a positive test result for the virus later that day. As a result, the school will reopen on Monday 21 September, unless there is new advice that will require it to remain closed.”

It continued: “Auckland Regional Public Health Service will work with the school to identify if there are any close contacts as a result of this exposure. Close contacts will include any students and staff members who may have been closer than two metres to the student for more than 15 minutes. We ask that you keep your child or children at home, until you receive a letter from Auckland Regional Public Health Service advising what to do next. Staff should also stay at home until they are advised by ARPHS.”

There were zero community cases reported by the Ministry of Health both today and yesterday.

4pm: SIS to review data related to New Zealanders as part of data leak

The Security Intelligence Service (SIS) says it is looking into the huge data leak from the Shenzhen company Zhenhua Data which is believed to be used by China’s intelligence service, RNZ reports. The dataset that was leaked is said to contain personal details of 2.5 million people around the world, including 800 New Zealanders (see 7.45am update).

SIS director Rebecca Kitteridge said they were reviewing the information for any potential risks and security concerns. However, at this stage Kitteridge said the information was primarily drawn from publicly accessible sources, such as social media and news reporting.

“We know that different organisations compile information of this nature from publicly accessible sources for a range of purposes, ranging from private companies wanting to carry out marketing or research at one end of the spectrum, through to governments seeking to influence public discussion or gather intelligence in other countries at the other,” Kitteridge said.

“I understand people may be unaware their information could be gathered up in this way.”

2.20pm: Robertson ‘sugar coating’ economic forecast, claims Collins

It’s a war of words between the two sides of the political spectrum today, after the release of the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update (Prefu) which forecast the economy to shrink by 16%.

Treasury, who release the Prefu, say the economy has come through the initial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic better than expected, but that unemployment and debt will remain higher than expected for years to come.

It’s prompted the finance minister Grant Robertson to claim the economy’s in solid shape. In a statement, he said the economy has “bounced back” following the nationwide lockdown.

“These are signs that the New Zealand economy is robust, and that our plan to eliminate Covid-19 and open up the economy faster is the right approach. We can see this in the forecasts, with the New Zealand economy predicted by the Treasury to grow by an average of 4.2% across 2021 and 2022, compared to Australia at 3.6% and the US at 3.5%,” Robertson said.

Judith Collins and National, however, aren’t buying it. Collins said the Prefu showed a longer and more painful economic crisis than earlier predicted. “[Robertson] has taken a rose-tinted glasses view at a dreadful picture that cannot be described as anything other than catastrophic. Any short-term improvement on the Budget forecasts is far outweighed by the worsening picture past 2021,” Collins said.

“Unemployment will be substantially worse in 2022 and 2023. Treasury predicts 100,000 more New Zealanders will lose their jobs in the next two years.”

The party’s finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith repeated the as-yet unproven claim that Labour is planning to tax its way out of recession. Robertson has repeatedly ruled out any further changes to the tax system, with the exception of a new tax bracket for the top 2% of New Zealand earners.

“Grant Robertson’s only plan is higher taxes, and no country has ever taxed its way out of a recession, and this a huge one,” Goldsmith said.

“Treasury is forecasting that under Labour New Zealand will be in deficit every year for at least the next 15 years. Grant Robertson and his Government have no plan to get New Zealand back into surplus. Ever.”

1.45pm: Work underway to improve health system before Covid vaccine

The Ministry of Health has revealed work is underway to strengthen New Zealand’s management of communicable disease outbreaks. It’s in response to two new reports commissioned after last year’s influenza immunisation campaign and the Auckland measles outbreak.

“It’s vital we learn lessons from outbreaks to ensure we’re in a strong position to best respond to the current Covid pandemic as well as prevent and respond to future outbreaks,” Ashley Bloomfield said.

“In particular, both reports have identified important lessons that will inform preparation for rollout of a Covid-19 immunisation programme, when a safe and effective vaccine is approved for use here.”

1.10pm: Economy shrinks by 16% in lockdown, sharpest fall on record

It’s an extra busy 1pm today. I’ll continue to have the latest Covid-19 information from Ashley Bloomfield’s briefing in the earlier 1pm post. 

Here, political editor Justin Giovannetti reports on the pre-election fiscal update:

New Zealand’s economy has done better than expected in recent months as it has struggled with Covid-19, however that’s about to change, with the treasury warning that unemployment and debt will remain higher than expected for years to come.

The economy shrank by 16% in the quarter between April and June, as the country was in strict lockdown and global commerce came to a halt. That’s the sharpest economic contraction in New Zealand history, but it’s an improvement from the 23.5% drop projected by economists.

Speaking with reporters at the treasury after the release of the government’s pre-election economic and fiscal update today, Labour finance spokesperson Grant Robertson tried to put the most positive spin on the situation. “We as a country are looking better right now than others. The bad news is that we are learning more about Covid-19,” said Robertson.

“Uncertainty is the commodity that the world shares in abundance”.

The new treasury forecast means that the pain of Covid-19 will be with us for years longer than expected. When the budget was released in May, economists had expected unemployment to peak last month at 9.8% before bouncing back quickly.

Unemployment has instead remained low, even dropping in recent months, but that’s about to change. Unemployment is now expected to increase steadily over the coming years, peaking at 7.8% in March 2022. It will then fall more slowly than expected, not coming back to today’s levels before the end of the decade.

Unemployment will remain above 7% until 2023, it’s currently around 4%.

That increased unemployment will be destructive, warns the treasury. “The persistent effects of the Covid-19 pandemic are expected to lead to a degree of economic scarring, leading to structurally higher unemployment,” the treasury warned in the fiscal update. That means the looming recession, which will be officially announced tomorrow, will cause worse than expected damage to individuals and the economy.

That damage, reflected in lower wages and worse indicators of well-being, generally remains with someone forever. Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has said in recent weeks that she hopes the country will emerge from Covid-19 stronger without scarring. Today’s treasury report torpedoes those hopes.

Why the worsening situation? Government forecasters now expect Covid-19 to be more persistent worldwide in the years ahead, reflecting resurgences across the world. That’s meant that the global economy, already in trouble, is expected to struggle and stumble more in coming years.

New Zealand’s deficits will be larger than expected as as result, especially in the medium-term. That will be reflected in debt as a proportion of the economy that will be larger than expected. Debt will now hit 55.3% of GDP in 2023-2024. The budget had expected debt to only reach 53.6% of the economy. That means it will take longer and be more expensive to pay down the debt and return it to a pre-coronavirus level of about 20%.

Amid the gloom, the treasury is now confirming that one thing in New Zealand is immune to Covid-19: house prices. Despite unemployment increasing, deficits increasing and the economy doing worse than expected, the treasury now projects house prices will increase faster over the coming years than expected.

1.00pm: One new Covid-19 case, related to border; 25th death confirmed

Updated

New Zealand has just one new case of Covid-19, Ashley Bloomfield has announced, on the same day the country’s recorded its latest coronavirus related death.

The new case arrived from Dubai on September 9, and is related to the three cases reported yesterday. There are no new cases in the community, Bloomfield said, marking the second consecutive day with no growth in the Auckland clusters.

Today, the country has recorded its 25th Covid-19 related death. A 54-year-old died yesterday in Waikato Hospital, just two weeks after his brother also lost his life due to Covid-19. Bloomfield said he was admitted to hospital on August 19 and passed away in the ICU.

“Our thoughts are most sincerely with this man’s family and friends, and also his iwi, Ngāti Raukawa, who have lost a rangatira,” said Bloomfield.

The man’s whanau asked the ministry to tell the country that “coronavirus is so real”, and to be very vigilant and cautious, Bloomfield said. They have issued a plea to all New Zealanders: “if you are sick and have symptoms, stay home”.

Over the weekend, upwards of a thousand people marched in Auckland in protest of the Covid-19 lockdown, with many choosing not to wear masks or physically distance.

There are three people in hospital with Covid-19, two of whom are in intensive care at Waikato and North Shore hospitals. The other is on a ward at Auckland Hospital.

There are now 57 people linked to the community cluster in the Auckland quarantine facility, including 27 who have tested positive. New Zealand now has 1,451 confirmed cases. Yesterday 9,088 tests were processed, bringing the total to date to 881,532.

There are 79 active cases of Covid-19 today, with 52 of those linked to the community.

Healthcare worker now epidemiologically linked to community case

The ministry has now established the epidemiological link between the Jet Park healthcare worker and the source of her infection – the link has been confirmed as to being one of the community cases whose condition required assessment and subsequent hospitalisation.

The healthcare worker went into the room to provide care and assess them before hospitalisation. A clinical team is currently investigating to see if any changes to protocol are needed, said Bloomfield.

The healthcare worker has 85 confirmed close contacts from the Les Mills Takapuna gym classes she attended, all of whom are self-isolating, and 80 of whom who have so far returned negative test results.

There have been 195 casual contacts identified from the gym classes – of which 91 have been tested and returned a negative result.

12.30pm: Bloomfield to speak after 25th Covid-19 death

There are media reports that New Zealand has recorded its 25th Covid-19 fatality: the brother of a previous coronavirus victim.

54-year-old Nigel Te Hiko is believed to have died in Waikato Hospital, after he contracted Covid-19 from his brother Alan, who worked at the Americold facility in Auckland.

Alan was previously New Zealand’s youngest victim, at 58.

The Ministry of Health will be providing the latest information at today’s 1pm media briefing.

It’s reported that Nigel Te Hiko was a revered Raukawa leader and historian who lived in Tokoroa. Several Covid-19 cases linked to the wider Auckland community cluster have been detected in Tokoroa since the outbreak.

Watch below:

12.10pm: Ron Mark running two tick campaign in Wairarapa

Ron Mark in it to win it – Alex Braae reports from Martinborough.

Shane Jones isn’t the only NZ First MP running hard to win a seat in the election – Ron Mark is also doing his best to save his party in the Wairarapa. The defence minister was a late arrival to an election debate last night in Martinborough, having come straight from a tangi in Tokomaru Bay for one of the last surviving members of the WW2 Māori Battalion.

After marking the passing of Epineha Ratapu, Mark immediately launched into a pitch for two ticks. “For 21 years, you’ve had mediocre representatives,” he said, arguing that a succession of Georgina Beyer, John Hayes and Alastair Scott had done little to deliver for the region. “And what did you get?” he asked after listing each of them.

Mark said he was running on his record as “the most successful defence minister in 60 years. I rebuilt the army, I rebuilt the navy.” He also drew on local credentials as a former mayor of Carterton.

Also on stage was Labour’s junior whip Kieran McAnulty, who Mark later paid a backhanded compliment to, saying Labour leader Jacinda Ardern’s popularity would ensure he’d get back in off the list. “I’m hoping people are going to think strategically. You don’t need to have someone who can go and talk to a minister – you have someone who is a minister.”

He said that meant “the question is, do you want Mike [National candidate Mike Butterick] or do you want Ron Mark? Because on current polling Ron won’t be here,” he said, referring openly to NZ First’s current position under the 5% threshold.

Mark admitted that Wairarapa voters had tended towards voting National in recent elections – since 2005, the party has never fallen below 45% in the party vote in the region. His personal vote share in recent elections has been solid, but never rising above third place.

In 2014 and 2017 he scored 23% and 19% respectively. In that time McAnulty has gone from 25% to 34%.

The debate also featured former Wellington mayor Celia Wade Brown standing for the Greens, and Advance NZ candidate Nigel Gray, who in 2017 was reportedly predicting earthquakes based on the presence of a supermoon.

Alex Braae is travelling the country ahead of the election. Here he is in front of his temporary home/mode of transport. We do not know when he will return to Auckland.

(Alex Braae and the Braae-mobile)

11.50am: Almost 300,000 think they will lose their jobs

New research shows the continued impact of Covid-19 on New Zealand workers, with 287,600 people saying they think they will lose their jobs in the next year.

A Horizon study suggests 7% of adults think they will lose their jobs over the coming 12 months. Of these, just over 230,000 thought they would struggle to find more work, while the remainder expected it would be easy.

However, the number of adults who, at the end of last month, thought they would stay in their current job has risen up to 46% from 38% in July.

11.30am: Avondale’s fight to protect its native trees

Right now on The Spinoff: The fight to save 26 100-year-old native trees – what remains of an original 46 – came to a head this morning when more than 200 people showed up to prevent diggers from entering the Canal Road site in the Auckland suburb of Avondale.

As our Ātea Editor Leonie Hayden writes, police and contractors were met with vocal opposition, while protesters dismantled fences and linked arms across the site to prevent entry.

Read the full story here

10.15am: National pledge more Pharmac funding in health policy

Pharmac will receive additional funding under a National government, the party’s health spokesperson Shane Reti has revealed.

National would also create a “rare disorder fund” worth $20 million over four years and a dedicated cancer fund, worth $200 million.

The party’s also promised to cull the elective surgery waitlist, committing to every New Zealander that needs elective surgery having it done within four months of the decision to treat.

District health boards will also be required to annually construct and report against a “Māori health strategy” to help address inequities

“National is focused on ensuring more New Zealanders have access to world-class healthcare regardless of income, background or postcode,” Reti said.

“These are practical solutions that will have a tangible impact on New Zealander’s lives for generations to come.”

9.30am: Phone voting for arrivals in hotel isolation

Eligible voters in managed isolation or quarantine will be able to use “dictation voting” to cast their ballots in the upcoming election and referendums, the Electoral Commission has announced. Up to 5,000 people across 32 facilities will be able to vote by telephone after an amendment to electoral regulation was passed.

Previously, dictation voting was available to the blind, people in remote locations overseas, and those physically unable to mark voting papers. The service will be available from October 5 until the close of polls on election day. Registration and voting hours will be between 9am and 7pm every day except election day. On election day, registrations will close at 5pm and voting at 7pm.

On the campaign trail

Here’s where our political leaders are today:

  • Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern is based in Wellington today, and has no campaign engagements.
  • National Party leader Judith Collins is also based in Wellington, and also appears to have no campaign engagements.
  • New Zealand First leader Winston Peters is in Tauranga and Rotorua today, disembarking from his massive election bus and likely pointing and looking at more things.
  • Act Party leader David Seymour is on the road in his election minivan. Today, he’s heading from Palmerston North to Wellington.
  • Greens co-leader Marama Davidson is in Wellington for the ‘Enough for All’ inequality debate, hosted by CPAG. I have no idea where James Shaw is.

8.40am: Government to open books, reveal true Covid cost

Today will see the government reveal just how much it has spent dealing with the consequences of Covid-19.

Treasury will be revealing its Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update (Prefu), which will shine a light on how the government has been spending our money.

Yesterday, finance minister Grant Robertson warned, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the figures won’t make for pretty reading.

“It will still be a dreadful quarter for New Zealand – the worst we’ve ever had. And we obviously are in recession, there is absolutely no doubt about that,” Robertson told Stuff.

Meanwhile, on Newstalk ZB this morning, National’s Mark Mitchell said the party would be presenting “something big and different” in its tax policy later this week – perhaps suggesting it won’t be National’s usual preference of tax cuts. Judith Collins has previously admitted that some of National’s vast election promises may have to be adjusted as a result of the Prefu.

8.00am: Contact tracing system struggling with latest outbreak

Ministry of Health figures show our contact tracing system is struggling to locate and isolate close contacts of Covid-19 cases, RNZ reports.

That’s despite the director general of health Ashley Bloomfield yesterday talking up our contact tracing capabilities.

The target is for 80% of close contacts to be in isolation within four days of being exposed to the disease – something Bloomfield yesterday said had been happening in most cases. Latest figures show only 56% of close contacts meet that deadline.

7.45am: Top politicians targeted by firm with link to Chinese military

Our top politicians are warning that their families have been targeted by “malicious actors” with ties to the Chinese military.

The Herald’s reporting that the prime minister Jacinda Ardern and her deputy Winston Peters have been in the sights of a Chinese data company. It’s claimed Ardern’s sister and parents have had profiles built on a secret Chinese database, along with the mother of former trade minister Todd McClay and one of ex-Prime Minister Sir John Key’s children.

University of Canterbury professor Anne-Marie Brady told the Herald it showed a concerted influence campaign from China targeted at political and business elites.

Speaking on Newstalk ZB, Winston Peters said it was clear this was not just a random data scoop.

Read the complete report here

7.40am: Top stories from The Bulletin

We’ve now had both major parties come out with the education policies they’ll take into the election. As always, it’s likely to be an area of debate between them, given the share of government spending that goes towards it, and the importance voters place on it.

We’ll start with Labour’s plan: Much of it has been rolled out over the course of the term already, reports Stuff. But there’s a bit of targeted give and take in it. On the one hand, the school lunch system would be expanded, and pay parity for ECE teachers would continue to be a focus, with $600 million allocated. There would also be continued efforts to reform vocational tertiary education. However, we got confirmation that the fees free programme would be paused in its current state – it was already an expensive one, and the spending is probably harder to justify amid the Covid crunch. Nor will the postgrad student allowance be brought back – a 2017 election promise that never came to fruition.

For National, a $1.9 bn over four years package was put together, with Radio NZ reporting it will focus on “learning support, teacher aides, and new special character schools”. Those character schools would include kura kaupapa and charter schools, which would be brought back – likely to the delight of the Act party. In keeping with National’s philosophical position around support being targeted rather than universal, there have also been policies announced around reducing barriers to support for those kids with “learning, disability, behavioural, health and other challenges.”

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.30am: Yesterday’s headlines

There were three Covid-19 cases at the border, and none in the community for the first time since community transmission re-emerged.

National pledged $30 million towards improving dental care access for young people.

Education minister Chris Hipkins unveiled Labour’s education policy, which promises to scrap the decile system and close the pay gap.

Climate change minister James Shaw revealed New Zealand will be the first country to require the financial sector to report on climate risks.

Disgraced former National MP Jami-Lee Ross announced he wouldn’t be contesting his current seat of Botany.

Winston Peters claimed cabinet’s decision to extend alert level two wasn’t based on medical advice.

The PM confirmed changes to our mandatory isolation system have been made to allow the Australian rugby team to train while in quarantine here.

Read yesterday’s updates in full here.




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